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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Blue Oak BBQ opened in the former home of Fellini's in Mid-City.

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.

Dining with a Group

Blue Oak BBQ

900 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 822-2583

Why: Long tables for indoor/outdoor barbecue picnics

What started as a pop-up has since established itself as a barbecue destination in a city long calling out for more. Ribs, brisket and pulled pork that are by turns tender and crusty, and always smoky, lay the foundation for a playground of meat. Fun vibes run through the covered patio (great for game days), the bar with its generous food happy hour (and killer daiquiris) and the menu, home to cool ranch cracklin’ and the best smoked wings in town. Lunch and dinner Tue-Sun. $$


Steve Sones, a waiter at Charlie's Steak House since its post-Katrina return, whisks a tray of steaks past a portrait of the late Dottye Bennett, a longtime waitress here.

Charlie’s Steakhouse

4510 Dryades St., (504) 895-9323

Why: The second floor is custom cut for group steak outings

The truth is, Charlie’s wouldn’t make the list of fine steakhouses in many other cities. It’s too casual, the steaks not high enough on the pedigree ladder. But add the context of Charlie’s itself, with its history, its quirks and character, the good feelings so well practiced by regulars and staff, and in New Orleans, it is golden. It’s the exuberance and indulgence of steak, with the overlay of every-man-a-king access that we appreciate in this town. Thank goodness enough still do. Dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$


The specialty Chinese menu at China Rose starts with crisp pot stickers.

China Rose

3501 N. Arnoult St., Metairie, (504) 887-3295

Why: Get a round table and explore the traditional Szechaun menu together

If what you really want is a bargain order of General Tso’s chicken and fried rice, China Rose has your back. Ask for the “Chinese” menu, however, and you can take a much deeper dive into traditional Szechuan flavors in all its hearty, often spicy glory. Tables fill with platters of garlic-strewn greens, hunks of glistening pork belly, pot stickers bursting with juice and multi-pepper hot pots of beef or fish and shredded duck. Lunch and dinner daily. $

West Bank: New Orleans Advocate spring 2015 dining guide _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Shrimp paste on sugar cane skewers at Tan Dinh.

Tan Dinh

1705 Lafayette St., Gretna, (504) 361-8008

Why: The Vietnamese cuisine invites sharing, and this dining room makes combining tables easy

Chef Maria Vu’s kitchen marries the staples of a dedicated pho parlor to a deep, intricate roster of specialty dishes that always gives something new. Southeast Asian curried goat or stir-fried rabbit with cashews and herbs duel for space on my table with Korean-style short ribs, shrimp paste grilled on sugar cane skewers and garlic-crusted wings. The dining room is casual as a dining hall, which may help explain why so many different people feel at home here. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wed.-Mon. $$


Louisiana blue crabs get a garlicky coating with egg and peppers and herbs for a salt baked crab dish at TD Seafood Pho House in Harvey.

TD Seafood Pho House

1028 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, (504) 302-1717

Why: Fill a table with Viet-Cajun boiled seafood and get cracking

This is a Louisiana-Vietnamese cultural crossover, a place to eat with a spoon, chopsticks and lots and lots of paper towels. The pho is deeply flavorful and the banh mi are quick and well-made. Then come the trays of boiled seafood, the crawfish, shrimp and crabs all glistening with garlic butter, Viet-Cajun style. Try the salt and pepper crabs, with a savory crust and a tangle of herbs and peppers. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.