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Chef Serigne Mbaye decorates a plate of redfish at Dakar NOLA.

One is a tavern acclaimed for its classic take on cocktails that’s added a needed breath of fresh air to the French Quarter. The other is an Uptown restaurant with a narrative of entwined African heritage, modern American cuisine, family and community.

This week, each won top national awards from what’s known as the Oscars of the restaurant world.

The James Beard Foundation dished out its annual awards during a gala event in Chicago on Monday night.??New Orleans had three finalists in different categories, while neighboring Mississippi had two finalists up for awards.

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Jewel of the South on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

By the end of the night Jewel of the South, 1026 St. Louis St., won the group’s national award for Outstanding Bar and Dakar NOLA,?3814 Magazine St., won the national award for Best New Restaurant.

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Effie Richardson and chef Serigne Mbaye developed Dakar NOLA as a modern Senegalese tasting restaurant in New Orleans. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

James Beard awards are always closely watched in the industry and by culinary aficionados. Even a nomination can have a major effect on a restaurant's popularity, and a chef’s prospects.

The nominees for the awards were whittled down from a list of thousands of chefs, restaurants and bars submitted by the public during an open call last fall.

New Orleans has historically done well in the James Beard awards, though the city was shut out of chef or restaurant awards in 2022 and 2023. This year broke that drought with two bringing home hardware.

Best new restaurant: Dakar NOLA

Dakar NOLA is a modern Senegalese tasting menu restaurant led by chef Serigne Mbaye. He serves a menu that is a unique expression of his roots in Senegal and his journey through contemporary American cuisine.

“I always knew West Africa had something to say,” Mbaye said on stage at the James Beard event.

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Chef Serigne Mbaye poses in front of a wall of masks, each with their own story, at Dakar NOLA in New Orleans, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Mbaye, who cooked locally at Commander’s Palace and the Mosquito Supper Club, started Dakar NOLA as a pop-up with communal dinners. He won a loyal following that included Effie Richardson. She partnered with him to open Dakar NOLA as a full-fledged restaurant in 2022.

“Dakar is a space of love, joy and hope,” Richardson said on stage while accepting the James Beard award. “Our staff’s commitment to this is the reason we’re here today.”

From the podium, Mbaye thanked his mother, his business partner and his staff. He also had a word for the people of his adopted home.

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Seared redfish sits over a bed of lima beans and greens at  Dakar NOLA, a modern Senegalese restaurant in New Orleans. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“I want to thank the people of New Orleans who truly embraced me as one of their own,” he said.

Outstanding Bar: Jewel of the South

Jewel of the South opened in 2019 in a Creole townhouse dating to the 1830s. It joined a small, promising wave of new restaurants and bars with the potential to lure locals to the French Quarter, not just cater to tourists.

The bar is the domain of Chris Hannah, who made his name giving great cocktails their due at?Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, often delving into the archives to resurrect lost classics.

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Chris Hannah behind the bar at Jewel of the South. PHOTO BY CHRIS GRANGER /THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

In the kitchen, London-born chef Phil Whitmarsh has been putting the tavern on the map for food, too. He brings a modern British approach, with its emphasis on seasonal freshness and the reinvention of familiar flavors.

In tandem with Hannah’s narrative way with cocktail menus — telling stories through the classics, their evolution, even the seasons — it has created an utterly unique pairing under the slate of one French Quarter roof.

It’s the second time Hannah has been on stage accepting a James Beard award. Arnaud’s French 75, the bar at historic French Quarter restaurant Arnaud’s, won the Outstanding Bar Program award during his tenure there, in 2017.

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John Stubbs (left), Victoria Espinel and Chris Hannah are partners in Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Hannah accepted the award on stage with partners John Stubbs and Victoria Espinel, and bartender Shaun Williams, a graduate of Turning Tables, the New Orleans-based training program aimed at increasing diversity in the cocktail realm.

Jewel of the South has been a magnet for high-profile recognition in recent years. Earlier in 2024 it was ranked No. 6 on the North America’s 50 Best Bars list and netted the title of “Best Bar in the South USA” for the second year. It also won this year's Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award, a special honor within the overall 50 Best ranking system.

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The Columbina cocktail with gin, beet and strawberry at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Accepting this latest James Beard award, Hannah thanked the Jewel of the South staff and intimated that there were congratulatory bottles of cognac and other drinks waiting for them post-shift at the Black Penny, a bar nearby on North Rampart Street.

More local finalists honored

New Orleans had one more contender in this year’s award event. Arvinder Vilkhu, who with his family runs the modern Indian stunner Saffron NOLA in Uptown New Orleans, was a finalist in the regional award category for Best Chef: South.

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Arvinder Vilkhu and his family started Saffron NOLA as a once-a-week restaurant for modern Indian cuisine before developing their full-fledged restaurant in New Orleans. (Advocate photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee)

So was Hunter Evans of 贰濒惫颈别’蝉 in Jackson, Mississippi. Valerie Chang of Maty’s in Miami won this award, which covers Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico.

Another national award finalist from the region was Vestige in Ocean Springs, which was up for Outstanding Restaurant, a national award. That award went to Langbaan, in Portland, Oregon.

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Email Ian McNulty at imcnulty@theadvocate.com.