Photo | www.el-papi.com
The best part of the new Lagniappe office being downtown is that we are so close to all the attractions. Mardi Gras was predictably a blast this year, but for me the proximity to our downtown restaurants is of utmost importance. Thank goodness I’m not there every day or my scales would be heading northward at a time when I’m trying to turn them southward. But on the chance I do get to visit with the gang, a great meal is within walking distance.
Our entire city is peppered with restaurants good, bad and ugly. I believe most are good and the awful ones don’t stick around for long. Downtown, though, has the highest concentration of really good restaurants, and in the past couple years some of the best contributions to the “good” scene have been associated with Chuck’s Fish.
With ties to Harbor Docks seafood in Destin, this group of restaurants garnered fans on Dauphin Street beginning with Five Bar in the former Bull location. There’s five of everything, but remember Uptown Chicken will be your favorite appetizer.
After that we were treated to Chuck’s Fish just a few steps away, where you’ll find amazing sushi, steaks and fresh fish. The closing of Café 615 next to Five Bar begat the latest in the group, in the form of higher-end Mexican restaurant El Papi.
A lunch date with the bosses had us hoofing it a block or two and we found ourselves passing through the beautifully transformed courtyard. The interior of the restaurant was stunningly different, with an open-air feel on a windy, sunny day. We braved the breeze and sat outside, holding down napkins and menus with anything of weight.
Rob and Ashley both enjoyed prior visits and let me steer the ship on my first. With waters and tea on the way, I ordered the chili con queso ($7 plus $1.50 with homemade chorizo). This group of restaurants is known for its appetizers (in El Papi they call them aperitivos) and this one did not disappoint. I loved the flavor and texture and admit it was more elegant than most order-by-number joints. I could have eaten two of them by myself. Though fairly small for the price, it was delicious.
Rob had been gushing about the quesadillas, so Ashley ordered the Pastor ($13). Of course this is pork, and marinated in red chili with pineapple was a wise route. I was afforded a triangle of the sizable fold and found all the flavors detectable. It’s not chunks of pineapple but more so a hint. Ashley and I are both unashamed to put pineapple on pizza and therefore are OK with it in our Mexican food.
We told Rob he had to sample the sandwich side of the menu, so he chose the carne asada torta ($13). Served on Mexican telera bread, the juicy steak, refried beans, tomato and lettuce with cheese and avocado on top created a sandwich that should be eaten with a fork. It was hard to share as it fell apart, but was good. It came with a crispy side of tater tots, which I loved.
We asked for some hot sauce, and though there’s a bottle on the table it was totally drinkable. Good chili flavor and vinegar is a must, but sometimes you need something that comes with a respiratory warning. Paolo, our waiter, went back to the kitchen and got the chef to mix up something with a little more flame. It wasn’t face-melting but admittedly hotter, and I certainly appreciated the effort.
The bowls looked promising, and they were. I started with the Tinga de Pollo ($10) and Paolo offered to top it with a fried egg for an extra buck. I declined and enjoyed the red rice, refried beans, pico de gallo and crema with the shredded chicken and onions. This was my favorite dish of the day. Fairly light and healthy, the avocado was the cherry on top.
Paolo kept asking if we’d like to try a margarita. I wasn’t technically on the clock, so I took one for the team with El Papi’s Margarita Clasico ($9). With lime, agave and Cointreau added to the tequila, I found it really sweet. By sweet I mean it was too sweet for me. Many others would have liked it. There were three other signature margaritas. I should have taken a closer look and had the house margarita.
When it comes to tacos, the craze is lengua, but I am a cachete ($6) man. Braised beef cheek with fresh onion and a salsa verde on corn tortillas were a good choice. I will say their corn tortillas are light and smooth enough that fans of flour tortillas won’t mind the texture, although with tacos I am all about the corn. I did enjoy the pickled carrots that garnished the plate.
I think they are doing a good job at El Papi and I predict they will only get better and better. I still need to find time for dinner there. Definitely give them a try.
615 Dauphin St.