La Mexicana feels like an insider’s kind of place.
You enter a small grocery store in a Siegen Lane strip mall and walk past the T-shirts, racks of pan dulce and a butcher’s case to find a few tables in the back.
Like other taquerias across Baton Rouge, here they serve a variety of Mexican dishes, plates with rice and beans and a la carte items like tacos, gorditas and tostadas. These small antojitos — “little cravings” often called Mexican street foods — are where La Mexicana shines.
During a lunchtime visit, we ordered mango and strawberry aquas frescas ($2.50), picking from the jugs placed atop the bar in the restaurant’s rear. Served in tall glasses, the fruit drinks were incredibly sweet, leading each of us to order a glass of water, too.
Spanish-language music videos played loudly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shrine to the Virgin Mary. We scanned the menu, which included photos and bilingual descriptions, and munched on chips and a fresh salsa made with a thick tomato base.
From previous trips to the taqueria, I knew the tacos and gorditas were among the best in Baton Rouge. So I tried the carne asada ($8.99), a marinated skirt steak grilled with onions and a jalapeno. It was skirt steak, so it was a little tough to cut, but easy to chew. On the side were tortillas, a salad of tomatoes, avocados and lettuce, and refried beans and rice.
Full of flavor, the carne asada tasted better with a spray of lime, and the grilled onions were partially caramelized and sweet. The corn tortillas arrived steaming and tasted freshly made.
On my steak tacos, I alternately tried the two house-made salsas in bottles on the table — the salsa verde and the salsa roja. The green sauce was my favorite, a shot of slow-building spice and a strong tomatillo flavor.
One of my guests chose a couple of items from the a la carte menu, a tostada ($2.49) and a gordita ($2.99). The tostada was “a thing of beauty,” he said, “piled high with queso blanco, tomatoes and lettuce.” He didn’t quite know how to eat it, but he enjoyed every messy bite.
I hyped up the gordita before he ordered it, telling him it was “life-changing.” He called it a “revelation.” Filled with steak, sour cream and refried beans, the gordita’s thick, cake-like corn tortilla was crisp and flaky.
Another guest tried the chicken quesadilla ($6.99) and loved the slightly spicy flavor and the cheesy queso blanco. Wrapped in a huge, fresh and crisp flour tortilla, the quesadilla took up most of the plate. She and I both loved the fluffy rice, but we disagreed about the refried beans. I found them salty and thin, while she loved them.
Small taquerias like La Mexicana offer another side of Mexican food unfamiliar to many in Louisiana. These tacos and small cravings taste best with a spray of lime and a shot of salsa verde, not covered in thick cheese like many Tex-Mex staples.
What the loud, dimly lit restaurant lacks in ambience, it makes up for in flavor. Take a chance on La Mexicana and order something new.