Heading to New Orleans soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat in the area? Whether you’re looking for some jerk wings or an incredible pork belly sandwich, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.
Bourree at Boucherie
1510 S Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118
This review of Bourree at Boucherie originally appeared Oct. 19, 2015.
When I realized I was booked to spend three hours in the Atlanta airport Friday en route to Baton Rouge (via New Orleans, because flights into Baton Rouge are outrageously priced on LSU home game weekends), I resolved to fire my travel agent*. But when I landed in Atlanta, I noticed another New Orleans flight was taking off in 45 minutes. The standby gods smiled upon me, and I was on the plane. Of course, I also had a broken phone and a Genius Bar appointment that could not be moved to an earlier time. That meant I had four hours to kill. In the early afternoon. In New Orleans. SI was going to buy a very good lunch.
*My travel agent is me.
One of my favorite places in New Orleans is Cochon Butcher, which I'll get to in more detail later in this post. This is not to be confused with Cochon, chef Donald Link’s upscale celebration of the pig. Cochon and Butcher share a wall and a driving force, but the lower priced, laid back Butcher offers the superior dining experience. This idea of a lower-priced, casual restaurant attached to an established eatery has become a trend in New Orleans, and for that I am grateful. I chafe at the term “foodie,” because it connotes a certain pretension that I lack when stuffing my face. I just like to eat. I also like a deal, which is why the downscale spots appeal to me. With that in mind, I set out for Bourree at Boucherie. Boucherie is a well reviewed, highly regarded spot that fuses flavors from Louisiana and the deeper Deep South. North Carolina native Nathanial Zimet runs the place. At some point, Zimet and partner James Denio decided they wanted to open a place that serves wings and daiquiris. Bourree was born of this noble ambition. Wings cry out for libation, and fresh-fruit daiquiris can slake a thirst enhanced by jerk sauce.
On my visit, I ordered those jerk wings. I also ordered the mango barbecue wings, the Kim-Chi and lemongrass wings, the fries and the pork cracklins. Those who frequent truck stops probably know that last item better as pork rinds, but these are not the stale husks available at the Flying J. These tasted like they came off a pig smoked that day, and after a small bite, I set them aside to snack on while driving to Baton Rouge. I had come for wings. Alas, because I was driving, I did not come for daiquiris.*
*I did, however, have a small taste of the Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, which is not the sugar-and-grain-alcohol swill you drank at the college bar with all the slushee machines on the wall. This one mixed passion fruit, Earl Grey tea, simple syrup (sugar) and lemon with quality rum.
We'll start with the fries, because you'll get them first and you'll finish them before your wings arrive. They're fresh cut. They're not too big. They're not too small. (Think McDonald's in terms of surface area-to-volume ratio, but cut hours earlier instead of months.) They are covered with a Cajun seasoning that will make you want to stuff great, heaping handfuls in your mouth. Do not fill up on fries, even if that feels like an unreasonable request.=
If prioritizing, skip the mango barbecue—which cools the palate but is the least adventurous of the trio—and order just the jerk and the Kim-Chi with lemongrass. The jerk sauce explodes on the tongue thanks to peppers (presumably Scotchbonnet) and sugar. That spicy-sweet combo is ideal for developing a thirst for daiquiris or beer, but it still finished second to the sweet-sour combo of the Kim-Chi wings. The wings at Bourree are smoked and then finished in the fryer, and the smoke adds even more complexity to tiny chicken parts that most places are content to deep fry, dunk in sauce and serve.
Were I a local, I can imagine dropping in on Bourree early on a Friday afternoon and then washing down wings and fries with beer or Hurricane Carters while watching the people pass by on Carrollton Avenue until the sun sank beneath the horizon. Then the weekend would truly be ready to begin.
930 Tchoupitoulas St, SUITE B, New Orleans, LA 70130
This review of Cochon Butcher originally appeared March 30, 2012.
It was New Year’s Eve 2009. I had just landed in NOLA, and I needed to find a place to eat. I checked Urbanspoon, but in a city as gastronomically dense as this one, a list of hotspots only complicates matters more.
So I decided to follow my nose.
I wandered around the Warehouse District reading menus in windows, but nothing struck me. Then I smelled something. The odors of roasting pork and toasting bread formed a cloud that grabbed me by the nostrils and yanked me into Cochon Butcher. The woman behind the counter recommended the pork belly sandwich, and then she mixed me an Old Fashioned. I finished off the meal with a peanut butter and jelly cookie. From that moment, I was hooked.
I’ve probably been back a dozen times since. That sandwich remains my favorite thing between two slices of bread. Some places might double down on the decadence, but a meat as heavy and rich as Butcher’s crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pork belly requires accompaniment that lightens the mood. The cucumber and the mint do just that. Want to go heavy again? Get the pancetta macaroni and cheese.
Because the pork belly sandwich is always on the menu, it doesn’t feel like cheating to order the special every once in a while. The best of these—if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re making it—is the pit ham and debris sandwich. This is less greasy take on a New Orleans classic, and after one, you’ll never wait in line at Mother’s again.
When I want to take someone to lunch in New Orleans and look like an insider, I take them to Butcher. Its next-door big brother, Cochon, gets more publicity, but Butcher—also home to the late-night Swine Bar—feels like a secret spot even though anyone with a working nose can find it.
701 Mazant St, New Orleans, LA 70117
This review of The Joint originally appeared April 4, 2012.
Even Tom Robbins would admire the way I ate my way through NOLA to keep the leg-humping hunger beast at bay. While covering the Final Four, I’ve consumed Po’ Boys, gumbo, boudin, rabbit, lamb, alligator and the porcine delicacy the French call cochon de lait. But those who have followed this little endeavor for any length of time know that no matter how delicious a city’s local cuisine, I always want to know how that town treats my first and true love.
So Tuesday, after all the confetti had been swept from the floor at the Superdome, I walked east from Canal Street on Chartres, and I kept walking. Under a cloudless sky, the wrought iron of the French Quarter gave way to the Technicolor paintjobs of the Marigny. After another few minutes, houses gave way to the warehouses and scrapyards of the Bywater. The tourists faded away, and then most of the locals faded away, too. In the Bywater, the only sounds came from the birds. Even a tanker moored on the river seemed frozen, another element in a still life tribute to the innards of the city.
After two and a half miles, I turned left on Mazant Street and saw the plume of smoke. The surrounding streets may have been deserted, but The Joint throbbed with the sound of a four-plays-for-a-dollar jukebox late in the lunch hour. Diners packed the bar, the dining room and the patio. The brisket and the sausage were already sold out, but no one seemed to mind. Probably because they were eating the ribs.
The Joint is the second barbecue restaurant I’ve come across that answers The Eternal Question on its menu. (The other is Elmer’s in Tulsa, Okla.) What is The Eternal Question? It was originally posed by Chris Rock in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.”
How much for one rib?
On this day, one rib was $2.05. I attempted to add two individual ribs to my two-meat (ribs and pork) combo, but the cashier was kind enough to quickly do the math for me and determine that a three-meat combo (pork and double ribs) would save me a couple bucks. My savings joined what I had originally intended to tip, because that kind of customer service—and mathematic competency—should be commended at all times. Besides, I should have hugged the cashier for working at a place that makes thick, juicy ribs rubbed so expertly as to render sauce an unnecessary distraction.
The pulled pork, baked beans and mac and cheese held up well, too. The NOLA residents I dined with on my trip had warned me that the city didn’t take barbecue as seriously as towns in the Deep South and Texas, but that wasn’t true. The Joint would have a line out the door in those places.
That makes sense. If I learned anything while clogging my arteries these past few days, it’s that almost everyone who dares hang a shingle and serve food in this Crock Pot of a city cooks with a fierce civic pride. The people tending the pit at The Joint care just as deeply about serving a good meal as the staffs at Commander’s Palace or Jacques-Imo’s.
This is one of the more impressive attributes of a city that has been through hell and continues to rebuild itself. So many people care about it so much. In the culinary community, they act as if serving a bad meal would dishonor New Orleans. So they pour their souls into every dish.
They should be proud. The city may have lost her innocence a long time ago, but her gustatory virtue remains intact.
600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117
This review of Bacchanal originally appeared Feb. 4, 2013.
The sun started its descent as the cab rolled alongside the Mississippi River through the Marigny and into the Bywater. A soft breeze kissed us as we stepped out onto the sidewalk on Poland Ave. The early-April evening was perfect, but when we saw the peeling paint and the sagging wood, we had to wonder.
For all the breathless promises of a one-of-a-kind dining experience, Bacchanal didn’t look like much. A modest house long past its prime—if it ever had a prime to begin with. Then we stepped into the backyard and understood.
Christmas lights hung from the trees. Tables and chairs purchased at long-ago Blue Light Specials covered the yard. Flowers bloomed. A jazz band played in the corner. Wine and beer bottles swam in buckets of melting ice. The smells of roasting pork and grilling steak floated from the house. People drank and laughed and flitted from table to table like long-lost neighbors. We had come expecting a restaurant. What we found was a backyard cookout elevated to its highest form.
The Bacchanal experience begins inside that ramshackle house. There is beer and soda in the coolers on the left, but head for the wine racks. Whites and reds of every varietal are available at retail price—plus a $3 corkage fee. I grabbed a bottle of pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, filled my bucket with ice and headed to the backyard. Then I headed to the window to order the food.
In the French Quarter, the pork shoulder chop I ordered would run about $25. At Bacchanal, it cost $12. It arrived juicy and smoky and succulent. I loved it, but I couldn’t help ogling the dish some of my fellow diners had ordered—flank steak with fingerling potatoes, whipped feta, duck fat and strawberries. Fortunately, I’m a man of large appetites, and the steak was a mere $14.
The food came on paper plates. We ate it with plastic utensils. No one complained. Cook a dish perfectly, and you render china, flatware and ostentatious presentation utterly unnecessary. Pack a backyard with food, jazz, fascinating people and potential new friends, and a run-down property can turn into a wonderland.