Baton Rouge seems to be big and Tex-Mexy enough to support at least one taco truck. What about a taco restaurant? Looks like we’re going to find out.
There is more to the Taco Chops Cantina menu than tacos, but not by a whole lot. Its owners, who grew up in Mexico, are betting the ranch on a handful of varieties of this simple but popular dish. They’ve got at least a couple of things going for them in that quest.
The most important are the meats, and how they’re prepared. Forget about ground beef or shredded chicken. The meats are all chopped, which helps them stay moist (not always successfully) and provides a more pleasing texture. That’s an often-overlooked aspect of food preparation, because how food feels in the mouth is almost as important as how it tastes.
As well, there are no taco shells, but soft wheat and corn tortillas. That’s not an earth-shattering development, but it’s the best way to eat a taco.
Tacos are $3.75 each and come with fish, steak, buffalo chicken, pork, chorizo sausage and shrimp, and various combinations that allow diners to mix and match tacos and side orders. We didn’t try them all, but here are our observations.
Fish — a fairly ample portion of flaky white fish, with some lettuce and tomato. The fish had a light marinade, but needed the tartar sauce that came on the side.
Shrimp — not as generous on the portion, but with a tangy, tomato-based sauce that made me think of shrimp Creole in a tortilla.
Pork — one of our favorites, in part because a creamy sauce provided an extra flavor and kept it moist.
Steak — could have used the extra moisture. Our meat was quite dry. But the shredded cheese and a couple of jalapeno slices gave it an interesting kick.
Buffalo chicken — may please those who like buffalo wings, but the vinegar and pepper were too much for us.
Taco Chops also serves a large quesadilla ($6.75), and the chicken version was quite good — thick, cheesy and filling.
Side orders include Spanish rice, a fairly bland cup of cantina beans and an unusual slaw with little moisture and a sharp, vinegary bite. It might make a good addition to one or more of the tacos, but didn’t please us as a stand-alone order.
The Muchas Papas appetizer ($9.25) is a large mound of French fries covered with queso and chorizo, the latter having a peppery quality that doesn’t rip the hide off your tongue but sneaks up on you a little bit. The serving was more than our party of four could finish.
A friendly place, the staff makes a point to greet you as you walk in. It’s a rather haphazard ambiance — plain tables and chairs, some of the walls with handwritten messages where decoration might be.