General Lee’s Chicken at Red’s Chinese (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
The Crescent City is well known for Cajun and Creole cuisine, showcasing French, Spanish and African heritages. But the city may not be so well known for it’s wonderful abundance of fantastic Asian fare. NOLA is home to a diverse Asian population — immigrants from Vietnam, China, Thailand and Japan have been welcomed for decades — and they’ve bought their own culinary traditions to the table, so to speak. If you’re looking to take a respite from gumbo, jambalaya and blackened red fish, and try something different when you’re in the Big Easy, all of these places will give you an inviting taste of the Far East.
The inimitable Hong Kong Market, just across the Mississippi River in Gretna, is a pan-Asian grocery specializing in a dizzying array of food stuffs from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and the Philippines. The market has amazing produce, fish, meat, sauces, and every variety of noodle under the sun. Add to that the ability to get a whole barbecued duck in their hot food section, not to mention the best food bargain in town: A banh mi sandwich (known here as the “Vietnamese po’ boy”), with your choice of fillings, topped with jalapenos, a pickle slice, carrots and daikon, all for 3 dollars. And if you can’t wait to get your ingredients home, you can always dine in at the attached restaurant, Pho Hu Tieu Nam Vang House of Noodles. It is, quite simply, a magical place.
There is certainly no lack of Vietnamese eateries in New Orleans, with a boom in everything from pho joints to modern fusion restaurants in the past few years. But if you really want authentic Viet cuisine without traveling too far out of town (many of the more heralded establishments being out in Eastern New Orleans), head to Pho Cam Ly, on Magazine St. in the Garden District. Owned and operated by a pair of sisters who brought their family’s traditional pho recipe all the way from the town of Cam Ly, the rich, long simmered broth at Pho Cam Ly needs to be eaten to be believed. You’ll also find fantastic egg rolls made with funky Chinese sausage wrapped in tapioca (not won ton) wrappers, as well as the “Pho Challenge,” which is an enormous bowl of soup incorporating a staggering 2 pounds of beef and 2 pounds of noodles. Finish it, and you’ll be famous!
It might seem surprising that the very best Japanese cuisine in New Orleans is in a strip mall in suburban Metairie, coming from the hands of a chef known affectionately as “Elvis,” but it’s absolutely true. Expertly sourced, incredibly fresh fish comprise Kanno’s nigiri, sashimi and maki, on top of which you’ll experience composed dishes that will truly blow you away. Allow Chef Hidetoshi “Elvis” Suzuki to choose your menu, omakase-style, and he may deliver warm seared tuna with a rich portobello mushroom sauce, fresh salmon with mango, wasabi caviar and yuzu, or smoked salmon with avocado, mango and caviar in a Dijon sauce. Top that with the cool, creamy, complimentary chocolates made by the chef’s wife, Lynn, and you’ll have a Japanese dining experience on par with anywhere in the country.
It says a lot about a restaurant when people regularly come there for a taste of home, especially if that home is as far from New Orleans as Seoul. Though there aren’t as many Korean restaurants as Vietnamese in the Crescent City, this unassuming Uptown restaurant definitely stands at the forefront, and both locals and Korean visitors will tell you so. If you’re craving great, beefy bibimbap with crunchy bits of rice at the bottom, spicy kimchi, savory pancakes (haemul pajun), or table-top Korean barbecue in which you can grill your own meat, Little Korea is the place for you. And it’s better still when you combine the experience with their excellent selection of soju, a traditional Korean rice spirit. Come hungry, and make sure to bring friends!
Finding a Chinese restaurant in America isn’t difficult, wherever you might be, but experiencing something more daring and exotic — not the version of Chinese we’re used to in the states — can be a little more tricky. Luckily, the newly opened Red’s Chinese, in the hip, hot Bywater neighborhood, has given New Orleans those flavors in spades. The modern, playful take on Chinese at Red’s is similar to the style of the much lauded chef Danny Bowien, of New York and San Francisco’s Mission Chinese, and for good reason: one of Red’s co-owners both worked at and derived his inspiration there. A trip here will offer you dishes like “General Lee’s Chicken,” kabocha squash soup, crawfish rangoons, kung pao pastrami, and other inventive dishes, which are often devilishly spicy, even for New Orleans. There’s no surprise when you find out first hand just why this new eatery is so popular.