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Caliente a “hot” spot for Mexican food craving

Ricardo Barraza set an ambitious goal for himself: He wanted to open his own restaurant by the time he was 22 years old. He didn’t miss by much when he opened Caliente Mexican Craving in Central at 23.

After finishing high school in Paras, Coahuila, Mexico, Barraza came to the U.S. and worked at restaurants in Pensacola, Fla., Hammond and then Baton Rouge.

“I’ve always been in the restaurant business, since I was 17,” said Barraza. “I started washing dishes then worked my way up to busboy, server and then manager. I learned as much as I could about the business.”

Ricardo Barraza opened Caliente in December 2007.

That knowledge helped him when he moved to Central and opened Caliente Mexican Craving in December of 2007. Caliente, which means “Hot!” (temperature) in Spanish, features a distinctive and innovative menu, with a combination of  traditional Tex-Mex fare along with Barraza’s unique dishes. Everything on the menu is prepared and cooked fresh to order.

“I wanted to come up with my own Tex-Mex restaurant with Louisiana style,” said Barraza, “It’s not just regular Mexican food. We cook it at the time it’s ordered and everything moves quickly. And presentation is important. We want it to taste great and look pretty.”

The menu is reasonably priced and offers plenty of choices. Caliente features unique appetizers like Mexican egg rolls, stuffed jalapeños and crawfish bread. Beside traditional Tex-Mex like enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, flautas, tacos and fajitas, there are also grilled steaks, fajita po-boys, kabobs and fish tacos made with mahi-mahi. Dessert is fried ice cream, sopapillas, flan and patel de chocolate, which is made of warm chocolate cake with fudge filling and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Caliente offers lunch specials for around $5 including rice and beans, with a different selection each day: Monday’s are quesadillas; Tuesdays, burritos; Wednesdays, enchiladas; Thursdays, tacos; and Fridays, nachos. In addition, margaritas are 2 for 1 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Kids Nights are once a month with face-painting and various characters and Barraza regularly schedules live music.

Catering is also available and the restaurant has a separate room for private functions, like corporate meetings and parties for up to 35 people.

“I’m here to help the community and to support our schools,” said Barraza, who lives in Central with his wife, Jessica and daughter Amily. They’re expecting their second child any day. “I wanted to be different than every other Mexican restaurant. I wanted mine to be special.”

Caliente Mexican Craving has two locations: one in Central at 14455 Wax Road, Suite F and another on West Lee Drive in Baton Rouge. Its hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays. For information or for takeout orders, call (225) 262-2681.