Another Wanker Year

2023 has been an awfully strange year for me with life stresses I never expected — aren’t they always unexpected? — especially the whole becoming a crone thing which is, as they say, another story. At least the food has been good . . . well, for the most part.

I know it’s going to make me insanely unpopular in my new home, but I have to tell you (like you don’t already know), in general, the food on the Westbank just doesn’t measure up. Since my move to the Point over two years ago, I have eaten all over this side of the river, from Algiers to Westwego and everything in-between, and though there are less than a handful of reputedly “excellent” spots I have yet to visit (ie. Mosca’s), when it comes right down to it, the Wank is just another suburb, one that can’t compete with the east side of the river.

While there’s a constant “battle,” raging between the regions, this revelation shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Growing up in the Bay Area, I always thought San Mateo had the best restaurants on the Peninsula, but when compared to the dining scene in San Francisco, there really was no contest. Major cities attract major minds in every industry, including hospitality. It’s just the way it is.

All of that being said, I have enjoyed some lovely meals on this side of the river. Most are the kind you can keep going back to again and again. The weekly, or bi-weekly go-to spots on your favorites list that never fail to blow the doors off of the fast-food mecca that is the suburbs. There are also a select few that’ll surely blow your skirt up, restaurants well-worth the long, arduous journey across the river.

With that less-than-stellar, but heartfelt introduction, I would like to celebrate the end of 2023 with a compilation of my top ten favorite spots on the Next-to-the-Best Bank of New Orleans.

Every Day Eats

Home Cooking Cafe
2104 Manhattan Blvd. Ste. E Harvey

It certainly doesn’t look like much, an oh-so common strip mall restaurant replete with drop ceiling tiles, thrift-store art, and limited seating, but the decor is not why I eat here. In an absurd and wonderful way, the owners at Home Cooking Cafe are true to their name with a cluster of comfort meals from all kinds of cuisines, a menu not unlike the typical dishes that rotate through your own home . . . that is, if you cook. They’ve got juicy meatloaf sandwiches served on New Orleans French bread and slathered in BBQ sauce; Almond Shrimp — like Chinese walnut shrimp — battered and fried Gulf shrimp smothered in a sweet/savory/creamy mayo and condensed milk sauce with crisp slivers of almond; chicken fried pork chops with a side of sausage gravy; and deep-fried bread pudding bites with caramel dipping sauce.

Chicken fried pork chop with white gravy at Home Cooking Cafe

Crawlins Seafood
506 Terry Parkway, Terrytown

Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the name either, but what’s really important is the food. Known primarily for their Viet-Cajun seafood boils, Crawlins offers a wide range of scrumptious crustaceans from shrimp, blue crab, and crawfish (when in season) to Dungeness, snow crab and lobster. Boil flavorings include Cajun, garlic butter, Viet Cajun garlic butter and parmesan butter. They also have po-boys, boiled seafood platters, and daily lunch specials like red beans and rice, and spaghetti and meatballs. Everything they offer is tasty and generally affordable. Also, it’s a mistake to skip out on their well-seasoned fries.

Garlic butter Gulf shrimp at Crawlins Seafood

DiMartino’s Famous New Orleans Muffulettas
3900 General De Gaulle Dr., New Orleans
1788 Carol Sue Ave., Terrytown
1673 Barataria Blvd., Marrero

With three locations on the Westbank (and one in Covington), DiMartino’s is a terrific option for muffulettas no matter what side of the river you happen to be on. It’s also my automatic go-to for po-boys, potato salad, and gumbo. Being one of the ubiquitous, New Orleans Italian eateries, DiMartino’s also offers a bunch of old-school favorites like meatball sandwiches loaded with red sauce, eggplant and veal parmigiana, and lasagna.

Muffuletta at DiMartino’s

Gyro Grill
5201 Lapalco Blvd., Marrero

Maybe it’s the Middle Eastern in me, but I love a good gyro and I finally found my favorite on this side of the Mississippi. Way over in Marrero, in an area that seems like the ass end of nowhere, there’s this amazing drive-thru gyro spot called Gyro Grill. Since this one exists, I ask myself, why the hell aren’t there more Middle Eastern drive-thrus? I would pass up any number of fast food joints for a drive-thru gyro, and I have several times, even though it’s 40 minutes round-trip. Though gyro are the #1 reason I drive out there, they offer so much more. Just think of every dish you love at any Mediterranean restaurant and you’ll find it at Gyro Grill; hummus, baba ganuj, pita, labneh, halloumi, kibbeh, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, kebab, shawarma, kafta and more. As I’ve already stated, I’m a huge fan of their gyro, I just wish it was closer.

Baba Ganuj at Gyro Grill

Hong Minh
2101 8th St., Harvey

Before the recent boom, good Chinese cuisine in New Orleans was hard to come by. I’ve bitched about it before, so I will spare you the details, but if living on the Westbank has brought me one great thing, it is good, inexpensive Chinese food. Located in an ancient strip mall next to a small, Vietnamese grocery store, Hong Minh is the kind of spot where laborers and police visit regularly, knowing they will get a good, substantial meal for less. I’ve visited countless times now and though I haven’t tried everything on the menu, I can heartily recommend their crispy pot stickers, salt and pepper pork, Peking duck, won ton soup, and eggplant with salt fish and chicken. I still want to try their deep fried flounder, fried udon, and . . . hell, I’ve got to make plans for lunch there next week. Go here, but not too much. If I can’t get a table when I visit, I’ll definitely be irritated.

Salt & Pepper Pork lunch special at Hong Minh

Pho Bang
932 Westbank Expy., Gretna

While I realize Pho Bang has locations all across the GNO, the one in Gretna will always be my favorite because it was my first. We are lucky to have an abundance of Vietnamese restaurants in New Orleans and I have tried so many, but Pho Bang has become one of my all-time favorites. This is pho (and eggrolls!) I would gladly travel for if I lived in the East, but I would have to journey to one suburb or another regardless of location (they have five), and until I discover otherwise, Gretna is the one for me. Not only is the food always excellent, the employees are super nice and all too patient with old white ladies like me.

Pho tai and egg rolls at Pho Bang

Toast Gretna
1711 Hancock St., Gretna

The inclusion of Cara and Evan Benson’s latest addition to their breakfast empire should come as no surprise. The food is consistently delicious, especially the bread, and a weekend hasn’t passed since it opened in May 2023 that the restaurant hasn’t been packed. I highly recommend anything on the menu, but on one of the last times we visited, we thoroughly enjoyed this mushroom and bacon toast with Mornay sauce (béchamel with Gruyère). The Benson’s have single-handedly elevated breakfast on the Westbank. Yep, I said that. Fight me.

Mushroom & Bacon Toast at Toast Gretna

Dough Nguyener’s Bakery
433 Lafayette St., Gretna

As you may or may not know, I wrote a rather scathing review of Dough Nguyener’s Cafe Sua Da king cake which came out before the new bakery/cafe was built. While I have no intention of backpedaling, this year I might be willing to give it another try. Why, you ask? Because the cafe is fantastic! From their shrimp toast and coconut sticky rice with Chinese sausage, to the Nguyener Nguyener Fried Chicken Dinner, this brand new Gretna bakery well worth a trip across the river. John and I love to grab some of their drive-thru donuts, or foot-long banh mi, and we have regular cravings for their pork and egg-filled banh bao.

Xoi – coconut sticky rice with Chinese sausage at Dough Nguyener’s Bakery

Better Than Your Average Fare

Plume Algiers
1113 Teche St.

We now have excellent Indian cuisine in New Orleans and Plume Algiers is one of the very best. Co-owners Tyler Stuart and Merritt Coscia have traveled all over India, regularly bringing back new tastes to Algiers, and we are oh-so fortunate to have them. They like to change up the menu seasonally (and on a whim!), but really, anything you get will be amazing to the nth degree. Their menu has been known to feature crisp-fried, spicy Keralan chicken with garlic and chili chutney; multi-textured banana chaat with coconut, yogurt and pomegranate; sea bean pakora; and sprouted mung bean salad. This is Indian food like you never tasted it before, an experience I consider fine dining, because it’s all about the food to me. Don’t expect white linen tablecloths, fine china, or tuxedoed servers, just expect an incredible, flavor-filled expedition, and Plume Algiers will deliver.

*Note: They recently returned from another trip to India so you can expect a whole new menu, and an expanded indoor dining space. Enjoy!

Banana Chaat at Plume Algiers

Appetite Repair Shop
400 Valette St.

Chef Pete Vazquez is a curmudgeon who single-handedly peddles four-bean cuisine to loyalists in the neighborhood (and beyond) from a too-small kitchen in Algiers Point. But putting aside the ARS aroma that settles into your clothes while waiting on your order, the lack of dining room, regular hours, and consistent menu, and the go-box presentation — a meal prepared by Pete will easily be one of the best you will ever experience no matter what side of the river you’re on. Just plan well, pick up dinner (and don’t you dare skip dessert), and you’ll see what I mean.

Crab salad on “butter little brioches” at Appetite Repair Shop

Happy New Year!

**Note: I didn’t mention sweet shops in this blog, but there are a few of those worth mentioning, too. Next time?

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