For the third year, we’re profiling five of the most exciting new restaurants below the Mason-Dixon line—one per day, in the order that they opened.
Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana
Opened in February 2015
“Picture a helium balloon, hovering above a birthday party.”
So began John T. Edge’s Garden & Gun review of this modern Israeli restaurant.
Edge was writing about the steamy, made-to-order pitas, but he could have been describing the delighted chef. Alon Shaya, praised this year in our magazine and many others, has reached a career high serving the same dishes he has cooked with friends and family all his life: smoky baba ghanoush, creamy labneh, and comforting matzoh ball soup, to name just a few. Earlier this year, he took home the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: South.
“It has blindsided us,” says Shaya, who left Tel Aviv for Philadelphia when he was four, and made his name slinging red sauce under chef John Besh at Domenica and Pizza Domenica in New Orleans. “Cooking this food just feels so natural and organic to me, even though I’ve never cooked it on this scale before. Italian—I’ve been cooking it my whole life, but even with all that experience, I’ve always had to work harder to get the food where I want it.” At Shaya, he is using his considerable skill to bring new life to the colorful favorites of a nation that is, like his adopted hometown, a hectic but delicious melting pot of international flavors. “We use tons of local ingredients, but there are already so many influences on this food—Greek, Polish, Bulgarian, Moroccan, Yemenite,” Shaya says. “Israel is its own Creole.”
Don’t miss: Any of the four varieties of hummus, with toppings like curried cauliflower and soft-boiled egg.