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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Araña: The Only Spider I Welcome

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup

Generally speaking, New Orleans is a fantastic destination for food. This is not news. There’s so much for your palate to experience, yet so little time.

In the same streets you taste dishes that are new, inventive, and inspiring, you can experience meals that are so old they practically birthed the crescent city. In a place that is so uniquely Louisiana, some of the meals I’ve enjoyed most recently in New Orleans are based around lime, cotiga cheese, and cilantro.

Araña is everything I want in a Mexican restaurant. Their presentation is beautiful, the flavors are on fleek, and it’s simply built for a good time.

When I dine out, I consider three criteria: atmosphere, drinks, and apps & ‘sserts (because you can’t have one without the other).

If a restaurant pulls off all of these elements successfully, they can have my money.

Atmosphere: check.

I prefer when a restaurant is cozy (not too cramped, but not a cave), the design is well thought out, and the seating allows for natural lighting (because I take pictures of everything I ingest). So many restaurants get things wrong: uncomfortable seating, bad lighting, canned, adult-contemporary music playing in the background.

But Araña is a place I could sit and sip for hours.

Drinks: check.

I tried three drinks that were on totally different levels.

First, the Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita: the depth of flavor gave me life. The grilled pineapple has a sultry sweetness from caramelizing on the grill, the fresh jalapeño adds just enough back heat, and I live my life thinking that cilantro improves most things. We’ll call this one a win.

The Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita
The Jalapeño Pineapple Cilantro Margarita
Next up, the Romera Fresca. This puppy is packed with savory, tart confusion in a great way. Juniper-infused tequila hit with a zing of small batch tonic and finished off with a house-made rosemary syrup can grace my glass any day. Another point to Gryffindor. 

The Romera Fresca: Juniper-Infused Tequila,  Small Batch Tonic, and House Made Rosemary Syrup
The Romera Fresca: Juniper-Infused Tequila,  Small Batch Tonic, and House Made Rosemary Syrup
I’m not into things that are super sweet, so dessert drinks aren’t my jam. I thought it couldn’t be done, but Araña said, “Here’s our frozen, drunken Horchata. Enjoy.”

Enjoy, I did, and to that I say winner winner, chicken dinner. 

Drunken Horchata
Drunken Horchata
Bite and Booze Bonus: If you’re into tequila, Araña has something for you. Joining the Araña Tequilla Society is free. With each tequila you taste, you take another (somewhat more inebriated) step towards rewards ranging from t-shirts to free tequila flights to a free bottle of expensive tequila. Worried about keeping up with your passport? Don’t be—Araña holds on to it for you. They’ve thought of everything!

Apps, shareables, and ‘sserts: Check. 

Apps and ‘sserts is Blair-speak for appetizers and dessert. If I’m meeting up with my friends, I’m all about grabbing apps and ‘sserts. While there are some stellar sandwiches and entrées, if you share more, you taste more. It’s science.

Here’s the lineup:

Atop a velvety bed of milky oaxaca cheese lies a spicy blanket of house-made chorizo just waiting to be spread on warm corn tortillas and drizzled with a magically bold red sauce. Don’t think, just order it. 

Queso Fundido: House-Made Chorizo, Grilled Oaxaca Cheese, and Corn Tortillas
Queso Fundido: House-Made Chorizo, Grilled Oaxaca Cheese, and Corn Tortillas
Tacos are the most delicious way to get your fix without feeling too full, and Araña has some great options. I’m a sucker for tacos Al Pastor: I'm into the savory and sweet juicy pork and succulent pineapple chunks.

Tacos Al Pastor: Shaved Pork, Grilled Pineapple, Cilantro, and Onion
Tacos Al Pastor: Shaved Pork, Grilled Pineapple, Cilantro, and Onion
I’m pretty sure “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer was written about the Torta Ahogana.

Slow roasted pork on bolillo bread, black bean purée, avocado, crema, cotiga cheese, and cumin pickled onion come together under a waterfall of spicy chili dipping salsa and make for a mountain of flavor.

Mind you, this is literally a quarter of the sandwich that’s on the menu so it’s certifiably shareable. 

Torta Ahogada: Slow Roasted Pork on Bolillo Bread, Black Bean Purée, Avocado, Crema, Cotiga Cheese, Cumin Pickled Onion, Spicy Chili Dipping Salsa
Torta Ahogada: Slow Roasted Pork on Bolillo Bread, Black Bean Purée, Avocado, Crema, Cotiga Cheese, Cumin Pickled Onion, Spicy Chili Dipping Salsa
The art of the classic fajita has been lost, and Araña has found it in the form of their Poc Chuc.

Smoked pork loin, escabecbe (pickled veggies), crisp red cabbage, and a pork-fried onion poblano sauce were meant to live inside of that corn tortilla, y’all. Pair that with a flight of tequila and I’m in.

Poc Chuc: Smoked Pork Loin, Escabeche, Red Cabbage, Pork Fried Onion Poblano Sauce, and Corn Tortilla
Poc Chuc: Smoked Pork Loin, Escabeche, Red Cabbage, Pork Fried Onion Poblano Sauce, and Corn Tortilla
Bite and Booze Bonus: Araña also has brunch (word on the street is that it’s killer). 

Desserts are tricky with me. I can't get more than a bite or two in to a super sweet dessert, but I could get after this Trés Leches cake with fresh berries all day. A little sweet, a little creamy, and totally traditional, it’s definitely worth the caloric sacrifice.

Trés Leches Cake
Trés Leches Cake

I know there's a mess of restaurants to try out in New Orleans, but Araña has something special going on that's worth your money.