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Where Y’Eat: As Restaurant Scene Changes, New Pop-ups Show Something That Endures

Ian McNulty
An order of brisket tacos from Tacos Para La Vida, a popup eatery in New Orleans.

Pop-up restaurants have always been a fluid part of the local food scene. The coronavirus crisis has radically reordered their landscape, yet still they continue, often forging new partnerships with restaurant operators who are desperately fighting to save their own businesses. 

Bars that were once the natural perch for so many pop-ups are now closed. Restaurants that remain open are in most cases operating with skeleton crews. They’re closing on days they would otherwise be open, and this makes their spaces available for pop-ups.

Pop-ups, with their own fans and social media circles, can draw a different clientele to these restaurants. The restaurant can ring up more of the increasingly crucial drink sales from pop-up customers. For restaurants on the ropes, anything that gets people through the door now is vital, even if someone else is cooking.

Another dynamic in play: widespread unemployment in the restaurant field and iffy hours for many still working have spurred more people to try their hand at pop-ups, adding to the ranks of new concepts.

In some cases these restaurant and pop-up partnerships represent full circles. The French Quarter restaurant Palm and Pine started out as a pop-up. Now on Tuesdays, it turns its kitchen over to others, like the Detroit pizza pop-up Doughtown and the tapas concept Txow Txow Pintxos, and even the ramen restaurant Kin, now operating in popup mode itself.  
Across the river the new Indian restaurant Plume Algiers offers its kitchen and takeout window to pop-ups on a regular basis. And the Cuban restaurant Manolito, near the French Market, has the Latin fusion pop-up Que Pasta on Mondays and the more traditional Tacos Para La Vida on Tuesdays.
The flavors are different but underlying it all are bonds across the close-knit local restaurant community, so vital now as we face vexing changes. They may be pop-ups, but the mutual support in play here signals something that endures.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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