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Adventurous modern Thai eatery Banana Blossom steps up but stays rooted in Gretna |

Adventurous modern Thai eatery Banana Blossom steps up but stays rooted in Gretna

The move is nothing really. It’s just about two miles straight down the same road. But to Jimmy Cho it’s everything.

In March, he closed the original location of his Banana Blossom Thai Restaurant on the edge of Gretna, and last week reopened it in a new home, at 500 Ninth St., in Old Gretna.

It’s not just a bigger space. It’s a huge step for an immigrant who arrived here with no restaurant plans in mind, but who ended up creating a unique addition to the modern New Orleans dining scene anyway.


Banana Blossom Thai Restaurant serves traditional and original dishes in its new home in Gretna.

Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty

After opening in 2009, Banana Blossom quickly became one of the area’s best restaurants for traditional Thai food, a spot for cool pad Thai on a hot day or hearty masaman curry on a chilly one, for tom yum soup and stir-fried clams in a garlicky broth.

Over time, it also grew into a Thai eatery that folds in more global flavors. Some of its dishes would feel at home at a Spanish tapas bar, a Creole restaurant or a Hawaiian beachfront shack.

“It’s all Thai ingredients,” said Cho. “That’s how we cook here, but we can bring in other influences too.”

This openness has made Banana Blossom the most adventurous Thai restaurant in the area, quietly doing its thing Gretna. It’s about time more people know how Banana Blossom rolls, and its new home is set up to introduce them.

Once a rundown corner store, the address has been revamped with a long dining room, a dedicated bar for drinking and drop-in meals and a semi-open kitchen.

It may be close to the first Banana Blossom, but it’s been a long ride to get here.


The new home of Banana Blossom in Gretna before and after renovations. 

Cho grew up in northwest Thailand, where his family ran a combination noodle shop and grocery as part of a market. He eventually made it to New Orleans, where his family had some friends. He was studying to be a surgical tech at Delgado Community College and working at the Gretna sushi bar Café Zen.

But when that restaurant moved to a bigger location a few doors down, Cho decided to take over the lease and try his hand cooking his native Thai cuisine. It was a modest debut, with just a few tables under a drop ceiling. But it fit Cho’s start-up finances and his prudent outlook.

“You have to start small, then you can build,” he said.

As Banana Blossom’s business increased, so did Cho’s own travel budget. Travel is a priority for him. In one year alone, he visited more than a dozen countries. The food he eats along the way sometimes becomes source material for new dishes at Banana Blossom.

For instance, a trip to Hawaii and meals from Oahu’s fleet of “shrimp truck” food vendors led to the “Hawaii 504,” a bowl of coconut shrimp, boiled egg and pineapple over Thai barbecue sauce. Ramen, a Japanese staple, joined the menu after a trip to Bali, where it’s a common breakfast dish.

Some ideas started closer to home. Banana Blossom’s version of BBQ shrimp tastes buttery, like the New Orleans original, but uses no butter. It’s vegetable oil and coconut milk and chile peppers around big, head-on shrimp. The same sauce surrounds BBQ oysters, fried in airy-light batter and served in cast iron skillets.

Thai roti bread – chewy here, crinkly-crisp there – now fields many different roles on the menu. It becomes something like a Natchitoches meat pie, filled with Thai-style minced pork and crimped around the edges. A more recent riff is a roti sandwich stuffed with ground chicken, fried egg and hot sauce, which is modeled after a breakfast dish common around Cho’s hometown.


BBQ oysters with roti bread is part of the menu at the Thai restaurant Banana Blossom in Gretna.

But while Banana Blossom has moved on up with its new location, the restaurant is also staying in the West Bank community where it first took root.

Cho knows the New Orleans restaurant scene well. He knows Magazine Street or the Warehouse District would be a higher-profile perch, and that he’d get more tourist business there.

But with so many other restaurants now opening in the city proper, and with the chance to actually buy and redevelop his own real estate in Gretna, he decided to stay put.

“The business is all local, we don’t get any tourists here,” said Cho. “I live nearby, I want to cook for people here. I feel like here I will have more control of where the business goes.”

Banana Blossom Thai Restaurant

500 Ninth St., Gretna, 504-392-7530

Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.

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