Sazón De Louisiana: Bésame

NEW ORLEANS – In a city known for dishes heavily influenced by Creole cuisine, Cajun cuisine, and soul food, Bésame offers restaurantgoers an alternative.

Executive Chef Nanyo Dominguez takes pride in a menu that features ceviches, tapas, churrasco, caldo de mariscos, and paella mixta, as well as a bar with South and Latin American wines and brandies such as pisco and mezcal. “Bésame is my own interpretation of some of the most popular dishes in different countries in Latin America, with respect to the ingredients available in NOLA, in hopes that it can bring back memories to natives from those countries or anyone who has traveled to the Americas,” said Chef Dominguez, who is also the owner of the downtown restaurant.


He told Latino News Network that he credits the diversity of Bésame’s menu in part to his experience living in New York City. “Walking through Jackson Heights in Queens in the late ’90s was an opening experience to new flavors from many different countries anywhere in the world, including Latin America. There, you can walk through several ethnic neighborhoods in one day and immerse yourself in music, food, art, and culture from those countries. I had mofongo for the first time, a mashed green plantain dish from Puerto Rico, also known as mangu en Republica Dominicana.”

Born in Puebla, Mexico, in a small rural town at the skirts of the Popocatépetl, Dominguez says his love of food comes from his grandmother. “My abuela used to make sandwiches and chicharrones, a fritter made out of flour similar to dry pasta, then fried to sell at the local school during recess,” he said. “On Saturday night, she and I made donuts that I would sell in the town on Sunday mornings.”

An opportunity to open Johnny Sánchez, a venture by celebrity Chef Aarón Sánchez, brought Dominguez to New Orleans in 2015. “The goal was to expand his brand to Austin, Texas. Originally, that was gonna be my next destination to manage that location,” he said. The project never materialized, so he stayed in New Orleans, working and traveling with Chef Sanchez to festivals and private dinners as part of his celebrity appearances. “Eventually it was time to make a move to present my own food the way I wanted, and the only way to do that was to be on my own and take an Executive chef role.”

In 2017, Tito’s Ceviche and Pisco presented the opportunity Dominguez was looking for. “I ran the kitchen for a bit over two years and felt good to be the face of the restaurant as well as to create my own dishes.” That encouraged him to take the next step. In 2019, Chef Dominguez was asked to become a partner in Espíritu Mezcaleria, a Mexican restaurant focused on Mezcal and traditional authentic food from Mexico City and Oaxaca. “I didn’t hesitate, although it was a new risk, yet it was exciting, to say the least,” he said.

But the greatest challenge of all was launching his own restaurant in 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. “I came across a real estate listing for a turnkey restaurant just across the street from the Saenger Theatre. I scheduled a viewing of the place and immediately knew that I wanted the location,” he said. 

Dominguez said that after struggling to secure a small business loan due to “how risky the restaurant industry is under a normal economy, yet we were asking for funds in the middle of a pandemic,” he was able to open in September 2021.

“Bésame is located in the Arts District nested between three Theater venues and several hotels just on the outskirts of the French Quarter,” explained Chef Dominguez. “Our customer base is a mix of theatre goers, residents of the French Quarter as well as tourists that usually find us on their third or fourth day in the city looking for something different to eat besides the traditional New Orleans flavors.”

Located at 110 S. Rampart St., right next to Canal Street, Bésame has been a part of the changing landscape of this historic area. Once the main shopping district of Greater New Orleans for over a century, Canal Street began to decline in the late 1960s due to national trends favoring suburban retail. However, efforts by business and government leaders have revitalized the street in recent years, with the addition of new anchor enterprises like the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, the New Orleans Bio-Innovation Center, the Joy Theater, the Saint Hotel, the Audubon Insectarium, and the Astor Crowne Plaza.

For Chef Dominguez, the love affair that began with making donuts with his Abuela, then to the flavorful neighborhoods of New York City, now thrives in the rich, diverse appetites of New Orleans.

“You got to love what you do,” Dominguez advises. “I’m here six days a week. Every day that I come in, even if I am tired from the night before, I love it. Someone had a (good) memory from drinking a cocktail or from eating a dish, and they leave with a smile. I think that is the most rewarding part.”

Sazón de Louisiana is part of Sazón, a series by the Latino News Network painting a rich, nuanced picture of a community’s food scene, its entrepreneurs, and the neighborhoods they enliven.

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