When my roommate invited me to try Mister Mao, a newly opened restaurant on Tchoupitoulas, she admitted to me that she had no idea what type of food they served. Upon doing a bit of research to decide if I wanted to go, I found no conclusive answer. The restaurant self-identifies as a “tropical roadhouse,” which only puzzled me more. However, I did discover that I was far from the only one with this question, as the restaurant’s Instagram had humorously reposted a review from a dismayed patron who thought they were going to a dim sum restaurant based on the name and instead encountered, in their words, “a Mexican disco.”
The mystery admittedly piqued my interest and I decided to give the spot a try, trusting the (mostly) rave reviews about it while also knowing that I could not meticulously plan my order before entering the restaurant as I always do. Unfortunately, Mister Mao had to temporarily suspend their unique roving cart service at the time of my visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, which they do to test out new dishes and encourage that everyone tries a little bit of everything. However, I did not find this to be an issue as the menu I received was still just as colorful and busy as the jungle-inspired interior of the restaurant itself.
Mister Mao labels its section of spicy offerings with the eye-catching title “These Bring us Joy & Hellfire Heartburn.” As someone who douses everything in Tabasco, I immediately decided to order both the Kashmiri chile fried chicken and the gulf shrimp with broken delta rice from this list. The chickpea breading on the fried chicken was a unique touch and the dish was a nice, middle-of-the-road spice level, making it ideal for those trying to convince their spice-averse friends to live a little and share it with them. The gulf shrimp was admittedly hotter, but it was certainly worth the breaks I had to take between bites to experience this obvious homage to Creole cuisine.
Among the other plates I shared with my party was the pork chorizo maque choux, which was a hit with the entire table. If you are a fan of elote (or even just the corn salsa at Chipotle), I cannot recommend this mixture of corn, spices, and perfectly minced and seasoned pork enough. Because the other dishes were hearty, the ginger salad I also tried was a refreshing and delicious choice. Likely Asian-inspired in its flavor profile due to the peanuts and sour sauce, I couldn’t get enough of this one and went back for seconds.
For dessert, I first tried the dark chocolate tarte. While reading the ingredient list of a dessert menu and seeing garlic may cause hesitancy in most, the addition of this unlikely flavor combined with the richness and bitterness of the chocolate is unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I know it sounds weird, but trust me that it is worth a try; my table collectively devoured it. We also ordered the lotus blossom cookie, which took me by surprise as possibly my favorite thing I had all night. This is a perfect dessert option for those who are stuffed from the rest of their meal. It was light and tasted very similar to a fortune cookie, but with a thinner and crunchier texture. The black sesame seeds added a savory touch that mixed nicely with the powdered sugar sprinkled atop the plate.
The atmosphere and culinary offerings of Mister Mao are not easy to put into words, which may partially explain why its Instagram account’s captions are mostly confusing caps-lock monologues that sound like the restaurant itself is passionately yelling at you to come give it a try. Heed this advice, make a reservation for your friend group, and come ready to eat anything and everything they have available that night.
Cover Photo: Lauren Capozzi