South of Eden

Click aqui para español- >South of Eden

Bad habits are hard to break, especially when they are the kind associated with food. We eat our feelings, snack while bored, and overindulge; in a city like New Orleans, it’s difficult not to. Our food-obsessed society has even associated certain days of the week with food-themed hashtags, such as #MeatlessMonday and #TacoTuesday. Coincidentally, Liliana Ruiz-Healy knows a thing or two about both of those topics.

Liliana, a native of Mexico City, is the proprietor of South of Eden, a vegan pop-up serving authentic Mexican recipes with a healthy approach. Each Sunday, her team takes over the kitchen at Good Karma Cafe, another vegan eatery, located in a building that shares space with Swan River Yoga. It’s more than fitting that South of Eden sets up shop there; Liliana, a Culinary Nutritionist and Health Coach, prefers to describe her menu as plant-based rather than vegan, emphasizing that eating meat-free does not necessarily equate to eating healthy.

As a teenager and young adult, Liliana struggled with the effects of a poor diet, both mentally and physically. Today, she prepares dishes that are pleasing to the palate yet nourish the mind and body from within. Her strategy is one she implemented and has seen work for herself. “I dealt with a lot of eating disorders and body image issues for many years. This led me to depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pre-diabetes. I went to psychiatrists, dermatologists, dietitians, you name it.”

With no solution in sight from medical professionals, Liliana did her own research. She experimented with omitting meat and animal by-products from her diet and began to see improvements in the condition of her skin, energy levels and overall health. But, with traditional recipes calling for meat, lard and dairy, where does a vegan fit into a Mexican household? “I think at first they thought it was crazy, but the more time passed, the jokes stopped, and they saw I was committed to it. Even so, both of my parents have been very supportive in this journey.” And it was indeed a journey ahead. Needing an about-face, Liliana moved from Mexico City to New Orleans in 2015.

“I was pretty stuck with my life and felt I needed a big change. This seemed a little tricky to do back home, since, well…in order for big changes to happen, you need to break away from the routine, the normal, the comfortable. I was ready for a new adventure, and New Orleans captured me on my first visit.” Soon after, Liliana became certified as a Health Coach from Dr. Sears Health Coaching School, and as a Culinary Nutritionist from Plantlab Culinary School, focusing on herbalism, Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

In 2017, she earned her certification in Plant-Based Cooking and Desserts from Plantlab, perfecting her technique with raw foods. Liliana’s aspirations as a nutritionist and as a chef led to the creation of South of Eden. Her menu, while meat-free, showcases dishes that are as appealing to the eye as they are delicious. “Plant-based food has a place in high-end cuisine, with beautiful ingredients, plating and techniques. I just want to do what I enjoy the most, to share the flavors I grew up with in Mexico, and breaking the idea that Mexican food is burritos, margaritas and nachos.”

The menu at South of Eden is quite varied, offering Mexican comfort dishes, twists on brunch classics, and house made baked goods. The satisfyingly crunchy chilaquiles feature a bright chile salsa and a vegan almond cream that can pass for the real deal. For those that prefer their brunch resemble dessert, options like the high-protein Belgian waffle with dairy-free coconut whipped topping placate the sweet tooth with ingredients you won’t feel guilty about enjoying. Also, on the menu is a menagerie of coffee, herbal teas, and intriguing beverages such as a kombucha ice cream float or beet latte.

Such a diverse and creative menu calls for an equally talented staff. Liliana doesn’t hesitate to commend her all-female team, noting that vulnerability and the ability to communicate are as necessary as basic knife skills. “South of Eden is a team. I don’t like to take full credit, and I can’t. They really hold it down. They are patient with me, they understand my brain, they make all my ideas take shape, and they have amazing ideas and knowledge.”

Their approach certainly works for them; Sunday takeovers at Good Karma have recently been extended from a 2p.m. close time to 5p.m. While pop-ups aren’t always convenient to patronize, specialty items from the South of Eden team are available at Crescent City Farmers Market Uptown on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays at the Mid-City site. Goods include dairy-free yogurt, kimchi, tinctures, soups, and a cacao brew. "The goal is to open our own brick and mortar in the future, and at some point, take this concept back home to Mexico. While we get there, we’ll just keep on getting creative.”

Paloma Café

An Interview with Chefs Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez

By Leslie Almeida

Click aqui para español->Paloma Café

Imagine that you are back in high school and your teacher says everyone must pair up with a classmate for a project. You turn your head toward your BFF and they turn their head toward you. You exchange a nod or maybe a raised eyebrow. Nothing needs to be said because you both just know you will be working together on this. And everything is going to be alright. Now snap out of it, because it’s 2018 and you have to get to the office and work on that presentation with The Guy That Makes Noises When He Eats. Ugh. Wouldn’t it be great if we could work with our best friend again? Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez, the chefs at Paloma Cafe, have managed to do just that. The duo met while at culinary school in Miami, went on to work together at critically-acclaimed Scarpella, and then made the move to New Orleans to join the team at Compère Lapin. Eventually, they would open Paloma Cafe, an eatery in the Bywater heavily influenced by their Latin-Caribbean upbringings. For Chef Danny, part of the appeal is having a support system in an environment where things can get pretty hectic. “Working with Justin, I know my best friend’s got my back.”  “She knows I’m not gonna bullshit her,” Chef Justin adds with a laugh. “If something isn’t right, I’ll tell her, ‘we’ve got to throw the whole thing away.”

One would think that sharing the duties of running a professional kitchen would present some major challenges, but the camaraderie extends to the logistical side of running a restaurant. “We’re generally on the same page,” says Danny. “It’s like we’re telepathically sharing these ideas and then work them out until we have the finished product.” “As in all other aspects of running a business, it’s all about balance,” adds Justin. While Chef Danny and Chef Justin -- Venezuelan and Dominican, respectively -- tend to see eye to eye on most matters, there is one thing that divides them: tripe. With a grin, Danny admits, “I eat it. I like to get nasty like that.” Justin, however, is not on board. “No, it’s a texture issue for me. My family grew up eating it, but I do not love it.” Fortunately, there is plenty to love about Paloma Cafe, perhaps one of the most adaptable spots in the New Orleans area. Previous tenants -- first Booty’s Street Food and later Cafe Henri -- struggled with the complexities of a changing neighborhood.

Paloma, attuned to the community’s needs, serves breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, dependent upon the day of the week. Additionally, the Revelator Coffee Company-owned cafe welcomes the laptop crowd, offering a space where they can work or study with a caffeinated beverage and housemade pastry. Regardless of the time of day, each menu reflects the influence of the chefs’ heritage and culture. Breakfast includes heartier offerings such as a plate of eggs, potatoes and choice of chorizo or avocado, and lighter fare such as the vegan-friendly avocado toast with cumin roasted chickpeas. The lunch and dinner menus deliver on amped up homestyle favorites; think yuca frita, marinated chicken thighs, platanitos, and braised short ribs. Diners can now get their favorites one additional night a week; dinner service was recently extended to Tuesdays. In a restaurant named Paloma -- a Latin derivative meaning “peaceful” -- the pair strive toward a positive work environment for their team, especially during a time where there is little to no room for the contrary. “We have a chill space here,” says Danny. “We try to be mindful of our team. We never have to go out of our way to hire, because the staff is generally friends of friends.” Friendship seems to be a recurring theme with Chef Danny and Chef Justin at the helm of Paloma Cafe. How could it not when two friends navigate analogous professional paths across multiple state lines? “We are both far from our families,” says Danny, “but we have each other.” Paloma Cafe is located at 800 Louisa Street in the Bywater. For more info, visit palomanola.com or follow them on Instagram at @paloma_nola.

- NOLA Eats is Leslie J. Almeida, food and dining writer and native New Orleanian. As the host of dozens of curated culinary experiences, she aims to highlight the people behind the city’s most interesting dining destinations. Since 2003, her past work includes contributions to Forbes, Food Network, CNN and Gambit. Tell Leslie where you’re eating and drinking -- she’s @nola.eats on Instagram and Facebook.

Congreso Cubano

by Leslie Almeida

Click aqui para español->Congreso Cubano

New Orleans is a city of hustlers. Here, big thinkers with modest budgets can turn a side gig into a day job. Or night job, if that’s more your thing. And that’s exactly what Orlando “Orly” Vega did when he moved here from Miami and launched Congreso Cubano, a pop-up dining experience with Cuban roots. I asked Orly about his journey with Congreso, what inspires his menus, and the future.

What brought you to New Orleans from Miami? Quite honestly, there wasn't much that wasn't calling me to New Orleans. It was not the food at that time. I regularly visited for Jazz Fest and, being a musician myself, it was always somewhere I wanted to be. Simply put, I had a bad year in Miami, so I threw everything in my car and took up a friend's invitation in Mid-City. That was almost seven years ago.

 Did you have intentions to create a culinary experience upon arriving, or was it a happy accident?

The food came a bit later out of a mix of culinary homesickness, a desire to showcase my family's food, and a deep interest in the historic links between New Orleans and Havana and the idea came out of necessity. I had left my 9-to-5 and decided to make the best of my newfound free time while I was job searching. The job market was rough, so I kept making sandwiches to entertain myself and would set up on stoops or work out of the car.

What were some of the hurdles you faced, and what kept you going in those challenging early days as a pop-up?

When you are popping-up, everything is a potential hurdle. It’s nice not having a rental overhead, but you give up a lot of control to property owners, weather, transportation logistics, etc. Not to mention that everybody wants a cut of your sales until you can prove that you know how to fill a room.

For a city whose culinary landscape derives great influence from Latin cultures, yet had few Cuban eateries, was it difficult to explain to customers that Cuban food isn't "tacos and margs"?

No, it really wasn't. These days there's a big buzz around Cuba and a surprising amount of our guests have had the chance to travel there. It’s been a fun experience listening to our guests' differing expectations of a dish. Since Cuban cuisine has continued to evolve throughout the diaspora, you'll find guests that expect very different interpretations of a dish. Sometimes one was introduced to the dish in Tampa, Florida while the other tried it in Santiago de Cuba. Even among neighboring provinces in Cuba certain dishes can vary quite a bit.

 When you create a menu, are you inspired by tried-and-true family recipes or fresh takes on the classics?

Our mission is to connect New Orleans to its ancestral sister cities through our food. Some of our dishes come straight out of my great-grandmother's copy of Nitza Villapol's Cocina Criolla. Many of our recipes are very Spanish in their influence, as not only is Spain where most of my family settled, but they were the colonial rulers of Cuba. And, of course, many Cuban recipes have a deep and undeniable African influence, some even retaining their West African names. Cuba, being an island, has survived in large part through the import of its neighbors’ foods and cultures which are inevitably expressed in the cuisine. It is this trans-Atlantic story that culminated to produce the city of New Orleans.

What can we expect from you in the future?

More good food. Beyond our regular events, we are expanding our catering operations to provide fun options such as pig roasts, ceviche bars, and Latin-style parrilladas. Over the years, Orly has turned customers into fans, and fans into friends. His secret to success? “Word of mouth and generosity is more responsible for our continued success than any marketing widget I've ever been pitched. We would not still be here if it were not for our community's constant encouragement.” Congreso Cubano pops-up with a new menu Tuesday night at Barrel Proof Lounge, 1201 Magazine Street. Visit CongresoCubano.com to inquire about catering and follow them on your favorite social media outlet for announcements.


NOLA Eats is Leslie J. Almeida, food and dining writer and native New Orleanian. As the host of dozens of curated culinary experiences, she aims to highlight the people behind the city’s most interesting dining destinations. Since 2003, her past work includes contributions to Forbes, Food Network, CNN and Gambit. Tell Leslie where you’re eating and drinking -- she’s @nola.eats on Instagram and Facebook.

La Carreta

By Winston and Martha Landymore

Click aqui para español->La Carreta

La Carreta Mexican Restaurant is truly a unique treat and a family-friendly Mexican restaurant that opened 7 months ago in the Lower Garden District. The owners, Saul and Leticia Rubio, opened their first restaurant nearly 20 years ago, and their other locations include Mandeville, Covington, Ponchatula, Lafayette and Houma.

Located at 1814 Magazine St near the corner of St. Mary, La Carreta serves traditional and Tex-Mex favorites. What immediately grabs your attention when you walk into La Carreta are the colorful murals, tapestries and pictures of Mexican art including a homage to the Luchadores, the great masked wrestlers of Mexico.

Of course, one cannot miss a fully customized early 1960’s Ford Econoline truck converted into a bar. Yes! They have a real full-size “Bar Truck” adorned with a mural of horn-playing Day of the Dead Mariachi musicians painted on the front of the iconic truck. The atmosphere is relaxed with a combination of families, hipsters and professionals all enjoying Latin music and Mexican cuisine.

The window tables provide an excellent view for people-watching on Magazine Street while downing ice cold cerveza or one of the best frozen margaritas in the city. I must confess, my wife is somewhat of a margarita connoisseur, and she ranks La Carreta’s frozen margaritas at the top of the list.

According to General Manager Luis Nava, the secret to their quality is the use of fresh ingredients, and the daily preparation using a special Don Saul Tequila made in Jalisco, Mexico. More importantly, the daily Happy Hour is from 3-7pm and the delicious margaritas are just $4!

There are certain signature dishes that resonate with great Mexican restaurants and here, I have to say, the Picadillo Nachos are uniquely incredible. Their picadillo (spicy ground beef) is seasoned to perfection and served with queso blanco, it becomes a nacho feast you just can’t stop eating. Other favorites are their steak chimichangas made with creamy queso infused steak, and a variety of traditional seafood dishes.

 Taco Tuesday is a good excuse to try as many types of tacos as you dare without spending a fortune. La Carreta’s flan is incredible. I have never had a more incredibly rich, deep flavor-packed flan anywhere like this. Make sure to save room for it. You won’t be disappointed. La Carreta is a fun, laid-back restaurant with great food and drinks at fair prices all in a cool atmosphere where tequila is the “Soup of the Day”...Only in New Orleans!

Taqueria Corona

By Angela Hernández

Click aqui para español->Taqueria Corona

On any given night, Taqueria Corona humbly sits nestled on Magazine Street where it’s been for the past 30 years. On the inside, diners sip on margaritas and devour tacos while merengue music joyfully fills the colorful restaurant. But what most patrons don’t know is that the meal they are enjoying has made a significant mark in New Orleans restaurant culture.

 In the past 30 years, the Magazine Street Taqueria Corona has seen a lot. Owner Roberto Mendez fondly remembers the days of 1988 when it was just him and a dishwasher. This was a time when making $50.00 daily was considered all in a normal day’s work. But a feature in “The Times- Picayune” four months into Taqueria Corona’s opening changed everything.

Mendez soon found himself trying to keep up with the long lines outside his restaurant. The demand was so great that he even had to shut down his taqueria once because he ran out of food. Not only were the locals eager to try his tacos, but also movie stars such as Kevin Costner and Brad Pitt have pulled up a chair to savour his food. Nowadays, Mexican restaurants are as common as Taco Bells, but that is where Mendez believes he is different.

Taqueria Corona isn’t a typical Mexican restaurant nor is it fast food. Although their menu has expanded over the years to include common Mexican dishes, tacos remain as the heart and soul of the restaurant. Mendez recalls that many restaurants weren’t serving what he calls “soft tacos”. At that time, tacos were hard shells and filled with ground beef instead of soft tortillas filled an array of juicy meats and garnished with cilantro and onion. I wasn’t until his first time attending Jazz Fest that Mendez realized authentic street-style Mexican tacos were missing.

This spurred his idea to ask Jazz Fest if they would let him open a taco stand known as a taqueria. “The word ‘taqueria’ was introduced by Taqueria Corona into the New Orleans lingo. I attribute that to spotting the trend for tacos, not Mexican restaurants but tacos,” said Mendez. This innovative idea has certainly become increasingly popular within the past couple of years as Americans search for a place to have their #TacoTuesday.

Although Jazz Fest had denied his application, Mendez decided to open a restaurant instead. Without any formal training, Mendez began to study different recipes, visited taco stands in Texas, and perfected his own recipes through trial and error. Looking back, Mendez remembers feeling unsure if his tacos would be authentic enough, but his crazy idea proved to be worth it in the end, as Taqueria Corona remains one of New Orleans’s most beloved taco joints. “Seeing the customers’ happy faces while enjoying the food always give me a sense of accomplishment,” said Mendez.

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