Chef Lindsey McLellan spent nearly a decade overseeing the kitchen at Lola’s, churning out pans of paella to customers willing to “suffer” hour-long waits spent sipping sangria. Then one day in 2014, she was walking her daughters down Napoleon Avenue near Fontainebleau Drive and noticed a “For Lease” sign in a window. Thus began one of the very few tales of restaurateur epiphany that involves a former Time Saver location.
Although she’d spent the vast majority of her time in New Orleans cooking Spanish specialties, McLellan had deep roots in the cuisine of Mexico, having started her career in Mexican restaurants in New York and then marrying a native Mexican. Authenticity is the main ingredient in nearly every dish at El Pavo Real, and many of the dishes are grounded in recipes passed down by her husband’s family. The most prominent is the mole, a deep brown sauce with aromas of chocolate, cinnamon and chile that is the ultimate comfort food. A close second would be caldo del pollo, the kind of chicken soup your grandmother used to make if you grew up in Puebla or Oaxaca.
Tacos come two to an order on freshly griddled corn tortillas. Small filets of fresh fish (drum on the most recent visit) are battered and fried and then paired with a chipotle mayo and cabbage slaw. Thin strips of hanger steak are rubbed with chipotle before a quick sear and a self-applied smear of cool, smooth and slightly spicy tomatillo avocado salsa. Pork lovers can choose al pastor tacos but would be wise to instead select the carnitas entrée, an oversized serving of achiote and chile-rubbed pork shoulder braised until the meat barely holds up to the pressure from a fork. The absolute can’t-miss dish is the enchiladas, stuffed with either chicken or cheese and smothered in an addictively delicious guajillo sauce before an added layer of chihuahua cheese is melted on.
McLellan had to obtain a zoning variance for the property, and during that process she endeared herself to her neighbors, who have embraced the restaurant. After opening without a liquor license, El Pavo Real has since obtained a permit and now serves up freshly squeezed margaritas and a short selection of wines and beers.
The friendly and attentive wait staff (which includes McLelllan, who also runs orders from the kitchen) fits the casual vibe.
4401 S. Broad Street; Tues 9a–3p, Wed–Thur 9a–8p, Fri–Sat 9a–9p, Sun 9:30a–3p; (504) 266-2022; elpavorealnola.com