There's no shortage of etouffee, po'boys or sugar-dusted beignets in New Orleans' French Quarter, but visitors who venture beyond the quarter's bustling streets will encounter neighborhoods brimming with character and a new crop of chefs making their mark.
• Shaya: Nestled among the Greek revival architecture on Magazine Street in the Garden District, Shaya offers an Israeli-inspired menu that draws from local ingredients.
Chef Alon Shaya, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, delivers vibrant dishes such as roasted okra with oven-dried tomatoes and tahini; creamy hummus with a variety of toppings, including curry-fried cauliflower or lamb ragu; and pillowy, housemade pita.
"In Louisiana we have a great growing season where we can constantly have fruits and vegetables coming out of the ground," Shaya said. "I love taking advantage of all of these beautiful resources and cooking them with an eye toward all the cuisines that make up Israeli food culture."
Shaya gives a New Orleans twist to its Israeli-inspired menu created by chef Alon Shaya. Photo Credit: Stephen Young
• Red's Chinese: Head east of the French Quarter to a humble section of the Bywater neighborhood to discover Red's Chinese, helmed by chef Tobias Womack, who earned his stripes in Asian cuisine at New York's Mission Chinese. Womack, along with partner Amy Mosberger, took over a former taqueria/convenience store, but the bare-bones decor only adds to the charm.
Plating up a convergence of Chinese, Korean and Thai dishes with nods to Big Easy along the way, a pickle plate that includes kimchi, grandma's pickles and smashed cucumbers will wake up the palate. Kung pao pastrami nods to "the holy trinity" (onions, bell peppers and celery) of classic New Orleans cooking.
• Mopho: New Orleans has been home to a thriving Vietnamese population since many immigrants fled to the U.S. following the Vietnam War. The city's subtropical climate offers the foundation for the spicy and refreshing cuisine exemplified at Mopho in Mid-City, recently opened by brothers Michael and Jeff Gulotta. Pho goes the traditional route with rich broths and toppings, but for a New Orleans hybrid, consider a weekend visit to partake in the whole hog.
Cochon de lait is popular in the Cajun culture of south Louisiana, according to the Gulottas. Hogs are roasted over open-wood fires, but instead of typical south Louisiana spices, Mopho uses flavorings such as spiced coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger and garlic. It's all served up with nuoc cham dipping sauce and housemade roti.