After too many hours stuck in Los Angeles traffic, Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe switched up California for North Carolina with the promise of more space for his young family in the Triangle. Unfortunately his timing coincided with the pandemic, and it forced his first Raleigh restaurant High Horse to close in the summer of 2020. But now he’s ready to go again with Mexican restaurant A’Verde Cocina and Tequila Library in Cary.
Why Mexican? Tanabe was born in Mexico City to Mexican and Japanese parents, so he grew up eating many of the dishes that will be on the menu at A’Verde. The food will be a combination of modern Mexican cooking with Japanese techniques. “I’m not trying to make a fusion, but I was raised with soy sauce, fish sauce, and togarashi in the kitchen,” he says, “So this is Mexican food through the lens of a Mexican-Japanese chef.”
Tanabe is pushing the flavors, like his corn esquites comes together with chilies, nori, sesame seeds, and orange peel. “I’m not trying to do carne asada sushi rolls,” he says, “I’m building layers of flavor with Japanese umami and balancing it with Mexican limes and chilis and spices.”
“All the dishes have a story,” he says. 90% of what customers order will be plates inspired by his father, mother, and grandmother. Tanabe even predicts that his grandmother’s cornbread will be a runaway hit at A’Verde. “It’s like cornbread gone wrong,” he laughs, “It has tons of sugar, tons of butter, cheese, and fresh corn.” Other dishes mentioned on the menu include octopus tacos, enchiladas, and plenty of local vegetables from okra to butternut squash.
In addition to Tanabe’s fare, A’Verde will also feature a massive tequila selection that the restaurant’s team thinks might be the biggest collection in the Triangle, if not the state.
While an opening date isn’t set just yet, A’Verde will most likely open at 2300 Walnut Street in Cary before spring 2022. The 5,500 square foot space will be able to accommodate 250-300 seats. Tanabe says he’s excited to open a family-oriented place in the area.