What happens when taco appreciation, culinary curiosity and entrepreneurship come together in a new restaurant concept? For Dinner Lab and Ace Hotel alum Brett Jones, the result is Barracuda.
Already popular with families, hospitality types and millennials, this blink-and-you-miss-it Tchoupitoulas taco stand looks small from the street but unfolds hacienda-like into a huge backyard. The covered and al fresco seating is cooled by ‘Cajun AC’ – i.e. fans blowing over blocks of ice. For Jones, love of the taco was instilled early. “Tacos are the reason I started cooking in the first place,” he explained. “I took a trip to Mexico City when I was 16 years old and I got to walk around and fell in love with the street food. I came home with a lot of curiosity about how I could recreate those flavors.”
Since every cuisine of Mexico is represented in Mexico City, it was a great place to get exposure to different styles, although one could easily get lost in a maze of regional variations. Jones’s takeaway was a few core principals – make the tortillas fresh and make the components that go into them fresh as well. “A lot of things follow from this approach,” he said. “Just keep it simple and do it in-house.”
It starts with the tortillas. He makes both flour and corn versions. The flour tortilla is Sonoran-style, so thin it is almost translucent but with a little bit of chew, different from the thicker, more prevalent Tex-Mex style. The corn tortillas are hand-pressed. The taco menu is short but sweet, and follows a template of chicken, beef, pork, veg and fish. “The menu will always read that way, but the compositions will change,” according to Jones, who takes a market-driven approach. On one recent trip, the ruddy-hued chicken was chopped into chunks and garnished simply with chopped onion and cilantro. The prevailing flavor was provided by the adobo rub, a piquant paste of annatto seeds, achiote and other seasonings. Pork was shoulder cooked al pastor-style and garnished with grilled pineapple. And the fish was farm-raised Mississippi catfish smothered with shredded cabbage, onion, salsa macha and crema. Sprinkled atop was a scattering of colorful pomegranate seeds. Why pomegranate seeds? “They look really pretty and they make you feel healthy,” Brett shrugged. Of note – while the other tacos will change, the fish is locked down. “It was a surprise hit. It looks like the fish taco is going to stay the way it is forever.”
The bar menu echoes the ethos of the kitchen – use the least amount of the best ingredients. The margaritas might be on draft, but Barracuda batches them and always uses 100 percent agave and fresh lime juice. If you are in search of creative non-alcoholic beverages, try their housemade horchata, made from Louisiana brown rice, toasted almonds, spices and cane sugar.
The taco stand is counter service and most of the seating is in the backyard, although there is a decent amount of courtyard seating for inclement weather. Vegetarians will also find more than a few choices here – the Farmer Taco (recently umami-rich griddled mushrooms) is never an afterthought and Jones always runs at least one veg special. “If I could have opened a vegetable taco stand and kept the lights on, I probably would have,” he said. But this is better – Barracuda is a place that everyone can love.
MEET THE CHEF
Barracuda owner Brett Jones fell in love with tacos on a trip to Mexico City as a teenager. He worked through a series of restaurants in college, where he also played in a band. After gigs he’d cook tacos for the after-parties. He picked up business experience working with Dinner Lab and, later, helping open the Ace Hotel. Along the way he got burned out with high-end dining and decided to do something casual. “I wanted a place where people could just come to relax and enjoy a Margarita,” he said. “Have something well-made but simple and at a good value.”
Barracuda Tacos & Tortillas, 3984 Tchoupitoulas St., Uptown, 266-2961. L, D Tues-Sun. Closed Mon. EatBarracuda.com
Taking a Taco Stand
If you are in search of even more tacos, the popular Taceaux Loceaux food truck recently levelled up into a brick and mortar location on Octavia Street just off of Magazine. Here you will find classics like Pollo Asado sharing real estate with mashups like Seoul Man (Korean bulgogi chicken) and locally inspired takes like Kermit’s BBQ Pork. Liquor license is a +1.