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 returing 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 bulletein board.
Starting at S. 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 rice or “com”, the Bistreaux egg rolls that are wrapped and fried in rice paper (making it oh-so crispy) and their filet mignon pho.
Just across Oak Street is Oak Wine Bar. Though it’s more a bar than a restaurant, there are some incredibly good eats to be had while sipping a cool chardonnay. Chef Via Fortier offers toothsome plates just perfect for snacking while taking in the scene, from steamed mussels with white wine and feta to Gulf shrimp tacos with house-made tortillas and sriracha crema. Also, I dare you to get an order of their fresh-cut French fries with aioli (the flavors vary with the chef’s mood) and not devour ever last crispy bit of spud. No plate on the menu exceeds $15 and they even offer desserts like blueberry hand pies with whipped lemon yogurt.
Right next door to Oak is another bar by the same proprietors dubbed Ale. The two bars/eateries share a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, but the libations and food offerings are quite different. Instead of wine, beer is the main focus at Ale (as you may have guessed) offering everything from local and national craft beers to a few brews from across the pond. Ale also features a great menu with snacks and “more than snacks” like fried Brussels sprouts, eggplant ravioli, Linkhouse bratwurst, and fried oyster tacos with guacamole and curtido.
About five years ago, the Oak St. Cafe transformed into the Live Oak Cafe, but it’s still serving up breakfast and lunch everyday (except Wednesday) and live music. Chef 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 a newer addition to Oak Street from co-owner and chef Carl Shaubhut called DTB or Down The Bayou. 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 perhaps when funds allow, you’ll 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. But, instead of making groceries (or during a much needed trip), why not pick up lunch while you’re at it? The market’s deli offers some fantastic snacks, sandwiches and tacos like their Scotch egg with pork sage sausage; rosemary roast beef with sharp cheddar and horseradish aioli on Wild Flour ciabatta; a 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 called Mellow Mushroom. Opened in spring of 2013, this hip pizzeria is open daily offering a large menu including their hefty pies, either build-your-own or specialties 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 or their meatball hoagie with red sauce and melted mozzarella. The prices are extremely reasonable for the quantity of food you’ll receive, as it’s more than likely you’ll need a doggie bag.
On the next block you’ll discover Chiba, a cool spot for sushi 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, rice and 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 4-6pm where a lot of their sushi rolls and drinks are offered at discount 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 that always has a line out the door. Owned and operated by Jacques “Jack” Leonardi, this eatery is considered one of New Orleans 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 multigrain, crusty Parisian baguettes, airy ciabatta and buttery brioche. 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.
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.
*Article originally published in the September 2018 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Pho Bistreaux is now located in Elmwood, and DTB, Simone’s, and Chiba are closed