When Charlie Deal gets a case of wanderlust, it can mean only good news for the local food scene. The talented young chef moved to the Triangle from California in 2005, bringing with him a passion for ethnic street food and a sense of adventure. Jujube, Deal's first restaurant in Chapel Hill, continues to delight with its refreshing yet respectful updates of Chinese and Vietnamese classics.
Now Deal has taken his show on the road to Durham, where he's focusing on Mexican fare at Dos Perros (200 N. Mangum St.; 956-2750; dosperrosrestaurant.com). It appears that a lot of Jujube fans have confidence in the chef's versatility, judging by the instant crowds that materialized when the restaurant opened two weeks ago. The cuisine may be different, they know, but the emphasis on fresh ingredients and scratch preparation won't change, regardless of which cuisine Deal and his crew (headed by chef de cuisine Josh DeCarolis) are cooking.
The Dos Perros menu lives up to those expectations, offering the chef's distinctively fresh take on a varied assortment of Mexican regional fare, from chile-cured rotisserie half chicken to enchiladas verdes to chiles en nogada, meat-stuffed poblanos with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate. Cochinita pibil, Yucatan-style pork slowly roasted in banana leaves, has been a big hit in the early going. So have the snapper alla Veracruzana, Mayan-style grilled spice-rubbed grouper, and mole poblano -- with a made-from-scratch sauce, naturally.
Fans of Jujube's inventive Asian-inspired cocktails will be happy to know that bar manager Nate Cisco has applied his alchemy to the flavors of Mexico for Dos Perros. His mango cayenne margarita is, in more ways than one, a hot commodity.
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Located in the old Rogers Drug Store building, Dos Perros is another welcome after-hours destination in an increasingly vibrant downtown Durham. The building was thoroughly renovated to accommodate the restaurant, transforming the space into a warmly inviting contemporary dining room and bar while preserving historic period details. The restaurant is named for the "two lovable mutts" that live at home with Deal and his wife, Diana. Lucky for us, it looks like that home will be in the Triangle for a good time to come.