The Lower Garden District is blooming with eateries as funky and cool as the shops surrounding them. Yes, Magazine Street has something to fit everyone’s taste. Juan’s Flying Burrito is the hub of lower Magazine Street, and encapsulates the eccentric, rock ‘n’ roll vibe of the neighborhood with its punk rock staff and tasty carne and vegan eats – I’m a sucker for the Mardi Gras Indian tacos with roasted corn, squash, pinto beans and spicy slaw. Down the street at the Jackson Avenue corner, Stein’s Market & Deli reaches out to the beer-nerd in all of us with awesome specialty microbrews you’ve never heard of, along with Tasty-Kakes, a plethora of deli meats and epic sandwiches that would otherwise be confined to states where it snows; they also have the best matzo ball soup in town. Stein’s also serves breakfast sandwiches on H&H bagels all day.
After Stein’s, my friend and I stumbled upon Jackson. It was a beautiful winter afternoon, 70 degrees with the sun shining bright, perfect for relaxing outside with a glass of wine and some people watching. There is a laid back approach to dining at Jackson, newly reopened last fall under the ownership of Chef John Bolderson and his business partner, Mark Anthony (no relation to Cleopatra or J Lo), both from Ft. Lauderdale. A great spot for lunch, with light fare such as the cajun scallop salad with feta, honey chipotle pecans, jicama and a spicy citrus dressing. They have a wealth of burgers and poor boys at decent prices, around $10 to $12 for the sandwich with two sides. Tasty spuds range from trendy truffle fries to the must-try sweet potato mashers – so creamy and buttery, I want more now. The blackened ahi tuna entrée, topped with strawberry jalapeño butter is an innovative zinger, if only a tad out of strawberry season. The spinach gnudi in sage butter is absolutely decadent, though more Jane Mansfield than Marilyn in the looks department. Jackson’s house specialty, a rich gorgonzola cheese cake served with seeded crackers, is almost deadly indulgent. Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Jackson also serves Sunday brunch, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Though not entirely a newcomer, lesser-known Maya’s is a cozy retreat for “latin fusion.” Located across the street from Aidan Gill, so you can stare at all the fashionable males swarming the street, Maya’s serves up specialties from Cuba, Honduras, and Jamaica. Start off with the Caipirinha – the drink that should replace last year’s mojito – a dose of muddled lime and sugar with Brazilian Cahaca, a liquor made from fermented sugar cane. I won’t hold it against Maya’s for still having the apple-tini on the drink menu, because the food more than makes up for that Macarena of cocktails. It is also one of the only places in town you’ll find yuca – a starchy root native to Brazil – served cut thickly like steak fries, seared in Spanish olive oil and topped with salsa. The Jamaican Tostones – green plantains – are fried flat, the flavor mildly sweet because they’re still unripe, unlike the sugary maduros I gorged on in the Cuban restaurants of my youth. Maya’s sometimes runs a special with the tostones drenched in a savory seafood cream sauce, with tender bits of shrimp and a hint of coconut: the dish I’ll return for. The lechon-roasted pork, marinated in bitter orange juice and garlic, makes for a great entrée for dinner – with beans and rice – or for lunch, served as a sandwich with Swiss cheese and sautéed onions. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., staying open an extra hour Friday and Saturday; Maya’s also serves Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.