by Elijah Gaddis
By way of introduction, to me and to this post, I should confess something that all of my friends know: I became a folklorist in part because it allows me to eat. Seeking out legendary barbecue places, hole in the wall taquerias, and roadside vendors all falls under the guise of what people in my trade call “fieldwork.” I’m not a particularly seasoned folklorist, but I’m a practiced eater and a pretty damn good at finding meals on the road.
So anyway, those are my credentials. You can take them or leave them, but hopefully they’re enough so that you’ll believe me when I tell you that the best bite of food in Durham comes from what appears to be an old car dealership. This is hardly some kind of inside information, because La Superior on Roxboro Road is about as unassuming as a brick thrown at your face. Marking the end of what some clever person has termed “taqueria row,” Superior occupies the aforementioned old-car dealership looking place, a huge glass-fronted building with an electric blue, blocky ridge of an awning running the length of the place.
Once you go in through the main door (oddly positioned on the side of the building facing away from the road,) you enter into a small grocery store. It’s pretty well-stocked, with tons of cookware, votive candles, and masa to the right, and a small section of produce and canned goods on the left. If you make a circuit of the store, you’ll also find a wonderfully supplied butcher with a ton of great stuff to take home. But you should stay focused. Keep your eyes straight ahead and walk past all the groceries and into the real heart of the place.
This is a whole other part of the building, a cavernous room full of all kinds of ready-made foods. A case full of mostly Mexican cheeses recently displaced the aguas frescas that always sat to the right of the entrance. And the lexan cases full of pastries are as good as any in Durham. More exciting still is the tortilleria, a small factory manned by two or three people. They churn out tortillas at a dizzying pace, with one man pulling them hot off the conveyor belt and in three deft motions wrapping almost yard-high stacks for waiting customers. If you can avoid the lure of fresh tortillas for $0.89 a pound, proceed to your left. There, past a dozen tables and nestled in the furthest corner of the store is the taqueria.
Superior has a slightly broader menu than most taquerias, with plate options and a few different soups and stews on the weekend. But my favorite thing, the best thing, is the chicharron gordita. A gordita, for the uninitiated, is a thick pocket of corn that is fried crisply and filled. Think of a pita, made of corn, and with more chew and crunch. And chicharron is pork skin. The chicharron gordita at Superior has all the subtlety you’d expect from fried dough and pork skin. Virtually none. But it also doesn’t fall prey to the weird contemporary predilection to force excess consumption of pork fat. The crispy pieces of pork skin are nestled in a tangle of cooked onions. There are a few flecks of cilantro on top, some crumbles of cotija, and a heap of diced onion that adds welcome astringency. But this is a fundamentally simple dish, one that is more about the textural interplay between slick onions, crunchy skin, and a supremely toothsome gordita shell. And at something like $3, it’s sufficiently filling for a day doing fieldwork, even if it’s more likely to inspire a few hours on the couch.
La Superior complex (taqueria,panaderia, tortilleria and carniceria)
2842 N. Roxboro St,
A folklorist and graduate student in American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Elijah lives in Greensboro, NC.
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