Ian McNulty: A new Mexican restaurant in Metairie goes far beyond tacos and tequila | Where NOLA eats

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Tacos are everywhere these days. They provide the basis for many new concepts, and some riff on the idea is likely to end up on almost any type of menu, regardless of how it relates to Mexican cuisine.






Suadero tacos have tender beef brisket over melted cheese with radish and avocado cream at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


What I didn’t see though was anything like the suadero tacos at La Tia Cantina until they were presented with a plate during a weekday lunch.

The filling, saudero, is brisket with a rich flavor and a smooth, melty texture that evokes long, slow cooking. Slices of it were encased in a puffy layer of golden melted cheese stuck to corn tortillas with pickled radishes for crunch and precise dots of avocado cream.

With deep flavor and precise composition, suadero tacos made a fitting introduction to a new restaurant that goes far beyond the familiar basics, one that can open your eyes to the wealth of regional variety encompassed in Mexican cuisine.







the tia aquachile1

Prawn aquachile pulses with a fresh seafood flavor and a green chili and citrus marinade at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


The same lunch brought shrimp aguachile, a ceviche-like concoction that leaves the mostly raw seafood in a bath of citrus and chili peppers, crisp with pulsating freshness and flavor and the undulating bite of the ‘Red onion. It’s a dish that requires a certain confidence to order, and a lot of confidence for a new restaurant to serve a clientele not necessarily versed in its pleasures.

But that’s what makes La Tia so compelling.







tia owners

Leo Vazquez (left) and Luis Nava launched La Tia Cantina in Metairie as a showcase for their shared Mexican heritage. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


This Metairie restaurant was opened in July by Leo Vazquez and Luis Nava, a couple in their thirties who share Mexican heritage and previous careers in local restaurants. Vazquez’s family is originally from Mexico City; Nava is from Colima on the Pacific coast. They wanted to bring a more traditional image of Mexican cuisine to the table, drawn with a contemporary hand.

The result is both revealing and accessible. You can come here for tacos and tequila, and you can also try dishes that might become your next obsession.







tia dumplings

Carnitas meatballs with mole are on the menu at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


Carnitas are made into something like Mexican dim sum, with chunks of pork folded into dumpling wrappers fried on a multi-dimensional mole. Rockfish is a thick, substantial cut with a rusty, earthy red coating that tastes very much like barbecue sauce after being baked.







tia fish

Redfish Zarandeado has an adobo sauce over mashed potatoes at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


They release more promotions over the seasons. Earlier this fall, it was chili en nagoda, or beef-stuffed peppers with nut cream sauce. More recently, they prepared a short rib of beef, a Brontosaurus-sized portion with a crispy, salty exterior, yielding strands of meat underneath to slide through a surrounding moat of a smoky tomato and chili sauce. .







the tia ribh

Short ribs of beef are a hearty specialty at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


La Tia is where I discovered chamorro, the Mexican version of osso buco. The pork easily shreds into large, tender chunks from the big shank bone, falling into a base of creamy refried beans surrounded by fried steak-style potatoes. It is ignited by a sauce made from cooking juices, poured at the table in a small kettle.







the tia for

Chamorro, a Mexican-style osso bucco, is one of the rustic and hearty dishes at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


It’s the kind of rustic dish I can imagine eating in a canteen that serves beer and chamorro and maybe nothing else. At La Tia you get it on a busy side street in Metairie from a menu full of such finds.

Restaurants like this really feel like they can connect you with the culture behind a kitchen, and it goes beyond the plate.







tia staff

Staff at Metairie La Tia Mexican restaurant pause in front of a mural outside, pictured from left are Will Acosta, Lazaro Ruiz, Damian Juarez, Leo Vazquez, Luis Nava and Ulysses Campos. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Vazquez and Nava are passionate about their food, just like the other people who work here. The service staff are ardent ambassadors of what the kitchen produces and their enthusiasm is downright appetizing.







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Ulysse Campos makes cocktails at La Tia Cantina in Metairie drawing on many Mexican flavors and ingredients. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


This extends to the incredibly sophisticated bar at La Tia, already in the running for one of the best cocktail bars in Metairie. Bartender Ulysses Campos offers an evolving list of original cocktails drawing from a deep well of Mexican ingredients. They take their name from La Loteria, the Mexican card game, and many of them practically glow with colorful vibrancy.







tia drinks

El Soldado (front) with tequila, cucumber and mint, and salmoncito, a brunch cocktail of mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit and cava, are on the drink menu at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


Mezcal and chilli liqueur mingle behind the purple body with hibiscus tints of a so-called el corazon; another, still awaiting an official name, begins with Nixta Mexican Corn Gin and Liqueur, which brings its own unique punch behind the drink’s creamy, smooth texture.







la tia int

La Tia Cantina in Metairie has a contemporary and colorful look. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


It’s a peculiar address, but its geometric shape and high, soaring roofline have seen many restaurants come and go. La Tia is fairly young, but the reception here is encouraging, with dinner parties proving particularly busy as families fill the large tables and couples and solo diners take their places at the bar.







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A cocktail called El Corazon features mezcal, ancho liqueur and fresh hibiscus at La Tia Cantina in Metairie. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)


Details are worked into every corner with Mexican lucha libre wrestler figurines, Day of the Dead symbols, and folk and pop art pieces creating a colorful collage around the place.







post the tia

La Tia Cantina in Metairie has a contemporary and colorful look. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty | The Times-Picayune)


There’s a soulful feel here that belies just how recently La Tia has opened. It feels like you’re in a restaurant that’s been around for way more than a few months. But then, bringing deep flavors to the fore with a distinctive style is a proven path.

The Tia Cantina

4517 Esplanade Avenue West, Metairie, (504) 354-8570

Lunch and dinner every day, Sat. and Sun brunch.

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