Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Mexican cooking was an everyday experience. Chicken enchiladas, tacos, homemade burritos, we ate these every week along with hamburgers, barbecue and chicken-fried steak. People forget that Louisiana belonged to Mexico originally, and the two may have separated their boundaries, but not entirely their kitchens. And some have even moved across the border, like La Pagua.
It’s a cerveza cuisine, colorful and informal like La Pagua itself, whose name means “avocado” and whose dining room and closely-spaced tables resemble a cantina. The family-friendly restaurant has what many consider the best Mexican fare in Lafayette.
Pick your beer from a list of plenty. Tecate is a working-class Mexican beer, and it comes cold and in a can, which is all you can expect, but there is Modelo and Dos Equis as well. Try the frozen sangria margarita ($7.95) or other margarita variations, because whether you like yours fruity or the original with a strong tequila taste, frozen or on the rocks, you can have what you like as long as you know your tequila. Made from the blue agave variety of maguey and named for a place, it can be cognac-smooth or go down like glass, it all depends on the brand. Anejo is aged and rated accordingly, Cuervo’s middle of the road, Patron, Milagro, Caho Wabo, Corazon — there’s a dozen to choose from. Don’t ask for a wine list; they have red or white.
The list of appetizers includes chile con queso, which doesn’t at all resemble the RoTel version you might be used to, but it is bowl-scraping delicious so get the large ($5.95). Excellent also are the homemade tortilla chips and salsa, and La Pagua knows, like any decent Mexican restaurant, that salsa and hot sauce are serioso. Thankfully, someone in the kitchen rides shotgun on the coriander leaves because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being ambushed by a bunch of cilantro.
La Pagua offers authentic tacos without nuevo Tex-Mex touches — Cochinita and Al Pastor with shredded or grilled pork; Barbicoa, shredded beef; Lengua, marinated beef tongue — beginning at $1.75 each and for those more Tex than Mex, there are steaks and hamburgers.
We ordered steak fajitas, Mexican-style steak tacos invented by Texas cattle ranchers (Tex-Mex tacos crunch, Mexican ones do not) and la Pagua serves theirs with guacamole, rice, beans and a lime, plus a choice of flour or corn tortillas ($9.95). Guacaholics will be pleased with their end, but you have to request the salsa verde — a zippy condiment made with tomatillos, garlic, scallions, and jalapenos — and anyone who eats at La Pagua knows that’s the secret sauce. We also tried the taco salad with a side of refried beans to mix in, ($8.95 and $2.25) and the burrito gordo ($10.95), which lives up to its name — a large, thick burrito filled with your choice of beans or meat. They will cheerfully hold the jalapenos if you ask.
Some of the staff speak limited English, but they strive to please. Service is efficient, except when the World Cup is on TV, we’ve observed.