New Orleans is definitely a city that knows how to reinvent itself. Throughout its 300 year history, NOLA has been known for just about everything from jazz to voodooism to Mardi Gras. Even after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans practically underwater back in the summer of 2005, its resilient community came together to help reinvent her once again.
Since then, tourism has been back on the up for this southeastern Louisiana city, with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation predicting 2016 to be a banner year with tourism spending projected at $7.1 billion. That’s more than 2015, which was already a record-breaking year for the industry.
And it doesn’t stop there. It appears New Orleans is also in the midst of a culinary renaissance. According to Eater, there’s been 20 new restaurant openings in New Orleans since September alone, with at least 20 others that celebrated openings during the summer.
From the long-awaited grilled cheese spot Melt in Mid City to the casual new tavern and art gallery, Artisan Bar & Cafe (located on St Claude Ave), there are new restaurants to please every price point, palate and overall vibe.
Just a little over a month after opening in the city’s Warehouse District, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s first new restaurant in New Orleans since 1998, Meril, is already attracting diners with its globally-inspired menu items prepared via wood fire oven and robata-style grill for under $20.
“New Orleans is a special place for Chef Emeril as it’s where he got his start and opened his first restaurant. It’s special to me too as I was born here and spent my teenage years here, as well,” said Will Avelar, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, who notes that Meril takes inspiration from the city’s unique aesthetic. “On the menu, we offer a boudin tamale and Mexican style corn that we cook in crab boil seasoning. The rustic design complete with exposed brick walls is also a nod to our great city.”
Also stirring up attention among the New Orleans foodie scene is Toups South by beloved Cajun chef Isaac Toups, which opened up at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum last month.
“We are paying respect to local cuisines from Texas to the Carolinas,” Amanda Toups, who runs the restaurant with her husband, told Foodable. “Chef is a Cajun man so that will always be an undercurrent in everything we serve. We are excited to be with like minded people people who are interested in preserving and respecting Southern Food culture.”
This is the couple’s second restaurant concept in New Orleans. They also own the popular Mid City spot, Toups' Meatery, which focuses on contemporary Cajun fare.
“I think New Orleans has always been a home to ambitious restaurateurs,” said Toups. “We took a gamble in Mid City five years ago with the Meatery and it paid off. Mid City has grown and expanded rapidly.” The pair optimistic their experience in Central City with Toups South will be just as beneficial. “We are scrappy people so we love a scrappy neighborhood that is growing and changing for the better.”
Cara and Evan Benson, who own French-inspired eateries Tartine and Toast in Uptown, have also had their eye on up-and-coming neighborhoods. This fall the couple decided opened a second Toast location at 1845 Gentilly Blvd., along a busy street on the edge of an emerging district. “I was approached about another location near the racetrack,” said Benson. “My husband and I met there to look at it and I just really thought the space would work for our concept. I loved the exposed brick and old bead board.”
To create a warm and cozy spot that’s perfect for breakfast, Benson hired a local woodworker who used reclaimed wood to make the bar and furniture in the new space. “I love all three neighborhoods the restaurants are located in. They are each so uniquely New Orleans,” said Benson. “I grew up not too far from the new place and pre-Katrina my husband and I lived on Maurepas, on the other side of the track.”
With so much neighborhood revitalization, Benson says it’s an exciting time for foodies to experience all the new concepts popping up around the city. “People in New Orleans love to eat out. They talk about lunch during breakfast and dinner during lunch. They are also fiercely supportive of local businesses. The two combined seems to make a winning combo.”
That’s exactly why Jamaica natives and former Atlanta restaurateurs Conroy and Charles Blake are excited for their new restaurant, 14 Parishes, a Jamaican eatery in Central City.
“New Orleans is a melting pot of culture, art, music and history, and that's what draws the people in,” said New Orleans native, Lauren Johnson-Blake, who runs the restaurant along her husband and brother-in-law. And in a city with so much food, this family is standing out with their delicious take on Caribbean cuisine. “There just aren't a lot of options for caribbean/jamaican food, Johnson-Blake said. “My husband puts a lot of love, and care into the food he makes and it's our job to put the same into your experience when you walk in the door. That is what works for us, that is what makes us stand out.”
With so many choices, the Big Easy certainly seems to be having a moment in the culinary spotlight. “As long as new orleans is alive, it will continue to grow as one of the best places for foodies to visit,” said Johnson-Blake. “It's just one of the things New Orleans is known for.”