Sep 14, 2021

Lola’s brings tapas tradition to NOLA’s food scene

With a recently developed taste for tapas, it was only a matter time before Punky and I found a restaurant in my favorite travel destination of New Orleans that brings the traditional tapas-style cooking to the Big Easy.  And, as fate would have it, we learned of Lola’s through our friend, Ali, who we had met frequenting the neighborhood bar Finn McCool’s in Mid-City.  Ali had started working there and highly recommended we check it out. 

As it advertises, Lola’s has been bringing a taste of Spain to New Orleans since 1994, so it’s certainly not new to the city’s diverse culinary culture.  Located on scenic Esplanade Avenue near both Bayou St. John and the Fairgrounds, in a fairly residential part of the city, Lola’s might be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.  In fact, were it not for the abundance of outdoor seating and patio lighting, it looks in passing like it could have been someone’s home long ago.    

But Lola’s quaintness is part of its charm.  It has the look one might expect from a more traditional tapas bar or Spanish bodega (wine shop).  It’s small on the inside, small kitchen, small bar, and limited seating.  I’d estimate Lola’s has roughly twice as much seating outside as there is inside, but this is the type of place and food that is best experienced al fresco anyway. 

Did I mention the small bar?  It may be just a four-seater at best, but the selection of Spanish wines and house-made sangrias they pour will pair well with any meal here.  

Did I mention the small kitchen pumping out paellas at a frenzied pace? 

So, Punky and I agreed that Lola’s scored an “A” on atmosphere, but what about the food? 

Ali took excellent care of us from the start.  With a late dinner crowd already rolling in, we took advantage of the first seat opened that evening on the side patio.  And we quickly had a bottle of chilled red sangria in front of us to help us cool off while we waited for each course to come out. 

The first course to arrive was a small bread basket containing a pair of pistolettes and generous serving of Lola’s garlic aioli spread to add.  Be cautioned, however, that one mouthful of this spread will clean out your sinuses in a hurry!  I mean that in a very good way.  To me, the more garlicky the better, and one dollop of this will definitely keep the vampires and mosquitoes away.     

The garlic kept coming with the tapas we ordered, specifically by way of the garlic mushrooms.  Fortunately, I reserved some of my bread for dipping in the excess garlic/olive oil broth surrounding the sizzling plateful of crimini mushrooms and basil.  Each mushroom seemed to absorb the perfect amount of liquid, too.  Every bite was stellar.

To contrast the hot plate of mushrooms, we selected another tapa served cold – the crabmeat tropical.  This dish turned out to be a great example of how a restaurant doesn’t have to be Cajun- or Creole-themed to take full advantage of the bounty of seafood New Orleans has to offer.  The crabmeat in this dish was fresh, mild, slightly sweet and paired exceptionally well with the simple avocado salad it was served on.         

I think you could say we liked our tapas choices fairly well. 

But we couldn’t stop with just a couple of appetizers.  Lola’s offers traditional paella in various portions – large and small – so we shared a combination paella perfectly sized for two.  As the photo indicates, it was loaded!  Punky was happy with the amount of meat (chicken, pork and sausage) … 

… and I relished every piece of seafood (shrimp, fish, calamari and mussels) I could find buried in the saffron colored rice.   

I finished my half of the meal, unintentionally, with Lola’s signature gazpacho.  It was intended to be served with the appetizers, but I didn’t mind having it last at all.  The paella had effectively filled me up, but I still found room for this wonderfully garlicky puree of fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.  The splash of olive oil on top added nicely to the depth of this soup once it was all stirred together. 

In the end, we felt very fortunate to have learned of Lola’s and had the opportunity to dine there.  While I could never get tired of New Orleans’ abundance of quality Cajun and Creole restaurants, Lola’s provides an excellent change of pace from the standard cuisine of the Crescent City.  This place is worth a trip away from the Big Easy tourist traps, especially if you’re a fan of authentic Spanish food. 


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