Gabe Stabley’s approach to his food and the environment at Outer Banks Taco Bar is intuitively centered around what’s going to make people feel good. People, meaning all of us: me, you, Stabley, and the people who work there. It’s comfortable and satisfying; unique and interesting but still familiar. Nothing feels forced about the food or the setting, because it’s not. The empanadas, the fried rice, the Cuban sandwich — everything is made fresh to order. It’s not cooked until the feeling strikes you, and you ask for it. The music is whatever the staff feels like listening to. Even the specials are often inspired by whatever the cook, Nick, or the servers were craving and plucked fresh out of the kitchen for their own lunches between customers.
Mirroring Stabley’s style of cooking at home, the Central and South American menu has some Korean flavors and dishes blended in. This is a Taco Bar though, and I want to talk about the pork tacos for a second. The tacos here are delivered to you on a homemade tortilla. That’s right, it’s your very own tortilla that Nick has rolled and pressed with his own two hands and cooked, just for you.
When’s the last time someone made you a fresh tortilla, from scratch? Every day at Outer Banks Taco Bar.
Then, the pulled pork! It comes from a pork butt that’s been rubbed with Gabe’s enticing homemade blend of spices — coffee and cocoa being the most distinctive of all. After taking a long nap in those seasonings, the pork is seared on the flat top to lock in all that flavor. It’s then gently braised for hours until the meat relaxes into soft, tender hunks with a crispy, spiced exterior: the bark. If you’re not familiar, this is the part of pulled pork we all want to eat first because it’s the best bits — charred and smoky, spicy, sweet, and salty. Heaven.
The rich and round flavor of the pork, enveloped in the slightly sweet, soft tortilla is everything you need in a taco. But, don’t miss the chance to enjoy that expertly prepared pork in the Cuban sandwich, as well. With the yucca fries on the side, if you want to do it right.
Recently, Stabley leaned into the Korean swagger in his cooking by offering a Pop-Up Korean Noodle Bar. The most popular bite on the menu is Asian BBQ Ribs that start with a rub of smoked paprika, brown sugar, coriander, and garlic, and end with a homemade spicy gochujang sauce full of peppers, sweet ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar.
There also are Korean chicken wings, shrimp shumai (plump, handmade, open-faced dumplings with a savory shrimp filling), and noodle bowls with a scratch-made miso broth that you can add chicken, tofu, beef, or shrimp to. This noodle bowl deserves its spot as the namesake of Stabley’s pop-up concept.
It arrives to your table as a steaming, fragrant, lush broth with swirls of slick, chewy noodles. There are clusters of mushrooms, spears of baby corn, and the occasional fleck of basil. Tucked alongside all this beauty is a perfectly soft-boiled egg with a creamy, golden yolk. The little things we all want between bites of our noodle bowls and ribs are there too: steamed dumplings with perfectly caramelized bottoms, flaky spring rolls and wontons, and tangy kimchi, all with Stabley’s twist of flavors and fillings.
In the true spirit of a pop-up, Stabley is repeating the Korean Noodle Bar, as time allows and, I would guess, when it feels right. In the meantime, keep your hunger at bay by enjoying the tacos and uniquely delicious specials — and keep an eye on Outer Banks Taco Bar’s Facebook page to see when the Noodle Bar will pop up again.