Many an American city would elect itself America’s sandwich capital. Sure, Philadelphia, New York or Chicago all have their merits. But it’s hard to argue that New Orleans is in a league of its own. And while we hope you’re well-acquainted with the po’boy—a genre encompassing all manner of superior sandwiches—the roast beef po’boy is worth particular attention.
“It’s completely surprising,” says Pableaux Johnson, a New Orleans–based food and travel writer and photographer. “We have one of the last great working-class seafood cultures in America. You can get affordable shrimp and oyster po’boys here, and they’re worth obsessing over. But the roast beef po’boy is really something special.”
Banish any thoughts of pink-middled cold cuts. In po’boy language, roast beef means meat that has been slowly braised in a rich, garlic-studded gravy, until “it falls apart when you look at it right,” Johnson says.
The filling. A dry roast beef po’boy should be ashamed of itself. “As it’s done in New Orleans, the sandwich isn’t really about the beef, although it’s awesome,” says Johnson. “It’s about the gravy.” Order a po’boy “dressed” and it arrives with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and pickles—allowing the gravy and the mayo, in particular, to fuse into a single drippy, creamy, meat-happy sauce.
“When done right, it’s a 12-napkin sandwich,” Johnson says. “It’s not prim and proper. If you want to drive a particularly fastidious person crazy, sit ’em down in front of a sloppy roast beef po’boy and watch what happens.”
The bread. For a po’boy, bread choice is indisputable: the trademark long, lightly crusty rolls. “It’s not a traditional baguette,” Johnson says, “It has a pillowy crumb that works particularly well with the filling.”
Where to get it:
R & O’s; Metairie, LA. It’s primarily a seafood shack and pizza spot, far outside the city center, in the suburb of Metairie. And yet Pableaux Johnson swears R & O’s has the best roast beef po’boy in town. “Because they started out as a pizzeria, they run it under the broiler—it adds an additional layer of caramelization, it’s a little less sloppy, and then they dress it afterward. They do 25 po’boys but this is the best one.”
Parkway Bakery & Tavern; New Orleans. If Metairie’s a little far out, consider the Parkway Tavern, a Mid-City spot of such repute that the president stops by when he’s in town. The cheerful bar setting and strong Abita selection are reasons enough to visit, but the masterful po’boys are another.
Parasol’s; Tracey’s; New Orleans. Irish Channel bar Parasol’s had long reigned as one of the city’s favorite po’boy destinations. Then the bar was sold, a new couple took over, Parasol’s longtime operators moved around the corner—and an unofficial rivalry took hold. Both make excellent roast beef po’boys, but Johnson’s suggestion? “See what the fuss is about. Go with a friend to Parasol’s, split a po’boy, walk a few steps to Tracey’s and do the same."