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Where Y’Eat: Though Not Back to Normal Reopened Restaurants Remind Us Why They Matter

It’s one of those clichés that just happens to ring true. When New Orleans people get together for a meal, very often we’re talking about the last restaurant we visited and the next one on our lists.

But then suddenly all restaurants were closed. The first coronavirus shutdown orders in 2020 were sweeping. The city’s never-ending restaurant conversation changed to which would come back, which would make it.

Thankfully, the answer has been most of them, at least so far. Bu their road back has been long and winding and it’s far from over.

It feels great to get back to our favorite places and to again explore new restaurants, or the ones new to us. But we have to remember how they got here, and what the people who make them tick have gone through to get even to this point.

In other words, New Orleans restaurants are still not back to normal, even if things are feeling more normal in other parts of our own lives.

Building back is gradual. Along the way, there are ample reminders of why it’s worth it.

These are, after all, the places we are now returning to celebrate and seek comfort, to reconnect and refresh, to learn and to experience. That describes so much of what we wanted and needed and missed when the pandemic kept us apart.

To visit restaurants again, to see them in action in this community, is a reminder that our restaurants together comprise not just a business sector, but a culture that connects us to this place, its stories, our roles in them and what comes next.

In normal times we proudly proclaim how this is one of things that makes us New Orleanians. It’s why, at the table, we talk about what we just had, where we’re headed next. Today, whatever the answer is, we should head there with some new appreciation, plenty of empathy, generous view to tipping and gratitude that they’re back.

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