By Matt Starlight
There’s a million and one ways to make a taco. Seemingly every restaurant from here to Chile has a variation of the classic entree. Hell, even Jack in the Box could make you two for 99 cents with a slice of American cheese if you’re so inclined. But if you want an actual taco here in Baton Rouge, take a drive down Corporate to the newly built Velvet Cactus. A familiar name to the New Orleans natives, the Velvet Cactus’s (or as they call it, the “Mexican Dive and Funky Art Joint”) menu is crafted around the Central American classics: burritos, tacos, nachos, and any other Spanish word for food. Once you take few steps onto their patio and look around, you’ll know you’re in for something a little different.
After you sidestep the waterfall lagoon and take a seat under an umbrella and various pop culture referencing paintings of Sugar Skulls (most of which are for sale), peruse the menu for a bit and locate the Pork Pibil Tacos. Adorned with smoked pulled pork, chargrilled onions and red peppers, cilantro, and chipotle aioli, these southern delicacies are an impressive combination of sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, classic and new age. A bite into the taco and you’ll first notice the smoky pulled pork that tastes like it’s been prepping for hours, but you’ll soon after be delegated to the saucy aioli and the heat of the peppers. It’s striking that balance between too bold and too light that gives this dish just the right texture and vibe for a Mexican lunch. Aioli drips onto your fingers out of the warm tortilla at the same moment you’re crunching into an onion chunk and relishing that savory punch. It’s impossible to have just one reaction; there are too many flavors at work. Finish up the second taco and the two sides on your plate and you’re left with a satisfying feeling of content sitting in your stomach.
I’ve been known to say Mexican food is the same at restaurant X, Y, and Z, but the colorful atmosphere in tandem with the luscious grub makes the Velvet Cactus one of this city’s most memorable joints that’s certainly worthy of a visit or two (or three).