Juan’s Flying Burrito
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
It’s a Mexican cafe that glories in its eccentricities, both in the cooking and the service. While the base of the menu is Tex-Mex, you find flavors from all over the Hispanic spectrum, with an especially good taste of the Southwestern burrito shop. (The restaurant’s own description of what it does is “Creole taqueria.”) Clearly aimed at a twenty-something crowd that wants to eat inexpensively and amply but reasonably well.
The careless style of the dining room may persuade you that the kitchen is also joking around a lot, but it takes its work seriously. The groceries it uses are classy and the imagination of the cooks is unfettered. The familiar and the innovative works are both successful, sometimes far beyond expectations. The specials are of particular note. This is one of the few local restaurants that actually takes the time to post its specials online every day.
Juan’s opened in the middle 1990s. That was near the end of a brief but intense vogue for a new style of burrito, filled with a far wider variety of ingredients than the traditional Mexican meat, beans, lettuce and cheese. (The similar wrap sandwiches were part of this craze.) Juan’s created a menu pairing those with the food of the new (to New Orleans, anyway) taquerias, with their flour-tortilla-wrapped grilled meats. They did all this better than most, and in its Sleazy Chic style (always alluring to a certain local crowd) caught on well enough to open a second restaurant right before Katrina. The owners also operate the Slice pizzerias.
Juan’s Uptown location looks like a deep dive from the outside. Once you’re inside (that might take awhile, especially at lunch), you find a junkyard of a dining room–not shabby, but raffish in a studied way, with unusual original art exhibited on the walls. It’s managed by a bohemian service staff that relates to diners in a way rather different from that found in other restaurants. It takes a little getting used to, but you will. The Mid-City restaurant is much more family-friendly in its environment and service style, with a utilitarian but pleasant dining room.
»Chips and salsa
Guacamole and chips
Beans and rice with chips, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and jalapenos
Nachos: Cheese, ground beef, pork, chicken, beans, guacamole, sour cream, salsa and jalapenos (or any combination)
»Kamehameha applewood smoked bacon nachos with pulled pork, grilled mango, pineapple salsa, chipotle sour cream, cilantro and jalapenos
Tijuana Caesar (with grilled chicken and avocado)
»Jerk shrimp and mango salad
»Juaha roll (chicken, spinach, avocado, salsa, cheese)
»Shrimp juaha roll
Burritos: beans and rice with salsa, hot sauce, cheddar and jack cheese, plus chicken, ground beef, pork, steak, shrimp, sour cream and guacamole, or any combination)
»Burrito al pastor (slow-cooked shredded pork, pineapple salsa, sour cream, jalapenos, cilantro, beans and yellow rice
Super green burrito (vegetarian)
»Enchiladas (most of the above possibilities in soft corn tortillas)
»Enchiladas pollo verde (grilled chicken with green chile sauce)
Shredded pork enchiladas with red chile sauce
»Flying enchiladas (steak, chicken, and shrimp grilled together)
»Bacon azul quesadilla (ground beef, bacon, blue cheese, jack and cheddar cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms)
»Luau quesadilla (shrimp, bacon, pineapple salsa, jack and cheddar cheese)
Tacos (grilled with beans, cheese, lettuce and salsa; plus ground beef, chicken, pork, steak, shrimp or vegetables)
»Pork ‘n’ slaw tacos
»Mardi Gras Indian tacos (roasted corn, beans, squash, cheese. spicy slaw)
»Blackened redfish tacos
»Carne asada tacos
FOR BEST RESULTS
The food is better at lunch than at dinner Uptown, but the same all the time in Mid-City. If you’re older than 40, come here with a curiosity about what the kids are up to these days.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Not enough focus on the part of the waiters. The beans taste good but are always a little dry.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +1
- Value +2
- Attitude -1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Sidewalk tables
- Open all afternoon
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Juan’s looks like a deep dive from the outside. Once you’re in the door (and the place is usually so busy that this might not happen right away), however, you’ll discover that your initial impression is not diminished a bit. Then it will strike you as strange how many of the diners are dressed in nice business attire. You might even wonder why they’re not worried about their clothes.
They must know something, right? Well, yes, they do. The food here is some of the best West-Coast-style (as opposed to Texas-style) Mexican food around. No ethnic Mexicans are in evidence, but never mind. The food is convincing, ample, fresh, and good. Particularly exciting to the palate are the grilled-meat dishes. They typically get wrapped up in flour tortillas, but not always.
The casualness is a bit much, though. Portions are usually plopped into a red plastic basket lined with waxed paper. So it’s about at the level of a poor-boy joint for creature comforts. On the other hand, prices are very low.
Getting a table at lunchtime sometimes involves a wait. And the service style seems chaotic. But all this is paid off on the food end.