Perhaps I am biased, but I believe that Oak Street has become one of the tastiest main streets in New Orleans. I did live in the Carrollton neighborhood (right behind the Maple Leaf) for more than 12 years, and the sheer variety of dining options within walking distance became almost overwhelming. Best part? Almost all of the places on Oak are affordable and casual, meaning you can dine in your flip-flops and shorts or just get it to go without your meal making a major dent in your wallet.
Like Maple Street only a few blocks away, Oak Street is also the perfect place for all of the students returning to classes this month, and who needs affordable eats more than a starving college student? Y'all might want to pin this piece to your student hall’s bulletin board.
Starting at South Carrollton Avenue, the first stop is Pho Bistreaux. Located in the old Whitney National Bank building, this cool little corner eatery started offering well-executed Vietnamese food five years ago. Quality cuisine, excellent service, and great prices have kept this spot going strong. My personal favorites include their grilled shrimp and com (aka rice), the Bistreaux egg rolls that are wrapped and fried in rice paper (making them oh-so crispy), and their filet mignon pho.
About five years ago, the Oak St. Cafe transformed into the Live Oak Cafe, but it's still serving up breakfast and lunch every day (except Wednesday) as well as live music. Chefs and co-owners Clare Leavy and Helena Hjort offer a seasonal menu, featuring organic and locally sourced ingredients, with dishes like the Chow-Chow Grilled Cheese with jack, smoked ham, and Cajun chow chow (pepper relish) on multigrain bread and Summer Vacation Pancakes, topped with banana cream, strawberry-citrus syrup, Chantilly, and fresh strawberries.
Kitty-corner from the cafe is DTB or Down The Bayou, a newer addition to Oak Street from co-owner and chef Carl Shaubhut. Though DTB is definitely the most upscale option on the street, you can always order shared items (dubbed T-Plates) without breaking the bank. Try the fried cornbread with ham hock marmalade and goat cheese or LA1 Gumbo with Louisiana blue crab, collard greens, and crab fat potato salad. Though a full meal there would certainly go over budget, it's so good that when funds allow, you'll should be ready and willing.
Right next to DTB is Simone's Market. So much more than your average grocery store, Simone's focuses on fresh produce from local farmers and plenty of locally sourced products, from raw honey to Zapp's Potato Chips. Why not pick up lunch while you're on that much-needed trip to make groceries? In fact, why wait until that trip at all? The market's deli offers some fantastic snacks, sandwiches, and tacos like their Scotch egg with pork sage sausage, a rosemary roast beef with sharp cheddar and horseradish aioli on Wild Flour ciabatta, the Benton's BLT on sourdough, and grilled shrimp tacos with jalapeno buttermilk slaw.
Just a few doors down from Simone's is an outlet of the Atlanta-based pizza chain Mellow Mushroom. Open since spring of 2013, this hip pizzeria is open daily and offers a large menu, including their hefty build-your-own pizzas and specialties pies like the Kosmic Karma with feta, mozzarella, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. They also have huge hoagies like the Steak & Cheese with ribeye and provolone and their meatball hoagie with red sauce and melted mozzarella. The prices are extremely reasonable for the quantity of food you'll receive—it's more than likely you'll need a doggie bag.
On the next block, you'll discover Chiba, a cool spot for sushi that was opened more than six years ago by restaurateur Keith Dusko, who moved here from New Jersey. Though Chiba is open for lunch and dinner, their lunch specials offer the best bang for your buck. Like a bento box, the specials offer mains of chicken teriyaki or seared tuna tataki served with a California roll, shrimp tempura, and rice along with miso soup or a house salad. For less than $15, it's not a bad deal. They also offer a killer “Funk & Roll” happy hour from 4-6 p.m. when a lot of their sushi rolls and drinks are available at discounted prices.
Just a hop away, on the other side of the famous Maple Leaf (a live local music haven), is Jacques-Imo's. A favorite of the late, great Anthony Bourdain, Jacques-Imo's is a hugely popular dining spot that has been on Oak Street since 1996. The line is always out the door. Owned and operated by Jacques “Jack” Leonardi, this eatery is considered one of New Orleans’s quintessential dining destinations. Though all of the entrees soar above the $20 mark, you can still get a taste of some of their most popular dishes on the appetizer menu like the oft-talked about Shrimp & Alligator Cheesecake and Deep-Fried Roast Beef Po-Boy with gravy . . . that is, if you're willing to wait for it!
Three blocks down from Jacques-Imo's, towards the river, lies Breads on Oak, an incredible “artisan plant-based bakery and cafe” offering solely vegan eats. Owner and baker Sean O'Mahony is wowing even the non-vegan denizens of the Carrollton neighborhood with his aromatic multigrains, crusty Parisian baguettes, airy ciabattas, and buttery brioches. You can pop in for a breakfast of vegan pastries like croissants, muffins, and cakes or feast on drool-worthy sandwiches like the Friendly Pig with smoky tempeh and pickled jalapenos on sourdough or a vegan banh-mi with lemongrass chili tofu on a baguette. Breads on Oak is now open 7 days a week, so be sure to get over there soon!
Finally, at the farthest end of Oak Street, in a transformed gas station, is Cowbell, easily one of the city's best burger joints. Owner and chef Brack May, a Bay Area native, opened Cowbell way back in 2011, and people from all over can't seem to get enough. The restaurant's feature dish is their “Locally World Famous” grass-fed beef burgers on toasted potato rolls, served with hand cut fries, their own ketchup, and agogo sauce—but don't you dare stop there because there's so much more! Diners also swoon over their Riverbend Fries, topped with Poche's andouille and house-made pimento; carne asada tacos; signature mac 'n' cheese; and their baked-from-scratch apple pie, drizzled with crème anglais and caramel.