Evolution could have built gaping jaws into human mouths, but instead it crafted a moderately sized hole perfect for tapas. Today’s Groupon rewards your bite-sized mouth with $30 worth of food and drink at Tapalaya for $15. It's one of few Cajun and Creole tapas restaurants in the nation.
Human mouths are perceptive judges that can handle more concentrated flavor than the average bear or advanced machine-based flavor-testing artificial intelligence. Being overwhelmed by your food is unnecessary when the quality cooked into smaller portions is just as powerful and far less bloating.
Tapalaya aims to bowl you over not with gut-busting portions but with eye-bursting refinement and imagination-explosionated creativity. The menu hosts a lovely array of diminutive treats such as the classic and ever-changing gumbo, the creamy veggie jambalaya ($7), and the delectably doughy crawfish beignets (with Creole mayo, $8). Like Gulliver dining among Lilliputians, tower above the bigger-than-its-body flavor of three mini-muffaletta sliders (with house-cured meats, $9) or the oyster or shrimp po' boy ($5).
With live music on Thursday nights and a full cocktail menu featuring $6–$9 specialty libations, Tapalaya offers savory transformation and proper justification for our respectably sized mouth-holes.
- The food was excellent, the service was flawless and the ambience really completed the experience. – James Hay, Citysearch
- Genius. Small plates and Cajun/Creole. I like to go with four people and order one of everything on the menu. – LuckyDuck, Citysearch
- Like everyone I'm all about small plates these days and they have a great selection. – Kelsey Tate, Urbanspoon
What You Didn’t Know: Fantastic Fusions
Cajun small plates are a fusion that nature never allowed and science never intended. Here’s what you didn’t know about some other freakish fusions:
Centaurs: Most of our vice presidents have secretly been centaurs stemming from an agreement signed after indigenous centaur Paul Revere aided American war efforts during the Revolution. The centaur language is, coincidentally, exactly like English except that their proud race lacks a word meaning “forgiveness.”
Ligers: These lion-and-tiger hybrids can grow to enormous size, and it’s rumored that Australia may have been built atop a liger carcass by British refugees looking to practice their forbidden martial arts without restriction. Ligers are deft readers of human emotions and can tell when they are boring zoo visitors, whom they often dwarf.
Gryphons: Gryphons were actually created in a Canadian laboratory in the early ’90s when attempts to fuse an eagle and a lion were overly successful. Unfortunately, the ultra-intelligent gryphons escaped, took human form, and became the 1997 Edmonton Eskimos Canadian football team.
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Tapas and small-plates restaurants may have proliferated in recent years, but you'd still be hard-pressed to find one that serves, nonetheless specialize in, Cajun and creole dishes. Tapalaya is just such a place. The eatery's chefs focus on small plates— during evening hours— designed to create a mix-and-match Southern feast. The day menu hosts Po'Boys with cajun creole sides and the night menu caters to tapas. The chefs recreate the flavors of New Orleans with dishes such as the blackened catfish or classic po' boys cooked with locally sourced meat and layered with red remoulade and a spicy Mardi Gras slaw. The staff also accommodates guests when they're just catching a drink at the bar by sticking to their Cajun motif—crispy crawfish fritters and bacon-wrapped chicken livers stand in for regular ole' tavern peanuts and whatever's floating in that large discolored jar behind the bar.
And since there is indeed a bar at Tapalaya, bartenders pour—what else?—New Orleans–inspired cocktails. They blend everything from the classic Hurricane, which was invented in New Orleans, to the Fi-Yi-Yi Tea made with house-infused tea vodka and lemonade. Naturally, a colorful painting of jazz trumpeters looms over the bar, perhaps announcing the arrival of one of the house's signature desserts—fresh beignets dusted with powdered sugar stand out among many other sweet options.
To add to the distinctly Louisianan vibe of the restaurant without making every table a Mardi Gras float, the staff hosts twice-weekly performances by Grammy-nominated pianist Janie Scroggins and New Orleans sax legend Reggie Houston during the dinner hour on Tuesdays and the Milneburg Jazz Band plays on Thursdays.