Ian McNulty: New Latin dishes from familiar mugs

They share a good reputation. They’ve created successful restaurant concepts you already know well. They’re highly visible at industry events and they regularly step up for community causes. They’re all likeable guys too.

But with the debut of their latest restaurant, Mizado (5080 Pontchartrain Blvd., 504-885-5555; cocinamizado.com), it may by time for the Taste Buds to trade on some of this built-up trust.

The Taste Buds are Gary Darling, Hans Limberg and Greg Reggio, and since the 1990s they developed Semolina and Zea Rotisserie & Grill as popular, family-friendly restaurant brands. Mizado, their new pan-Latin concept, has just opened at a previous Semolina address.

They made up the name “Mizado” by combining Spanish words for viewpoint and to cross. Reggio explains that this represents the restaurant’s location near the New Orleans/Metairie crossroads and also his team’s original view on Latin cuisine.

On Mizado’s menu this becomes “Indian guacamole” made with bananas, dates and cashews, Peking duck turned into tamales and an appetizer of fried chicken skin. The menu also has cheese dips, fish tacos and similarly accessible items. But the pulse of Mizado comes by blending Mexican, Caribbean and South American cooking, especially Peruvian cuisine, which brings its own clutch of poly-ethnic influences to the table.

Ceviche is a Peruvian obsession, and at Mizado a prep station dedicated to this essentially-raw fish dish juts into the dining room. It’s practically in a spotlight and looks like a sushi bar, only one stocked with habaneros, giant corn kernels, grapefruit, pumpkin seeds, white balsamic vinegar and radish – all the pieces and parts for plates on which flavor and flair run side by side.

Mizado isn’t the only place in town for new, pan-Latin cuisine. But it stands out by aiming squarely at the mainstream of the local dining scene. This is not a far-out foodie find, one-off pop-up or upscale tasting menu. Rather, it’s a big, prominently-placed, moderately-priced restaurant in a city where for many “Latin dining” still conjures only Tex-Mex expectations. At Mizado, ordering chips and salsa means picking from seven styles, and paying for it.

But then, it was Zea that turned Thai-style ribs into a craving for many of its regulars. If you’re ready for a different perspective on Latin flavor, these culinary guides already have their bona fides established.