The corner of Esplanade Avenue and Frenchmen Street has been home to a number of restaurants and bars in recent years, including most recently Rare Form, which shuttered this summer. Next month, Latin-inspired taco bar and lounge NOLA Cantina (437 Esplanade Ave.) will open in the space.
Husband-and-wife team Chloe and Robert Watters are behind the new space. The couple also run a number of nightlife venues around town, including Backspace Bar & Kitchen, Rick’s Cabaret and Boot Scootin’ Rodeo.
“We wanted to create a nice place for the neighborhood and we wanted to bring good food to Frenchmen (Street),” Chloe Watters said. The concept is part taco bar part cocktail lounge, Watters says. The restaurant’s interior has been completely revamped to feature a modern cocktail lounge. The spacious patio is still there but has been renovated to include tropical landscaping and banana and pepper plants. There also is a DJ Booth in addition to the music stage, and Friday nights will feature a mix of local DJs spinning music.
Chef Octavio Ycaza is consulting on the restaurant’s menu and will oversee kitchen operations as opening executive chef before handing the reins to a replacement. Ycaza, who also runs the Ecuadorian street food pop-up Miti, Miti, says the menu consists of creative takes on the taco, as well as a few larger plates. Those include a chile relleno and the pescado horneado a la sal, a whole fish stuffed with charred onions and peppers, baked in a salt crust and served with drawn brown butter, pico de gallo, guacamole, tortillas and limes.
Tacos will be sold individually and include Gringas, American cheese-stuffed flour tortillas filled with al pastor braised pork, charred pineapple, jalapenos and an avocado crema. The Flower Power taco is filled with roasted cauliflower, smoked paprika, blistered scallions, hibiscus-pickled onions, avocado crema and chimichurri. The whimsical-sounding Choceaux-Taceaux-Borracheaux is served on a crispy corn tortilla with tequila and cherry coffee ice cream, a white chocolate shell and cocoa nibs.
The cocktail menu will feature a tequila and mezcal-heavy selection with several margaritas and white and red sangria. Starting in December, the spot will serve brunch.
NOLA Cantina will open the first week of November and will be open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.Wednesday through Sunday.