Monday, January 23, 2012

The Best Little Mexican Joint in Lakeview

Last year Lakeview added not one but two Mexican restaurants along the Harrison Avenue corridor with the debut of the Velvet Cactus and the opening of the second location of El Gato Negro. The appeal of  this type of food in a neighborhood full of young families makes perfect sense. First and foremost, the prices are cheap. Second, the process of eating chips and salsa can keep children placated for a remarkably long time. As long as the server keeps refilling the baskets with tortilla chips, kids will keep on dipping and eating. As long as the kids are eating, the less likely they will be to cause a scene. And the less likely that the kids are to cause a scene, the more liberties that mommy and daddy have to enjoy that extra cerveza or margarita.

Sidenote: I believe that I just wrote Chapter 1 of the Blackened Out Guide to Better Parenting.

And not only are the Velvet Cactus and El Gato Negro family friendly, the surroundings are sleek enough (flat screen TVs and outdoor seating) and the menus creative enough (pineapple cilantro margaritas) to offer an experience more unique and more local than the average run-of-the-mill Mexican joint.

But for those whose priority is finding the most authentic and best tasting Mexican fare in Lakeview, I implore you to shun the crowds and the hype of everything new and pretty and make your way to Salsas Por El Lago.

Well, technically it's located in West End, not Lakeview, but it's 70124 all the same.

Fish taco with Mexican tartar sauce at Salsas Por El Lago.
The Folk Singer and I love this place, and we try to spread the gospel every chance we get. A few weeks ago I directed a group of co-workers to Salsas for a Friday lunch away from the office. Upon our arrival (and through the end of our meal), our group of 8 made up 50% of the total number of occupied seats in the restaurant. There is always some hesitation when dining in an empty restaurant, but those pre-conceptions were quickly erased after we went through countless baskets of tortilla chips (effective in placating both children AND adults) and a half dozen bowls of the house made salsas named after the characters in Shrek. My favorite is still "The Dip" - the smooth puree of avocado and sour cream with plenty of cilantro - but the tomato-based Fiona is deliciously fresh and spicy.

Torta and tamale at Salsas Por El Lago.
Then came forth a sampling of almost the entire menu. Tacos filled with a wide array of meats, the best being the barbacoa (tender, lip smacking shreds of beef cheek) and chicharron (rich, flabby, fatty pork skin). Flash fried fingers of tilapia are paired with spicy Mexican tartar sauce augmented with diced jalapeno. Tamales - an everyday special - are stuffed with pork and served alongside a cup of thin, warm tomato sauce.

Entomatadas at Salsas Por El Lago.
My favorite dish on the menu is one which can be found on the specials board. Entomatadas may not be a familiar name, but the end dish is easily recognizable as a derivation from classic enchiladas. Corn tortillas get a quick dip in hot oil before being bathed in a mild tomato sauce, double rolled, and filled with cheese and softened onion. A trio of these are then covered in more sauce and a heavy hand of more cheese before getting the broiler treatment and a finishing of sour cream. A delicious dish to be avoided by the lactose intolerant.

The menu is not flawless in execution. Instead of serving fresh local fish, the kitchen uses frozen tilapia. The meat to bread ratio in the torta tilts too far in favor of the latter; same goes for the burrito. The chorizo queso was too thin for my liking. Even considering these minor complaints, the food is still worth returning for time and again.

On every occasion that I have dined at Salsas, there have never been more than a handful of other diners in the room, while a mile or so away the crowds wait 30 minutes for a table on a Friday night. I understand the draw of a restaurant which is both family friendly and lively enough to play host to the weekly meeting of the "Real Housewives of Metairie" - actual words used by a table full of middle-aged women referring to themselves (without a hint of irony) on a recent Saturday afternoon at the Velvet Cactus. But if you are ever in the mood for the best Mexican food in Lakeview regardless of atmosphere, then head to the old Ground Pati.

Salsas Por El Lago - Birdie
124 Lake Marina Drive
(504) 286-3057
Mon-Sat: Lunch & Dinner


Nick said...

I second this review. Salsas Por El Lago is really good and pretty cheap. Me and my work peeps go there once every week or two and it's a shame they don't get more business. Try it, it's definitely worth it!

Anonymous said...

does the second El Gato Negra also use store-bought chips? I can't take that place seriously. food is meh, but the margaritas are tasty.