WILDCARD

Shrimp Paste

Tan Dinh

1705 Lafayette St., (504) 361-8008

It sounds unusual on the menu, it looks even stranger on the plate. It’s shrimp paste ($12.99) molded around a fat plug of sugarcane and cooked to a golden crispy shell. The texture on its own is a little squishy, similar to a hotdog. But you don’t eat it on its own. Rather, cut off little pieces from the sugarcane and assemble it in fresh rice paper with purple basil, pickled carrot and radish and a wash of various hot and pungent sauces. The sugarcane imbues the shrimp paste with a roasted sweetness and soaks up some of the garlic and white pepper spice from the shrimp, which you can taste when you slurp some of the juice seeping from its fibers. In this way, the cane seasons as it skewers.

UPSCALE

Lamb Meatball Rigatoni

Root Squared

1800 Magazine St., (504) 309-7800; rootsquarednola.com

Climb the stairs from Square Root, the high-concept, tasting-menu-only restaurant from chef Phillip Lopez, and you’ll find Root Squared, a lounge and contemporary tavern where the bar menu has its own highly original style. That’s even the case with meatballs with pasta ($15), a dish that pulls no punches but still goes far beyond expectations for that particular combination. The meatballs — lamb with beef and also a touch of mergeuz (the Tunisian lamb sausage) — are dense, lean, somewhat spicy and very flavorful. The rigatoni noodles are tender, and a buttery-smooth paste of almonds and mint gives the meaty red sauce further character. Pecorino Romano is shaved into such fine, billowing flurries you might expect them to float away.

CASUAL

Crawfish Pie

Cajun Brothers Seafood & Poboys

236 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 488-7503

Though the name over the door is new, this corner seafood market and po-boy shop is familiar from its many years as Kjean Seafood. Boiled seafood is still the primary calling card, followed by po-boys. Then there are the seafood deli side items, including crawfish pies ($3). Small, snack-sized numbers, they disappear after a few bites in a crumble of flaky crust, a tumble of crawfish tails in a pepper sauce and the stretchy pull of a melted cheddar cap.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA