New Orleans has a world-famous cuisine all its own, but lately many more restaurants have emerged to showcase traditional foods from all over the globe. The best part for students on a budget? These diverse eateries tend to be good bargains. Whether you're new to town and eager to explore the scene or you're simply hungry for something a little different, what follows is a primer on where to find interesting options for international cuisine.
Noodling Around Uptown
It's a boom time for Vietnamese food in New Orleans, which is good news for anyone after the top bang for their dining buck. With fundamentals like the complex beef and noodle soup pho, rice noodle salads called bun and crusty, meat and veggie-packed banh mi sandwiches, Vietnamese meals are generally light and full of compelling flavors. You can try the standards and pick your favorites among a string of new purveyors Uptown. Magasin (4201 Magasin St., 504-896-7611; www.magasincafe.com) is stylish and has the most buzz of the bunch, while Pho-Noi-Viet (2005 Magazine St., 504-522-3399) and Lilly's (1813 Magazine St., 504-599-9999) are located within blocks of each other. Le Viet Cafe (2135 St. Charles Ave., 504-304-1339), which is on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, serves similar fare, and Jazmine Cafe (614 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-866-9301) is in walking distance to the Loyola and Tulane campuses.
Kimchi Crash Course
While Vietnamese food proliferates, Korean cuisine is getting more exposure in New Orleans, too. Just this summer, Little Korea (3301 S. Claiborne Ave., 504-821-5006) opened in the shell of a former Taco Bell franchise. Go with a small group, and you can share platters of marinated Korean-style barbecue with beef, chicken or pork that you cook yourself on small tabletop grills. One key to Korean cuisine is banchan, a parade of fermented or pickled side dishes. Kimchi, a spicy slaw of pickled cabbage, is the most famous, but there are many to sample as you garnish your barbecue or the soups and rice dishes served here.
The number and diversity of restaurants for Latin American food have been soaring, bringing to New Orleans many options outside the familiar Tex-Mex. For instance, there's the coastal, Veracruz-style Mexican food at Panchita's (1334 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-281-4127), with whole grilled fish and seafood burritos, while the de facto national snack of El Salvador, the pupusa, is the specialty and namesake of Pupuseria La Macarena (8120 Hampson St., 504-862-5252), which has served these golden cheese-filled corn cakes for many years. Felipe's Taqueria (6215 S. Miro St., 504-309-2776; 301 N. Peters St., 504-267-4406; www.felipestaqueria.com), meanwhile, has mastered the art of quick-serve, assembly line-style tacos and burritos, but keeps its authentic edge thanks to a bouquet of traditional Mexican seasonings and salsas. For a good overview of many different Latin American foods in one stop, visit the deli at Norma's Sweets Bakery (2925 Bienville St., 504-309-5401), where you'll find Panamanian-style ceviche next to one of the city's best Cuban sandwiches, which features roast pork, ham and cheese all encased in a crisp, pressed loaf.
New Orleans had zero options for Ethiopian food until recently, but now two family-run restaurants are introducing more locals to this spicy, hands-on cuisine. There's Cafe Abyssinia (3511 Magazine St., 504-894-6238), which is hidden behind a sno-ball stand, while about a mile down the street there's the newer Nile Ethiopian Restaurant (2130 Magazine St., 504-281-0859). The essential menu at each consists of a variety of stews (called wats) or stir-fries (called tibs) which are ladled onto broad, round platters lined with injera bread, a stretchy, crepe-like starch. You rip up this injera and use it as your utensils, dredging a piece through the meat and vegetables before popping the whole thing in your mouth. To really get bragging rights, try the kitfo, which is finely-minced, heavily-spiced raw beef. Most other dishes come fully cooked.
There are many Middle Eastern restaurants close to local campuses, each offering low prices, large portions and exotic flavors with menu mainstays like lamb or chicken kebabs and vegetarian falafel. The most prolific of these local hummus purveyors is Mona's Cafe (3901 Banks St., 504-482-0661; 1120 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-861-8174; 504 Frenchmen St., 504-949-4115), and the original Mid-City location has a good Middle Eastern grocery attached. At Lebanon's Cafe (1500 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-862-6200; www.lebanonscafe.com) you'll find the largest selection of dishes, including some appetizers under $3. Pyramid Cafe (3151 Calhoun St, 504-861-9602), within pop-fly range of Tulane's baseball stadium, and Babylon (7724 Maple St., 504-314-0010), with its distinctive house-made loaves, are other good stops.
New Orleans doesn't have many Indian restaurants, but the ones we do have offer excellent value. There are so many students in the dining room at Nirvana (4308 Mag-azine St., 504-894-9797; www.-insidenirvana.com) that this popular Indian restaurant sometimes looks like an extension of the college dining hall. That's especially true at lunch, when $9.95 buys access to a buffet of soup, salad, the Indian flat bread called naan and a selection of chicken and vegetarian dishes over basmati rice. Nirvana offers the buffet at dinner on Thursdays and Sundays as well. It takes a little looking, but around the corner from the House of Blues in the French Quarter you can find Salt 'n' Pepper (400 Iberville St., 504-561-6070), a walk-up diner-style late-night dive for curries and goat dishes alongside slices of conventional pizza.
For the more adventurous – or simply the severely cash-strapped – there is a free weekly dinner from the folks at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (2936 Esplanade Ave., no phone; www.iskconneworleans.org). Each Sunday they dole out their prasadam, or "love feast," an outdoor buffet of Indian-style vegetarian dishes. People begin gathering about 7 p.m. outside the temple's garden, mingling with regulars, travelers, college students and neighbors. There is a bit of music and ceremony from Krishna followers, then dinner is served. Donations are accepted but not required.