It’s been a year and a half since Melissa Araujo opened Alma Cafe, her first restaurant, in New Orleans’s Bywater neighborhood, and quickly propelled it to becoming a sought-after brunch destination — all during a pandemic. And soon there will be a new way to experience Araujo’s modern takes on regional Honduran fare when Alma begins serving dinner later this month.
The restaurant has served breakfast and lunch since debuting in October 2020, but Araujo dipped her toes in the water recently with two five-course tasting dinners to close out 2021. “Those two dinners were made intentionally to see if we had a nighttime market,” Araujo says. Courses included salmon crudo with ponzu sauce and calabaza en miel, pumpkin cooked in honey and pistachios — dishes that are examples of what will be on the forthcoming dinner menu, Araujo says. The meal ended with Honduran bread pudding, or budin de pan, served with a cognac, pecan, and pistachio sauce, a dessert set to be on the new menu.
“Alma’s going to keep her essence,” Araujo says. “We’re going to go tapas style for night, with beautiful, handcrafted cocktails. Our vibe is still casual and homey, but dinner will feel more elegant.” There were always plans to add dinner, originally after half a year or so, but Araujo feels ready to introduce dinner now because the front of the house is finally fully staffed up, Araujo says. And while they need one more person in the kitchen, “We’re getting the job done, and we’re ready,” she says.
Alma started as a pop-up in 2015 as part of former Central City food hub Roux Carre (which was also home to chef Tunde Wey’s pop-up Saartj for a time). Araujo calls it an ode to her Honduran heritage and grandmother’s kitchen — though Alma is not her grandmother’s, nor anyone else’s, name — it means soul in Spanish. “Everyone thinks my name is Alma,” says the chef. Araujo, who was born in Honduras and raised in New Orleans, has previously cooked in the kitchens of high-end local restaurants like Doris Metropolitan, Mondo, and Restaurant R’evolution, then spent six years cooking in Italy before returning to New Orleans.
Alma opened in fall 2020 in a small corner Bywater building that has previously been home to Paloma Cafe, Cafe Henri, and Booty’s Street Food. Serving breakfast and lunch from early morning until mid-afternoon daily, it quickly became a brunchtime destination despite not having a separate brunch menu, partly due to its pandemic-friendly outdoor seating. It’s a hit with tourists, drawing lines on the weekend, but also appeals to locals, diners who are generally familiar with Honduran cuisine; the New Orleans metropolitan area has one of the largest Honduran American communities in the U.S. and the city is home to a number of excellent Honduran restaurants.
“We’re keeping the same approach. But now I get to play a little bit with my experience in fine dining, without having to actually be in fine dining,” Araujo says.
Alma begins serving dinner Thursday through Saturday on January 20, and plans to expand to five nights a week a few months later. It will continue serving breakfast and lunch daily.
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