There are the grand Creole dining palaces of the French Quarter, the humble but beloved po-boy shops and everything in between, including a growing number of restaurants serving the food of widely diverse cultures and ethnicities.
Our overview below is designed to give the busy college student a few options to begin exploring this delicious terrain. We provide recommendations for where to find inexpensive eats for the student budget, some pizza stops to keep in mind and a sampling of the all-important late-night joints. Full Bellies on Empty Wallets Laundry or lunch? The student budget can pose some tough decisions. Here are a few places to get a meal without losing your shirt:
Po-Boys for Poor Boys: The name for New Orleans' favorite type of sandwich should be a dead giveaway for value. Mainstream po-boy prices have crept up, however, and $8 is now typical, making them a bit of a stretch for true poor boys.
Consider the little-known deal at Le Croissant Café (8100 St. Charles Ave., 866-1846), which doesn't serve croissants and isn't a café. Rather, it's a tiny sandwich counter tucked into the corner of the New Orleans Daiquiris location in the Riverbend that serves hot roast beef po-boys for $5.
Across town at P&G Restaurant & Bar (345 Baronne St., 525-9678), the décor and menu seem stuck in a time warp from the days when your parents were in college. Fortunately, so do the prices. Hot sausage or smoked sausage po-boys cost less than $5, and daily plate lunch specials like red beans, stewed chicken or chicken-fried steak are under $6. The gargantuan seafood platter can feed two and costs less than $10.
Naan Sense: It seems Indian restaurants all over America are compelled to offer bargain lunch buffets, and the slim number of curry specialists in New Orleans are no different. On Thursday and Sunday evenings, the Uptown Indian restaurant Nirvana (4308 Magazine St., 894-9797; www.insidenirvana.com) extends the hours of its popular lunchtime buffet through dinner, when $9.95 still buys access to soup, salad, the Indian flat bread called naan and a selection of chicken and vegetarian dishes over basmati rice. Nirvana's sister restaurant, Taj Mahal (923 Metairie Road, Metairie, 836-6859) offers a similar buffet for lunch only, and a new Indian option is Curry Corner (1200 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-9033), which has an array of curries, stews and rice dishes ready to serve for quick, inexpensive meals.
Soul Living: For family-sized portions of New Orleans soul food, head to Dunbar's Creole Cooking (501 Pine St., 861-5451), which now operates from Loyola University's Broadway Activities Center after its original home was flooded by Katrina. Dunbar's serves enormous cups of achingly sweet, country-style tea, which students used as an energy drink long before there was Red Bull. And it's good to have such stimulation before tackling daily specials of red beans with fried chicken, cabbage with smothered chicken or mustard greens with turkey necks.
Further downtown in a rough but promising part of Central City is Café Reconcile (1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 568-1157; www.cafereconcile.org), a weekday breakfast and lunch spot that also serves as a second-chance training school. It is an outreach ministry of a local church and works in conjunction with area hotels to find internships and future employment for its people once they learn the ropes in the café. None of this will matter, however, when you taste the gumbo served there. Hardly anything on the menu is priced over $8, including po-boys and daily specials like Thursday's white beans with shrimp.
Educating Pita: The city's Middle Eastern restaurants offer low prices, large portions and exotic flavors with menu mainstays like kebabs, gyros, falafel sandwiches and tabbouleh salads for less than $10. The most prolific of the local hummus purveyors is Mona's Café, with three locations in the city (3901 Banks St., 482-0661; 1120 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-8174; 504 Frenchmen St., 949-4115). The original Mid-City location has a pleasant, covered outdoor seating area and a large Middle Eastern grocery attached. Also recommended are Lebanon's Café (1500 S. Carrollton Ave., 862-6200; www.lebanonscafe.com) with its attractive sidewalk seating area, Pyramid Café (3151 Calhoun St., 861-9602) and Babylon (7724 Maple St., 314-0010) with its distinctive housemade loaves. All are BYOB.
Cheap Chicken: McHardy's Chicken & Fixin' (1458 N. Broad St., 949-0000), a take-out-only operation near Esplanade Avenue, serves just five items: chicken, pickled jalapeno peppers, rolls, French fries and fountain drinks. The fried chicken is perfect and priced to sell, with different sizes of chicken orders listed in the fashion of a multiplication table. The base-level five-piece order costs just $3.14, or for $62.80 you can walk out with 100 pieces, which is approximately a dorm room full of chicken.
Rolls for Change: For unlimited Japanese and Asian cuisine on a very limited budget, it's hard to beat the buffet at Oki Nago (2712 N. Arnoult Road, Metairie, 780-8588; www.okinago.com). Lunch is the real bargain, with a standard rate of $9.99. At dinner, the sushi selection expands and the price rises to $14.99. St. Charles Japanese Sushi Buffet (2100 St. Charles Ave., 267-0799; www.stcharlessushibuffet.com) offers a similar routine a littler closer to campus. Defining Pie Wherever there are college students, pizza can't be far away. Inexpensive, easily divisible by roommates and usually available for delivery, pizza fits the lifestyle, palate and finances.
Let's Make a Deal: At Theo's Neighborhood Pizza (4218 Magazine St., 894-8554; www.theospizza.com), the underlying crust is the thing. It's crunchy like a cracker and forms a slim lip around the circumference of the pie. Though they appear relatively small, these pies are surprisingly dense and pack a wallop. Reasonably priced pies and drink deals (including $10 bottles of wine on Wednesdays and $1 beers on Mondays and Tuesdays) help make visits affordable. See the multiple locations of Reginelli's Pizzeria (www.reginellis.com) for $2 Abita beer pitchers on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Build Your Own: As the name of Slice Pizzeria (1513 St. Charles Ave., 525-7437; www.slicepizzeria.com) suggests, pizza is available here by the slice, but don't expect a casual walk-up joint. It's strictly table service in the dark, sleek dining room, and you can custom-build a single slice with the combinations of sauces and toppings just as you can an entire pie. The main appeal is the long list of interesting toppings, especially high-end ingredients like discs of fresh mozzarella, leaves of arugula and salty prosciutto.
Pizza with a Purpose: World's Healthiest Pizza (6307 S. Miro St., 865-0224; www.worldshealthiestpizza.com) is on a mission to make America's favorite delivery food a healthy alternative. Eschewing the normal, highly-processed flour dough, its pizza crust is made from 10 different grains with the addition of inulin, a fiber-rich supplement extracted from chicory root. It's a great-tasting pizza. And, yes, you can even order it with pepperoni.
Location, Location: Ambience is entirely of your own making when eating a pie from Roman Pizza (7329 Cohn St., 866-1166; www.eatromanpizza.com), a take-out-only operation very close to the Tulane/Loyola campuses and on the fringe of a cemetery. Practically on campus for Tulane and Loyola students, the Dough Bowl (1039 Broadway, 861-2200) offers a local rendition of thin-crust, New York-style pizza by the slice. It's Late, You're Hungry, They're Open If you're staying up late, chances are your appetite will be right there with you. Here's where to go to keep it quiet until breakfast:
Landmark Status: Late is by far the best time to eat at the Camellia Grill (626 S. Carrollton Ave., 309-2679), since during the day the line of tourists waiting for a seat can spill out its doors. At night, though, the scene is mellow, the grill men are gregarious and you have time to soak up all the retro ambience. Open since 1946, the griddle here belongs in the Smithsonian, but instead it is hard at work every night cooking up huge omelets. The chili cheese fries are widely prescribed as a cure for the common hangover. Open until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and until midnight Sunday to Thursday.
Tofu After Midnight: 13 Monaghan (517 Frenchmen St., 942-1345; www.13monaghan.com) is part Marigny barroom, part restaurant and one of the better local options for vegetarians at any hour. There is plenty of meat on the menu, but also black bean burgers, barbecue tofu and roasted vegetable sandwiches. Another fun option: tater tots are served as a side. Open until 4 a.m.
Crpe Crusaders: Crpes are sidewalk food in Paris, just as they are on Broadway outside Crpes a la Cart (1039 Broadway, 866-2362). After all, there is scarcely room for the lengthy menu inside this walk-up crperie, much less anywhere to sit. The crepes can hold anything from steak and crabmeat to cheesecake, Marshmallow Fluff and strawberry compote. These are very large crpes served in paper cones to be eaten on the move, or at least on the curb outside the Boot, a 24-hour bar located next door. Hours vary, but generally stretch until 3 a.m. during the school year.
Burger and a Side of Camp: Take a classic diner from Norman Rockwell's America, sweep it up in a tornado and deposit it at the lower end of Bourbon Street across from a gay nightclub and you have the Clover Grill (900 Bourbon St., 598-1010; www.clovergrill.com). The hamburgers are big and properly cooked. And as an added bonus, if you come from a sheltered upbringing, a few meals at the countertop here will help augment your New Orleans cultural education. The crew behind the counter is, for the most part, soft-voiced but sharp-tongued and the later the hour gets, the sassier the crowd grows. Open 24 hours Wednesday to Sunday and until midnight Monday and Tuesday.