Austin Lane wants you to come over and enjoy some delicious food at his house. No …seriously. Lane’s restaurant, El Cucuy on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Irish Channel, is serving up Mexican food in a house that he once called home, until he decided to convert it into a funky taco restaurant and bar.
Lane had lived in the home for two years when he decided to do the big conversion. The result reflects Lane’s background in restaurants and real estate; El Cucuy is the perfect blend of both.
The inside of the restaurant boasts a beautiful bar, but the star of the show is the patio alongside the building. Umbrellas shield the sun from picnic tables that sit among unique artwork in a cozy atmosphere. It invites any diner to sip the day away on Mexican cocktails or cerveza, well into the evening.
“I’ve worked in real estate, catering, food trucks and restaurants,” he said. “I’ve worked at countless startups in tech, and I applied that mentality to this project. I did 70% of the building design myself.”
The stage was set for El Cucuy to make its big debut in March, and then the coronavirus pandemic caused immediate shutdowns throughout the city. In September, when some restrictions started to loosen, Lane and his staff decided to open their doors and welcome people in.
“We had our permits and licenses all ready when COVID hit,” she said. “The first week of September, we just opened to see what would happen. So far, we’re making it work.”
The food served at El Cucuy is inspired by Lane’s Texas roots. He grew up in Houston and went to college at the University of Texas in Austin. He was raised around the culture, and learned the ins and outs of the Mexican street food that he now proudly serves.
With a history that includes two Mexican food trucks in Austin, Lane wanted to bring that food experience to the Uptown area.
“I’ve always had one foot in the restaurant industry,” he said. “I want to hold true to that authentic Mexican food experience. I want to do Mexican food the right way.”
The food — such as carne asada tacos, pollo asada tacos, nopales (vegetarian) tacos and much more — developed as snacks to be eaten on the street, but it also invites the diner to sit down for a nosh. One standout on the menu is the variety of tortas.
“We’re doing tortas, which is a Mexican-style sandwich,” Lane said. “They have a variety of different flavor profiles, and it’s been one of my favorites since childhood.”
The menu also includes elote, which has been a customer favorite. This Mexican street corn-on-the-cob is made with cotija cheese, mayo, butter, lime, chili powder and cilantro.
Just when you think that the food is all El Cucuy has to offer, you get a look at the drink menu. Mexican beer, wine and liquors adorn a menu that also includes spirits and cocktails, which Lane describes as very agave forward.
Although, due to current COVID-19 restrictions, the restaurant isn’t open for dining indoors, Lane said that indoor dining will be offered when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, you can enjoy El Cucuy’s creations on their patio or get your grub delivered through D’Livery NOLA or Waitr. Contactless pickup is available as well.
Despite only being able to offer outdoor seating, for the time being, Lane is excited with what El Cucuy has been able to accomplish so far.
“We aren’t a typical Mexican restaurant,” he said. “We want people to experiment. We want to keep our place neighborhood friendly and casual. I’m happy with what we’re doing — we have a very strong team.”
I stopped in for lunch, and the ordering process couldn’t have been easier. You order your food at the window, pay and make your way to the side patio and await your meal. I ordered the Duo with Chips ($8), which comes with a sizable serving of salsa roja and queso.
The salsa had a nice zing to it. It was flavorful without relying too heavily on the spices — it had nice body and I loved how nicely it balanced with the queso. Both the salsa roja and the queso are made with roasted tomatoes, onions, peppers and spices.
After hearing Lane speak so highly of the torta, I knew that I had to try the Carne Asada Torta ($11) for myself. This was tender carne asada served on bolillo bread with black beans, avocado, mayo, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onion and cotija cheese.
It was so interesting to have all of the flavors that I enjoy in really good Mexican food in a sandwich. I feel like so many of us reach for a burrito, when we want all of those flavors, but this torta was such a different experience. It more than lived up to the hype.
Price points: appetizers: $2 to $13; tacos (ala carte or platter): $3.50 to $10; torta: $10.50 to $11; elote: $6
3507 Tchoupitoulas St.
Wednesday-Monday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Reporter Marielle Songy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.