From a walk-up counter, NolaNica serves Nicaraguan soul food, like chicken with rice and beans, and mash-ups, like Mombacho nachos, a dish with fried plantains and a name that makes me smile.
Just a few feet away, another stand called the Bop makes Korean poke bowls with raw tuna and zucchini noodles. Around the corner, there's pizza by the slice at Doña, a stand that starts the morning with breakfast burritos.
And within earshot, there’s the eager proprietor of Baba Ganuj Café urging passers-by to sample the falafel on house-made pita.
It could be just another day at the latest food hall, those modern foodie obsessions that mix wide variety, curated style and Instagram-ready eats.
Instead, these vendors represent a new day for the old school food court at Place St. Charles, the downtown New Orleans skyscraper.
The classic food court and the modern food hall share basic DNA with multiple vendors, all banking on clustered variety to draw hungry customers.
But the food hall’s evolutionary path split, emerging in recent years in sync to millennial trends with artisan aesthetics and social media-savvy marketing.
The old-fashioned food court, meanwhile, has been trending toward extinction, like the shopping malls they inhabited and the department store cafeterias before them.
But at Place St. Charles, in the center of a rapidly changing downtown New Orleans, the food court feels reinvigorated. There's a new design, lots more plugs for your phones, and a fresh crop of vendors joining the old standbys here.
While food courts are usually the domain of chains, all of the stands here are local, owner/operated, bringing a spark of personality and engagement that’s hard to find with the big brands.
I was happy to rediscover this food court because it brings something our city is lacking especially downtown: Quick, inexpensive street food. We just don’t have enough of it when you have 10 minutes, $10 and need lunch. You could call the food court indoor street food, weatherproof, and in New Orleans these days that’s no small bonus.