106 S. Cities Service Hwy • Sulphur, LA
Over the last few months, my wife and I, like most of us, have been making multiple trips to home-improvement, paint, flooring, and decor stores. Finishing off the weekend shopping and grabbing a few last minute items took more time than we thought it would one weekend. When we were done, it was late on a Sunday; the sun was setting. We really didn’t have any plans to go out for dinner. But, then again, we hadn’t really planned to cook anything either.
So … there we were in Sulphur looking for a place to eat. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants have adjusted their hours due to staffing shortages. Many of them are closing altogether on Sundays. That was evident in the limited choices we saw as we scrolled through our options. However, one particular restaurant of interest popped up. Maria’s Cocina Mexicana.
We love the culture behind Mexican food. Mexican restaurants thrive all across the country, and Southwest Louisiana is no exception. We have an abundance of res-taurants and food trucks which cater to Mexican cuisine, most owned and operated by families in the area.
Now, you can go to just about any Mexican restaurant around here and find the same things on every menu. We really don’t have any restaurants that have a standalone signature dish. And if there is one, it seems that everybody jumps on that bandwagon and soon enough, the dish is available everywhere. So, what was it going to take to set one particular restaurant apart from another?
The streets were relatively empty as we drove toward the restaurant. As we pulled up, I couldn’t help but notice the striking and vibrant exterior against the darkening sky. The size of the crowd was moderate and without waiting to be seated, we were escorted to a booth. Chips and fresh salsa were immediately delivered to the table.
In a short time, our server introduced himself as Luis, distributed the menus and asked for our drink orders. There was an immediate sense that he likes what he does. With the way he carried himself and interacted with my wife and me, even though it was a Sunday night, I felt I wasn’t just another customer whom he was going to shuffle food to just to send me out the door. There was a note of genuine pride.
Our drinks arrived at the table. For the life of me, I will never understand why plas-tic cups are used for adult beverages. Legend has it if you order large margaritas, your drink will arrive in a glass. I’ll have to test this theory next time. I could understand it if we were outside, or if it were on the beach or somewhere where glass is a safety hazard because you’re barefoot. Seated in a restaurant, not so much.
The margaritas were refreshing after a long weekend, but probably would have tasted even better in a glass. Luis came by to check on me and wife, asking if we were ready to order. As we were recapping the weekend and some of our home ideas, time was apparently slipping by unnoticed. We hadn’t even opened the menus when Luis genuinely said, “please let me know when you’re ready. I’ll give you all the time you need.”
We were hungry, I needed material to write about and if we didn’t order soon, I was going to fill up on chips and the awesome salsa. As we looked through the appetizer section of the menu, we agreed the chicken quesadilla with added spinach would be a good place to start, with a Burrito Loco for her, and the Fajitas Trio for myself.
It wasn’t long at all before the quesadilla arrived. It was the perfect size for shar-ing without compromising our appetites. Although spinach is not a staple in Hispanic greens, in this case it was a great addition. A warm and soft flour tortilla, with slices of seasoned grilled chicken breast, melted Monterey Jack cheese and the added flavor of sautéed spinach worked well.
After just a few moments, our super-server Luis arrived with our main meals. He placed before my wife a large platter holding a burrito packed with asada, chicken and shrimp, topped with the right amount of queso, with a side of fresh guacamole and zesty pico de gallo. I heard the unmistakable sound of a sizzling iron skillet and smelled the aroma of onion, bell pepper, marinated strips of steak, chicken and shrimp wafting through the air. There were warm tortillas, a full accompaniment of pico, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese and a cup of charro beans. Gazing over our plates, if the appearance and aroma were any indication as to what we are about to eat, it was going to be fantastic. And it was. The steak was tender, the chicken was juicy and the shrimp was fresh and crisp. Everything was on point.
Of course, we had to save room for dessert. I am a fan of flan, a custard dessert; my wife, not so much. So we came up with a compromise and ordered the sopapillas. These are fried flour tortillas, served warm and puffy, sprinkled with a sugar and cinnamon dust, drizzled in honey and chocolate and with whipped cream for dipping. It was a perfect dessert that didn’t make us feel heavy. What began as a lack-of-time-management dinner turned out to be a pleasant night for fresh and exciting Mexican food.
EXTRA DASH: JJ’S JAMMIN’ FOOD
Chef Jobe Guillory arrived on the food truck scene a year and a half ago when he found his own little patch of shade at 2333 Broad St. to park his red wagon in. I watched his initial opening and the feedback from the steadi-ly growing line of people order-ing at the window. The constant crowd said he had a good thing going.
A few months in, I stopped in for a quick lunch and took some photos and jotted down some notes. Recently, I was able to make another stop and add to my experience. My first time around, I was in the mood for fish. I saw that he offered a fillet of a wild-caught catfish, seasoned, breaded and fried. I added a side of spicy cabbage.
On my recent visit, the Creole Jerk Chicken sandwich caught my attention. I kept going through the menu of sandwiches and dishes, but kept coming back to this. Very few people can do a good jerk chicken. I was willing to try it.
This man prides himself on Creole, soul food, smothered home cook-ing, and flavor and spice. He doesn’t disappoint. That fried catfish was spicy; it was steamy; it was exactly what I wanted. If you find the spicy cabbage on the menu and it’s available, don’t hesitate. Do yourself a favor and get two in case you have to share. It’s not often I get blown away by a side dish, but this is knock-your-socks-off spicy cabbage.
On my next visit, I ordered the jerk chicken sandwich with cheese added. It was savory and spicy with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg in the seasoning. There were grilled juicy chicken thighs served on a jalapeño roll with fries. I don’t usually order a chicken sandwich when I dine out, but I just found a new favorite. Definitely check him out. You’ll find him under the big shady oak tree from 11:30 until he sells out for the day.