Mexican restaurants are now trending hard around New Orleans, but the latest addition traces its roots back many years.
At the new Araña Taqueria y Cantina (3242 Magazine St., 504-894-1233), chef Richard Papier zeros in on flavors from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and other interior regions, for dishes like lamb chops in red mole, ancho-marinated duck tacos and pibil pork. For his initial inspiration, however, he looks back to suburban Kenner and formative experiences early in his career working at Taqueros.
This restaurant (which later relocated to the Lower Garden District and has long since closed) was one of the few local standbys for traditional Mexican cooking in the pre-Katrina era. Papier credits its chef, Guillermo Peters (who now runs the kitchen at Canal Street Bistro), with introducing him to what would become his culinary obsession.
“This has been my passion and direction for food for years now,” Papier said. “It’s the big flavor and the rusticity of it. It’s the slow braise of the meats. You have to have love and patience for this food.”
Papier worked at many other restaurants around New Orleans; Araña is his first opportunity to fully showcase that fixation. It opened Tuesday along a busy restaurant row in the former home of Byblos, and it’s the latest from local restaurant company 3 of a Kind, which also operates the nearby Salu Bistro & Bar and the remaining Byblos Middle Eastern eateries. It’s also a very personal project for Papier.
Araña, Spanish for spider, is a nod to his own nickname — the chef answers to “Spyder” — and arachnid images are worked across the décor, along with a Mexican Day of the Dead motif. To that end, in addition to drinks made with tequila, mezcal and agua frescas, the bar here serves beer from Mexico’s Day of the Dead craft brewery.
Papier’s menu begins with antojitos, which are essentially Mexican snacks and small plates, like tostadas, tamales, Yucatan nachos and oyster campechano, a seafood cocktail. It continues with tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches), salads, a dozen different tacos and a short list of entrees. Papier has more in store and expects to begin working deeper regional specialties across his blackboard specials as the restaurant gets rolling.
“Once people see what we’re doing and trust us, then we can start doing more,” he said.
Araña serves dinner daily and will add lunch by next week. At happy hour (Monday-Friday, 3-7 p.m.) you’ll find half-price tacos and drinks.