Opened just last month, brand new modern Mexican joint Johnny Sánchez was totally packed when our small group of four arrived. Despite having reservations, we still waited several minutes before being seated, and while delivered with a sweet southern smile, service was a tad bit wanting. That said, the food was well on par with what we find right on the Mexican border in San Diego and there was a Saints v. Packers gaming looming just a few hundred feet away, plus this is a three-week old restaurant. They might be doing something right.
The food was solid. In fact the Brussels sprouts (with roasted pumpkin, charred jalapeno vinaigrette, pomegranate and Cotija cheese) were so fantastic one of the group proclaimed they were the best she’d ever had. You could quite literally make a meal out of them if you happen to love the veg. Also sampled on the trip was the standard guacamole, to which by the way you can add oaxacan chapulines (spicy grasshoppers) should you feel the desire for really authentic fare; the topping is popular in and around Mexico City.
Décor in the establishment is fun and a bit Dia de los Muertos, with skull-headed figures and bright, colorful murals lining the walls. Top it off with a modern flair and edgier cocktail items like grilled pineapple margaritas and you have what seems to be a winner. And rightfully so, as the restaurant is the brain child of celestial chefs Aarón Sánchez and John Besh. Besh is a Louisana native who was named as one of the best new chefs back in the day by Food & Wine and also holds the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest (2006). Aarón Sánchez you may already be familiar with due to his fame as a co-star on Food Network’s Chopped.
As a result of the partnership, fare on the menu has fun ingredients reflective of a modern take on the traditional with dishes like lamb enchiladas, whole grilled fish, bone marrow with pickled onions and pork belly carnitas with achiote glaze. Taco options also feature some more progressive proteins like sweet breads, barbacoa, slow-roasted goat and perhaps the freshest thing you could ask for in NOLA: Louisiana shrimp – which were delicious in case you were wondering.
All in all Johnny Sanchez is a great new spot for New Orleans and a perfect pre-game dinner choice for anyone attending a Saints game or just itching to get out of the main drag that is the French Quarter. Go adventurous or stick to traditional (yeah they have classic arroz con pollo too), either way you’ll have a great meal…even if there is a wait.