Monday, January 19, 2015.

No choral rehearsal tonight, with the company resting from its big performances over the weekend. The Marys and I head out for dinner as the sun goes down, with the idea of going yet again to the ever-improving Tchoupstix.

But we are distracted by another restaurant two doors down in the same strip mall. It’s a narrow space with its walls painted in such bright colors that we are immediately suspicious. It’s cold and windy outside, so we take a table deep in the rear.

There’s something familiar about the menu. And then the manager comes out, and we recognize him from La Carreta, the local chain that rates Number One on the Marys’ hit parade of Mexican restaurants.

The more of the menu I read, the more it sounds like La Carreta Pumped Up. The names on the dishes may be the same, but the dishes themselves are two or three steps up in terms of interest, ingredients, presentation, and everything else except price. If I were not opposed to the word “authentic,” I would use it now.

Queso dip with chorizo at Habaneors.

Queso dip with chorizo at Habaneors.

The Marys follow their usual routine, and we begin with queso dip with chorizo. But unlike La Carreta’s version, this is mostly chorizo. While that makes it hard to scoop up with chips, it also makes ir meatier and more interesting.

I have chicken tortilla soup. It is very red and very hot–both pepper hot and stove hot. It is very, very good, with the bonus that it’s perfect for the weather. Except the part when it makes my scalp sweat. Even that seems a fair trade for this flavor.

Tacos Norteños, with tortilla and chicken soup in the foreground.

Tacos Norteños, with tortilla and chicken soup in the foreground.

The Marys each order trios of tacos. One is an assortment involving ribeye steak, bacon, bell peppers, guacamole and sour cream. “Norteños,” they call it, and it’s not the overloaded mess that it sounds like. The other is al pastor, the familiar shredded pork with its deceptively rich sauce. All are served on stretchy green tortillas.

Pollo diablo.

Pollo diablo.

I have the most interesting entree, pollo diablo. A dish by the same name is a La Carreta item I order fairly often, but this is nothing like that. The chicken part consists of a meaty, generous half-breast from off the grill. Spinach, chipotle sauce, broccoli (!) and bacon fill up the rest of the dish. This is more American than anything else we’ve had, but very pleasing both to the eye and to the palate.

Along the way, the manager brings us a few small sides. Two salsas–one brown, the other a chunky near-purple, both sharply flavored with chiles. I try them (especially the brown one, whose tastes are all very big) with every dippable item on the table.

We have only begun to scratch the surface of this promising menu. I decide that it’s the Find Of The Month–a department in this publication that I will have to invent especially for this purpose. In fact, this may become the Year Of Mexican Dining in the New Orleans area, what with all the original new ones that keep cropping up where we least expect them. Like, in a Covington strip mall? One that now has three terrific and unique places to eat (Pardo’s and Tchoupstix are the other two).

Habaneros. Covington: 69305 LA Hwy 21. 985-871-8760.

5 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. joe on January 26, 2015

    I’ll have to give your La Carreta’s a try since the locations in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs are at best ho-hum.

    TOM SEZ: Make sure they are La Carreta, not Carreta’s Grill. Two different companies.

  2. JB on September 5, 2015

    The Jalepeno Gringos had a frozen food taste that was disappointing but everything else was very yummy.

  3. Laurette Maillho on January 16, 2017

    Sorry Tom but I have to disagree with you on Habaneros. It was the worst Mexican food I have had. There were 3 of us having lunch. I had a taco which was awful and cold (actually all of our food was cold) and a beef enchilada. We all had an enchilada and all felt the same way that it tasted as if it came out of a can and all was cold. No more Habaneros for us. Service was very slow and waiter was unfamiliar with his menu.
    Thanks Tom my husband and I love your show.

    I can’t write off a restaurant that’s delivered as many great dinners as I’ve had there. My guess is that you didn’t try any of the more most ambitious work. Tacos and enchiladas are the hamburgers of Mexico. Try it again and get things you never had before. Which places do you like?

  4. D J Bernard on June 19, 2017

    I am ready to give it a try, in spite of the connection to La Carretta. I have had one decent meal at La Carretta and that was a chicken mole’ dish that was quite good. Other than that, mediocre food and disinterested service. I know a few others who say they will not return there.

    I am looking forward to a better experience at Habaneros. That’s one good thing about living in our area, you never know where the next terrific meal will come from!

    Thanks for your insight, your radio show, recipes, books, and website. You are the king of rock and roll, errr, I mean New Orleans cuisine. Thank you, thank you very much.

  5. Jaala on September 8, 2017

    We recently moved to the Northshore and are anxious to try this place!
    Also, I checked out your A-Z list on your specific website and noticed you don’t have The Rusty Pelican listed under “Hamburgers”. It”s located in Mandeville on Girod Street, a few blocks from the lake. It’s FANTASTIC. Do yourself a favor and try it out–never a huge burger fan myself, but I make an exception for this place. Maybe try the burger with fried pickle slices on it…can’t remember the name but it’s divine!