Foodies, rejoice: the Midlands region now has a gourmet taco restaurant.
Since its opening this February, White Duck Taco Shop at 612 Whaley Street has steadily impressed customers with its diverse menu of margaritas, tacos, soups, and desserts. A regional restaurant group, White Duck began in Asheville, N.C., and now has locations in Charleston and Columbia, with a new upcoming location in Mount Pleasant. According to chef and general manager Curt Heiny, the premise behind the area restaurants relies on two main qualities: freshness and flavor.
“The concept is to put an eclectic spin on tacos while using the freshest and most different ingredients that we can to make that happen,” said Heiny. “There’s a big emphasis on creating almost everything that we do from scratch and making sure that it’s always as fresh as possible. We try to combine a lot of unique flavors and make them work together to create the eclectic taco.”
That effort shows with the diverse and very original menu. Each taco is made on a double layer of soft-shell corn tortillas and packed with quality, crisp, garden-fresh vegetables. One of the most impressive menu items is the lamb gyro taco, which combines tender, spiced lamb with the stout, sharp flavor of their homemade thick, chunky tzatziki sauce. Also noteworthy is the black bean taco. The taste of the corn tortilla shells brings out the earthiness of the vegetable-rich dish, including the pureed homemade bean and green chile mix made from scratch. While tacos are famously messy, with ingredients falling out in between bites, the well-composed consistency of the homemade taco ingredients are carefully packed into the tacos to create a thick, smooth, flavor-packed experience with minimal mess.
It is extremely rare to find a restaurant like White Duck, which does its own in-house pickling, makes its own glazes from scratch, and carries several types of fresh meat at once. According to Heiny, his kitchen has a prep list each day of over 70 items. He himself insists on handling much of the prep list himself to ensure it is done to his satisfaction. “When you cut a fresh ingredient, the taste should just pop,” he explained. “We take pride on the amount of prep work that goes into all our ingredients, the attention to flavor profile and detail of each taco, and using the ingredients that we have to make the best and freshest tacos possible…From a culinary perspective, just the amount of love and effort that goes into each taco made here is pretty cool.”
White Duck offers more traditional Mexican-American taco fare, such as the spicy buffalo chicken taco, a symmetrically flavorful eat featuring Heiny’s homemade buttermilk bleu cheese with bread chicken. But they also have wildly inventive dishes, such as the mole-roasted duck taco, which features mashed, shredded duck, prepared to a perfect tenderness and complemented by a sweet, flavor-packed homemade apple cranberry sauce. The restaurant caters to the traditional meat and potatoes diet with dishes like the steak and cheese taco, accented with a delish chipotle crema made in house, and the pork belly taco, which features a yummy pickled watermelon topping, but White Duck also provides a variety of gluten-free and vegetarian items.
One of the most remarkable meatless items is the banh mi tofu taco, which is served cold. The tofu is flawlessly prepared, maintaining its firmness but still chewing softly, with a fresh daikon and carrot slaw and a zesty ginger glaze. Apart from their vegetarian items, Heiny said one of the most popular tacos is the Bangkok shrimp taco. The heavy battered shrimp Is cooked perfectly, avoiding the sogginess that many restaurants’ shrimp tacos have. With fresh pickled cucumbers topping the taco, it has a delicious combination of sweetness and tang.
“It’s not traditional tacos,” Heiny acknowledged. “So just keep an open mind when you come in…be open to experimentation and just enjoy what we’re trying to do with all the different flavors and fresh ingredients.”
Even the beverages and desserts are imaginatively tasty. Heiny combines fresh local watermelon and fresh mint to create a juicy sangria with a garden-fresh taste and a kick of sweetness. White Duck offers a variety of desserts, including the delectable chocolate pot de crene, with has a soft but firm, cheesecake like texture underneath a pistachio crust and cinnamon-accented whipped cream.
White Duck is certainly not what one would expect when walking into a Hispanic-inspired restaurant. Wildly inventive and uniquely flavorful, each dish is powerfully impressive and savory. Seven months after opening their Whaley Street location, the restaurant is enjoying its newfound place in Midlands cuisine by using farmers’ market ingredients. Even their chipotle grits are from local Adluh Flour Mills and cooked for an hour and a half in the restaurant every day. They also look forward to incorporating more South Carolina dining staples into their menu, like an upcoming fried oyster taco.
“Business has been really good. It gradually increases every day,” said Heiny. “There’s some things that people don’t necessarily take to…I at least want them to try what we have to offer, though. We’re trying to do a unique thing and come up with an eclectic spin on tacos using really fresh ingredients. I stand behind my food. We as a restaurant are very proud and stand behind what we do.”
White Duck Taco Shop is open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and they stay open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant features a full menu, including margaritas, sangria, and beer. Each week, White Duck celebrates Taco Tuesday by offering two tacos and an alcoholic beverage for $10. For a full menu, visit www.whiteducktacoshop.com.