No matter what part of New Orleans you're in, there is Mexican food…good Mexican food. With plenty of possible reasons to account for the uptick in Mexican restaurants since 2005, the simplest is that locals love the easy cuisine and, of course, the embedded spirit—tequila. The food has a familiar sameness (homespun dishes, beans and rice, spiciness) and just enough differences (tortillas vs. bread, cilantro vs. parsley, etc.) for interest. Right now there are loads of small, cuisine-conscious, brick-and-mortar restaurants, chips off the once-dominant taco truck block, to dip into.
Downtown, El Patio Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Garden is a brightly lit space with ample outdoor seating and a festive atmosphere. The food leans more contemporary with traditional hints. Duck meatballs (albondigas) draped with a cool peanut mole and bright pickled onions; smoked mushroom tacos bolstered by a sharp, roasted poblano pepper aioli; and crispy Gulf shrimp with a green sauce and pumpkin seeds are demonstrative. The drinks are sturdy, and the churro sandwich dessert with horchata ice cream and salted peanut butter praline is delicious fun.
Uptown, chef Richard Papier recently reinvigorated the menu at Araña with a complex raisin, ground beef and picadillo-stuffed chile relleno, 12 taco-filling options and plenty of beer, tequilas, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, including Topo Chico bubble water. Further down Magazine Street, Del Fuego’s incredible margaritas (seasonal fruits or the tamarind are top draws) pair well with house-made soft corn tortillas to wrap around spoonsful of spinach- and chorizo-studded Queso Fundido, or fried crisp, excellent to dunk into one of its stunning salsas. Definitely get the Sikil Pak, a creamy pumpkin seed dip.
In the Riverbend neighborhood, La Mansion feeds the need with a straightforward menu including eight kinds of enchiladas. Go for the spicy kick of the jalapeno- and cilantro-studded Suisa. Meanwhile on a busy stretch in Mid-City, right next to historic Italian sweets mecca Angelo Brocato’s, Taqueria Guerrero Mexico offers home-style plates, an oversized chilled schooner of Mexican shrimp cocktail and, on the weekends, big bowls of menudo to cure the ails from the night before.
New Orleans goes by the moniker NOLA, but all the delicious Mexican cuisine has us shouting N-OLÉ!