Li'l Dizzy's Cafe Gumbo ($6/bowl; $3/cup)
This is the gumbo that makes you understand why gumbo is so good. The roux was dark, which made it a somewhat looser, but incredibly flavorful broth. It's a multi-meat mix: chunks of mildly spicy sausage that they make in house, tender ham, chicken and half a crab that should be picked apart down to the very last thread of meat.
Li'l Dizzy's Cafe Fried Chicken ($1.50-$2)
Worth every calorie and available by the piece (light or dark), which makes it too easy to order just one more. The crust is particularly craggy.
Cochon Butcher Le Pig Mac ($10)
A sandwich that makes you question why the original comes with beef. It's a double stack of thin, juicy pork patties with all the fixin's: shredded lettuce, house pickles, onion, melty cheese and special sauce on a buttery sesame seed bun.
Cochon Butcher Gambino ($12)
When I asked the staffers behind the counter what sandwich I had to get, most of them said this one. The house meats—salami, sopressata, and coppa—are the best anywhere, and the fresh herb vinaigrette is rich and glossy with just enough tang. The ultimate fancy Italian.
Cochon Butcher Brussels Sprouts ($6)
A good fry job, plus a marinade of sherry vinegar and pepper flakes, made these brussels sprouts crisp-tender with ruffly outer leaves, and punchy. An awesome counterpoint to all the rich meat you'll eat here.
Cochon Butcher Pancetta Mac and Cheese ($6)
There's a lot of good mac and cheese out there, but this has to be one of the best because it hits those hard-to-find contrasting elements: stretchy and creamy cheese, sharp but rich flavor, thanks to cheddar and wine, and savory depth, because of course there are chunks of house-cured pancetta.
Killer Poboys Grilled Shrimp (Market Price) and Sweet Potato Salad ($5)
Killer Poboys features hybrid po' boy-banh mi sandwiches made by really nice dudes in the back of the Erin Rose Bar. The grilled shrimp version is lime-y and comes packed on bread with a tall, puffy crumb and a crisp crust. There's pickled shredded carrots and radishes, cilantro and scallions, and a house aioli that's hit with sriracha and lime juice.
Lilly's Cafe Pho Rare Flank ($8.25)
One of the city's many excellent Vietnamese restaurants, which makes some of the best pho broth I've had—ultra beefy but clean and balanced. They also have perfect chopsticks, made from sturdy (not bendy) wood with thin ridges that make gripping easy.
Lilly's Cafe Tofu-Egg Banh Mi ($5.25)
Two things about this sandwich:
1) The bread is perfect: Tender but airy inside with a crust that shatters.
2) In my experience, egg and tofu are (strangely) hard to come by on a banh mi. It's a natural combo—the ultimate vegetarian option.
La Petite Grocery Grits ($4)
Bennachin Sisay Singho ($14.95)
Bennachin serves food from Gambia and Camaroom that made its way to New Orleans more than 20 years ago and now occupies prime real estate in the French Quarter. This is one of the best combo plates in any cuisine: a chicken leg quarter flavored with garlic and ginger and baked until it falls off the bone; ripe plantains fried until creamy; ultrasavory—perhaps oversalted—sautéed spinach, and coconut rice.
A Cheese Plate at Bacchanal (cheese prices vary; bread and accompaniments, $5)
Every city should have a place like this: Buy a bottle and hunks of good cheese in the front—a retail wine shop—head out back for live music, and hit up the kitchen window for really good food. If you hand the cheese to the cashiers when you buy it along with an extra $5, they'll pass it to the kitchen and bring it to your table plated with grilled bread slices, cornichons, chutney, and other cheese plate fixin's.
Satsuma Cafe Juice and Limeade (prices vary)
The made-to-order juices at this Bywater cafe are just the thing after late nights and lots of food. The ABC (apple, beet, carrot) gets a good shot of fresh lemon juice, too, which makes it bright and tangy. There's regular lemonade and limeade, as well as special-of-the-day flavors.
Café du Monde Beignets ($2.14 for 3)
I'm told out-of-town Morning Call tops Café du Monde for both food and atmosphere, but the beignets at this tourist haven are darn good—hot, puffy, crisp, and perfectly matched with chocolate milk. Plus, they're open 24 hours and have more than half a dozen locations, so there are ways to skip the breakfast line at the French Market.