By Jonathan Olivier
“It’s one of the best kept secrets in Baton Rouge. When you see it you would think it’s just another Mexican restaurant, but nothing could be further from the truth.” – John Nettles.
In a sea of chain restaurants and the prominent Cajun or Southern food establishments found around Baton Rouge, it may seem impossible to find alternative options to satisfy your ethnic side.
But Capital City resident John Nettles does it on a regular basis – in fact, he has no problem locating traditional Indian, Vietnamese, African or even Honduran dishes scattered throughout the town.
Nettles, an ethnic culinary aficionado, searches for back alley, hidden, sometimes dilapidated, but often mouthwatering restaurants to uncover alternatives to the Baton Rouge norm. And he enjoys doing it so much he chronicles his findings on his blog Adventure Eats Louisiana (AdventureEatsLA.com).
The idea for the blog stinted from his “anthropological approach to food” and a desire to “dig around the nooks and crannies and find different hidden treasures,” he said. In doing so since March, he’s stumbled across and reviewed a handful of unique restaurants worthy of checking into.
One of Nettles’ favorite locales is La Reyna, a Latin American restaurant located in Siegen Plaza that serves up Honduran and South American dishes.
“It’s one of the best kept secrets in Baton Rouge,” Nettles said. “When you see it you would think it’s just another Mexican restaurant, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nettles recommends the guisado, a red chile sauce served with pulled pork and beef liver, and papusa, a thick, pancake-like tortilla garnished with cheese. He also advised not to leave without trying a few colorful fruit drinks that are popular in Honduras or an almond and barley tapas.
If there’s a finicky eater in the group, the menu also contains items you’ll find at any Mexican restaurant like enchiladas or tacos.
Just north of LSU on Highland Road is the home base for Caroline Cousins’ restaurant Beans Burgers and Plantain Fries (BB & PF), where she serves as waitress, cashier, chef and owner. If there is any wait while dining due to the one woman show, it’s well worth it. BB & PF is the only place in Baton Rouge specializing in serving Nigerian-inspired dishes—another favorite of Nettles.
One of Nettles’ go-to dishes is the fufu, a yam mash served with okra or peanut soup.
“They have a lot of goat there and sauces that are herbal,” Nettles said of BB & PF. “There’s also a black-eyed pea dip, which is often a side dish to us, but it is a main dish over there.”
Of course, a serving of the restaurant’s namesake bean burgers and plantain fries, a fried black-eyed pea paste patty served with fried plantain cutlets, is always a good option.
And while the dime a dozen chains specializing in microwaved chicken seemingly outnumber the authentic and unique eateries in the city, Nettles will continue his mission to seek out the latter and inspire others to do the same.
“My goal is to create a resource for people who are enthusiastic about ethnic food,” he said. “Eventually, I’d like to consolidate ethnic food enthusiasts and be able to support a larger ethnic food base; perhaps entice people to come in and open restaurants from their part of the world in Baton Rouge.”