White Duck Taco Shop
Cuisine: Modern taco
Representative Dish: Bangkok shrimp taco, lamb gyro taco, Thai peanut chicken taco, and coconut macaroon pie with salted caramel
Address: 792 Folly Road, James Island
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday and most major holidays (call first)
Bar: Beer, wine, sangria, margaritas
Food: 3 1/2
Service: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 2 1/2
Costs: Tacos $3.50, snacks and sides $3, specialty tacos MP @ $4.50-$5.25; desserts $5
Decibel Levels: 67-91
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: No reservations; carry-out, seasonal menu, counter service, outdoor patio pet- and child-friendly, children's menu.
If you reviewed The New York Times' database for the frequency of searches about some of our favorite handheld foods, you would see that hamburgers owned the 1850s, pizza laid claim to the 1950s, and hamburgers trump hot dogs right up to present day. But now the ubiquitous burger is finding tacos on its tail. Since 2011, the taco has been chasing burgers and hot dogs for the No. 2 position.
Technomic research records a 24 percent uptick in taco consumption in 2013 (some 4.5 billion were served in 2013), and 2014 has been declared by some to be "The Year of The Taco." On Oct. 4 we can all celebrate National Taco Day.
Right about the time of "taco's insurgency," Ben Mixson and Laura Reuss Mixson opened the White Duck Taco Shop in 2011 in Asheville, N.C., in the River Arts District.
White Duck is Laura's nickname that graces their business: She was called la pata blanca, the white duck, by her co-workers for her excited and animated kitchen chatter.
The couple launched their business based on the taco as the canvas for the palette of the world's cuisines.
Their tacos hew both traditional and modern. Threads of authenticity invigorate their creative and seasonal approach to masa-mastered Mexican sandwiches. They are committed to fresh, affordable food. They know that condiments tell a story and tacos can write many chapters in the book of appetites. And they "get" the ratio of filling in a taco.
Their commitment to American products, quality ingredients, homemade "just-about-everything" earned them high marks among foodies, the food and beverage world, tourists, locals and the media. Martha Stewart, Bon Appetit and the Atlanta Journal Constitution have all picked up on this new strain of tacos produced by White Duck Taco Shop.
Their success hatched another shop in April with a downtown Asheville location.
Then talk of franchising began to surface. And as much as Charleston's restaurants look to Asheville, Asheville restaurants look to Charleston. With local friend and College of Charleston graduate Andrew Pannell on board, the meticulous process of replicating flavors and tastes began. "Quality assurance is one of our top priorities," says Laura Reuss Mixson.
Their first property on Folly Road met with an unfortunate accident and set back their opening until the 792 Folly Road address was secured. Like its Asheville sister, a large white duck marks the taco spot. The bright orange interior of Asheville's White Duck has been given a coastal blue color here in the Lowcountry, and white ducks are found throughout the industrial space as both murals and mascots.
Six-panel doors are halved into three-panel tables and the space has the bodega feel of a taco factory, in the best sense of the word.
Line up at the counter, read the chalkboard menu, place your order and receive a number, then you stake a claim for a table.
Runners bring your food as it is prepared and bussers patrol with regularity to sweep the tables clean. Need more of anything? Get back in line and place your order.
The menu reflects the seasons. Summer's gazpacho will be replaced by a warm corn chowder, and the fresh watermelon and mint salad will be retired and replaced by choices featuring beans, cabbage and chiles.
The tacos themselves are all made to order and are served on double-layered corn tortillas. Expect to see de cazo (fried), de asado (griddled) and de cazuela (braised).
Do not expect soupy beans or ruddy rice, no combo platters or bulging burritos.
Do expect a top-shelf margarita, a summer blueberry and white peach sangria, $2 Tecates, Fort Collins Rocky Mountain IPA and Allagash White with its hints of coriander and orange. And with Ben Mixson at the helm, the beverage menu will reflect the season, as well.
Pricing is in line with other taquerias around town: At $3.50 per taco, White Duck is competitive with Zia Taqueria, Taco Boy and Santi's. Specialty tacos, including lump crab meat and duck mole, were priced in the $5 range.
Cast aside the banal flavors of premixed taco seasonings and prepare your taste buds for complex moles, green apples and dried cherries playing "Christmas" with duck. Or the flavor imprint of Asia in the Bangkok shrimp taco - my personal favorite - with craggy shrimp glazed with sesame, spiked with chile aioli, cooled with cucumber salad, and wearing the faint praise of cumin and curry.
Pork carnitas channel molasses into a pork and beans chuck wagon showdown gussied with cinnamon and trussed with crunchy slaw.
The Korean beef bulgogi and its partner kimchi were surprisingly mild.
The lamb gyro with its tender tongues of seasoned lamb, fresh cucumber tzatziki sauce, ripe tomato pellets, fresh dill and salty feta cheese crushes most gyros in town. It is all about the ingredients and the care in preparation, and it shows.
Thai chicken manages to tame the assault of peanut butter with a confetti of mango, slaw and red onions, and vegetarians will find options in a potato-mushroom taco as well as those crafted from fish, or beans or cheese or both.
The corn chips are load-bearing and convey the house-made queso dip from scoop to chomp.
Desserts are an unexpected delight. Goodbye churros and dulce de leche ice cream; buenos dias to Mexican chocolate pot de creme with pistachio crumbles and cinnamon whipped cream. Hola to warm rounds of coconut macaroon pie with salted caramel sauce.
Like those Pekin ducks that paddle as fast as they can, White Duck Taco Shop is an industrious operation. One in which the hegemony of burgers and pizza is suspect as maize cradles the pantry of the world.
A mural of Charleston at night has been painted above the seating area at the White Duck Taco Shop on Folly Road.×
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