Haunted by Tacos: El Cucuy

After over 16 years together, I can easily predict what John’s response will be when I ask what he wants for dinner.

“Tacos?” he replies with a hopeful grin.

While that used to mean hitting up the nearest Taco Bell or making the old-school crunchy-shell, ground beef version at home, lately it’s been far simpler to just grab takeout.

Over the past year or so, there has been a veritable explosion of taco spots around New Orleans. I remember complaining several years ago on local food forums about the city’s severe lack of great Mexican food (I wasn’t the only one), and it seems like folks were listening.

In early September last year El Cucuy opened on Tchoupitoulas Street, only a hop and a skip from Barracuda Taco Stand which opened in April 2019. While the roadhouse, street-food theme with classic cars is campy-cool, what first appealed to me (aside from the house-made tortillas) was the name.

El Cucuy is essentially the Mexican version of the bogeyman. Although somewhat diminutive in comparison, he’s bat-like with red eyes, sharp claws and teeth, and is used as a frightening myth to make young children behave . . . not unlike the local legend of the Rougarou, though he is more lupine in nature and lives in the swamps. As a lifelong horror/sci-fi/fantasy fan, the name alone was right up my alley.

Though we didn’t have a chance to go inside due the restrictions at the time it opened, it was a short jaunt in the car after we placed our order to pick up our bounty. John, of course, chose a taco plate with one carne asada and one “trompo” al pastor (vertical rotisserie pork), that came with excellent black beans, a surprisingly mild, fried jalapeno and pickled veggies. I went a slightly different route (a totally non-keto route) because I wanted to try the Torta Pombazo — basically a seasoned potato and black bean sandwich served on fried bolillo bread (like a small baguette or banh-mi) with fresh avocado, onion, cotija cheese and chorizo.

Though the sandwich was filling — talk about carb overload — it was relatively mild in flavor. I was hoping for a bigger burst, especially from the chorizo, but it just wasn’t there, though I did steal some of John’s salsa verde to rectify the situation. John’s tacos were spicy and flavorful with thick, almost chewy, corn tortillas, but we agreed the carne asada definitely stood out. We also got an order of chips and queso which were pretty basic with crumbly cotija and (likely) Velveeta with flour-based tortilla chips.

What stood out the most for me were two things; those lovely, smoky and savory black beans, and their only dessert — a “Mangonada” with chamoy (a fruity, chili-based sauce), Miguelito sweet chili, lime and salt. I was expecting a mango-laden slushy of sorts (from pictures on Google), but it was simply a perfectly-ripe mango cut for easy consumption and liberally doused in the above seasonings. It was wonderful! Sweet, just slightly spicy, and to me the most street-food-like dish of the lot.

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