The name certainly fits Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos. It was started in the backyard of the home that Ian Schnoebelen and Laurie Casebonne share in the Bywater, something the couple cooked up in their scant free time while running the popular Italian restaurant Mariza.
It continued for years as an open-air stand, one of countless home-based businesses that dot the New Orleans food world. Now Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos is a restaurant, and the name remains as apt as ever.
Rosalita’s opened just after the New Year in a small St. Claude Avenue storefront that was previously home to the bakery Shake Sugary. It’s just a block from the original location.
In a mural-lined room up front there’s a counter to order and room for a handful of tables, though these are not in use due to social distancing measures.
For now, all orders are for takeout or for outside service in the backyard, accessed by a narrow alley.
The menu is much the same as before, starting with tacos built on corn tortillas from the local brand Mawi Tortillas. Fillings run through smoked pork and brisket, chorizo, lengua, pork belly, al pastor, carne asada, chicken adobo, beans and avocado and fried fish in a puffy-crunchy batter with crema — a style that’s a nod to Schnoebelen’s own roots in San Diego.
There are plates with rice and beans, empanadas and enchiladas, burritos, tamales, nachos and chiles relleno. Rosalita’s serves beer, wine and margaritas.
The backyard has a tin roof awning for shade, heaters for the cold weather and a smoker that churns out some of the slow-cooked meats and adds its touch to the chile peppers.
An oak tree arches over from the adjacent property, and sometimes the sounds of live music also drift over as the neighbors get into a jam session in their own backyard. Seeing how much his customers appreciated the ad hoc addition to the scene, Schnoebelen put a sign on the fence inviting diners to drop tips between the slats for the musicians next door.
The feel here is about as bare bones as a backyard barbecue, and that’s the way this couple likes it after years of running upscale restaurants.
They opened their first restaurant, Iris, in 2006 and this turned into one of the first post-Katrina restaurant success stories, adding to the new pulse for the city’s resurgent dining scene.
By the time Iris closed in 2014, Mariza was in full swing in the Bywater. When chef Nina Compton and Larry Miller of Compère Lapin made an offer on the restaurant in 2017 to open their own Bywater American Bistro, Schnoebelen and Caseboone decided to sell and switch gears.
As it chugged along as a low-key takeout stand, Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos became a fixture for Bywater neighbors. It soon landed on various lists of cool New Orleans spots to check out, with its off-the-grid vibe and tasty tacos.
Today, they couple know they’re opening a full-fledged restaurant at a difficult period across the industry. But with an operation designed for outdoor service they feel Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos is also in step with the times.
3304 St. Claude Ave., (504) 354-2468
Tue.-Sat., noon-9 p.m.
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