Another year down, another vast influx of new restaurants up and running in New Orleans. That’s been the big story in local dining for a few consecutive years now. Still, what was striking about the tale in 2014 was the kaleidoscopic diversity of new dining concepts it delivered.
While new eateries seemed to come at us from all angles, some trends emerged. These are worth reviewing, not just because that’s what we do this time of year, but also because if they gain traction they may inform what comes next (for a primer on restaurants on deck for 2015 see our related story in Beaucoup).
Exploring regional flavors
New Orleans has plenty of Tex-Mex cantinas and Italian eateries, especially those following the local Creole-Italian template. This year, however, we saw more restaurants working back toward the source material of such broadly popular cuisines, and getting into the regional varieties that make it so rich.
For Mexican food in particular, this could be the year of the tortilla, with notable additions like Del Feugo Taqueria (4518 Magazine St., (504) 309-5797; delfuegotaqueria.com), http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/9923809-171/ian-mcnulty-slow-braise-comes">Araña Taqueria y Cantina (3242 Magazine St., (504) 894-1233) and the John Besh/ Aarón Sánchez project Johnny Sánchez (930 Poydras St., (504) 304-6615; johnnysanchezrestaurant.com).
The upscale, winecentric, Sicilian-centered Marcello’s Restaurant (715 St. Charles Ave., (504) 581-6333; marcelloscafe.com), the midrange and refreshingly modern Oak Oven (6625 Jefferson Highway, (504) 305-4039; oakovenrestaurant.com) in Harahan and Uptown’s new pizza parlor/Italian tavern Pizza Domenica (4933 Magazine St., (504) 301-4978; pizzadomenica.com), another John Besh project, all showed room for different approaches to Italian flavors.
As more dining hubs and restaurant rows develop around town, the stretch running through the Marigny and Bywater — especially along St. Claude Avenue — came into its own. The year opened with the arrival of the lushly atmospheric Oxalis (3162 Dauphine St., (504) 267-4776; oxalisbywater.com), brought a new upscale-casual dining destination with The Franklin (2600 Dauphine St., (504) 267-0640; thefranklinnola.com) and marched on with eclectic casual concepts like the sandwich shop Kebab (2315 St. Claude Ave., (504) 383-4328; kebabnola.com), the build-your-own pasta shop Arabella Casa di Pasta (2258 St. Claude Ave., (504) 267-6108; arabellanola.com), Red’s Chinese (3048 St. Claude Ave., (504) 304-6031; redschinese.com) and, just last week, Junction (3021 St. Claude Ave., (504) 272-0205; junctionnola.com), a tavern for burgers and draft beer from the same people behind Molly’s at the Market.
One of a kind, and lots of them
Some previously unrepresented cuisines finally found a foothold here, like the Filipino comfort food served at Milkfish (125 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 267-4199; milkfishnola.com), while other concepts staked out their own turf. For instance, Latitude 29 (321 N. Peters St., (504) 609-3811; latitude29nola.com) brought a new temple for tiki, as represented by equally lush cocktails, cuisine and décor. Even Vietnamese food proved fodder for fresh interpretation at MoPho (514 City Park Ave., (504) 482-6845; mophonola.com), which spent the year showing some very different ways to enjoy staple Southeast Asian flavors.
Casual carries the day, but…
Many of the new places noted above are very casual, which fits another trend as white tablecloths become scarcer and any-time eateries gained more ground. The owners of RioMar, for instance, converted that upscale Latin seafood restaurant into a quick-serve taqueria called Tacos & Tequila (800 South Peters St., (504) 525-3474; tntnola.com). Dominique’s on Magazine also closed, chef Ian Schnoebelen closed his upscale Iris to focus on his newer and more casual Italian eatery Mariza (2900 Chartres St., (504) 598-5700; marizaneworleans.com) and the ultra high-end Stella! came to an abrupt halt after 13 years in business.
Evidence of a grand, countervailing trend
Though not nearly as numerous, some of the new upscale restaurants that arrived this year did so in grand and decadent style, dramatically underscoring a high-end counter trend.
After well over a year of renovations under the new ownership of Ralph Brennan and Terry White, the historic Brennan’s (417 Royal St., (504) 525-9711;
brennansneworleans.com) launched as effectively a new restaurant that mines a deep vein of Creole tradition set by its predecessor. On a radically different route, chef Philip Lopez raised the curtain on Square Root (1800 Magazine St., (504) 309-7800; squarerootnola.com) with a highly ambitious, entirely prix fixe, tasting menu format for boundary-pushing cuisine. In Covington, amid the enticing trappings of the revived Southern Hotel, the modern Southern restaurant Oxlot 9 (428 E. Boston St., (985) 400-5663; oxlot9.com) planted another road trip worthy fine dining destination on the north shore.
Fast turnovers, impressive transformations
When restaurants closed this year, a hot market for their real estate delivered new operators to snap them up quickly. In some cases the dismay of seeing familiar names depart the scene was tempered by the excitement of what followed. So, when One Restaurant & Lounge ended a decade-long run, its address was quickly reconfigured as Carrollton Market (8132 Hampson St., (504) 252-9928; carrolltonmarket.com), an intimate and impressive bistro for modern Southern cuisine. Similarly, when Meauxbar Bistro closed, it was replaced within months by the crew from downtown’s Ste. Marie (which in turn became Johnny Sánchez). With their new Meauxbar (942 N. Rampart St., (504) 569 9979; meauxbar.com) — they dropped the “bistro” from the name — they’re demonstrating at a smaller, more intimate venue the potential they showed budding at their former CBD home.
What you want, where you want it
As the tide of new eateries has rolled on, it’s been filling more niches both in food specialties and locales across the city.
Lakeview, for instance, got an upscale-casual Creole bistro in Cava (789 Harrison Ave., (504) 304-9034). There were more new spots for people keeping vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, and for those just trying to lighten up, with additions like Seed (1330 Prytania St., (504) 302-2599; seedyourhealth.com) and Good Karma Café (2940 Canal St., (504) 401-4698).
And for barbecue lovers, finally landing a legit spot for burnt ends was probably more important than a half dozen new bistros or juice bars combined. They got that with NOLA Smokehouse (739 Jackson Ave., (504) 418-2591; nolasmokehouse.com), a barebones operation drawing a beeline of devotees to the Irish Channel.
This isn’t to suggest every craving is satisfied or every neighborhood has all the options it might want, but as the drumbeat of new eateries continues the gaps are closing.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.