Sugar and spice -- with an exotic Latin American accent -- are the flavors of the week for the latest restaurant news.
At Escazú (610 Glenwood Ave.; 832-3433; www.escazuchocolates.com), which opened last week in Raleigh, the specialty is artisanal chocolates made from single-source cacao beans and organic ingredients from across Latin America. Chocolatier Hallot Parson, who previously sold a limited selection of his wares through area gourmet retailers, is now offering a full line of truffles, filled chocolates and chocolate bars in his Glenwood South shop. Chocolate bars are offered in eight flavors, from chipotle and Costa Rican vanilla to organic banana and spices. The premium Vintage line features chocolates made entirely from scratch -- or as Parson puts it, "from bean to bar."
A different kind of sweet-tooth satisfaction is on the horizon for Raleigh and Hillsborough, where Locopops (1908 Hillsborough St., Raleigh; 121 W. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough; 286-3500 for all locations; www.ilovelocopops.com) is expected to open two new shops in the coming weeks. Locopops' specialty, for those who haven't yet had the good fortune to visit one of the locations in Durham and Chapel Hill, is paletas: Mexican "Popsicles" made entirely with fresh fruits and other ingredients. Typically, 30 or so flavors are offered, from piña colada to pomegranate-tangerine to chocolate with three chiles. Pending health inspections, the Raleigh shop should open some time between this weekend and the end of the month, with the Hillsborough shop following by a couple of weeks. Owners Connie Semans and Summer Bicknell invite area parents and teachers to submit children's artwork, which, in keeping with Locopops tradition, will decorate the shops on a rotating basis.
The house specialty is every bit as exotic -- but emphatically savory rather than sweet -- at Birrieria Jalisco (1600 Ronald Drive; 790-1999), which opened last week in Raleigh. The restaurant features birria, a spicy Mexican goat stew, served in a cheerfully colorful casual setting. If birria isn't your thing (don't knock it if you haven't tried it), the menu board over the order counter offers lots of alternatives, from siete mares (seafood soup) to seviche to shrimp with garlic sauce to arroz con pollo to gorditas, huaraches and tacos featuring more than a dozen filling options on house-made tortillas. Wash it all down with fresh-squeezed juices and juice blends, or with licuados (Mexican milkshakes). Birrieria Jalisco is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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You'll also find authentic Mexican tacos at Tres Amigos Taqueria (109 W. Main St.; 967-1654), a new walk-up eatery with limited counter seating in Carrboro. Tacos, sopes, gorditas and tortas are all made to order, with filling options including carne asada, al pastor, pollo, barbacoa and lengua. If you prefer, you can get your choice of meat on a plate with sides of cooked cactus, refried beans, avocado and handmade tortillas. But what sets Tres Amigos apart from other taquerias (apart from the fact that the language barrier is eliminated by native English-speaking Sarah Vignola, who owns the shop with her husband, Tomas Mora Rodriguez), are the Mexican-style hot dogs and hamburgers. In fact, it was Rodriguez's longing for these tastes of his native Mexico (the dogs are wrapped in bacon, cooked on the grill and topped with onions, tomatoes and peppers; the burgers are topped with grilled pineapple, ham and bacon) that inspired him to open the taqueria in the first place. Tres Amigos is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.