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Velvet Cactus  |  New Orleans, LA

Velvet Cactus | New Orleans, LA

Let The Good Times Roll at This Quirky Restaurant

From the outside looking in, the people who work at Velvet Cactus have way too much fun. They travel for inspiration. They get to pitch ideas for the cocktail and food menus. And they work every day at a Mexican-New Orleans fusion restaurant. In New Orleans.

Can it possibly get any better? Yes, when your job is to compose beautiful dishes like a seasonal watermelon salad and banditos, or mini burritos, filled with crawfish. The idea for the watermelon salad originated from the family picnics of Executive Chef J.P. Roots, a New Orleans native who’s been a partner with Velvet Cactus for five years.

His favorite dish to eat during summer, the watermelon salad is made of fresh watermelon chunks, red onion, banana peppers, cilantro and queso fresco, tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and served chilled. It’s one of many dishes he believes helps the restaurant stand out in a town famous for its culinary offerings.

Other standout dishes include chipotle cheese grits topped with smoked jalapeño and BBQ shrimp and a seared ahi tuna appetizer with mango cucumber relish, avocado crema and fried won tons.

“Mexican food in New Orleans was a challenge,” admits Roots, who also spearheads another location in Baton Rouge, La. “We put some flair into our food. We took a lot of the Mexican flavors and put a Louisiana twist on everything we do as much as possible.”

He loves to describe Velvet Cactus as “a really fun atmosphere” that customers can call paradise for two to three hours, drink margaritas and still bring the kids.

“We are very family oriented,” he says. “We have games for kids such as bean bag and ring toss, plus popsicles for kids after they finish dinner. You can have a margarita and bring your kids and there are no other places in town where you can do that.”

Roots says the family-oriented aspect was created by design. Following the devastating Hurricane Katrina storm in 2005, many businesses either completely left the area or strived to rebuild in the more affluent areas of the city. Their mission was to go to where people desperately needed a restaurant in their community.

“We started in a neighborhood that was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Katrina, so it was flooded out and there were all these young families in the area,” he explains. “The idea was to have a place to which they could easily walk.”

Velvet Cactus feels welcoming and thrives on both themes. You’ll find Mexican accents mixed in with traditional New Orleans artwork. And the soundtrack ranges from Latin beats to upbeat Zydeco.

“Some customers say to us, ‘This isn’t a normal taqueria,’” says Roots. “That’s what we’re going for! We’ve never claimed to be.”

For Roots, it’s not enough to be a novelty for consumers. There’s always the thought in the back of his head for change and to get better.

“We’re not going to settle and just say, OK, this is what we are. What we are is constantly improving and coming up with ideas to make our restaurants the fun place to be.”

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