Jan 4, 2024 - Food and Drink

How New Orleans' best new restaurant isn't taking anything for granted

Serigne Mbaye and Effie Richardson pose for a photo at a service window inside Dakar NOLA. The moody lighting highlights the pair looking at each other as they stand in the window opening.

Serigne Mbaye, left, and Effie Richardson co-own Dakar NOLA. Photo: Jeremy Tauriac for Dakar NOLA

Dakar NOLA is only open for service four nights a week, but on a recent off-day, chef Serigne Mbaye and co-owner Effie Richardson were still working inside the Senegalese restaurant.

Why it matters: By the end of 2023, the restaurant appeared on just about every "best of" list you can think of, and Mbaye was even featured in a fashion spread for Esquire.

  • But that kind of spotlight can easily begin to burn, so neither Mbaye nor Richardson are taking any of it for granted.

"Magic happens here. The world is a hard, sad, frustrating place. Things are not easy," Richardson tells Axios New Orleans.

  • "And I feel like we've dedicated ourselves to creating a positive space. At Dakar, the food nurtures your soul, the vibe nurtures your spirit."

Flashback: Born in New York, Mbaye spent his childhood years in Senegal. By the time he returned to the U.S. as a teenager, he still had to learn English.

  • After working in various New York kitchens, Mbaye attended the New England Culinary Institute and landed at Commander's Palace in New Orleans.
  • From there, he worked at the Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn before returning to New Orleans, where he served as chef de cuisine at Mosquito Supper Club and began a Senegalese pop-up called Dakar.
  • That pop-up became his current, nationally lauded Magazine Street restaurant.

Yes, but: Mbaye hedges on taking the credit for how quickly Dakar NOLA rose. He clearly cares deeply about the details, from how he sources ingredients to the experience his team provides, which often leaves guests hugging servers before they leave at the end of service.

  • But the attention also comes from telling the right story at the right time, he says.
  • "A lot of that had to do with George Floyd," Mbaye says. "People now want to pay attention to what Black people are doing. That's the truth of it."

Zoom in: At Dakar NOLA, Mbaye does not shy away from any hard truths. It's evident in the seasonal, prix fixe tasting menu that explores New Orleans' often fraught African connections.

  • "It's a motivation that people are listening," Mbaye says, because people are listening, and they're sharing what they hear at Dakar NOLA.

What she's saying: "Any conversations about race and race relations and history involving Black people specifically, is not an easy conversation for a lot of people, right? … Food certainly makes that conversation easier," Richardson says.

  • "We're at a point where we have guests writing about slavery, based off of a soup they ate, on their Instagram."

All that attention also means expectations for the food and the experience are high, all while restaurants around New Orleans shut down throughout the past year in the face of rising costs and thinning margins.

  • "The best way that I know how to deal with it is by staying true to who we are," Mbaye says. "You go read in the New York Times that this is the best new restaurant, and then you come to the restaurant, but I have to prove it to you."

What's next: Don't ask — yet.

  • Despite getting peppered with questions about future projects, Richardson and Mbaye are keeping their focus on Dakar NOLA for now.

How to get a table: Expect to wait about four weeks for a reservation. Make one on Resy.

  • There's one seating per night, four nights a week, and meals are served communally.
  • A seat for the seven-course tasting menu is $150, plus service charges and tax.
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