2010 was a year when casual dining reasserted itself in NOLA- from street food, to Pho, to star chefs gone dress-down, we loved to eat without airs this year. 2011 will bring us a bit more of the same, conversely some bar food gone fancy, lots of ethnic cuisine, and a few other surprises. The (again, unordered) list y’all...
TOP 10 (Places to Eat) in '10
1. Swine Bar/Butcher (at Cochon) - Donald Link’s Cochon has been a staple of fine dining for quite some time, but he wanted something more assessable. So, he created a side space, part sandwich shop, part butcher, and part wine bar. The environment is relaxing, the prices cheap, and the service friendly & informed... but, most importantly the food is incredible. On the shop side, he may have built the best butcher in town. On both menus, you will find a vast selection of specialty sausages, terrines, and head cheese. Plus, some excellent cuts of meat, and to-go signatures like gumbo stuffed chicken, and boudin stuffed squab.
2. Holly Tamale - Street Food started busting out in 2010. Holly Tamale led the charge. Tasty and cheap, her tamales were a tonic to New Orleanians who drank too much tonic (& gin... amongst other things.) Holly herself became the face of the franchise, seemingly appearing everywhere downtown where people were drunk and hungry. The Mexican snacks are freshly made each morning in the Bywater and then put in an insulated basket/cart affixed to Holly’s tricycle. Frenchmen & St. Claude seem to be her homebase; so, head down there and try one for yourself.
3. Taco Truck (at Cafe Negril) - Frenchmen Street seemed to suffer a setback when regulations forced the local taco truck from its Washington Park location. However, the truck bounced back, moving inside the sudenly rejuvenated Cafe Negril. The menu is simple and cheap ($5 for two tacos, $6 for a overstuffed burrito, and $5 for a quesadilla.) The service is quick and the food is authentic. Taco Truck has become an instant classic amongst clubgoers, and Triangle locals alike.
4. Boucherie - In the period of about two years, Nathaniel Zimet went from food truck proprietor to it-chef. Perhaps it’s his devotion to the wonders of BBQ in the South’s seafood stepchild. Or, maybe the small plate-large plate combination has struck a chord the itsy bitsy entree fine dining purveyors are too pretentious to attempt. Either way, the Riverbend-sequestered Boucherie hit the short list of places to go this year. Try any dish with pork, and it’ll be evident why.
5. Stanley - The uber-personalities of chefs in this town made it shocking to some that Stella! owner Scott Boswell would give a more downscale, diner-style place a try. But let’s make no mistake about Stanley, it’s located on Jackson Square and you should still be ready to pay. Still, a place where the waitstaff talks about the food like regular customers instead of hired help is a place most of NOLA can get down with, and the Breaux Bridge Benedict alone is reason to give it a shot. Let’s not even mention the sandwiches. And that burger...
6. American Sector Stage Door Canteen - Chef John Besh has reached that great spot in the arc of celebrity where he can afford to have a little fun. Enter the American Sector at the World War II Museum. Yes, he does make a nod to his host institution with period entertainment (as if Swing was odd in this city!) and innovative platings like soup served in a replica GI tin can. However, expertly mixed cocktails like the Hendricks Martini, and high end comfort food like the great “sloppy joes” make it more than a gimmick. Oh yeah, it’s also an incredible and strangely local locale to watch a Saints game!
7. Domenica - Besh is unstoppable! The culinary icon scores with two restaurants on our 2010 list. However, Besh is renowned for letting his Executive Chefs (the guys actually running the restaurant) share in his spotlight. We tip our hat to Domenica’s Alon Shaya. The joint gets lots of press for the wood burning stove churning out “gourmet” (as opposed to NY or Chicago Style) pizzas and deservedly so. However, the pies are just one example of the overall zeitgeist which is a focus on classic Italian food, simple and using the best ingredients impossible. For this reason, the salumi (in Y’at, we call it “charcuterie”) coming out of the old school carving station and the antipasti are also superlative. Oh yeah, they also cook entrees, and they do it damn well; Italian country classics like Tagliatelle with Rabbit Ragu and Lasagne Bolognese are perfectly executed. And, of course, they are semi casual... paper menus on beautiful wooden tables.
8. Parkway Bakery and Tavern - Having come back from Katrina and weathered many changes til then, the Bayou St. John po-boy joint is a survivor above all. But who knew the year when it got the most notoriety was one in which some of its key ingredients were threatened with extinction. With national media looking for an icon of shellfish slinging, the joint was the perfect backdrop. So perfect, in fact, that the first family had the motorcade invade Toulouse St. so Uncle Barry could grab himself a seafood-supporting photo-op. A couple of spots on national television were just lagniappe. The weekend lunchtime lines at Parkway will probably continue to be out the door for years to come, but perhaps never was there a year when the nation was so transfixed on the sustainability of a shrimp po-boy.
9.Pho King - No matter who occupies the restaurant space in the back of the Lost Love Lounge, East Bank Vietnamese food (that’s not in the East) is a welcome addition in itself. Add in good service, a simple menu that the small staff knocks out of the park, and the cool points obtained from being run by the Big Easy Roller Girls’ main bruiser, and we’ve got what we can only hope (against hope) is a Marigny fixture for some time to come. Fine Pho, clever Vietnamese “po boys” aka Bahn Mi, and the requisite spring rolls make you wonder why anyone crosses the Danziger.
10.Hare Krishna Temple - To say that the seemingly eternal Sunday night line outside the Hare Krishna temple on Esplanade Ave. in Bayou St. John was an accident is probably an overstatement. After all, the temple had the benefit of using the exact same model used at institutions across the country to glorious success here. Right place? We’ll buy that, especially given that they see enough foot traffic during Jazz Fest to serve food up every night. Right Time? While the crunchiest among us -- some of whom don’t take showers -- are unlikely to turn down a free meal, there’s no denying that the place became a haven for volunteers following the storm. Though it would be mourned if suddenly yanked from the scene, using the word success here still feels as awkward standing in that line. The donation basket is usually pretty full, but converting people? Well...did we mention how good the (vegetarian) food is?
Top 11 Places to Eat in 2011
1. Sylvain- Sean McCusker has built a classic bistro in the heart of the Quarter, and in just a couple months of operation, it is already packed. Sylvain offers a jacket and tie menu in a jeans and flannel atmosphere, but more than hipness or atmosphere, it's the menu drawing all the attention. The liver pate is already being hailed as the best in town. Perfectly executed entrees like beef cheeks and Porchetta style roasted pork are haute cuisine classics within reach, and, well, taste.
2. Three Muses - Spotted Cat has the jive and swing, and Marigny Brassiere has the tapas and delectable entrees, but no one had both until Three Muses came along. Three Muses is upscale (as far as Frenhmen is concerned,) and offers an eclectic international cuisine alongside properly poured cocktails. Singer and co-owner Sophie Lee keeps the stage scheduled superbly, and Chef Dan Esses is making a name for himself with unique twists on ethnic classics like falafels and his signature meatballs. As sad as it is to admit to the circus punks and buskers, this is what people are looking for on Frenchmen St. nowadays, and winning success only seems likely.
3. Bouligny Tavern - If there’s one thing New Orleans is still working on (slowly but surely) it’s the late night food option. Plenty of bars give us that fried fix when needing to refuel; 13 holds it down with a seating/wait staff 24/7, and Negril’s Taco Truck clearly need no advisin', but where can you get fried gnocchi w/truffle & parmigiano, Fritto Misto, or Gouda Beignets until midnight, for under $10, on a weekday?! B-o-u-l-i-g-n-y. From these sophisticated baby bite offerings, it’s clear to see this tavern leans towards upscale, in swank, decor, and a mighty quick following. When you can get Seared Beef Short Ribs w/garlic for $8, a McClelland cocktail for $9, and a chocolate crostini w/olive oil at 2 AM on a Friday or Saturday, you start to understand why this wine bar is making sense, to say the least. Get in on the buzz and eat well, late.
4. Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery - We know, the last thing you needed was another reason to go to The East (besides gassing up at Tiger Fuel before hitting Six Flags), but this Vietnamese restaurant/bakery split has been going strong since 1981, and is finally getting attention out west. The Banh Mi and Pho are most definitely worth the trip, and the Bun impresses when paired with well done pork or grilled shrimp. There are plenty of seats, but you can take it to go; either way you’ll be stuffed before seeing the bottom of these deep dished portions. Don’t forget to sample their sweets on your way out (and they close at 4 PM, so don’t be late).
5. Jung’s Golden Dragon - New Orleans, Chinese food, no MSG, Dim Sum plates, all in the same sentence? Leave it to Magazine Street’s Garden District stomping ground for all of these dreams to come true. After studying Hotel, Resto, and Tourism at UNO, Jung opened Golden Dragon in 1977 (originally in Metarie), and has been cooking her health-conscious and authentic cuisine ever since. From microbiotic options, to whole fried fish, Peking Duck, dim sum small plates (hola steamed buns), and veggie hot pots, there are many somethings for everyone at this unassuming surprise. Golden Dragon’s also on their spirits tip, with a full bar and imported beer selection, so bottoms up to the year of the rabbit (psst- ask for their ‘other’ menu).
6. Cafe Abyssinia - Unlike the sprawling Vietnamese population, there’s no Ethiopian enclave to back up the authenticity of this new Magazine St. spot. Maybe that’s why chef and owner Ermius Alemu opened with just seven tables. But they’re putting in the work, and the ingredients are...wait, did we just say authentic ethnic food on Magazine St.? Well, all of those tables are full, most of the time. Dining is a bit of a leap of faith, with no utensils, and star dishes with names like sambussa, injera, and kitfo, one has to trust the staff and kitchen. They haven’t disappointed yet! BYOB too.
7. Verti Marte - There is no need to rehash the sad tale of this institution’s demise; instead, let’s focus on the positive that is a reopening in the next few months. Construction moves along steadily, and we can’t wait. As far as late night dining downtown is concerned, Verti is the winner hands down. Really, if you don’t know, you’ll just have to wait and experience it for yourself.
8. Baru Bistro and Tapas - Uptown done did it again with this Latin/Caribbean getaway. Not to compare them to Cheetos, but there is some extreme flavor blast going on over here with each bite of these sensitively prepared and always fresh small plates. They’ve got the seafood down, from fried Calamari to gulf fish ceviche, and are equally serious about the meat, with a little grilled skirt steak (topped w/melted cheddar and spicy aioli), a pulled pork shoulder, slow roasted and served on grilled bread, or the real deal: the classic cubano. The candlelit sidewalk seating is lovely and romantic (almost) year round, and service is exemplary. Oh, and it’s BYOB.
9. J’anitas at the Rendon Inn - In its new Broadmoor location in the newly renovated Rendon Inn, that famous Duck Sandwich is once again yours for the taking, along with all the other presents previously found at the Avenue Pub. But J’Anitas focused on their beer game, held on to Buddha’s Temptation (Bleu cheese stuffed, Bacon wrapped, deep fried apricots, yes plz), and are sure to make this third home base a permanent place as a sit-down establishment, something their culinary efforts have always deserved. The signature ‘Sammiches’ are savory and satisfying, but leave room for the Nutella Taquitos...they’re what they sound like.
10.Tracey’s (old Parasol’s) - With more space, a Magazine St. location, and the same roast beef recipe, the old owners of Parasol’s look poised to generate even more magic. We admit it’s sort of awkward to see locals crowded around the bar in one corner of the huge room. But with a place as storied as this, there’s something in the air that suggests change doesn’t rub people around here as much as it seems like it does.
11. Camellia Grill (in the quarter) - Camellia on Chartres has already taken flight with that perfect, now downtown, spot for the late night cravings and the necessary hangover brunch to follow. Camellia comes as close to a diner NOLA gets, with shakes, burgers, omelletes, counter stools , and originiality. They didn’t change a thing from what works on Carrolton either, except for one minor addition: alcohol (and those FQ prices). You can now go in with your usual order in mind, and throw in an Abita, glass of wine, Bloody Mary, or Mimosa to go with your meal, while still avoiding the bar culture that dominates so much of the Quarter’s brunch scene. Thank you Camellia, for sharing the wealth.
*Wait! Check out our NoDef "Music", "Bar", and "Artist" Nods too!