Metairie Mexican. For Real.

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 01, 2024 21:41 in Dining Diary

The little bank building on West Esplanade at Clearview was never on my radar until Ed McIntyre opened Cheeseburger Eddie’s. That was short-lived and the place became a revolving door of restaurants. One day yet another Mexican place opened, and I yawned at yet another Mexican place.

There were never a lot of cars in the parking lot, so how was I to know here was the place of Tom’s dreams, a “real” Mexican restaurant that would be considered the stuff the natives ate, the “gourmet” version of Mexican? It has always frustrated Tom that the cuisine, so culturally rich, was delegated to cheap food. I call it “fake American” food. Real Mexican chefs are frustrated by this stereotype as well, but nothing ever changes.

And then I saw an IG post by Ian McNulty about the “best Mexican food in the city,” and there was the little bank building. We had to try it.

Luis, the owner of La Tia Cantina, is a most gracious host, eager to accommodate his guests on their journey to the “real deal.” My words, not his. He never once referred to everyone else’s food as less than his. He just advised us that what we were considering would be “ a little different” than what we expected.

And indeed it was. We are big fans of choriqueso dip, but he cautioned us that the dip and Queso Fundido were not to be confused with each other.

When we ordered guac he advised us that his was “a little different” because there were no ingredients like jalapeño and tomato and onion, etc. His guac started with roasting and pureeing tomatillos and mixing them with the avocado. The only other ingredient he mentioned was olive oil.

Tom has always been a huge fan of mole poblano. The chocolate and cinnamon sauce with chiles is something he can never get enough of, and something he rarely sees. This very complex sauce is not in high demand by the American palate. Mexican chefs recognize an adventuresome eater when mole is ordered, and it excites them.

We ordered two things with mole. The carnitas dumplings were beautiful. And the chicken enchiladas with mole came with a little vinaigrette salad.

My order was expensive but I had to get it. The Brontosaurus Short Rib was an enormous single beef short rib, and it came with a large vinaigrette spinach salad with quartered Brussels sprouts. The ubiquitous orange Mexican rice arrived with it. In 2024, I can add ubiquitous when I mention Brussels Sprouts. Ugh.

Before we dug into any of this, we had to try the chips and salsa. This didn’t seem like the kind of place that just gave chips and salsa. But they did. The chips were coarse and dry, and the salsa was chunky and very intense. This was spicy, smoky, and flavorful.

We’re pretty smitten with chorizo, the crumbly Mexican version rather than the hard Spanish kind. The Queso Fundido comes with chorizo or mushrooms beside thick, melted, and stringy cheese served with corn tortillas that are toasted. The cast iron skillet filled with melted cheese offered a pile of crumbly chorizo on top. We loved this skillet of simple goodness.

The guac was more simplicity. Puréed avocado and tomatillos, this had a loose consistency and a sheen to it from the olive oil whose taste was palpable. This was unusual and unusually good.

The dumplings were a curiosity, but I’m glad we got them. A thing of beauty, this little foursome was arrayed artfully on a beautiful plate, each tidy bundle sitting atop a lake of mole sauce. They were deep-fried and overstuffed with roasted pork.

I wouldn’t get these again but only because I don’t share Tom’s passion for the chocolate wonder sauce.

Tom was beside himself to have two dishes laden with mole sauce. His chicken enchiladas were covered in the sauce but Luis brought him some more, and we wondered if he would lick the plate. After thirty years of searching, he had found a great one.

The Brontosaurus Short rib was enormous, and beautifully presented on a lovely ceramic platter, food piled so high you could barely see it. The meat was braised to perfection, served over a generous schmear of refried pinto beans with more intensity than any I’ve encountered, perhaps because it melded with a smoked tomato-guajillo sauce.

This was served with the requisite orange rice, though this had a hint of cinnamon, and a spinach salad with Morita pepper vinaigrette, with wedges of Brussels sprouts tossed about. I asked Luis if Brussels sprouts were a "thing" in Mexico, or if they were on the plate because they are a thing here. He confirmed my suspicions: the latter.

I barely touched this, not because it wasn’t terrific, which it was. I was just too full of guac and Queso Fundido.

The few bites I had revealed a sumptuously braised short rib, a complex and delicious chile sauce,  and rice that was not like any other rice. The rice was the least good thing on the table. It's oddly a bit sweet.

We’re also not used to bills for Mexican food like this one for $117. Tom has always said if he could find “real” Mexican gourmet food he’d certainly be willing to pay for it. And we are.

Luis asked about dessert, but we declined the flan after hearing that it was “a little bit different” than what we were used to. No doubt. We look forward to seeing what he meant by that. But everything else we had was just too good to stop eating. There was no room to discover anything else.

The trouble is, we may now be spoiled for anything that isn’t a “little bit different” than what we’re used to.