Nanataco in Durham has a new name, but promises the same dirty meats and margaritas


After a change in ownership, homegrown fast-casual taco shop Nanataco will take on a new name.

Nuvotaco will replace Nanataco in the hearts, minds and bellies of Bull City eaters, effective immediately. The new sign went up on Monday.

Durham chef Scott Howell and Jennifer Gillie opened Nanataco in 2011, across the street from its namesake Nana’s, Howell’s longtime fine-dining restaurant. But the two were worlds apart. Nanataco served tacos, burritos and burrito bowls, topped with traditional proteins like chicken or pork. But there was also a lineup of so-called “dirty meats,” with upscale options like fried oysters, smoked duck and beef tongue.

While the association with Howell has always been prominent, Gillie has been the driving force behind Nanataco, invited to run it as a managing partner after 2 years of working as a server at Nana’s. in the late 2000s.

The changeover was finalized late last year as Howell sold his stake in the concept to Gillie. Earlier this month, she officially changed the name of the restaurant in state corporation filings. She said everything but the name will stay the same.

“I just want to reassure people, aside from the name, everything is the same,” Gillie said. “It’s still operated by the same person, all the staff is still here.”

The ownership change last year followed Howell’s decision to close his flagship restaurant Nana’s at the end of June 2018. Last week Howell announced he would be reopening Nana’s this year, as soon as April.

James Beard nominated chef Scott Howell is reopening his flagship Durham restaurant Nana’s after it closed last year

Gillie said it was difficult to let go of a name associated with so much success, but felt a change was appropriate for the restaurant’s new chapter.

“You don’t normally rebrand a successful brand,” Gillie said. “But I wanted to identify to everyone there was a change....I wanted it to be similar to what it was, a seamless transition. I kept the iguana logo and colors. I wanted people to drive by and be like ‘Is something different here?’”

Nuvotaco refers to “nouveau” the French word for new, but also modern, Gillie said, which she found fitting.

“This is definitely a modern restaurant,” Gillie said. “I think what we do here is a modern take on authentic food.”

Gillie grew up in Durham and said she’s known Howell for more than 20 years, but left in 1995 swearing never to return. She’s spent her entire working life in restaurants, including large resort hotels in Miami, but came home in 2009 and started as a server at Nana’s.

Last year when Howell first closed Nana’s he teased the idea of a second Nanatao location. That seems unlikely in the short-term, Gillie said, but she didn’t rule it out in the future.

“I’m not saying I’m not going to,” Gillie said. “But you can’t be in two places at once.”

Nuvotaco is open Tuesday through Sunday at 2512 University Drive in Durham. Check them out at

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.