The Metairie expansion of Tacos San Miguel, the taqueria reviewed in this week's issue, was a huge step up for its owners, and not just because they doubled from one to two locations. The newer Metairie restaurant is a much fuller picture of what a taqueria can be, while still retaining the same essential characteristics of inexpensive prices, quick service and authentic casual food.
It's a small place, though roomy by the standards of the original New Orleans location, and it is riotously colorful by any standard short of a tropical fruit market. There is a full bar (pictured below) serving margaritas and palomas, a cocktail of tequila, grapefruit soda.
At both locations customers order at the counter and can watch their meals take shape beyond the steam table. The orange, green and red salsas are the same at both shops, smooth, wet and of gradually strengthening spiciness, though in New Orleans they come in squeeze bottles shared among the tables and in Metairie they are part of a larger self-serve condiment bar with raw onions, jalapenos, cilantro and hot tortilla chips, provided free.
The biggest difference, however, is the size and scope of the menu. At the New Orleans original, there are tacos, burritos, quesadillas, plate meals and a few specials on weekend, like menudo (tripe soup). The Metairie shop has many more options, like Mexican chicken noodle soup, chiles relleno, the cornmeal pitas called sopes, which here are served like tostadas piled up with meat, lettuce and crema.
My own favorite from the expanded Metairie menu is the huarache (pictured above), which is like a hybrid quesadilla made on an extra-large flour tortilla folded vaguely in the shape of the sandal for which it is named and filled with smoky, crunchy bacon, soft bits of diced fajita meat, avocado and Chihuahua cheese.
The Metairie building was previously a burger joint, and today Tacos San Miguel serves a burger to satisfy the guy who gets dragged along with his office mates and would rather have meat on a bun than wrapped in a tortilla. The burger gets thoroughly Latinized, however, with chorizo and smoky, mild poblano peppers ground into the patty, which is topped with that smooth panela cheese rather than cheddar or American.