Taco San Miguel
3517 20th St
Metairie, LA 70002
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
While the New Orleans area had a few authentic taquerias in the years before Hurricane Katrina, Tex-Mex cantinas and other Americanized hybrids dominated the tortilla scene. But the large influx of Latinos to the community during the recovery has upped the ante for convincing Mexican fare and inspired many new ventures. One of my favorites among this new wave is Taco San Miguel.
This place was first opened in New Orleans in 2006 by Alex Cruz, a contractor who moved to the area from Texas after Katrina and quickly got into the restaurant business. That original shop has since closed, but the second edition in Metairie is going strong. It's hard to imagine a more mainstream location, which sits less than a block away from the Lakeside Shopping Center. Its fast, inexpensive, flavorful dishes are a welcome alternative to the fast food and chain restaurant purveyors in the area.
Taco San Miguel is a big step up from many of the other authentic taquerias that have opened in the area since Katrina. There is a bright, tropical décor, an outdoor patio area, a dedicated bar, TVs showing sports and lively music pumped through the dining room. The open kitchen means you can watch all the dishes come together while you wait.
Service is reasonably friendly and helpfully bi-lingual, which reflects the diverse clientele coming here. Place your order at the counter and it arrives in plastic baskets a few minutes later.
Free chips and salsa from a self-serve bar is a nice extra at this place. Portions tend to be quite large, so a bowl of freshly-fried chips and a sampling of the various red, green and orange salsas is all you really need. The queso fundido dip with ground sausage or the hearty tortilla soup are good starters if you want something more.
To order most dishes here, you pick a meat and then choose the type of tortilla delivery system. The burritos are the most popular, and these are huge, tightly packed bundles of rice, dripping meats and salsas cooked to a crisp exterior edge on the grill. Tacos are straightforward in the taqueria style, with soft corn or thicker flour wrappers and sprinklings of raw onion and cilantro. One of my favorite meals here is the huarache veloz, which looks a bit like a quesadilla filled with beef strips, bacon, guacamole and the smooth, easy-melting Chihuahua cheese.
Like at any taqueria, the meats are all waiting in prepared batches along the steam counter and Taco San Miguel has one of the biggest meat selections around. It includes the most familiar, like fajitas, or strips of chopped steak; carnitas, or small chunks of pork grilled crisp; al pastor, or pork cooked with onions and pineapple; pollo, or shredded chicken; and chorizo, a spicy, brick-red sausage. But there's also lengua, or beef tongue; and chicharron, or fried pig skins which are not crunchy like local-known cracklin's but rather very soft and a bit slimy. My favorites are trompo, a chopped, grilled pork mix marinated in sour citrus; and rajas, a meatless option of roasted poblano peppers and cheese.
Taco San Miguel also makes a few Mexican-style hamburgers, which are surprisingly good. The poblano burger in particular gets the extra-greasy, spicy addition of chorizo plus mellow panela cheese and smoky poblano peppers.
Taco San Miguel serves beer and cocktails in addition to Mexican-brand sodas and juices.
Excellent value is one of the prime appeals of Taco San Miguel. Nothing on the menu is priced over $10 and a $7 burrito with free chips and salsa is more than enough to satisfy even a large appetite.
The taco trucks that arrived in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina helped introduce some adventurous local eaters to authentic Mexican and Central American cooking, prepared by and for people who grew up eating the real deal. Places like Taco San Miguel represent a next phase as more established, more accessible businesses courting a bi-lingual customer base. This is a comfortable, welcoming place to explore the convincing flavors and interesting variety of the casual taqueria style.