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Jan 23, 2012 01:06 PM

Looking for the Soul of New Orleans

Hey everyone, I'm making a trip to New Orleans in a couple of weeks. I'm looking to eat and explore. I appreciate greasy spoons, enclaves, and real culture. I'm coming from NYC, and I feel like there is a lot down there that we barely have anything of. I have about 5 days of stomach space, where do I need to go?

I expect to be on my own for at least half my meals, so fine dining is pretty much OUT. I don't like that stuff anyways. The more local I can get the better, far away from tourists, and into the grime. That's what I'm looking for. I've done this type of thing in 3 cities before, and it's worked out great from the advice of chowhounders.

I see there are many topics on this already, but I'm looking in particular for the local places and shouldn't-misses. Only the essentials for a food explorer. Got anything??

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  1. Where are you staying. There are some great places for cheap eats in the FQ.
    Red Gravy is the best place in the FQ area for breakfast or lunch. It’s just a block W of Canal. Take Chartres St. to Camp from the FQ. El Gato Negro is a great Mexican place in the French Market for lunch or dinner and breakfast on the weekends. Mena's Palace is a local's favorite that serves NOLA comfort food for breakfast and lunch.. They serve 25/30 different po boys. Johnny's Po Boy's is in the FQ on St. Louis and has outstanding po boys. Felipe's has great Mexican food using local ingredients. Clover Grill is open 24/7 for breakfast and good burgers and it's inexpensive. Rampart Food Store has good po boys. Antoine's has 25 cent martini's at lunch. Commerce Restaurant is a couple of blocks W of Canal in walking distance of FQ and has good inexpensive breakfast and lunch. Buffa's Lounge has good tamales.They have a great Sunday Jazz brunch. Daisy Dukes serves good breakfast, lunch and dinner open 24/7.
    Red Gravy @ 125 Camp Street, New Orleans, LA 504 – 561 – 8844.
    El Gato Negro @ 81 French Market Place, New Orleans, LA 504 - 525 - 9752.
    Mena's Palace @ 200 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 525 - 0217.
    Johnny's Po Boys @ 511 Saint Louis St., New Orleans, LA 504 - 524 - 8129.
    Felipe's Taqueria @ 301 N. Peters St., New Orleans, LA 504 - 267 - 4406.
    Clover Grill @ 900 Bourbon St., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 598 - 1010.
    Rampart Food Store @ 1700 North Rampart Street, New Orleans, LA 504 - 944 - 7777.
    Commerce Restaurant @ 300 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 504 - 561 - 9239.
    Buffa's Lounge @ 1001 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 949 - 0038.
    Daisy Duke's @ 121 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 504 - 561 - 5171.

    Go to Port O Call in the Marigny for good burgers or Praline Connection. Buffa's has reasonable food for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And tamales too. Three Muses has great music, good food and cold drinks.
    Port of Call @ 838 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 523 - 0120.
    Praline Connection @ 542 Frenchmen St., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 943 - 3934.
    Buffa's Lounge @ 1001 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA. 504 - 949 - 0038.
    Three Muses @ 536 Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA 504 – 298 – 8746.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Littleman

      As a Californian who visits New Orleans 1-2 times a year, I had to say I'm not a fan of El Gato Negro . . . and the Clover Grill has been cited (more than once, I've been told) by the Health Dept.


      1. re: zin1953

        ditto on El Gato. miss the excellent and bountiful Mexican of southern California. one will not find it at El Gato.

      2. re: Littleman

        wow, masterful list. I have only a few of these. You're the Great.

        1. re: Littleman

          Went to Daisy Dukes last time I was down, can't understand how anyone could like the breakfast, short of The House of Blues (request of a friend I swear), it was the worst meal we had all week. They do however do everything else pretty nicely, while it's certainly not the best, their gumbo is good, and we saw a tray of crawfish go by our table that looked and smelled amazing. As I said, not the best, but especially for the price it's really good.

          As for breakfast, especially in the FQ, I recommend the Camellia Grill, we went there every day, simple, easy, and without question the best waffles, sausage, eggs, and coffee I've ever had.

          I also second or triple Coop's definitely a must do in the FQ as well as anywhere else.

        2. Sorry, but Littleman and I don’t agree on much. The greasy spoons he recommends aren’t very good unless you’re really on a tight budget. And I’d imagine you aren’t here for Mexican food so skip those places too. For breakfast, I’d go to Old Coffee Pot or head Uptown to Surrey’s or Slim Goody’s. For lunch, try a sandwich at Cochon Butcher or check out one of our great po boys shops,- Parkway, Guy’s, Parasol’s or my favorite Crabby Jack’s. There’s also a place on Elysian Fields called Sammy’s Deli that serves up some good local stuff. For dinner, if you're with a group of at least four, head out of town to Mosca’s for a lot of local flava. Or head out to the Parish and try your hand at Rocky and Carlo’s. Others to consider- Willy Mae’s, Rivershack, Cooter Brown’s and Coop’s if you’re staying in the French Quarter.

          31 Replies
          1. re: shanefink

            Good list shanefink. I'm glad you remembered Rivershack in the "up the road" category. I'll add Two Sisters and Jack Dempsey's to the "grime" list.

            1. re: shanefink

              Had to log on just to agree with you. Littleman must own some of these establishments. Red Gravy is just fine for CBD worker drones but I would never recommend it to a tourist, definitely has nothing to do with New Orleans, same with the Mexican recommendations. Felipe's is great, again for CBD workers, but what tourist hoping to experience NOLA culture/food would go there? And I'm pretty sure Daisy Dukes has a barker, avoid at all costs. Other than that, the other recs are great as well as yours shankefink.

                  1. re: collardman

                    FYI.....J'Anita's is no longer at Rendon as of yesterday.

                    1. re: BayouTeche

                      Do you know what happened?

                      [edit: nevermind, I read the articles/blog]

                      1. re: uptownlibrarian

                        Here is a link to Craig Giesecke's blog:
                        I hate to see him close.

                        1. re: speyerer

                          Well, i had to send that link around. Poop!

                      2. re: BayouTeche

                        guess this is one of those things that I just didnt get. had it on St Charles and we tried it at the Inn but were disappointed. the fried apps were pricey and small, and the mains were fine but nothing I'd drive for. good if I lived next door...

                  2. re: Overweight

                    While Red Gravy doesn't boast itself as a New Orleans/Creole/Cajun-influenced cafe, it is certainly with merit. I'm not a CBD "worker drone" nor am I a food snob. However, I certainly know and appreciate a quality meal prepared with skill, care, and fresh, local ingredients. I'm a tourist in New Orleans, and RG will be one of my first stops on the next trip. Nothing to do with New Orleans? I'll start with a cup of the gumbo, please.

                    1. re: lillidalla

                      I'm a CBD worker drone and probably a food snob. there are way too many better places for a short trip of authenticity than Red Gravy... imo

                      1. re: kibbles

                        I'm not sure I get the whole "CBD worker drone" phrasing. I'm all for self-deprecation (it's my primary form of communication) but it sounds weird in this context. Hell, I dream of someday being a CBD worker drone! Better than being a worker drone just about anywhere else!

                        1. re: kukubura

                          it just means being an office worker -- the CBD hosts many banking, law, IT, and energy offices.

                          so the inferred sentiment in the orig message is office workers may try random places in the CBD -- and keep them alive -- but those spots are not necessarily remarkable.

                          1. re: kibbles

                            Thanks Kibbles. That's exactly what I meant. I work downtown and eat out for lunch every day. So yeah, I'd stop by Red Gravy for a deli sandwich on a random Tuesday every now and then, but the place is unremarkable and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a tourist seeking to experience the "soul of New Orleans." Sorry to thread jack.

                            1. re: Overweight

                              I had a client that loved to take me to Red Gravy. As others have said, it's far from the soul of New Orleans. It'd send someone looking for the soul of New Orleans to Domilise's, Rocky & Carlo's for a carb induced coma, Cafe Atchafalya, or Galatoire's..

                  3. re: shanefink

                    yeah, it's not about the budget as it is about getting real food with real people. Thank you for pointing this out. I'll be traveling all around on bicycle, and I love to ride, so most stuff where I don't have to cross over a swamp is fair game .

                    I expect to have a lot of po'boys. Someone told me that the sandwich at cochon is good, but not much better a louisiana experience than the load of other sandwich shops. Is that true? I wonder if there are any I should make a special trip to, or just go to those ones that are on the way to soemthing else.

                    Here's my map of places I want to go - but this will change as I digest all this chowhound info

                    1. re: Jeffsayyes

                      One comment regarding your map: I wouldn't make a special effort to get to Gene's. Don't get me wrong, at 3 AM when you've got a nice buzz going their hot sausage poboy is exactly right in so many ways (and Gene's, being bright pink, is difficult to miss no matter what your state of mind). During the day though it's like an unfortunately well lit nightclub ... there are corners you really don't want to see. If you need help getting your buzz on first, check out the Hi-Lo, the All Ways, and the Saturn Bar on St. Claude. Each usually has something interesting going on -- read the Gambit for listings.

                      As an aside, for another "holy shit do I want to eat food that was cooked here" experience that Gene's provides, try the fried wings at Manchu (corner of Esplanade & Claiborne).

                      1. re: montuori

                        I'm more inclined to get my kicks from food than drinks, although something tells me it will be inevitable to imbibe moderate to heavy.

                      2. re: Jeffsayyes

                        Interesting map. Is Jacques-Imo's really a locals favorite? Where do the locals go for true quality no frills cajun/creole cuisine?

                        1. re: Insidious Rex

                          I thought Atchafalaya Cafe was wonderful on our first visit last month. Can't wait to go back there.

                          And Central Grocery? Yuck. If was getting a sandwich in the quarter, I'd get the fried shrimp po boy from Johnny's. Yum.

                          1. re: Insidious Rex

                            cajun amd creole are two very different things, so as a local I wouldn't visit one place for both. few Cajun options anyway, but Bon Ton Cafe is one.

                            1. re: kibbles

                              What is good at Bon Ton? I had a sample of 4 different crawfish items and the only one I ate more than one bite of was the fried tails. They were very good while the other items were really bland and not worth eating. I left hungry. I want to go again but not without some confirmation about what is good there. If etouffee is their specialty, I won't return.

                              1. re: texasredtop

                                Anything ending in "bon ton" e.g., redfish bon ton. Not a fan of their etouffee.

                                1. re: N.O.Food

                                  Thanks!! I'm glad to hear someone else say that about their etouffee. I thought I was going crazy when I took the first bite because I'd heard forever that it was the best etouffe in the city and it didn't even look like etouffee. It looked like crawfish sauteed in butter and poured over rice. It didn't taste like anything either. I do like Galatoire's etouffee but mine is still a little better than that.

                                    1. re: kukubura

                                      lol when the dinner bell rings :-)

                                    2. re: texasredtop

                                      That's basically what their etouffee is: crafwish fat and butter. They don't use roux, which some folks say is the traditional way. To each his own, but I prefer roux based etouffee.

                                      1. re: N.O.Food

                                        Traditional or non-traditional, it had NO taste at all. Like rice with a little butter. No seasoning, so bland, so confusing for me. I thought they'd served me the wrong dish. Hubby loved the jambalaya though and ate all of mine. I thought it was ok but not ok enough to ever order again. I am sure he will order it next time though.

                            2. re: Jeffsayyes

                              Don't forget bbq shrimp and gumbo yaya at Mr B's. Sitting on your own at the bar is noooo problem.

                            3. re: shanefink

                              While I am a huge fan of Rocky & Carlo's in da Parish (St. Bernard Hwy in Chalmette) and would certainly recommend it as an "only in NOLA" type of place, they had a fire there recently and won't be open again until April or thereabouts. But for anyone who visits NOLA, and has a car, it's most definitely worth the short drive.

                            4. Nola Grocery - get the debris tots (or fries), roast beef poboy or some kind of cajun meat poboy. Every time I tell the office I'm walking over to pick up poboys I get a long list to bring back. Yeah it's not easy walking about six blocks each way carrying half a dozen poboys and sides!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: mrsfury

                                Johnny's Po Boy's, Parkway, Parasol’s and Mena's Palace are all head and shoulders above NOLA Grocery for po boys. NOLA Grocery serves a somewhat decent sandwich at a decent price, but not outstanding. I had the hot roast beef po' boy. Plenty of roll, but not so much meat and minimal gravy. And the meat was chopped and not sliced. Besides NOLA Grocery is not a restaurant . It's a sandwich shop. As the name says, it is a grocery, with 3 or 4 tables outside. I guess if you work in the area and are close friends with the owner it's a good choice.

                                1. re: speyerer

                                  I do work in the area but I would not say I am close friends with the owner. I met him after I ate there a few times and he knows me as a customer. There are tables inside as well, have you been inside? Are you trying to be rude for any reason in particular?

                                  1. re: speyerer

                                    The way you describe NOLA Grocery po boys is exactly how I like them. I'm going to have to look them up.

                                    1. re: texasredtop

                                      speyerer described the po-boy accurately " Plenty of roll, but not so much meat and minimal gravy." Not my idea of a good po-boy.

                                  2. re: mrsfury

                                    We had a crawfish poboy from Nola Grocery when I was working at a convention, and absolutely loved it. Also had the boudain balls which were good, but not as good as Cochon Butchers.

                                  3. Get in your car or rental car and head over to the Westbank and get off of Pontchartrain Hgwy at Barataria. Take a left. Watch for Sal's Seafood. Pull in. Order any boiled seafood they have available, some oysters, some crab dip, potato's, beers. If you want a slice of real life and soul and want to be "far away from tourists" and "into the grime" as you say then this is what you are really looking for. This is a fully functional seafood shack in all it's glory. Not fancy. Hardcore seafood shack with deli type carryout order area and a minimal dining room and bar with boiled seafood dumped out on newspapers. A newspaper review said "bare bones seafood gluttony." This is a slice of Louisiana you can't get in the Quarter or even really Uptown.

                                    1512 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, 504.341.8112

                                    Let us know where you end up. Enjoy.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: mcegielski

                                      I was just talking to a friend about the fact that you can’t get that type of thing anywhere Uptown. Maybe it’s too seasonal.

                                      1. re: shanefink

                                        Yeah, it sucks there's not a sit-down boiled seafood joint in town. Especially since there's one in every other town in Louisiana. Big Al's tried it, but I think that location was just snakebit. And the food wasn't as good as it is in Houma.

                                        1. re: mcegielski

                                          Love it! along those lines, I was thinking Harbor Seafood. I expect to have a few rides with a car on the way from my hosts.

                                          1. re: Jeffsayyes

                                            Harbor is good but Sal's is better and a better experience.

                                              1. re: kevin

                                                Kevin are you still in Florida? By the way I enjoy your blog.

                                        2. I too am headed to new Orleans but not till later in the year, Id be very interested to hear your thoughts on the recommendations that have been made once you've returned! Knowing where to go can make a trip that much more pleasurable.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Aussietraveller

                                            if you want the bomb boiled seafood raw oyster real experience head to sal's seafood on the west bank. barataria blvd. google it.