Best Kept Secrets for Eating Cheap and Eating Well in the Quarter
New Orleans is known for its food and the French Quarter, in particular, has long been home to many of the city’s finest and most high-end eateries. You can expect to experience quintessential New Orleans fare at places like Antoines, Brennan’s, Galatoire’s and others, and every trip to the city should include visits to these and like emporiums of great dining. But when you just want a quick, inexpensive meal – maybe one with a little local color thrown in for good measure – try eating where the natives eat. Follow the Quarter workers, the service industry folks, the bartenders and waitresses, to places where good eating can be cheap eating.
Some spots are open 24 hours, some deliver. Some are at their best in the middle of the night. For our purposes, “cheap” is defined as breakfast for $6 or less, lunch or dinner for around $10 a person, or less.
You won’t find haute cuisine or, for that matter, haute society either, at places like the Quartermaster Deli or Deja Vu. You will find New Orleans culture out the wazoo, soulful and satisfying sustenance and a few more reasons, as if you needed any, to eat out in the Big Easy.
Verti Marte – 1201 Royal, (504) 525-4767. Open 7 days a week, 24 hours. Like Quartermaster a couple blocks away, Verti Marte is strictly a to-go operation, serving a heavily local clientele and offering a surprisingly extensive menu of breakfast specialties, sandwiches and poboys, entrees, even desserts. Quarter workers stop in for fried shrimp poboys, BLT’s, Verti Marte’s Philly Cheese Steak; vegetarians love the Mushroom Mountain – grilled fresh mushrooms, capped in Swiss or Provolone. Delivery available. Alert: Watch your step as you walk in the door; the uneven old floor has taken a beating over the years
Coop’s Place – 1109 Decatur, (504) 525-9053.
Tourists wander into Coop’s but locals are the mainstay of this raucous and schizo bar/restaurant close to the French Market. Loud and lively, it’s the kind of place you’d probably expect to offer a limited menu, maybe fried cheese sticks and out-of-a-freezer-bag buffalo wings, because it could get away with that. Instead, expect appetizers like marinated lamb ribs and a delicious smoked duck quesadilla, a complex flavor surprise made even better with Coop’s outstanding house-made salsa. Coop’s takes its food as seriously as its mixology, with mostly good results. Gumbo’s pretty tasty, red beans and rice, too. You’d be hard-pressed to find better fried chicken anywhere in town; served with the creamy, house-made cole slaw, it’s a plate of pure plump-you-up pleasure. Regulars rave about the rabbit and sausage jambalaya, especially when made ‘Supreme’ with the addition of spicy tasso ham and shrimp. Alert: The place gets crazy busy; don’t expect the staff to make nice and be prepared to flag down a server for a menu or a refill. Relax, enjoy the very New Orleans ambiance, and pet Ozzy Osbourne, Coop’s sweet-natured bulldog who’s usually hanging close to the bar.
Deja Vu – 400 Dauphine St. (504) 523-1931. This 24 hour full service restaurant and bar in the French Quarter is always available and ready to accommodate. You will find a wide variety of options on the menu ranging from traditional New Orleans fare to down home comfort food and all under $16.00. With prices like this, go ahead and order that second round of drinks. Déjà vu serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long and is available for dine-in, carry out or delivery.
Quartermaster Deli – 1100 Bourbon St, (504) 529-1416.
Open 7 days a week, 24 hours. Space is cramped because so much is packed into a tiny footprint – groceries, liquor, sundries and the focal point, the old-style deli case crammed with goodness, bowls and bowls of made-in-house sides, veggies and more. Don’t expect to eat there – there are no tables and there’s no room – but you can order at the deli case, or call your order in ahead of time for pick-up and there’s free delivery. You don’t even have to leave your hotel room. The Quartermaster cooks serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner, late-night munchies, and even offer two specials a day — which seem almost superfluous considering the comprehensive menu in this teensy space. Among the favorites: home-made mac and cheese, 1/2 pound choice burgers, over-stuffed poboys (especially the roast beef and the hot sausage), entrees like barbecue chicken, New Orleans meatloaf and hamburger steak. Good food, friendly staff, local color and great prices. Alerts: Quartermaster is cash only and playfully calls itself “the nelly deli.”
Café Maspero – 601 Decatur (504) 523-6250. If it’s classic New Orleans fare you are looking for with a price that won’t blow your entire travel budget, this is the place for you. With a wide variety of seafood platters, crawfish when in season, muffalettas and traditional po-boys all tastes are sure to be satisfied. And did we mention perfect location? Café Maspero is right in the middle of all of the French Quarter action near the river and Jackson Square. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday in a open and friendly atmosphere. Know before you go: Café Maspero is a cash only restaurant so prepare accordingly.
Lucky Dog – Various street corners in the Quarter. We couldn’t wrap this up without throwing Lucky Dog out for your consideration. The popular hot dogs and iconic weenie-in-bun-shaped carts have been part of the late-night Quarter scene for years; the company website claims more than 21 million hot dogs have been sold in the past half-century. Lucky Dog makes a pretty good weenie, perfect for slowing your roll when you’ve had one too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s. Alert: You might be tempted to go for two if you’ve been drinking.
In New Orleans, “lagniappe” (pronounced lan-yap) means “something extra,” and that’s what we’re giving here: a few more places to eat for less, in and outside the Quarter: Central Grocery, 923 Decatur, known as the birthplace of the muffuletta, a large Italian-inspired sandwich featuring ham, salami, provolone and garlicky olive salad on crusty, seeded bread (still authentic New Orleans despite having been discovered long ago by tourists); Café Remoulade, 309 Bourbon, is the casual outpost for the more upscale Arnaud’s and a good place to sample Creole flavor; Praline Connection, 542 Frenchmen, on the edge of the Quarter, for Creole soul food and friendly service; and Cake Cafe, 2440 Chartres in the nearby Marigny, for delicious, inventive breakfast and lunch fare featuring house-made breads, bagels and signature cupcakes.
Veteran food/travel journalist Renee Kientz is a New Orleans native.