The Mexican and Central American immigrants who came to our aid in rebuilding our shattered region after the Big Bath in 2005 brought their culinary traditions and, in some cases, their taco trucks with them. In doing so they radically elevated the standards by which we regard tacos. Our demand for the fresh little hand-held meals has grown ever since, seemingly ever more so throughout this unwelcome pandemic. The Poncho’s all-you-can-eat Mexican buffets of our childhoods wouldn’t cut it anymore. We have been enlightened. We want freshly made corn and flour tortillas, freshly made salsas, grilled local vegetables and meats and long-simmered, richly flavored proteins to seal the deal.
Since many are currently feeling the financial pinch of a year of upended employment and financial compromise, we want these vibrant parcels on the cheap and since many of us are stressed out, we want them with potent, quality cocktails at value-driven prices.
Barracuda, a small, counter service-only taco stand offering only outdoor seating via picnic tables, was popular from the moment Brett Jones opened it on Tchoupitoulas Street in March 2019. Jones, 35, a southeast Louisiana native with a successful background as a hospitality consultant, keeps his winning formula simple. Patrons have responded enthusiastically from the beginning. Lines to order at the window routinely stretch down and around the block.
“Our goal is to be a fresh and accessible,” Jones says. “We aren’t necessarily trying to pledge allegiance to any specific region.”
He says Barracuda offers real food that isn’t a big deal to get your head around and he’s unthreatened by the recent explosion in taco joints springing up in the immediate vicinity to Barracuda.
“Every place has something that makes it special, that gives it its personality,” he says. “There is room for us all.”
The recent addition of roll-down, transparent curtain barriers, a covered outdoor dining space with the feel of a cozy, open-air greenhouse and infrared heaters to chase away any lingering winter chills have made Jones’ hot spot even more so. With the recent expansion came expanded menu offerings for delivery, take-out and outdoor-only on-site dining to include Family Meals, Party Packs (Breakfast, Deluxe Nacho and DYI Taco) and the return of the Deluxe Nacho Hour, offered Tuesdays-Fridays, 3-6 p.m. In addition to $5 classic margaritas, $4 make-your-own michelada kits and $3 Modelo & Paradise Park beers, the happy hour concept features bargain-priced thin, crisp, blue corn and homestyle tacos filled with ground beef picadillo, as well as Ballpark Style Nachos made with house made chips topped with queso, creamy salsa verde, crema, pickles, pepitas and cilantro. There are also specials on queso and chips and rotating specials on tacos and pitchers.
Jones’ expansion of the Barracuda concept will open in the Algiers Point neighborhood this spring within walking distance of both the ferry terminal and the Crown & Anchor (200 Pelican Ave., 227-1007, CrownAndAnchor.pub), a British-style pub popular for trivia nights and reruns of Dr. Who.
Like its predecessor, the new Barracuda’s Algiers Point outpost will feature a walk-up stand with outdoor-only seating and a “margarita garden” with potent cocktails served up on tap at thrifty, friendly prices. The new menu will mirror the one Uptown with a variety of tacos, including seafood and vegetarian varieties and a selection of fresh salsas. The new location will also sell fresh salsas and hot sauce in large sizes for take away.
A few blocks downriver from the original Barracuda and also heavy on outdoor seating, El Cucuy, opened by Austin Lane early last fall with a quasi-horror show theme and a focus on Mexican street food and hefty margaritas. The specialty here is trompo (spinning rotisserie) al pastor tacos served on homemade tortillas. Other taco and torta fillings include carne asada, pollo asada, and napales (cactus) for vegetarians. Duros (puffed wheat wheels coated with lime, salt and hot sauce) pair nicely with cocktails and beer.
Barracuda, 3984 Tchoupitoulas St., 266-2961, EatBarracuda.com
El Cucuy NOLA, 3507 Tchoupitoulas St., 897-5395, ElCucuyNola.com