No! Not Taco Bell! Believe it or not, there are some fabulous Mexican eats to be had in the Crescent City without having to resort to our favorite fast food fall-backs. Granted, many are a far cry from “authentic” Mexican food, but honestly…who doesn’t love Tex-Mex? Is it wrong to crave a Margarita on the rocks with a heavily salted rim or a huge bowl of queso with an endless supply of warm, crispy tortilla chips? Hell no!
So where does one go when one has a yen for cheesy, creamy, deep fried Mexican goodness? Well, why don’t we start at Nacho Mama’s on Magazine Street? It’s tough to choose the perfect item among dishes like Chile Rellenos, Garlic Lime Jumbo Shrimp Fajitas and BBQ Pulled Pork Tortas, but I suggest you sink your teeth into their Mamachitas. Crispy, deep fried flour tortillas are filled with jalapeno, roasted habanero, red bell peppers, serranos, cheddar and jack cheese and served with a side of ancho pepper aioli for dipping. Plus, Nacho Mama’s has never been better since Chef Joseph Mongrue stepped in to introduce fresh, new ingredients and techniques that have greatly improved food quality.
If you head further down Magazine, almost all the way to Sophie Wright Place, you’ll find one of the most popular “alternative” Mexican restaurants in New Orleans, Juan’s Flying Burrito. Kick back in a booth under chandeliers made from Patron bottles and admire local art adorning the walls while you dig in to some seriously sumptuous Tex-Mex like a deep bowl of their Chorizo Queso served with fresh tortilla chips. Try a Juaha Roll with grilled chicken, spinach and avocado or their namesake Flying Burrito with grilled steak, gulf shrimp and chicken with cheese, black beans, yellow rice, sour cream and guacamole rolled in a grilled tortilla. Interested in trying a wrap other than the ubiquitous flour? Juan’s also offers spinach, wheat and chipotle tortillas on all of their beautiful burritos.
If you are looking for something closer to “the real thing,” you might want to check out Panchitas in the big, pink building on South Carrollton Avenue. Opened only two years ago, this inexpensive restaurant has become quite a hit with folks in the surrounding neighborhood, not to mention the college kids from Tulane and Loyola. Panchitas features cuisine from Veracruz, so if you are looking for chimichangas, this is not the place to go. But, if you are looking for delicious quesadillas made with Mexican cheese, house made flour tortillas, Guachinago (whole fried fish) or an excellent chorizo burrito, you know where to go.
For more of a Southwestern flavor, cruise across town to Santa Fe Restaurant on Esplanade Avenue in Mid City. Sit outside on their shaded patio and watch the traffic roll by with a bowl of cool gazpacho offered with jumbo lump crab or some of their incredible ceviche with fresh, local fish, shrimp, calamari, and avocado “cooked” in a tangy lime/olive oil marinade. For a tasty entree, try their flash fried fish soft tacos served with lettuce, creamy guacamole, sour cream, cheese and pico de gallo. If you can still manage to fit in a little sweet, try their orange-infused flan…delicious!
One of the newest Mexican restaurants to hit the scene, Tequila Blues, has landed over on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. A combination bar, restaurant and music club, Tequila Blues offers the usual Tex-Mex fare with cheesy quesadillas, enchiladas and sizzling fajitas, but it’s real draw would probably be the unique, top-shelf margaritas. Try their special “Super Premium Margarita” blended with Sauza Reposado, Plata Tequila, triple sec and their own special margarita mix made with fresh lemon and lime juice. They also have attracted the Latin electronic music scene that sets the restaurant pumping every Saturday night.
Another Tequila-touting taqueria smack dab on Bourbon Street is Rita’s Tequila House. Some of the house favorite dishes include Rita’s Poppers, a combination of twice-cooked yuca, cheese and bacon stuffed into a jalapeno and deep fried or their Mexican Pizzas that are cooked to order with toppings like steak, chicken, shrimp or fish that is marinated, mesquite grilled and served over a crispy flour tortilla with pico de gallo and olives. Additionally, you can enjoy over 135 different tequilas at Rita’s, just try not to do it all in one day.
*Article originally published in the June 2012 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Nacho Mama’s, Tequila Blues and Rita’s Tequila House are closed