Fast, cheap and easy to love, tacos might be the ideal party food. These days, they're turning up all over town and in all different formats, from traditional to New Orleans hybrids.
The Los Angeles restaurant critic Jonathan Gold has described a “great brotherhood of taco eaters” out in his hometown. These are aficionados, bordering on fanatics, who pursue their passion across the sprawling polyglot metropolis of L.A., where the taco is treated as traditional art by Mexican mom-and-pop taquerias and as the vehicle for creative culinary expression by just about everyone else.
New Orleans may not have that kind of taco culture yet, but things are improving locally for those who identify with the quick, cheap thrill of eating tacos directly from hand no matter where they might materialize. Tacos are turning up everywhere around town, and the options have never been more diverse.
For instance, over the summer we saw the debut of a joint called Dis Taco, which took over the tavern kitchen at the back of the well-known French Quarter pub Molly’s at the Market. It’s run by Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow, who share a background in fine dining and a conviction that a chef-driven approach can raise the bar for casual eats in the Quarter. At Dis Taco, they make their own sausage, top their beef with cucumber-sumac salsa, feta cheese and mint for a Middle Eastern crossover and wrap curried vegetables in a lentil pancake for what looks like a taco but tastes like Indian street food.
Dis Taco keeps its menu short, and focused almost exclusively on its namesake item, which can be prepared quickly in small kitchens and served for just a few dollars a pop. Those are just the traits that led Cassi and Peter Dymond to the taco format when they started brainstorming ways to add an easy dinner option at their Bywater breakfast and lunch spot Satsuma Café. Their new Twilight Tacos operates like a pop-up inside their own restaurant, with a short list of tacos taped over the regular café menu and a BYOB policy with margarita fixings at the counter. They can set up shop quickly, bang out a bunch of tacos for hungry neighbors and then fold the whole operation up for normal service in the morning.
Easy assembly also lends the taco to mobile operations, and while the traditional taco truck is the most familiar emblem of on-the-go taco consumption, New Orleans has produced a few of its own adaptations. Maribeth and Alex del Castillo rolled out their Taceaux Loceaux truck back in 2010, and today it serves a unique menu near the CBD by day and around Uptown bars by night. One taco memorably dubbed “carnital knowledge,” starts with the grilled, chopped pork called carnitas, and "Seoul man," has Korean-style barbecue chicken.
Meanwhile the festival vendor Woody’s Fish Tacos have made a distinctly New Orleans-style taco a fixture of the city’s art markets and neighborhood bazaars. Look for Woody’s tent and you’ll see big flanks of redfish, snapper and other Gulf fish on the grill, soon to be slathered with remoulade and wrapped in soft corn tortillas. You see people strolling the grounds of local outdoor markets with a fish taco in one hand and in the other some market purchase, or maybe a cup of beer.
Wherever these new-school tacos show up in New Orleans, people seem to be having a good time, confirming the taco’s cred as the ultimate street food.
1117 Decatur St., 504-717-7070; eatdistaco.com
Lunch, dinner and late-night Thu.-Sun.
3218 Dauphine St., 504-304-5962; satsumacafe.com
Hours and locations vary; see twitter.com/tlnola
Woody’s Fish Tacos
Ongoing appearances at New Orleans Art Market, Freret Market, Harrison Avenue Marketplace and others. 504-862-9590; email@example.com