There are few cities as richly diverse as New Orleans (NOLA) and with such diversity, offers the world on a plate. You can literally travel the world through your palate as you enjoy the global cuisines and traditional Creole dishes throughout the city.
During a recent visit to New Orleans, we intentionally sought out Black-owned and ethnic restaurants and we were treated to the tastes from America’s South to Senegal and Israel.
We dined at three Black-owned restaurants: Café Sbisa, Lil’ Dizzy’s, Dakar NOLA, and the Israeli-owned Saba restaurant—all recipients of James Beard Awards.
So prepare to travel the world through your palate as we share some of the best and most unique meals we’ve had in New Orleans.
Café Sbisa: a Black-owned fine-dining tradition
Established in 1899, Café Sbisa is a classic Creole restaurant and the third oldest fine-dining establishment in the French Quarter. Located across from the French Market, Café Sbisa’s historical setting is donned with an elegant hard-carved mahogany bar from 1903 that showcases a mural from the famous artist George Dureau. Owner, Chef Alfred Singleton serves patrons traditional dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp Creole, as well as fresh seafood and steaks. During our visit, we enjoyed two favorites—Trout Eugene (filet of trout topped with Louisiana shrimp, crawfish tails, and crab in a champagne cream sauce) and Blackened Redfish (served over grilled asparagus, Louisiana jumbo lump crabmeat finished with citrus butter sauce). Café Sbisa has won a James Beard Award for Best Wine Program and, of course, our fine meals were paired with wines from their award-winning selections.
Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe: Soul food in historic Treme
When people think of soul food and New Orleans, the first restaurant that may come to mind is Dooky Chase and its legendary Creole chef Leah Chase (click here to listen to our interview with the late Leah Chase). However, there’s another legendary family-owned and operated Creole soul food restaurant that also deserves some flowers—Li’l Dizzy’s.
Located in the historic Treme neighborhood, Li’l Dizzy’s is a local institution that serves up classic southern dishes such as grits, greens, fried chicken, and an incredible mac-n-cheese for lunch.
Opened in 2005 by Wayne Baquet Sr, who learned about the restaurant industry from his father Eddie Baquet, Sr., of 7th Ward Eddie’s restaurant fame, Li’l Dizzy’s earned a James Beard America’s Classic Award, which recognizes regional establishments that have timeless appeal. Now owned and operated by Wayne, Jr. and his wife Arkesha, they keep the traditions of producing great fried chicken and Creole soul food alive and a constant stream of patrons will attest to that. After dining on fried chicken, green beans, grits, smothered pork chops, greens, and mac-n-cheese, we can also attest to the finger-licking, lip-smacking, tummy-rubbing good food that Li’l Dizzy’s serves up.
SIDE NOTE: Li’l Dizzy’s has limited indoor and outdoor seating and they don’t take reservations. But Arkesha seats and manages the constant stream of patrons like a well-tuned assembly line so the wait is not too long and, since meals are served in takeaway containers, customers can order and go.
Since 1947, the Baquet family has owned and operated over 10 restaurants, and Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe is the only one that remains.
Dakar NOLA: Senegalese food with a modern twist
One of the most unique and immersive dining experiences we’ve ever had was at Dakar Nola. Located in Mid-City New Orleans, Dakar NOLA is a Senegalese tasting restaurant that offers a 7-course pescatarian menu created by Serigne Mbaye, a James Beard Award finalist for emerging chef. As its name suggests, Dakar NOLA’s menu features seafood, produce, and spices from the two coastal cities of Senegal and Louisiana. The menu pays homage to the Senegalese and other West Africans who were brought to Louisiana during the slave trade and the food traditions that still echo in New Orleans today.
There is only one seating time for dinner at Dakar NOLA and there are only 30 place settings available in the communal dining room which is beautifully decorated with African artwork and textiles.
The multiple-course dining experience at Dakar starts with traditional handwashing at the table. A fragrant liquid soap is placed in the hands of every diner while a teapot of warm water is poured over hands as they are washed above a brass bowl that catches the stream of water. Each diner is then given a hot hand towel to dry their hands.
Before the first course is served, Chef Mbaye enters the dining room to describe each course and share its cultural and historical significance. The menu varies slightly from night to night but there are several constants like ataya, a ginger and mint Senegalese tea (heavy on the ginger) that excites the palate for the dishes to come.
Another staple course and, our favorite, is what’s known in Senegal as the “Last Meal”—a dish featuring black-eyed peas that enslaved Africans were fed before their forced sailings across the Atlantic. In Chef Mbaye’s version, the black-eyed peas are served on crispy rice which adds a wonderful texture and it is topped with lump crab meat and palm oil, a Senegalese staple. Other courses we enjoyed were a nice blend of West African and Louisiana ingredients, like Parce Que—gulf shrimp, cabbage, and tamarind jus and the Fonio Salad that included West African millet, Compostela mixed greens, carrots, and smoked trout roe.
Every menu item at Dakar NOLA is inspired by Chef Serigne Mbaye’s most cherished childhood memories and times spent cooking with his mother in Senegal.
Saba: a fresh take on Middle Eastern cuisine
Saba, which means Grandfather in Hebrew, is a culinary love letter to Israel and New Orleans by James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya. Like grandfathers who have many life experiences and stories to share, Saba shares stories about the intersections of food and culture with a menu that reflects the tastes of the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa with Louisiana flavor. Located in Uptown New Orleans, Saba features traditional dishes like falafel, lamb kebab, and tabbouleh, along with many vegetarian and gluten-free options—all served with a modern twist.
Our palates explored the various culinary landscapes through dishes we enjoyed like hummus-topped Louisiana blue crab. That is the best hummus we’ve ever had and it was served with large squares of wood-fired pita bread. We also enjoyed the grilled Louisiana shrimp with accompanying labneh, roasted peppers, turmeric, and pistachio duqqa, as well as lamb kofta with whipped tahini, blistered peppers, and toasted pine nuts.
The diversity of food
Cafe Sbisa, Little Dizzy’s, Dakar, and Saba are among the most popular and celebrated restaurants in New Orleans. These eateries have not only been recognized for their diverse representation and delicious food but also for their unique character and local significance. Winning James Beard Awards is a testament to the quality and innovation of these restaurants and solidifies their status as essential destinations for food lovers in New Orleans. Whether you’re in the mood for classic Creole dishes, Southern breakfast favorites, West African cuisine, or modern Israeli fare, these restaurants are sure to deliver a memorable dining experience. And you can experience the world without a passport.
Interview with Leah Chase: https://www.worldfootprints.com/radio_show/beyond-new-orleans-french-quarter/
Visit New Orleans: https://www.neworleans.com/
Dooky Chase: https://www.dookychaserestaurants.com/