These New Orleans restaurants serve a crossroads of delicious flavors

Todd A. Price
The American South
Chef Nina Compton sits on a scooter outside her New Orleans restaurant Compere Lapin. (Courtesy of Compere Lapin)

When Nina Compton came to New Orleans seven years ago to open her first restaurant, the city was bound to take notice. The chef had just placed second on the New Orleans-filmed season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and had been voted fan favorite. She had run the kitchen at Miami’s celebrated Italian restaurant Scarpetta. And New Orleans, despite being one of America’s top food cities, was never a place where outside chefs showed up to open restaurants.

“People are very proud of the food here,” Compton said. “We didn’t want to shake it up.”

Compton and her restaurant Compère Lapin have since won national attention for food that marries her time at some of America’s top restaurants, like Scarpetta and Daniel in New York, with the flavors of her native St. Lucia. In 2018, she received the James Beard award for Best Chef: South. More importantly for Compton, she also won over New Orleans diners with dishes like her signature curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi.

Curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi is a signature dish at Chef Nina Compton's Compere Lapin in New Orleans. (Courtesy of Compere Lapin)

In 2018, Compton and her husband, Larry Miller, opened a second New Orleans restaurant, Bywater American Bistro.

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“I feel like New Orleans does it differently,” Compton said. “We’re not trendy. There is a lot of grit to the city, and people like that.”

Compton sees a new group of young New Orleans chefs energizing the city, even in the midst of a pandemic when many restaurants are struggling just to survive.

She admires the co-chefs Trey Smith and Blake Aguillard of Saint-Germain, where at an unassuming building in the Bywater neighborhood they cook mad-scientist inspired but still earthy food like spot prawns with smoked butter and chorizo.

Compton also admires the young chef Serigne Mbaye, who has enticed New Orleanians with the flavors of Senegal at his Dakar NOLA pop-up dinners.

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“The industry has really gone through the ringer the last two years. Nobody wants to be a chef,” she said. “To see somebody that young that is really pushing it, it gives me hope and it gives me energy.”

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Fritai in New Orleans brings Haitian flavors to America's most Caribbean city. (Courtesy of Fritai)


Not many New Orleanians know about Haitian food, said chef Charly Pierre, who opened Fritai last spring. But the flavors are familiar.

“Once they start tasting it, they understand,” he said.

After the Haitian revolution at the turn of the 19th century, migrants from the island — whites, enslaved Africans and free people of color — doubled New Orleans’ population. They brought their preference for brightly colored buildings. They reinforced the city’s French culture at a moment after the Louisiana Purchase when “Americans” were taking over. And they brought their food, heavily spiced, salty and often cooked slowly in a single pot.

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At Fritai, the legim epina isn't so different from smothered greens. The black beans and rice will be comforting in a city where red beans and rice are a Monday staple. And the griyo, twice cooked pork with plantains, will be irresistible to anyone raised on pork chops and ribs.

Pierre, who was born in the U.S. a year after his parents emigrated from Haiti, started Fritai as a stall at the St. Roch Market food hall. His new corner restaurant, the bricks painted ocean blue, is just beyond the French Quarter. It is casual, but carefully considered. The music is lively. The drinks, many featuring Haitian rums, are tropical. And each bite is filled with layers of flavor.

“St. Roch Market was a restaurant on training wheels,” he said. “Coming here was taking the training wheels off.”

A tray of boiled seafood from Bevi Seafood Co. in New Orleans.

Bevi Seafood Co.

After working in some of New Orleans most expensive restaurants, Justin LeBlanc now makes po'boys at Bevi Seafood. The ubiquitous New Orleans sandwich is built on a French loaf, cloud soft on the inside and shatteringly crisp on the outside. The traditional fillings are fried seafood, roast beef, sausage or cold cuts. Order it “dressed,” and you’ll get mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.

Every corner store across New Orleans makes po'boys, but almost no one makes them like Bevi’s. LeBlanc only uses local seafood, and he doesn’t believe in short cuts even for a fast lunch.

The bright red Bevi Seafood, decorated with oversized paintings of crawfish and oysters, sits on a block that looks like any commercial strip in America. Hidden among the chains, grocery stores and mattress shops, you’ll find Angelo Brocato, a century old Italian bakery that began in the French Quarter, and Revel, where legendary barman Chris McMillian will serve your classic cocktail with a history lesson.

Bevi’s other specialty is boiled crawfish. The peak season is the spring, and LeBlanc is getting ready for the onslaught of hungry locals who can put down several pounds as a snack. Even when COVID-19 shut down Bevi’s dining room, LeBlanc kept crawfish crazed New Orleanians fed with a drive-thru service.

“Nothing will stop crawfish. A global pandemic happened, and that did not slow it down one bit,” he said.

236 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, 504-488-7503

$13 average for a po'boy

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A dessert course from Lengua Madre of nixtamalized butternut squash with labneh on the side, puffed amaranth with pepitas and marigold petals.

Lengua Madre

Tucked into a residential neighborhood midway between the Mississippi River and the boutiques of Magazine Street, Lengua Madre from the outside looks like one of those buildings that gives New Orleans “character.” On the lap siding, faded signs for Dixie Beer and The Shamrock Tavern are still legible. Step inside, however, and you are taken to another world. The narrow entrance hall glows bright pink. At the end is a sophisticated dining room where chef Ana Castro digs deep into her Mexican heritage.

Dinner at Lengua Madre, which opened in 2021, unfolds like a story, with the next chapter not revealed until the plate is delivered. The five-course tasting menu on a recent night included a shrimp consommé that distilled the essence of that crustacean into a clay cup, rice a la tumbada topped with glimmering fish eggs and beets in a sour cherry mole.

“I’m telling the story of how I grew up in Mexico City. I’m lucky to call myself Mexican,” Castro said.

Castro has also lived in Denmark, New York and India. Those experiences color how she cooks and how she views her Mexican culture.

New Orleans, Castro said, is different from everywhere else she has lived. In New Orleans, cooks and restaurant workers help each other. That community has let Castro build a place here where she can share her food.

“This is the reason I call New Orleans home and will continue to do so,” she said. “I want to continue that cycle of kindness and support.”

Southern Flavors is a bi-monthly dining roundup from across the region.

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Do you have a suggestion for a future column? Contact reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.