Designated Diner: Carol Pulitzer
Day job: Author/artist, who also writes about cuisine and art for NolaVie.
Current day job: She’s working on a book, Little Theatre, that compiles personal stories, illustrations, recipes, essays and more. “It’s a hybrid book,” Carol explains. “Everything from how to keep a kitchen journal to fiction to poetry to cartoons and paintings.” Stay tuned.
The restaurant: El Pavo Real, 4401 S. Broad Street
Why she chose it: I live three minutes from here and am always passing this place. I always wondered about it.
Her go-to restaurants: Chateau du Lac on Metairie Road, which is a sort of Metairie Galatoire’s without the noise. Carmo, for its exotic menu. And Bud’s Broiler for the hickory burger. Nobody else makes a sauce like that.
What she looks for in a restaurant: The main thing I want is to be able to hear my companion talk. Young people have great hearing, but not being able to converse drives me crazy. I literally came out of one popular lunch place with a sore throat from yelling.
What else she likes in her dining choices: What really makes me excited is seeing something on the menu that’s too much trouble for me to make at home. It takes a lot of energy to cook, and I’ve lately lost my cooking mojo.
The restaurant’s MO: “Real Mexican food for a real New Orleans neighborhood.” With emphasis on the latter. The choice of cuisine, says co-owner/chef Lindsey McLellan, was a secondary consideration in opening this family concern. “We really wanted to open a neighborhood place. My husband just happens to be Mexican.” They live a quarter-mile away and have a play area in the back for their two small children. But the Mexican menu keeps up – from thick, sweet mole sauce to authentic tamales tied up with a cornhusk bow.
What’s good: Black bean soup that coats the spoon, laced with sour cream and sprinkled with green onions and tortilla strips.
What else: Chile rellenos filled with corn, black beans, pumpkin and squash, then lathered with a poblano/peanut sauce.
And: Carnitas of achiote-rubbed, tender pulled pork shoulder that you can flake with a fork, partnered with red rice and pintos.
To drink: Mexican Coke, which purists insist tastes better than the U.S. version.
Lagniappe: A table offering of peppery, buttery popcorn. And breakfast (huevas rancheros, chilaquilles) served all day.
The atmosphere: Neighborhood cozy, the dining room awash in light from the high ceilings and two walls of windows. Says Carol: I love the green and white tile here. Hey give me your phone; I have to take a picture of those blue denim sneakers against this great floor (did I mention she’s an artist?).
Sweet touch: The fluffy Mexican custard studded with peanuts almost pales next to the caramalized fried plantains it’s paired with. There’s also a silky vanilla flan.
Bottom line: Warm and unpretentious setting, offering heart-warming below-the-border cuisine made with fresh ingredients that are attractively garnished and served. You don’t have to live nearby to enjoy this inviting neighborhood joint.