Mexican food is a hot trend nationally, and lately it seems to be the answer for local restaurateurs looking to retool.
For instance, the year-old pan-Asian restaurant Lucky Rooster was changed last week into another location of Juan’s Flying Burrito (515 Baronne St., 504-529-5825; juansflyingburrito.com). Two weeks prior, the proprietors of RioMar changed their upscale Latin American seafood restaurant into a new concept called Tacos & Tequila (800 S. Peters St., 504-525-3474). Lucky Rooster and RioMar were very different restaurants, but in each case business wasn’t going well.
The same partners behind Lucky Rooster also run Juan’s Flying Burrito, and they believe quick, takeout-friendly Mexican food will play better in the CBD. The space itself required only a light renovation to become a taqueria, and Lucky Rooster chef Neal Swidler is still on the job here, now working on menu development in the Mexican mode.
RioMar chef Miles Prescott runs the kitchen at Tacos & Tequila, though here the transformation was more dramatic. This taqueria uses the “fast casual” format for tacos, burritos and other Mexican street food staples, which are assembled as you watch from the service line. Next door, the former RioMar bar has become a semi-autonomous entity called La Barra, directed by local bar consultant Mary Dixie. You can bring your baskets of tacos or nachos over, but with extensive tequila and rum lists and a lounge look it sets a different tone.
Downtown already had a few similar Mexican options, like La Casita (634 Julia St., 504-218-8043; eatlacasita.com). And some serious star power is set to join the neighborhood too, with John Besh and Food Network celebrity chef Aarón Sanchez expected to open their own taqueria concept, Johnny Sanchez, at 930 Poydras St. later this month.
It’s worth noting that Tacos & Tequila still serves RioMar’s excellent tres leches de coco cake. Maybe this opens the door for more crossovers. RioMar was well known for its ceviche, which might translate to a taqueria. And RioMar had a killer roasted pork and chicharrón dish. I’d try that in a taco in a heartbeat.
That’s just me pining a bit for RioMar, which I already miss. But as more restaurateurs turn to the tortilla, they’ll all need to do something a little different to stand out.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.