When you walk into Barracuda for tacos, it is easy to forget that what’s behind you is a concrete street, and not a beach, or a collection of cabanas.
The “shop” part of this taco stand is gleaming white; a real west coast vibe. And, it’s tiny – like a surf shack but with clean lines. Customers order at the counter while the stainless-steel kitchen churns like the surf, producing a wave of food for the hungry masses outback.
Behind the hut is a large patio area. Lush greenery springs up from where the fence meets the gravel. There are three rows of picnic benches, some painted in pastel blue or green. The middle row is several benches long: a communal banquet table where you should expect bumping elbows with others who came to grub. The wooden walls and surfaces are a homey contrast to the shop’s modern interior. Though, exposed beams inside create a simple accent and tie it all together.
A margarita garden. A neighborhood cantina. This is the sort of joint you might find somewhere on the Pacific, or deep in the Yucatan. But lucky for New Orleanians, it’s right here off the Mississippi instead. Welcome to Barracuda. I hope you brought an appetite.
A Flashy Fish in a Vibrant School
Barracuda is the new kid on a block which has been growing in reputation. Tchoupitoulas Street, long an industrial and cultural center of New Orleans, is becoming a food and beverage hub as well. Breweries and bars such as Port Orleans, Miel, Urban South, and the Tchoup Yard, have all sprung up within the last three years. NOLA Distillery came back to life here in 2018. Another taco shop, El Cucuy plans to open this year. Location is a crucial part of opening any business, so with all the hubbub along this Warehouse throughway, it seems Barracuda has picked the right riverfront community to join.
The concept of Barracuda comes from the mind of Brett Jones. Tacos aren’t a native food to him, as Brett isn’t from Mexico. However, it was a formative experience in the country, combined with a childhood brought up on Tex-Mex, that sent him towards becoming a taco aficionado. An experience at a sibling’s wedding in Mexico City had Brett strolling the streets, sampling tacos along the way. As he grew, Jones became a food and beverage veteran.
While working in Chicago and Los Angeles Jones would eat late-night tacos after shifts. You know the kind: soft tortillas packed full and dripping down your hands. Cilantro laying aromatically over the cumin-infused pastor. Authentic tacos that are casual, and welcoming, and not overthought.
Jones cut his teeth in the New Orleans hospitality industry, too. Before Barracuda Brett managed the Ruby Slipper Cafe. He was also the operating manager at Dinner Lab, and the opening manager of the Ace Hotel, a business who’s success has warranted the addition of a luxury guesthouse right next door. All this is to say, Jones has the chops. The food, the branding, and the environment he’s created at Barracuda suggest that he’s got the inspiration as well.
Swimming with the Fishes
When Turkey and the Wolf became a foodie-household name, one of the most exciting aspects of the success was the way the sandwich shop flaunted their prestige. With the long-lines of tourists, critiques of visitors, and the nation-wide exposure, Turkey and the Wolf got more in-your-face with their branding. Media captions and social stories roared with sarcasm, all while flexing the skills that delivered such popularity. It was beautiful and hilarious and necessary.
A restaurant full of people, being just who they wanted to be, and still making incredible food. You could take it or leave it, but just remember that leaving it meant passing up your shot to dine at the Best Restaurant in America.
This lesson of embodying your nature and being true to a purpose was foundational for how Barracuda developed. As Leah Richard, manager of Barracuda said during our interview,
“we’re not trying to re-invent the wheel here. We’re making tacos. But, we’re showing care in how we make them. Fresh ingredients, a real tortilla, and a high-quality cooking process. All this makes a difference. It takes an ‘okay taco’ to being a kick-ass taco, and that’s what we’re serving. Kick-ass tacos”
Barracuda offers these tacos in a distinctly human way, and it shows. Leah continued, explaining that it’s all about getting people to gather.
“Tacos are made to be eaten when you’re at your worst, disheveled, needing a seat. And, tacos are made to be eaten when you’re at your best. Standing up and celebrating.”
Barracuda tacos are for wherever you find yourself on that spectrum.
The community team approach is how Barracuda strategizes their service as well. Their team is twenty-plus people, but their space is only 400 square feet. Everyone is in every position in the restaurant. Servers are cashiers, and dishwashers, and at times kitchen staff. Sometimes, it’s the customers who provide the best customer service. Leah painted a scene:
“Someone will order at the counter and before they’ve even found their way to the back of the yard they have talked to five other people. They’ve been told they should have ordered the carnitas, gotten hyped about ordering the crispy fish, and did a little jig to some Steely Dan.”
Tac-o the Town
Saying that Barracuda’s tacos are “kick-ass” is putting it lightly. The tortillas are beyond good. Fresh, and handmade; it’s like love was pressed into them by the hands that rolled the corn and flour rounds. However, in plenty of cases, the tortilla toppings are what steals the show.
The Chicken is unique. Slightly sweet from achiote and turmeric, but just a touch earthy, and with peppery notes that fill your nose and mouth with true flavor. If you are a vegetarian, there is the Farmer, which doesn’t lack flavor just for being meatless. The purple corn soft-shell holds a mountain of grilled squash and canary beans, elevated by mint, and textured with toasted pepitas. With the addition of a biting green onion, the flavors of this taco bloom like a Louisiana summer garden, only in your mouth instead of from the ground. Trust us, it would be a terribly sad thing to find this taco on the ground.
One of the best things sampled at Barracuda? The Mini-Quesadilla. Few things this size have ever been packed with so much satisfaction. Cheese seeps out of the flaky fold of toasted tortilla. Burnt immediately by the sizzling flat-top grill, the result is a golden char; crispy as the best mozzarella stick money can buy, but without all the breading, and no need for a deep-fry.
If my favorite thing at a taco shop turns out to be a quesadilla, that’s not a bad thing in the eyes of Barracuda. Jones and Co. are looking forward to increasing the scope of their opening menu. Progression is the name of the game.
Nacho Average Happy Hour
A Happy Hour centered around nachos is a current focus point at Barracuda. The Deluxe Nacho Hour goes from 3p to 6:30p, Tuesday through Friday. Also, you can get them anytime the Saints play. Additionally, there are rotating pitcher and taco deals, guac tostadas, and ballpark style nachos (piled high with salsa verde, pickles, cotija and any protein choice you want).
Swimming into Newer Waters
With Barracuda being so new, plans for expansion are one of the few things that don’. There is the normal plans of improving on the in-restaurant experience: improved coverage for the wide-open dining area, some fire-pits and eventually, some opportunities for live music.
“We are taking a step back to really commit to what we love,” says Richardson. For Barracuda, this looks like a focus on internal culture. Making sure employee’s needs are met so that the food can continue to taste the way it does. In terms of outward products, the team is putting an eye towards creative cocktails and specials that will build regulars and return business.
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Y’all have been showing ALL THE WAY UP for us this week! Thanks for riding the wave with our temporary hours so we can figure out how to most efficiently crank a billion fresh, handmade tortillas, house-made dips, tacos and bowls out of this tiny lil shack. 〰️TODAYS HOURS〰️ breakfast tacos and coffee (only) 9a-2p and dinner (full menu) 5p-9p