Feb 13, 2024 - News

Mapping North Carolina's Mexican restaurants

Number of Mexican restaurants per 10k residents
Data: SafeGraph, reproduced from Pew Research Center; Map: Axios Visuals

While Mexican restaurants had exploded in North Carolina's urban cities, they now can be found in high numbers all throughout the state, including in rural N.C.

Why it matters: The proliferation of Mexican restaurants — once staples only of the Southwest and parts of the Midwest — highlights the growing influence of Mexican Americans on U.S. culture and the effects of increased migration from Mexico over the last 30 years, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Driving the news: About 99% of Americans live near at least one Mexican restaurant, a Pew Research Center analysis of data from SafeGraph has found.

By the numbers: There were 256 Mexican restaurants in Mecklenburg County as of March 2023, the most of any county in the state.

  • Wake County had the second most with 234. Durham County had the fifth most with 81.
  • Dare County, a popular tourist destination in the Outer Banks, and Lee County, a rural county in the Sandhills where 20% of the population is Latino, had the highest concentration of Mexican restaurants in the state.

Of note: Tex-Mex restaurants counted as Mexican restaurants in the study, as did eateries, food trucks and restaurants serving multiple types of cuisine along with Mexican food.

  • The analysis found that 22% of Mexican restaurants nationwide are fast food restaurants, 12% serve tacos as their specialty, 8% are categorized as food trucks or carts, and 6% dish up Tex-Mex food.

Zoom in: Mexican restaurants and chefs have become more celebrated in the Triangle in recent years.

  • Oscar Diaz was nominated for a James Beard award for his Raleigh restaurant Cortez, and his Durham outpost Little Bull has become a highly regarded favorite.
  • Sanford's Fonda Lupita, named one of Eater's best new restaurants in 2021, just opened its much-anticipated expansion to Durham last week.
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