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Shoptalk: Nacho Mama's Mexican Grill 

  When Nacho Mama's Mexican Grill (1000 S. Clearview Pkwy., Harahan, 736-1188; 3242 Magazine St., 899-0031; 6325 Elysian Fields Ave., 286-1805; www.nachomamasmexicangrill.com) opened its first location in 2001, there wasn't much of a Mexican food scene in New Orleans. Now, thanks to a burgeoning cadre of taco trucks, tamale carts and new Mexican eateries, Nacho Mama's has more competition than ever, but owner Shane Finkelstein says he welcomes the opportunity to step up his game.

  "I'm a real foodie myself and I want (Nacho Mama's) to be considered the best Mexican place in town," Finkelstein says. "This has challenged me to get better and improve my product."

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  Finkelstein recently brought in executive chef Alby Silvera, who honed his skills as a chef and restaurant owner in Los Angeles, to update Nacho Mama's menu of Southwestern favorites like chili rellenos, enchiladas and of course, nachos. Silvera says some of the changes are subtle — substituting grilled tomatoes and red onion for cold, raw versions in the portobello mushroom sandwich, for example — but all will be characterized by attention to detail. "Less is more is what we are shooting for," Silvera says. "We want clean, strong flavors. Everything doesn't have to be slathered in cheese."

  Since opening the first of three Nacho Mama's locations in 2001, Finkelstein has worked to include healthy fare and vegetarian and vegan options on their menus. "We are probably the only place that uses vegetarian refried beans. I don't use lard; we use all-white meat chicken breasts, and we make our own guacamole and salsa from scratch every day," Finkelstein says. "We fry our own chips. Chips that come out of a box are nasty."

  Though New Orleanian palates are famously loyal to favorite menu items and restaurants, Silvera says Nacho Mama's regulars, many of whom have patronized the restaurant for a decade, support the new menu concept.

  "Everyone has embraced the changes, because we aren't changing the core," Silvera says. "We're tweaking things to provide the best meal we can."

Owner Shane Finkelstein strives to make Nacho Mama's "the best Mexican place in town."

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