Where Y’Eat: Flavors and Lessons in the Melting Pot of a Kenner Strip Mall

Jan 2, 2020

I was in a Kenner restaurant that had clearly once been a Pizza Hut but now is called Little Chinatown. I was eating lamb stir-fried with leeks and chile peppers, and sipping iced tea. From my booth, the window framed a view just across the parking lot of Shishkabob House, where only the day before I’d had a lunch of hummus and shawarma.

God bless America, I thought, reaching with my chopsticks for a little more Cantonese lamb. And thank you for Kenner, Louisiana.

This is a time for gratitude, and in that spirit I'm giving thanks for immigrant families who made their homes here, opened restaurants and, in so doing, brought to food-obsessed New Orleanians some entirely new obsessions.

I'm giving thanks in particular for the oh-so-American landscape of suburban Kenner, for setting the framework to see so many of them together, sometimes under the same strip mall roof.

While I ate at Little Chinatown on Williams Boulevard, I was a block away from NOLA Desi Kitchen for fiery Pakistani curries, and Pollos a la Brasas, for Latin-style rotisserie chicken. Brazilian, Vietnamese, Honduran, Palestinian, Mexican – these flavors are all just down street or around the corner. 

On their own, each is a humble little joint. Together, they stand for the joy of living in a place that continues to draw new people from around the world, with their talents, their stories and their flavors.

A century ago in New Orleans, this scene would have been set in the French Quarter, then a hub for Italian immigrants. Their legacy remains such a potent part of modern New Orleans cooking you’d think red gravy was an indigenous natural resource.

Today in Kenner, the story is polyglot and jumbled together. Add the the roar of jets lifting off at the airport, underscoring the feeling of people in motion and global connectedness.

It is not picturesque, not until you look down at your plate. And then it is beautiful.