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Our Insider Guide to Riverbend restaurants

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Written by AMIE MARVEL
Guide

One of the things that fascinates me about food in this city is how well-dispersed it is. With the exception of New Orleans East and the West Bank, there aren’t really any clusters of one type of cuisine (those two being known for their Vietnamese restaurants).

We don’t have a China-town, or a Little Italy, or maybe more applicable to local heritage, a Carribean-town. Neighborhoods don’t become destination spots for a want of international food, as can be the case in other cities. Lucky for us, you never have to travel that far to satisfy a particular craving, as each ward offers a bit of everything. Lots of us who live here often have to remind ourselves to venture beyond our comfy radius and remember what a vast array New Orleans has to offer. One of the neighborhoods I frequently cross the length of the city just to eat in is, without a doubt, the Riverbend.

Not only is there something for any appetite, in several cases they’re also the best places in the city for that particular flavor. Tru Burger and Cowbell, both on Oak St, reside on my Top Five list for burgers. Chiba Sushi, also on Oak, has an excellent happy hour, offering a selection of their well-curated bottled sake list at half-price.

There are two recently opened Vietnamese restaurants, Ba Chi Canteen, which seems to cater to the college student appetite and pocket book, and Pho Bistreaux, whose brothy soups rival the reigning West Bank masters for depth and character. Another new addition, Satsuma Maple, who cut their teeth supplying the Bywater with its daily intake of fruits and vegetables, serves bright beautiful sandwiches, salads, and fresh juices. Lebanon Café offers a wide array of really well-executed Mediterranean food, and thus I will drive past not one, but three Mona’s Cafes (our local Med chain) to eat here instead.

Perhaps most notably however, is that the Riverbend is home to three very important voices in the contemporary Creole conversation. Sometimes the craving for something specific doesn’t look any farther than a want for really good food from here. And with a nearly impossible number of options, satisfying that appetite can feel overwhelming to say the least. Go to the Riverbend. You will win.

If you feel like dressing up, Brigsten’s is a classic and classy destination for Creole cooking. Frank Brigsten has been serving his menu here for the last 27 years, and has garnered a loyal following. His food is rich, and bold, and dependable. You’ll find the usual suspects: gumbo, catfish, seasonal seafood, wild game, and in a nod to New Orleans Italian heritage a paneed veal parmesan with spaghetti.

Directly across Dante St from Brigsten’s is one of my favorite restaurants in the city: Dante’s Kitchen. While this is still contemporary Creole, the fact that both establishments have operated steps away from each other for the last decade and both stay busy is testament to how creative and flexible the cuisine can be. Chef Eman Loubier ran the kitchen for years at Commander’s Palace before lighting out on his own, and thus his food is informed by both experience with and respect for New Orleans classics (there’s redfish ‘on the half-shell’, boudin, and shrimp and grits as staples).

But his dishes are in technicolor: bright flavors, brash spices, adventurous cuts of meat, vegetable plates that look like Kandinsky paintings. Even the beautiful old home (which operated as a deli/grocery just before Louibier took over) is a visual feast, each room painted a different color and full of quirky, sassy art. The bar program seals the deal, featuring homemade tinctures and Alice in Wonderland-type concoctions, all perfectly paired with the expressive menu. Dante’s Kitchen, to me, is a perfect reflection of New Orleans: layered, creative, playful, reverent and yet constantly evolving.

In a similar vein, Nathanial Zimet is embellishing the Creole pallette at Boucherie, a few streets over on Jeanette. Turtle soup, shrimp and grit cake, boudin, pulled pork, and fried green tomatoes. Sound familiar? And then, watermelon avocado napoleon, potato confit, roasted blueberries…Yes, this is where we’re headed.

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