A little off the beaten path in New Albany’s downtown is La Catrina Mexican Kitchen, a new addition to the culinary scene there and one with roots already established.
Owners Roza and Juan Segoviano also own Senor Iguanas, which operates five locations around the Louisville area, as well as Taqueria Don Juan in Clarksville. La Catrina Mexican Kitchen opened when the space came available after Dragon King’s Daughter moved a few blocks away.
La Catrina isn’t quite like either of the other restaurants, although there clearly are similarities; the new restaurant splits the difference between classic taquerias and modern Mexican establishments like El Taco Luchador and Guaca Mole.
Roza serves as head chef of La Catrina, and, according to the restaurant’s website, the menu is inspired by the food she enjoyed from street vendors while living in Mexico.
What my visit told me is that, more than anything, she’s dedicated to quality, fresh food and strong service.
I stopped in for lunch with my girlfriend Cynthia recently, and we were struck by the bright, modern and colorful environment. The walls were covered in Día de los Muertos-inspired murals on faux brick, and the centerpiece of the restaurant was a centered bar serving all manner of cervezas and cocktails.
Splashes of color included purple, maroon, teal, light blue and gold.
The menu splits up into inviting sections, starting with “shareable” items from a salsa sampler to oyster shooters to a “Baja Boil,” which is kind of a Mexican spin on a lo country boil.
Two taco menus split between basic, street-style delivery of meat and a double corn tortilla, with a taco bar near the kitchen to dress them out, and a list of specialty tacos. One of those, the Dona Nena, is based on a recipe by Juan’s mother and contains potatoes, chorizo, refried black beans, roasted tomatillo crema, pickled red onion and cilantro.
With the taco bar menu, you also can get those quesadilla-style. The rest of the menu rounds out with a handful of salads, soups such as pozole, a “Naked Bowl” (sort of like a naked burrito) and a pair of desserts. Sides, sold separately, range from poblano rice to charro beans.
We started with a simple order of guacamole and chips (there’s also a loaded guac shareable) and started to scour the menu to decide our lunch. I’m not kidding when I say our appetizer was placed before us within two minutes, a moderate portion of guac in a stone vessel with a tray of basic corn tortillas.
The guac was topped with chopped red peppers, which not only was a visual delight but a sweet (and just a tad spicy) addition to the chunky, fresh-tasting guac. Not a bad start to our meal.
“That tastes like summer,” Cynthia declared.
She also is a sucker for nachos as well as for pulled pork, so it didn’t take her long to decide she wanted to lunch on the nachos from the shareable menu. Recognizing that the Segovianos designed the menu to focus on the tacos, I stayed in that lane, choosing street-style tacos of lengua and campechano, as well as the La Catrina taco from the signature menu.
If we were surprised when our guacamole arrived with lightning speed, we were nearly shocked when our lunch came out piping hot no more than five minutes after we ordered. That’s one efficient kitchen they’ve got at La Catrina.
I made my way to the taco bar, and at this point I will issue a warning that has been foreshadowed.
As I made my way there, past the bar, I began to cross the threshold of the kitchen entrance when a server in a mad rush burst forth, nearly knocking my plate out of my hands. He paused to say, “Sorry, boss!” and then moved on. I took more care on my way back.
The bar, however, offered plenty to dress out your tacos and quesadillas: four different salsas, shredded lettuce, cotija, chopped tomatoes, chopped red onion, lime wedges, chopped radish and more. I finished off my tacos and carefully made my way back.
By all accounts, our meal was spot on. My La Catrina taco was served on a blue tortilla and filled with plump, perfectly cooked shrimp, bacon, pickled onion and cilantro, plus a Chihuahua crema (which was fried crisp) and red pepper aioli. Delicious.
My other two tacos were packed with meat, and the campechano, which is a blend of chorizo and small chunks of grilled steak, was especially tasty.
Cynthia’s nachos were loaded with pork carnitas (basically, pulled pork in this delivery), queso, pico, refried black beans and more, which doesn’t sound special, but the blend of flavors outdistanced the ingredients themselves. It just worked, and clearly it was a combo that was well designed.
We spent about $30 on lunch, which was well worth it. We opted to not delve into the cocktail menu, which features intriguing options ranging from a basic lime margarita to mojitos to a spiked horchata drink. There also are cervezas and American craft beer available.
La Catrina Mexican Kitchen, located at 202 E. Elm St. in New Albany, is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.