Tacos take over New Orleans

From pop-ups to pubs, tacos are the talk of the town

Los Angeles restaurant critic Jonathan Gold has described a “great brotherhood of taco eaters” in his hometown, where the taco is treated as traditional art by Mexican mom-and-pop taquerias and as the vehicle for creative reinterpretation 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.

“The delivery system of a round, folded-over wrapper can go a lot of other places than the streets of Mexico,” said Cam Boudreaux, whose Dis Taco stand opened inside the French Quarter pub Molly’s at the Market this summer. “The taco is hand-held food without a lot of boundaries.”

Boudreaux and his partner April Bellow worked in fine dining before striking out on their own in 2012 by opening Killer Po-boys, which serves imaginative chef-driven renderings of New Orleans’ famous sandwich inside the Erin Rose bar. For Dis Taco, they bring a similar treatment to the tortilla.

They make their own chorizo, top beef with cucumber-sumac salsa, feta and mint for a Middle Eastern crossover and wrap curried vegetables and chutney 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 kitchen spaces 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 ideas for adding an inexpensive dinner option at their Bywater breakfast and lunch spot Satsuma Café.

Their new Twilight Tacos, which debuted two weeks ago, operates like a pop-up with a short list of tacos taped over the regular café menu and a BYOB policy with margarita fixings provided at the service counter.

“It’s not that I was sitting on all these taco recipes and just dreaming of opening a taqueria,” said Cassi Dymond. “It was about doing something affordable for the neighborhood that we could pull off in our restaurant after hours, and tacos fit the bill.”

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 in 2010, which serves a unique menu to lunchtime office workers by day and bar patrons by night.

“Basically, we come up with a funny name for a taco, and if it sticks we come up with the recipe,” said Alex del Castillo.

That explains “carnital knowledge,” a taco made with the grilled, chopped pork called carnitas, and “Seoul man,” a nod to the Korean-style barbecue chicken taco that originated in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile Woody Ruiz has made a distinctly New Orleans-style taco a fixture of the city’s art markets and neighborhood festivals. Under his Woody’s Fish Tacos tent, Ruiz and his crew grill big flanks of redfish, snapper and other Gulf fish, which they slather with remoulade sauce on soft corn tortillas.

“I think the appeal for a festival crowd is that this comes hot off the grill, people see you making it right in front of you,” Ruiz said. “And you don’t need a fork. You can hold a beer and eat a taco and walk around.”

The taco trade is also keeping Rubens Leite quite busy.

On the weekends he parks his Rubens Taco Truck outside the Palms, a bar near Tulane University, while also operating what amounts to an indoor taco truck from the open kitchen at the Frenchmen Street music club Café Negril.

Between shifts that can stretch until 5 a.m., Leite also fields requests for party catering, sometimes driving his brightly decorated truck into tony subdivisions on the Northshore.

“I pull up to these houses and they’re huge, these expensive cars parked everywhere,” he said. “These people could have anything, so I’m always wondering why tacos. But they just love them. I guess everyone loves tacos.”