Editor’s Note: This interview with Sara Fernandez was conducted by Tulane student, Alexandra Sherman as a part of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s New Orleans con Sabor Latino exhibit. This exhibit was the result of a joint effort by Tulane University, SoFaB, and community partners.
In Dr. Sarah Fouts’s interdisciplinary seminar, Food, Migration, & Culture, Tulane students worked with Latino members of the New Orleans food industry to create a series of oral histories exploring the role of Latin culture in New Orleans’s restaurant scene. With stories ranging from famous restauranteurs to line cooks, New Orleans con Sabor Latino demonstrates the diversity of experience within this community, as well as their vital contributions to the Big Easy.
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Sarita’s Grill on Uptown Freret Street offers a local take on Latin fusion. The menu showcases the blended heritage of the owner, Sara Fernandez, and her family. Her Cuban roots shine bright with entrees like Havana plate and the Cuban sandwich, while her husband’s Nicaraguan background inspires dishes like crispy fried taquitos.
Fernandez opened Sarita’s Grill in 2009 and achieved fast popularity with her flounder fish tacos, and ribeye steak quesadillas. In this clip, she talks about her family’s background in restaurants and her early investment in the now-revitalized Freret corridor neighborhood.
“My name is Sara Fernandez and I’m the owner of Sarita’s Grill. Sarita’s Grill is a little bit of a Cuban with Central American, more like Latin fusion.
The history of Sarita’s Grill goes back from 2005. My mother-in- law had a restaurant called The Little Hidden Kitchen. She did fairly well until her daughter that was helping her with the business decided to go to law school. And so she handed the business down to her older daughter which she named it the Las Benita’s and then Hurricane Katrina came and they of course they lost everything.
After we came back from Hurricane Katrina, they decided to reopen but the business didn’t succeed. We had a lot of faith on Freret Street, we knew that Freret Street sooner or later it was gonna be a big boom. So we went ahead and took the chance and the risk and we opened up Sarita’s Grill.
It was a blessing cause I have to say, from the day we first opened, I mean I didn’t even have to advertise. I just knocked on people’s doors and introduced myself and we started getting busy from there.
Freret Street wasn’t what it is today. It has changed a lot within the seven years. You know, it went from a neighborhood that was kind of scary. You know, didn’t feel too safe at night, we’ve had several incidents, but people still came. It’s just that until businesses started opening up that’s when we started getting more people in.
They’ve been very good at opening, you know, opening up different types of restaurants. It’s a flavor. You’ve got different things in the street, so it really doesn’t affect us in any kind of way. If anything, it brings more people into the neighborhood and they’re like ‘Oh there’s a Sarita’s. It’s a Latin style food, we’ve heard it was really good the next time we go on Freret we’re going to try them out.’
I feel like it’s my neighborhood. It’s like family. And then that’s how Sarita’s Grill came about in 2009. And I have to say that we’ve been doing good ever since.”
Special thanks to the Tulane University Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, and the Tulane University Center for Public Service for their assistance and support of this project.