c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW ORLEANS — By one count there were already 65 restaurants on the three miles of Magazine Street, a major artery through this city’s upscale districts. But on a recent Monday, diners were eager for No. 66. The minute the lights went on at Ivy, an autumnal little lounge with an as-seen-on-TV chef, the curious were at the door.

This city, of course, has always been food-obsessed. But these days it has reached new levels of insatiability. Though the city has fewer people than it did before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it has 70 percent more restaurants, according to a count by Tom Fitzmorris, a local expert who does not include fast-food or chain restaurants in his tally.

“It’s really something,” said Fitzmorris, between callers to his three-hour daily radio show about eating out. “It has never stopped going up, even in the summer, which is not a good time for us in the restaurant business.”

Economically speaking, the restaurant boom is a barometer of a city that is more affluent and more educated than it used to be. “Richer cities have more restaurants per capita,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist of Trulia, the real estate website, who said New Orleans already ranked 14th in the nation on restaurants per person in 2010, just a few years into the recent boom (San Francisco was No. 1).

At the same time, the high concentration of restaurants here has built on itself, as chefs are attracted to a city where eating out is so popular and the most successful ones expand. In that sense, it represents an industry cluster along the lines of the financial industry on Wall Street or high technology in Silicon Valley. More than 10 percent of the jobs in the metropolitan area are in the restaurant business, compared with an average of 8.2 percent nationwide.

“The main difference between those clusters and the restaurant cluster is they’re all selling a service outside the city,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. But to the degree that the restaurants provide food to tourists, he said, they can be counted as exporters. New Orleans may not have much of a manufacturing base, but it sells boatloads of gumbo to millions of visitors.