Submitted by Red Rover — Correspondent
At the corner of Blount and Davie, North meets South. Step inside Calavera, a relatively new cantina-esque concept in downtown Raleigh, and it feels like you just got off the plane in Latin America and stepped in a small local lounge. It's authentic, down to the Spanish skull art on the walls and the Jesus candle decor. And it's sexy, sleek red ambiance begs dark and devilish. Very 'dia de los Muertos.' Very diablo.
The concept, sumptuous in its very simplicity, forgoes the stale (arguably) Americanized tapas concept and goes for bona fide bites and sips. An empanada and tequila bar, the essence is in the name. Empanadas, homemade and baked, and you haven't eaten Latin American food locally until you've bitten into one of these pockets of perfection priced ever so economically at $3 a pop. Yes, $3. And they're not skimpy. And they're by definition not cheap in composition. Toothsome and tailored to a potpourri of palate prefs from the ever-faithful Picadillo (trad Mexican picadillo with group beef, potatoes, onion, tomato and green chili) to the Southern nod with Piggly Wiggly (slow smoked Carolina-style pulled pork) to my favorite, the Poblano Loco (Gold Tequila marinated Poblano peppers with Duranguense melting cheese yes, it oozes cheesy goodness). Suddenly loco is luxurious and Piggly Wiggly no longer yields images of that B-class small-town grocer you're reluctant to mention you grew up shopping in...
And did I mention they were baked? It's worth mentioning again. It's practically guiltless. And since 'you have to eat your meat before you eat your pudding' there are eight empanadas that fit the bill (and even bites for the vegetarians, with the promise of a gluten-free vegan empy soon to come) from which to choose before indulging in the ever-coveted King of Kong (banana, nutella, sweet-cream and powdered sugar nuff said) and the Manza-Manza (apple-cinnamon goodness).
Avocado aficionados will love the homemade guac (to die for), spice-fiends will bask in the glory of the homemade haberno, and carb-haters will be slap happy with a sampling of traditional salads. And the soup of the day? Well, it's tequila, of course. The blue-agave nectar of the gods comes in a premium assortment and un-paralleled local list too long to name ($5-$25), which makes the choice between the Mexican-born beverage-of-choice and the hand-crafted cocktails (get a Mojito Calavera - stat) quite a conundrum. And they don't even get mad for making them muddle. Now that's amazing.
But if our biggest complaint is whether to drop a dram of tequila or sip a succulent cucumber mojito, we're thinking Calavera is the spot to be. The weekend Reggaeton will help you get your groove on and work off those cocktails (remember those baked empys are guiltless, right?). So you can shake your rump to urban Latin grooves (at least we did this Friday night), or spice up your Sunday Funday with Latin American music from DJ Juan Matta until 2 a.m. ($3 Tecate and $6 margs). The food-focused hoofers might want to stop by on Tuesdays for Tamale Tuesdays: $2 homemade tamales and half-priced tequilas with DJ Keith Ward, or on Third Thursdays for half-off empys, drink specials and another spot by DJ Ward.
So ... empanadas and dancing, crafty cocktails, sexy decor it's like a step out of Raleigh on a South American sojourn. And with the recent addition of lunch hours ... it's just altogether a fingerlickin' good time.