Banana Blossom Thai Café
2112 Belle Chasse Highway, Gretna
Small, casual and inexpensive, this café has a big payoff for lovers of traditional Thai food. The basics (tom yum soup, pad Thai, green curry) demonstrate that vibrant blend of spicy, sweet, soup and sharp flavors that can induce such strong cravings for traditional dishes. And, even at $10 or $12 a plate, beautiful presentations show the penchant of Thai chefs to gild the lily with artistic touches. The house specialties seal the deal, especially the garlic-crusted soft shell crab, clams entwined with spaghetti noodles and aromatic Thai fried rice tossed with fried chicken pieces.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $$
Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses)
1100 Stephens St., Gretna
A breed apart from the small, casual noodle shops and pho joints, this Vietnamese stalwart specializes more in banquet-style dishes intended to be shared. Start with spring rolls or a shared soup, then order one of the various beef dishes to cook on braziers at your table. The voluminous menu includes a chapter of Chinese-American dishes. These are OK, but there’s more gold in the hills of page after page of traditional Vietnamese dishes — the catfish hot pot garnished with tiny pork cracklin’; a chilled, spicy shrimp and pork salad with crunchy jellyfish; the bo tai chanh, a beef carpaccio sluiced with lime. The common threads are vivid freshness, traditional flavors and good value.
Lunch and dinner Thu.-Tue. $
4137 W. Highway 90, Westwego
You come to this 1940s-vintage Creole-Italian restaurant on the verge of exurbia for a short menu of dishes served family style — the chicken cacciatore, the platters of chicken a la grande, the casserole style oysters Mosca and some spaghetti and red sauce on the side. You drink decent red wine from rocks glasses. And you talk about the last time you were here or who you think would love to come here next. Some people arrive so dolled up they might be hitting the club after dinner while others could be going fishing, and on any given weekend there’s a limo parked by the SUVs in the gravel out front. It just adds to the mystique and personality of the place, two flavors that run almost as strong as the garlic. Bring cash.
Dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$
2020 Belle Chasse Highway, Gretna
The most ambitious restaurant on the West Bank pulls double duty with a menu that covers both the familiar turf of a first-class steakhouse and adds enough local seafood and other dishes to qualify as a Creole bistro. None of this is immediately evident from the outside, provided you can even spot the place. The restaurant’s shell could not be more bland. But this low profile outside actually accentuates the atmosphere inside, which envelops with smooth lines, intimate booths and a professional manner. Lunch is reliably busy with the courthouse crowd and politicos; dinner is more subdued and a good romantic choice.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$$
1512 Barataria Blvd., Marrero
Though it’s slotted into a slice of suburbia just off the elevated West Bank Expressway, in some ways it can feel like Cajun country begins at the threshold of this bare-bones, utterly satisfying seafood roadhouse. You line your own table with newspapers from stacks in the corner to set the stage for boiled seafood, and no one will look twice if you bring your own koozie to wrap up the cold canned beer washing it down. The fried seafood and pot cooking is good, and a deli counter in back has crawfish pies and quarts of étouffée to bring home.
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $
1705 Lafayette St.
Approaching 20 years in business, Tan Dinh straddles the divide between the fast, short menus of dedicated pho parlors and the deep, intricate rosters of dishes found at the larger Vietnamese restaurants. This gives the lively, bright, bustling cafe plenty of cross-over potential. Past the pho and banh mi, it’s a place to taste the Vietnamese approach to roasted quail, alligator simmered in coconut milk or goat curry. In particular, the garlic-crusted chicken wings, the Korean-style short ribs with crunchy rice cakes and the shrimp paste grilled on juice-seeping sugar cane skewers have become signatures that draw regulars from all parts of town to its door.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wed.-Mon. $$