Get your passports in order because we're taking a gastronomic trek south of the border. Our adventure begins with an introductory excursion to The Best Burrito (3409 Hillsborough Road, Durham; 383-8828; www.thebestburritonc.com), a counter service eatery that opened in early June.
The specialty is California-style burritos, with options ranging from the Vegetariano to the Hawaiano (chicken, pineapple and crema) to the Super Special (beef and chorizo). But the rest of the menu ventures freely across the border for a sampling of authentic Mexican tacos, tortas and a daily changing selection of soups (sopa de res and crema de champiñones, to name two).
Manager/chef Alejandro Denis, who previously worked at Taqueria Lopez, proudly notes that he prepares virtually everything from scratch. And, because both the menu and many of the staff are bilingual, non-Spanish speakers don't have to be intimidated by the "Taqueria" sign out front.
Next stop on the itinerary is Cancun -- er, Apex, where Cancun Grill (2016 Creekside Landing Drive; 387-1210) opened two weeks ago in the new Beaver Creek Crossing South complex on U.S. 64. With a little imagination, the 11 listings under the menu's Seafood heading -- among them shrimp in orange sauce; grilled snapper with onions, tomatoes and peppers; and shrimp-stuffed poblanos -- might indeed conjure up images of the restaurant's namesake coastal city.
The rest of the menu crisscrosses the country from carne asada to pollo con mole to carnitas en salsa verde, with an occasional side trip north of the border for fajitas and cheese fries. Cancun Grill is a tropically colorful place with a large bar area. I suspect it could get noisy when it's full, but I've heard that a shot of añejo tequila and a draft Dos Equis do wonders for muting the volume.
We'll wind up our tour by traveling all the way across Mexico for a taste of the Salvadoran fare featured at La Cocina de Mama Greta (1604 N. Market Drive; 872-5360) in North Raleigh. Emelda Castro and Alfonso Turcio, both natives of El Salvador, opened the restaurant in February, naming it for Castro's mother. Mama Greta's, as some fans call it, is the sort of place that casual tourists rarely discover, thanks to its off-the-beaten-path location in a strip mall behind the Red Lobster on Wake Forest Road. I learned about it thanks to a couple of tips from readers on my blog (http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean/home).
It's possible, I suppose, to stumble across the place, drawn by the fragrance of Salvadoran-style carne asada, which Turcio says is his favorite dish. Pupusas, the thick filled corn tortillas that are perhaps the country's most famous dish, are naturally popular. Other temptations, ranging from the seafood soup mariscada to Salvadoran-style fried chicken, should sustain the illusion that you're in fact only a few minutes from home.