Edgar Caro has made a career out of introducing New Orleans to the cuisines of South America and the Caribbean. His first restaurant, the forward-thinking Baru Tapas, brought Caribbean-inspired small plates to Magazine Street alongside its lively cocktail menu. Later he opened the South American steakhouse Brasa Churrasqueria on Metairie Road with his business partner Antonio Mata. Now his latest venture is Zócalo, just a few steps down from Brasa, where he swings his focus to the cuisine of Mexico.
Why would the Colombian-born chef look to take on Mexican food? The answer is simple – he loves it. “Mexican has just always been one of those cuisines that I’ve respected as a chef and also one of my favorite to eat,” says Caro. “I’ve been wanting to do a restaurant like this for a long time.”
Zócalo’s name is taken from Mexico City’s main public square. And like that cosmopolitan city, Zocalo’s menu is far-reaching although its core returns often to the cuisine of Oaxaca, often regarded as the culinary heart of Mexico. Caro and Mata traveled there for research and were immediately struck by the fare. “Mexico City is just huge and has so much going on. But once I went to Oaxaca it is when I felt, ah I’m in Mexico.” From that starting point, the inspiration has grown organically outward.
Zócalo took over the space which formerly housed the long-running Vega Tapas. The renovation opened it up considerably and the white-washed walls painted with Aztec-inspired art give the restaurant a transportive feel. Colorful tiles and clever planters suspended from the ceiling help complete the vibe. Start with the Queso Fundido, a melting pot of Chihuahua and Asadero cheeses, studded with housemade chorizo verde and garnished with chopped green onion. It arrives bubbling and browned from the broiler alongside house-made flour tortillas. The flautas are inspired by Mexican street food, crisp cylinders filled with piquant Chicken Tinga and topped with cooling crema, crumbled queso fresco and a tomatillo salsa. The requisite guacamole gets enlivened with fresh mango.
The taco menu offers a strong Pescado taco featuring beer-battered fish, cabbage and a chipotle-pepper spiked tartar sauce. There is a unique cauliflower taco whose surprisingly complex flavor comes courtesy of a peanut-y salsa macha and chicken chicharrons.
Entrees are envisioned as family-style affairs. All come with house-made corn or flour tortillas. A good example of this is the Huachinango, a broad fillet of red snapper split down the middle, grilled and served on a board. The adobo rub lends the fish both heat and a ruddy hue. Roll up morsels with the provided tortillas and jimica slaw for a bit of crunch, but watch out for bones.
My favorite entrée was the Carne Asada, flavorful skirt steak charred on the grill and served alongside chipotle onions and avocado salad, a dish that is straightforward and satisfying. Anybody that’s dined at Brasa knows that Caro knows steak and it doesn’t disappoint here. And for the non-meat eaters out there he offers a carefully composed entrée of grilled Nopal cactus with artichoke hearts.
Alongside the dinner menu you will find a robust mescal selection at the bar. “We wanted to focus on Mezcal as well as the flavors that go hand-in-hand with the food,” Caro says. Zócalo recently expanded its hours to offer lunch Friday through Sunday and look for the menu to eventually expand as well as Caro explores the cuisine of Coastal Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula.
Mexican Home Cooking
Perched on a corner in the residential heart of Broadmoor you will find the tiny gem El Pavo Real. Like Zócalo, El Pavo Real brings a level of authenticity to its cuisine that rises above the typical Tex-Mex fare common in New Orleans. Recommended dishes include the Mole Poblano and the Enchiladas. As a bonus, Mexican breakfast is served all day.
MEET THE CHEF
A native of Cartagena, Colombia, Edgar Caro has brought a world of flavor to the dining scene here in New Orleans. The principal force behind Baru Bistro & Tapas, Basin Seafood and Spirits, Brasa Churrasqueria and now Zócalo, Caro puts a high-end top spin on dishes native to countries across Latin America. To open a Mexican restaurant has been a long-simmering dream of his. “All the different regions in Mexico have so much to bring,” he says. “I want to keep going back there so I can bring more to Zocalo.” Look for the menu at Zocalo to evolve as Caro pursues his passion.