Eat big on a little budget in one of America's tastiest cities.
The accessible, come as you are vibe of New Orleans is one of the many things that gives one of North America's most unusual cities such immense appeal. It can do formalities, okay, but it is not particularly fixated on them. You can eat all kinds of food here, some of it quite expensive, but eventually, you will discover that some of the most powerful memories come from some of its simplest dishes. A roast beef po-boy, fully dressed, flying and dripping everywhere as you scarf it down in the grubby dive bar that sold it to you. Waiting on line for sno-balls on a sweaty afternoon with friends, whiling away the half hour debating which flavor to go for. Your first really good bánh xèo, at one of the city's terrific Vietnamese restaurants.
That's the thing with food so good, so inextricably linked to a place, that it stays in your mind, nearly forever—for every po-boy, beignet, sno-ball, muffaletta and boudin link that you have ever loved, there will likely be a dozen people to tell you why their favorite is better. What is best, what is essential, here more than most cities, is often entirely personal. So, here is not necessarily the definitive list of the best cheap eats in New Orleans, but rather a highly-selective grab bag of some of the most delightful things that you should be eating right now, in one of America's greatest cities not only for food, but also just in general.
$10 Shrimp Po-boy at Guy's
Multiple fires, a truck crashing through the front door—nothing appears to be able to stop Marvin Matherne from getting behind the counter at this Magazine Street shack and making one of the best damn po-boy sandwiches in a city crawling with them. Go for shrimp—you can choose from either fried or grilled.
Guy's Po-Boys, 5259 Magazine St, 504-891-5025
$10.50 Fried bologna sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf
How can a relentlessly casual spot that serves a few sandwiches and a couple of other odds and ends be that good? Everyone seems to be asking the same question of one of the newest and hottest restaurants in town. Then they go, sink their teeth into this mad genius, stoner-riffic sandwich that's like a holy, white trash trinity—American cheese, good bologna, and potato chips—served on Texas toast-like bread. Typically, there are no further questions.
Turkey and the Wolf, 739 Jackson Ave, 504-218-7428
$10 Boudin plate at Shank
There are plenty of showboaters, grandstanders and drama queens in the New Orleans restaurant world, Kristopher Doll is not one of them, preferring instead, apparently, to simply hole up in his two year-old butcher shop and lunch counter and do very good work. You can eat there, if you like; the menu is limited, but he does breakfast, lunch and dinner—if you do not at least start by scarfing down a couple links of Doll's high quality boudin, don't bother coming home.
Shank Charcuterie, 2352 St. Claude Ave, 504-218-5281
$10 Chaat salad at Maypop
It still comes as a surprise to some visitors that New Orleans actually eats something other than the staple dishes that the city is famous for. Well, not only do they eat pretty much everything, they're pretty good at cooking it, too. Michael Gulotta's MOPHO fused classic Louisiana tradition with, well, classic Louisiana tradition—Vietnamese food is as New Orleans as gumbo—before he opened this sleek, South Asian-inspired bistro in the CBD's South Market District project; Gulotta's chaat salad pays homage to India's love of crunchy snacks, bringing together beautiful bibb lettuce, green tomato relish, a coconut and cucumber ranch dressing and a crisp bánh xèo, made with cashews. On a hot day, which is often, there's nothing quite so appropriate. This side of a sno-ball, anyway.
Maypop, 611 O'Keefe Ave, 504-518-6345
$8 Wonton soup at Pho Tau Bay
The après-Katrina deluge brought this Vietnamese restaurant mini-chain to its knees; today, they're down from four locations to one, but what's most important is that they're here, up on Tulane Avenue near the hospitals, practically underneath I-10, serving up steaming bowls of pho in a modern, counter-service setting. You could come in here and eat pretty much anything on the menu and go away satisfied, but there's something about the wonton soup—delicate pork and shrimp dumplings, slices of pork, plenty of fresh greens and all the usual accompaniments that come with soup in a Vietnamese restaurant—that makes local chefs and food fanatics get just a touch excited, and for good reason.
Pho Tau Bay, 1565 Tulane Ave, 504-368-9846
$8 Hot Muffaletta at Fete au Fete
Micah Martello's popular food truck has found a permanent home inside the gleaming St. Roch Market, a cheap eats destination in its own right, over on gritty St. Claude Avenue—Martello derives his inspiration from Louisiana tradition, but does not allow himself to be limited; one of his most popular dishes is, for example, a rather hilarious (and good) crawfish poutine. What you should absolutely try, however, is Martello's take on that classic New Orleans sandwich, the muffaletta, here pressed like a Cuban sandwich, with glorious results. If a quarter isn't enough, you can get the whole round for $20. (Go on. Do it.)
Fete au Fete, 2381 St. Claude Ave, 504-609-3813
$6 Breakfast Go Cups at Bywater Bakery
The portable adult beverage is as New Orleans as the adult beverage itself, but sometimes you need, say, breakfast, more than you need a frozen daiquiri. Enter this very popular new bakery, which does an assortment of portable edibles in what they refer to around here as "go cups." From a hot sausage, egg, biscuit and gravy cup to shrimp and grits or even a healthier tofu scramble, veggies and grits, you're covered.
Bywater Bakery, 3624 Dauphine St, 504-336-3336