At the corner of Tulane and Broad, you can get a box of chicken wings and a bottle of pills with one stop at Best Life, a pharmacy that doubles as a take-out eatery. Two blocks away, you can find boudin balls and a Chicago beef sandwich at a joint that’s called Fharmacy, but doesn’t dispense anything stronger than whiskey.
Such are the expanding options in what’s become one of the most diverse and peculiar corners of town for casual eats.
This is the section of Mid-City between the criminal courthouse and the new hospital complexes, which cover some 20 blocks and now form their own sort of medical/industrial faubourg.
Those hospitals are still ramping up, but their sheer scale has already thrown much of the surrounding area into flux. One change is a tide of small eateries drawn to their periphery, which are giving a once desolate stretch the feel of an anything-goes frontier for food.
Best Life (2657 Tulane Ave., 504-264-5100), which opened in 2013 in a former Popeyes, has two counters inside — one serving a small menu of inexpensive breakfast plates, wings and such, and one filling prescriptions.
Fharmacy (2540 Banks St., 504-324-6090) opened last summer in a narrow shotgun house that today feels a bit like a clubhouse. The young guys behind the diner counter greet everyone jovially while manning the grills, calling out a regular's drink order and bantering with each other in Vietnamese. They stack burgers and deli sandwiches, slice lemongrass chicken from a rotisserie for tacos and tend whatever traditional Southeast Asian dish they have as a special. Order the mussels and they pour Belgian ale direct from the beer taps over a bowl of shiny black shells before cooking it all down and piling on the ultra-crisp fries.
Fharmacy got some company directly across the street when Melt (2549 Banks St., 504-821-0102) opened last fall. It's a modern-looking bar and grill with deli sandwiches and grilled cheese, cheese fries, fried cheese curds that break into long, stretchy strands and a stand-alone bar that's starting to draw a happy hour crowd (Mon.-Fri., 3-7 p.m.).
Melt is in fact the second grilled cheese specialist to set up shop here. Two blocks away there’s the original location of the Big Cheezy (422 S. Broad St., 504-302-2598), with a triple-decker sandwich oozing a blend of six cheeses, tomato basil soup for dipping and Buffalo chicken waffle fries on the menu.
This neighborhood has long maintained a clutch of convenience store delis and markets, including Ideal Market (250 S. Broad St., 504-822-8861), a busy Latin grocery with an extensive hot lunch counter. Now though, the new additions are bringing a much expanded range of flavors.
The latest example is Marjie’s Grill (320 S. Broad St., 504-603-2234), which opened around Christmastime at an address that has seen a succession of Latin American joints over the years. The style feels DIY casual and the menu is distinctive — Southeast Asian-inspired but not traditional and centered around a profusion of grilled and coal-roasted meats and vegetables. Go for lunch and there’s a meat-and-three format, while at dinner an entrée of succulent, lightly aromatic pork belly came with a small garden worth of greens and herbs to fold into fresh wraps.
Around the corner on Tulane Avenue, there’s a new Middle Eastern restaurant called Jerusalem Café (2132 Tulane Ave., 504-509-7729) right next to the old-school diner Anita’s Grill (2122 Tulane Ave., 504-523-1542), long an anchor here. Between the usual shawarma and falafel, I got to know a new-to-me dish at Jerusalem Cafe called kallaya, a garlicky sauté of tomatoes and herbs that tasted something like a lighter shakshuka and was hemmed in by excellent hummus.
The newcomers are joining a restaurant cluster that has been slowly growing for years as the hospitals took shape. Avery’s on Tulane (2510 Tulane Ave., 504-821-4110) is just 4 years old but has the character of a vintage po-boy joint, with the roast beef and gumbo to back it up.
And don’t forget Mr. Everything Café (400 S. Broad St., 504-218-4990), which after all has a pretty unforgettable name. It’s been here since 2011 serving some unusual specialties, like takeout box stir-fries laden with yellow rice, several cheeses, mixed greens, broccoli and sliced gyro meat.
There’s even a new bar called Sidebar (611 S. White St., 504-324-3838), which sits by the flank of the courthouse. Wouldn’t you just expect a New Orleans courthouse to have a bar nearby? This one looks the part, with the décor of a judge’s chamber and a bartender with the off-the-record decorum required of a spot where prosecutors and defense attorneys both might frequent. There’s a small menu of sandwiches and snacks inside, and often a whiff of cigar smoke around a pair of easy chairs set up outside.
New spots have emerged farther up Tulane Avenue. Los Catrachos serves Honduran fare a few blocks away. The bars Three Palms (3813 Tulane Ave., 504-459-4474) and Treo (3835 Tulane Ave., 504-304-4878) — home to the modern Italian eatery Tana — the Vietnamese restaurant Namese (4077 Tulane Ave., 504-483-8899) and even a specialty beer shop, 504 Craft Beer Reserve (3939 Tulane Ave., 504-875-3723), all form their own hub at the far end of Tulane Avenue.
More is on the way closer to the hospitals. The Ruby Slipper Cafe plans to turn a large, long-vacant union hall at 315 S. Broad St. into a new breakfast and lunch spot later this year. And the burger joint Dis & Dem, which was earlier in Fharmacy’s address, plans to reopen in another shotgun house at 2549 Banks St.
Some well-known brands are moving in to this turf, too. A Waffle House (2500 Canal St., 504-827-5960) opened next to the VA hospital, and there’s a CC’s Coffee House (2323 Canal St., 504-218-4644) across the street, complete with drive-thru.
Mostly though, what the gigantic new hospital complexes have drawn are small joints with the hands-on feel and personality of independent eateries. In a part of town where the future still feels up for grabs, that’s a pretty solid first ingredient.
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