Teach a man to fish and he eats forever. Give him a tip on a good restaurant bargain and he might just drop the fishing pole and eat there instead. The New Orleans restaurant scene has a vast and growing diversity of options, and there are lots of specials, deals and all-around good values to stretch your dining dollar. Here's a primer on some you should know about.
Hungry Happy Hours
Happy hours aren't just for the bars. A growing number of restaurants across town also have special deals before the normal dinner hour gets rolling that combine food, drinks and great value.
The Besh Restaurant Group has made happy hours a hallmark at many of its downtown properties. These run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily with half-price drinks and food specials. Half-priced pizzas have made the happy hour at Domenica (123 Baronne St., 504-648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com) wildly popular, though on some afternoons it turns the bar into a scrum of bargain seekers. There's more room to operate at Borgne (601 Loyola Ave., 504-613-3860; www.borgnerestaurant.com), which just introduced a new happy hour tapas menu with dishes like cantaloupe and serrano ham or grouper ceviche for $5 each.
Apolline (4729 Magazine St., 504-894-8881; www.apollinerestaurant.com) also revamped its happy hour, which goes from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Drinks are half-price and small plates are $6, $4 or sometimes $2.
Raw oysters are 50 cents every day from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Superior Seafood (4338 St. Charles Ave., 504-293-3474; www.superiorseafoodnola.com), with half-priced bottles of wine and two-for-one frozen mojitos to wash them down.
Dickie Brennan's downtown restaurants Bourbon House and Palace Cafe each do a "$5 after 5 p.m." special, though the edition at his Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse (716 Iberville St., 504-522-2467; www.dickiebrennanssteakhouse.com) has the most variety. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, you'll find small plates like crabmeat beggar's purses, steak skewers, crawfish bread and cake pops for $5 each, martinis for the same price and meal-size cheeseburger or steak slider plates for $8 to $10.
Not all happy hours are necessarily early. The modern Japanese restaurant Chiba (8312 Oak St., 504-826-9119; www.chiba-nola.com) rolls out $3 to $5 sushi and appetizer specials for the after-office-hours crowd (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday) and the after-dinner-shift crowd (10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, 11 p.m. to midnight Thursday and midnight to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday).
Lunch for less
The pennywise have always looked to lunch as a more affordable way to check out top-tier restaurants. Around New Orleans, there are prix fixe lunch specials that bring this to another level, even at some of the city's most high-profile restaurants.
For instance, most people think of Emeril's Restaurant (800 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-528-9393; www.emerilsrestaurants.com) as a place to celebrate some big deal, rather than a spot to score a dining deal. But on weekdays there's a three-course lunch for $22.50, with choices like duck and mushroom toast and drum etouffee.
Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221; www.commanderspalace.com) has a two-course lunch starting at $16 and a three-course menu for $32, which includes its famous Creole bread pudding souffle. Martinis at lunch are just 25 cents each, a virtual giveaway. Look for the same daytime martini deal at sister restaurants SoBou and Cafe Adelaide.
MiLa (817 Common St., 504-412-2580; www.milaneworleans.com) is in some ways the fine-dining sleeper of the CBD, with deft, original dishes on the menu but rarely a big crowd in the dining room. The three-course $20 weekday lunch should be enough to put this place on your radar, especially when the sauteed redfish or braised veal cheeks are available.
Iris (321 N. Peters St., 504-299-3944; www.irisneworleans.com) serves lunch only on Fridays, but it's another three-course, $20 bargain to remember, with lamb arancini and one of the city's finest vegetable lasagnas on the table recently.
Any time bargains
Specials make for bargains at some eateries. At others, value is just part of the DNA. That's true at the old-school Vietnamese places, like Pho Tau Bay (113 Westbank Expwy., Gretna, 504-368-9846), where most of the extra-large soups cost $7.75 and are big enough to produce their own undertow. And it's the case at the new-generation cafes, too, like the stylishly modern Magasin (4201 Magasin St., 504-896-7611; www.magasincafe.com), where banh mi still are under $5 and the BYOB policy helps make it even cheaper.
For Mexican, Felipe's Taqueria (6215 S. Miro St., 504-309-2776; 301 N. Peters St., 504-267-4406; www.felipestaqueria.com) has mastered the art of quick-serve, assembly line-style tacos and burritos. Hardly anything on the menu breaks the $7 mark, and the value continues at the bar, where hand-made margaritas and some devilishly creative Mexican-style craft cocktails cost $6.
The Rivershack Tavern (3449 River Road, Jefferson, 504-834-4938; www.therivershacktavern.com) has a roadhouse ambience, a view of the levee and a "tacky ashtray" collection. It doesn't look like the place for chef-driven cuisine. But during weekday lunches, Mike Baskind serves remarkable specials that tap his fine-dining restaurant experience. Blackened redfish with a seafood maque choux, seared mahi mahi over saffron risotto cakes and a Chinese barbecue-glazed pork porterhouse are recent examples of the always-changing roster. Prices are usually right around $10.
Divide and conquer
Sometimes simple division can add up to better value. Recruit some friends to share in the humongous portions detailed below and you can enjoy a frugal group feast.
Po-boy prices can run pretty rich at some places these days, but Koz's (6215 Wilson Ave., Harahan, 504-737-3933; 515 Harrison Ave., 504-484-0841; www.kozcooks.com) keeps things traditional, and that includes its way with whole loaf po-boys — 32-inch sequoias of mayo-streaked goodness that can feed a whole family. A fried oyster loaf costs $30, but the more basic models (sausage, hamburger, even the debris-style barbecued ham) are between $18 and $20. A whole loaf French fry po-boy is $15, and Koz's has bargains on the other end of the spectrum: stubby, 4-inch po-boys for as little as $3.
Turkish and Persian foods are the specialties at Courtyard Grill (4430 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-875-4164; www.courtyardgrillnola.com), and much of it is served on big platters that are ideal for sharing. For the Iskandar kabob, beef and lamb are sliced from a rotisserie over a bed of crusty bread soaked with a tomato and butter sauce. It's $16 and has enough for two, especially when you start dredging more of the house bread through that sauce.
The idea of paying $14 for tater tots might seem excessive. But when that buys you the loaded tots from Shortall's BBQ at the Mid-City cocktail bar 12 Mile Limit (500 S. Telemachus St., 504-488-8114), you'll be glad you have friends around. The actual tots might be completely hidden under brisket, whole smoked chicken legs, Brussels sprouts, string beans and broccoli, all sluiced with various sauces and caches of mac and cheese. The combinations are never quite the same twice, and the vegetarian versions are sometimes even more satisfying, if only for the sheer creativity Shortall's barbecue-based kitchen puts into them. One platter is easily enough for three people to share.