OUT-OF-THE-WAY EATS IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
What seems like ages ago, I found myself lunching inside a miniscule, dark restaurant near the corner of 6th & Mission in San Francisco, feeling a bit nervous seeing as it was not only a blind date, but smack in the middle of the Tenderloin. The restaurant featured three sticky two-tops in the dingy, cement-fl oored space, servers and cooks that couldn't speak English, and windows so thick with grime, you couldn't tell if it was day or night once inside. As it turned out, this scary little hole-in-the-wall located in the most crime-ridden part of the city just happened to have the most delicious Vietnamese cuisine I have ever tasted in the Bay Area.
The date was a fl op; as I recall, we didn't have anything in common and I already was feeling a bit jealous because no one could love this guy more than he did himself.
But, because of this random encounter, I found an incredible restaurant that was defi nitely "off the beaten track" and one I would have never ventured to try if it hadn't been for that incredibly narcissistic guy.
In New Orleans, I have found that many visitors, like those that come from all around for celebrations like French Quarter Festival, have a tendency to dine in extremely well-known restaurants that have been recognized for years, if not centuries, which preen under the constant attention and sometimes let quality slip and allow their popularity to glide on nostalgia and atmosphere. It's unfortunate, because unwary diners never realize what kind of treat they might encounter at the back of a darkened bar or a seldom-trod street in the Vieux Carre.
One such place which is fairly new to the scene is located in the back of the already tiny Erin Rose Bar on Conti Street, only two blocks from Rampart. Killer Po-Boys is a pop-up restaurant that offers unique po-boys that you just can't fi nd anywhere else in the city. The owners, Cam Bordeaux and April Bellow, both worked in the kitchens of fi ne dining restaurants before they decided to open their own little slice of po-boy heaven. How about a Guinness & Garlic Braised Beef Po-Boy with horseradish aioli and pickled onions, or Coriander Lime Gulf Shrimp with marinated radish, carrot and cucumber? You might even have enough cash leftover for a drink at the bar.
Although it's technically in the Marigold, Buffa's Lounge on the corner of Burgundy and Esplanade Avenue is one not normally talked about as a hot spot to dine, but you'd be surprised what this old-school, art deco bar with neon lights has to offer. Like any great New Orleans bar, Buffa's features live music from local jazz bands, like Some Like it Hot and The Royal Rounders, and they serve plenty of the usual bar fare, like onion rings and cheeseburgers, but it's the differences that really stand out. Step out of your comfort zone and try their Veggie Burger made from a spicy black bean patty and topped with fresh tomato, spinach and Creole mustard, or sink your teeth into a juicy Johnsonville Brat that has been soaked in beer and grilled with onion and sauerkraut.
Although it's frequently packed, especially after 10pm, Angeli on Decatur is one of those restaurants that everyone really enjoys but rarely talks about. Located on the corner of Decatur (obviously) and Governor Nicholls Street, Angeli is a great, late-night dive that offers tasty Italian/ Mediterranean-style food like Spinach & Feta Triangles, hummus served with pita bread, and specialty pizzas. Try their Divine Portabella with grilled chicken and spinach in a roasted red pepper cream sauce, or their "Mystical" pizza with garlic-herb sauce, mozzarella and feta cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, roasted red peppers and crispy bacon. Plus, their small, personal-sized 10-inch pizzas will set you back less than 12 bucks.
Finally, tucked away on Dumaine Street across from a popular sex shop dubbed Hot Chocolate, is a humble little spot called Meltdown Popsicles. On sultry, sweaty afternoons in the French Quarter, nothing could be fi ner than an icy cool, gourmet popsicle from this fairly new but already favorite local dessert vendor. Opened in the summer of 2009, Meltdown offers 100% natural ice pops that are handmade and incredibly irresistible. This tiny establishment, though oft overlooked by tourists and locals alike, has already received national recognition for its original, delicious pops with fl avors like grapefruit lavender, chocolate coconut curry, satsuma cardamom, and Vietnamese coffee.