Tacos are delicious. Filled with a protein, drizzled with salsa and lime, plus cilantro (if it doesn’t taste like soap to you), and double-layered tortilla to account for the dribble of juice, a good one is mouthwatering. But, tacos are simply one among an entire diverse region of dishes worth biting into.
Over the years, especially as Central American immigrants have taken up residence in New Orleans, adding to our rich diversity, the Latin American population has grown significantly in the Greater New Orleans area. As a result of that growth, came a burst of not only Mexican food, but also Central and South American cuisine. The local culinary landscape features an ever-growing and ever-evolving list of Latin American restaurants. September is Hispanic Heritage month, and while we encourage you to eat all of the delicious, Latin cuisine in New Orleans, year-round, this month offers the perfect reason to indulge a little extra. Below is a sampling of some of the best and most authentic of the bunch, though it is certainly not all-inclusive.
3700 Magazine St.
Baru, which recently celebrated its ten year anniversary, is an award-winning restaurant operated by Chef Edgar Caro serving Colombian and Caribbean cuisine. The restaurant, which began as BYOB in a small, former grocery store with tables intimately wedged together, has since expanded to the second floor gallery and serves cocktails and other drinks. Baru specializes in tapas, or small plates, and its menu features items like fresh ceviche, Chorizo a la Parrilla, a housemade Colombian-style chorizo, Camarones al Ajillo, shrimp with garlic, chili, olive oil, and bread, and the Leruvian-style lobster & potato salad with quail egg and olive aioli. For those interested in a main dish, Baru offers several options including the churrasco grilled skirt steak.
870 Tchoupitoulas St.
La Boca, an Argentinian steakhouse led by Chef Adolfo Garcia, has been a local favorite for more than a decade. It recently moved into a larger location but continues to serve the same quality food. The menu includes Ñoqui “La Boca”, potato dumplings with pancetta, peas, and cream, two types of empanadas, and chorizo as appetizers. Dulce de leche ice cream on the dessert menu is a sweet treat and reminiscent of the many ice cream shops on the streets of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. Of course, the steaks are the highlight of the menu, and cuts include bone-in filet mignon, organic hanger steak, and outside skirt. For a well-rounded Argentinian experience, order a Malbec or Pisco Sour to go along with your meal.
This roving pop-up and catering company produces some of the best Cuban food outside of Miami and Cuba proper. Congreso Cubano serves food at local bars, breweries, galleries, festivals, and more. Ropa Vieja (which literally translates to Old Clothes) is often on the menu. Congreso’s media guru Ricky Ostry describes it as “a traditional Cuban dish of braised-then-shredded steak in a rich red wine and tomato sofrito, served over rice with a side of tostones (twice-fried green plantains).” Other menu items include Flan de Leche, a Cuban custard, and Gazpacho Andaluz, a chilled soup that originates from the southern region of Spain called Andalusia. Stay up-to-date on the whereabouts of Congreso Cubano— and stay tuned for more details on a brick-and-mortar location, which is currently in the works.
4401 S. Broad Ave.
El Pavo Real is a more recent addition to the growing flurry of local Mexican restaurants in town. Owned by Lindsey McLellan, previously the chef at Lola’s, El Pavo Real serves authentic Mexican food, including some recipes passed down from McLellan’s husband’s family from Mexico. The menu includes chilaquiles (a traditional breakfast dish prepared at El Pavo Real with tortilla strips, Chihuahua cheese, cream, poblano peppers, green salsa, and poached eggs), mole poblano (roasted chicken in a housemade mole sauce), and of course tacos (such as al pastor and chicken tinga).
930 Poydras St.
Under the expertise of Mexican chef Aarón Sánchez, who now resides in New Orleans, Johnny Sanchez offers a fun and funky venue for eating traditional Mexican food. The menu features chicken flautas (rolled up crispy tortillas with chicken, guacamole, queso fresco, sour cream, and Valentina hot sauce), half a dozen different types of tacos, as well as more complex items like duck carnitas enchiladas.
1200 Carondelet St.
Mais Arepas is known for its arepas— which are essentially a Colombian bun made of maize dough and filled with meat, cheese, and other foods. The very juicy Cerda arepa is made with Colombian-style pulled pork, maduros, pickled onions, and cotija cheese. The Mechada arepa is stuffed with slow-cooked skirt steak, sofrito, maduros (sweet plantains), and melted mozzarella. Owner David Mantilla says most of the food on the menu stems from where he grew up— Cali, a city on the Pacific coast of Colombia—where corn, plantains, and sugar grow abundantly. Growing up in a family of amazing cooks, Mantilla remembers watching his “gramma” make Arepas and empanadas from scratch for the entire family every weekend. That inspired him to open Mais Arepas and bring Colombian food to New Orleans.
2112 Belle Chasse Hwy., Suite. 7 (Gretna, LA)
Mangú is a brand new Dominican restaurant in Gretna. Named after the traditional Dominican dish of mashed green plantains, Mangú’s menu includes empanadas, tostadas (Dominican-style paninis), and arroz con leche (rice pudding). Traditional mangú is, of course, also on the menu — and the options are extensive. Traditional mangú is made with butter and an onion vinaigrette and served with a choice of meat such as chicharron de pollo (fried chicken cracklin) or chivo guisado (braised goat). Daily specials are also offered including mondongo (a tripe stew served with rice of green plaintains) Monday through Friday. Sancocho, a stew with chicken, beef, pork, yuca, potatoes, carrots, rice, and avocado is served on Saturdays and Sundays.
In addition to traditional restaurants in New Orleans, local Latin grocery stores are a must-try for traditional and usually simple (and cheap) eats.
Supermercados (Grocery Stores)
250 S. Broad St., 4421 Airline Dr. (Metairie, LA), 653 Terry Pkwy. (Gretna, LA), and additional locations
Ideal has expanded to communities across the region— from New Orleans to Metairie to Gretna. The grocery offers a butcher, bakery, and hot meals. Ideal also has an expansive catering menu including pupusas, tacos (Mexican and Honduran), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), and flan for dessert. Fresh made salsas are also available for purchase.
2925 Bienville St. and 3221 Georgia Ave. (Kenner, LA)
In addition to its grocery offerings of Latin American goods, Norma’s also offers hot lunches of caldo (basically a heavy-duty chicken soup), tortas (sandwiches), and tamales — order-at-the-counter style. Norma’s is best known, however, for its pastries, including pastelitos de guayaba (flaky pastries with guava jelly) and tres leches cake (a traditional spongy cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream). In addition, come Carnival season, Norma’s offers king cakes filled with sweet guava and cream cheese.
9212 W. Judge Perez Drive (Chalmette, LA)
Perez Grocery in Chalmette is a one stop shop for fútbol (soccer),financial services, Latin groceries (including a wide array of spices), and, most importantly, a small food counter. This is no-frills Latin food (mostly Mexican and Honduran), and like so many of the most authentic places – is a true hole in the wall. Order tacos, quesadillas, beans, and rice, and settle into a seat to watch live sports from our Southern neighbors.
1301 Poland Ave.
Sólo Espresso is a quiet coffeeshop off the beaten path offering coffee from Panther Coffee, a coffee-roaster based in New Orleans. Order a cortado (a Spanish style coffee or espresso mixed with a roughly equal amount of warm milk) Sip it outside — you might just spot some chickens and roosters roaming the area too.
508 Dumaine St.
Somewhere in between a coffeeshop and a restaurant lies El Libre, a hole-in-the-wall French Quarter establishment. El Libre has a small sandwich menu including the traditional Cubano (with ham, pork slow roasted in mojo, swiss, pickles, and mustard). The coffee menu includes cortados, café con leche, café Cubano, and the traditional Miami cortadito, Fun fact: you can also order rum cocktails here, like a Cuba Libre or a Mojito.