Talking tacos at Tangent

The “lattice of coincidence” strikes again.

Today as I scanned the Food page in the Burlington Times-News I noted a nugget tucked along the left-hand rail of the first page. It was a history question of sorts.

What was the original cost of a taco at Taco Bell?
5 cents
10 cents
19 cents

Before even considering the answer I wondered this: “How did the universe know I was going to write about tacos this morning?” After all, It’s a pretty random reference that didn’t seem tied to an anniversary of Taco Bell or some noteworthy date in the history of tacos in America or even the evolution of tacos.

And tacos have evolved from those original Taco Bell days – and in a number of ways.

That brings us to Tangent, a restaurant in Elon on Lebanon Avenue. It’s a small place run by operators of The Root, a larger restaurant with a much wider menu also on Lebanon Avenue. Tangent specializes in tacos and seems to be a primary go-to place in Elon for a quick lunch or dinner. It’s convenient, relatively quick, reasonably priced (unless compared to the original cost of a Taco Bell taco – I’ll provide that answer later), not too heavy, unique and fun. It’s also pretty popular.

I started working at Elon University less than two months ago and Tuesday marked my third visit to Tangent. This time I was with a colleague from the Athletic Department who took me to lunch. Absolutely the best thing about being the new guy at Elon is that everybody wants to take you to lunch. He suggested Tangent because “you can’t go wrong there.” I can’t disagree.

Tangent doesn’t offer an overwhelming number of choices and those looking for a standard ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese taco in a crunchy shell should go find themselves a … well, Taco Bell. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult to sample all the taco options at Tangent in a handful of visits. And I would recommend doing so until finding your own taco nirvana. My spouse, for example, discovered her perfect choice early on. She’s worked at Elon for more than four years and became a Tangent devotee well before I did. She’s a major endorser of the shrimp melt taco. Here’s how she rhapsodizes about the experience.

“The finest shrimp dusted in spices and fried to perfection so it snaps when you bite it. The shrimp sit in a pillow of Havarti and topped with spinach, a cilantro pesto and a spicy sauce. It’s a hit every time. Once you eat one, you’ll never order another kind of taco – ever.”

(I’ll insert the “lattice of coincidence” reference again here for those with knowledge of the movie “Repo Man” and are saying “plate of shrimp” about now.)

Yes, my spouse has given this shrimp melt taco thing much too much thought. Here’s what I do know about the Tangent menu. On my three visits I have sampled the spicy catfish taco (fried catfish, black bean salsa, shredded cabbage, avocado and a honey mayo); and, the chicken & waffle taco (chicken strips, maple slaw, bacon mayo and bacon bits). Both are exceptionally flavorful and served on a soft flour tortilla. It’s light but tasty fare and usually I need at least two – although a third wouldn’t be out of the question. The one notable side is fried corn on the cob. I’ve had this item at The Root and it’s very good.

Prices per taco run mostly from $3 to $3.35. There are a couple of exceptions but the menu pictured here and borrowed from Tangent’s website is a little out of date.A small but interesting selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks are available but I usually stick with water at lunch.


The Tangent menu is displayed on the left-hand wall. This version taken from their website has changed but is largely the same.

Ordering is simple – you do so at the register located at the end of a short hallway on the left, pay and then someone brings the order to your table. A small number of outdoor tables are available. On two lunch trips we ate outside comfortably even though it’s still wintertime in North Carolina.

Tangent is very well liked so anticipate a crowd. The line to order moves quickly, though and people don’t linger. It’s the kind of place that fills up fast but empties at the same rate. It’s worth taking the risk.

I’ll continue to go back, even after the new guy thing wears off and people stop buying my lunch. That’s about as high as praise gets, I suppose.

By the way, the cost of that original Taco Bell taco: 19 cents. But there’s no “pillow of Havarti.”

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