Each year, our Essential 100 dining guides takes the measure of New Orleans restaurants, showcasing the homegrown flavors, new influences, rejuvenation and continuity that makes dining out in this city so fulfilling.

Lists like the one below break down the 100 picks in the overall guide to more specific recommendations I often field.

You can find more here, and the complete Essential 100 here.


Best bang for the buck (everyday bargains)

figs falafel.jpg

Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - The Mid-City eatery 1000 Figs finishes its falafel sandwiches with crunchy carrots and beets and garlicky green sauce.

1000 Figs

3141 Ponce de Leon St., (504) 301-0848

Why: Dazzlingly fresh Mediterranean food on a budget

Say this restaurant’s name and I don’t think about figs. I think about falafel, and immediately, I crave the fresh and pickled garnishes and palette of garlicky sauces, smooth dips, crusty bread and earthy spice that accompanies a platter of it here. This tiny, adorable, utterly modern eatery carries a fresh, small-batch aesthetic across its menu of kebabs, sandwiches, fries and salads. See also its related hummus stand and deli in the CBD’s Pythian Market. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $


banhside

A non-traditional banh mi, top, made with beef and a more traditional version made with pork, bottom, at Banh Mi Boys.

Banh Mi Boys

5001 Airline Drive, Metairie, (504) 510-5360

Why: Flavorful, creative, cheap and fast

Picture the moxie to mix a roast beef po-boy with banh mi using Vietnamese ko bho stew as the bridge and you have the spirit of this deeply delicious sandwich shop. From a walk-up counter next to his parent’s Texaco station, Peter Nguyen slings banh mi filled with Korean bulgogi beef, Japanese chicken katsu and Chinese char siu barbecue pork, along with conventional po-boys and exuberant cheese fries topped with oyster Rockefeller sauce or sizzling Vietnamese style steak and eggs. Lunch and early dinner (till 8 p.m.) Mon.-Sat. $


dunbars red beans2.jpg

Red beans and rice with fried chicken is a mainstay at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine.

Dunbar’s Creole Cafe

7834 Earhart Blvd., (504) 509-6287

Why: Bargain breakfasts and full-meal specials under $10

Like Barrow’s just up the road, Dunbar’s is the return of a beloved restaurant of pre-Katrina vintage. At its new spot, opened in 2017, Celestine Dunbar and her family serve up a connection not just to a piece of the city’s past but their own particular take on Creole flavor, one with roots in black family cooking of the River Parishes transported to the city. You can taste it in the gumbo, its thin roux teeming with many meats and essence of seafood, and in the generous platters of smothered okra with catfish, smothered cabbage and greens with turkey necks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun. $


NO.smallmart.epl.121218.10

The chaat bowl is a mix of pakoras and samosas under chutney at Small Mart, a store and eatery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

Small Mart

1303 Decatur St., no phone

Why: Vegan lunches on the go, fulfilling and affordable

Think small and some good things can happen, especially in the French Quarter, desperately in need of more owner-operator spots aimed at the locals. This take-out deli is a vital pit stop for quick, inexpensive street food, with a menu of mostly vegan dishes, daily curries and crispy pakoras packed into crusty po-boy loaves or smothered in chutney. The shop isn’t fully vegan. Its bagel bar is as close to the New York standard as New Orleans gets (lox is the only meat). Coffee is always just a dollar, and there’s local kombucha on tap. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $



Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.