Meet the Tramezzino
Come to Paladar for the pizza (where the lamb sausage and tzatziki pie will bowl you over), but the menu offers many Italian delights if you’re willing to share some of the small plates. Try the lovely fried arancini or the fantastic chicken liver mousse, before moving on to other pleasures. Super bonus points, too, for Paladar’s wallet-friendly prices -- $11 for the house-made raviolo with egg yolk, ricotta, maitake mushrooms, porcini cream, and truffle pecorino? Sold!
There are few modern surprises or quirky culinary tricks at Marcello’s -- which also has an outpost in Lafayette if you’re out that way -- but it does old-school red sauce and Southern Italian favorites just right. Expect classics like chicken cacciatore, veal, chicken, or eggplant Parm, and spaghetti bolognese, as well as a massive wine list for all your vino needs.
This list couldn’t be complete without Alon Shaya’s Italian love letter in the Roosevelt Hotel. The Napoli-style pizzas are always a favorite, especially during happy hour, when they’re half-price (2-5pm daily), and you’d be a fool indeed to miss out on its selection of house-cured salumi, from lardo to coppa, prosciutto, biroldo, and even a chicken liver mousse.
This beautiful Bywater restaurant opened in 2013 and quickly earned raves for its casual-but-thoughtful approach to Italian fare. It sports a nifty raw bar featuring oysters and crudos, not generally found in Italian joints, but certainly par for the course in NOLA, and entrees as diverse as anchovy and pig ear salad, sweetbreads risotto, and lamb meatballs with a poached duck egg.
The approach at Oak Oven is all about the seasonal ingredients, sourced from a network of local organic farms (including one of its own -- it even makes its own mozzarella and vinegars), and incorporated into traditional Italian favorites like veal marsala and piccata, fresh penne with rosemary chicken, grilled mushrooms, spinach and garlic, and, of course plenty of wood-fired pizzas. If you’re smart, you’ll hit the one with lamb meatballs, tomato, sweet peppers, basil, red chile, and ricotta.
A lot of people don’t realize that “Italian Creole” is a specialty in the 504, but you’ll find some of the best po-boys nestling side by side with chicken Parm and veal scallopini at some of the finer neighborhood joints in the city. And nowhere is there a more spectacular embodiment of this phenomenon than Mandina’s, which never fails to disappoint with everything from turtle soup to soft-shell crab meuniere and, of course, spaghetti with meatballs. Come hungry... the portions are not to be trifled with.
One local’s instructions on finding Mosca’s: “Drive to the West Bank. Keep driving until you’re absolutely certain you passed it up five minutes ago. Then you’re almost there.” Sure, a visit to Mosca’s involves a trek, but it’s always been a trek worth making. Its sublime, garlic oil-rich dishes, served family-style, have been lauded by locals since 1946. Skip the spaghetti and meatballs and head directly for the Italian crab salad, Oysters Mosca, Shrimp Mosca, Chicken a la Grande, and spaghetti bordelaise. Go with a group and don’t forget to bring cash (no credit cards here, but it does have an ATM).
This Magazine St spot is all about Sicilian tradition, including a coal-fired pizza oven that bakes the pies at 1,100°F to get that sweet spot of crispy, bubbly, charred crust with a fluffy interior. The rest of the menu is all familiar Sicilian and Sicilian-American fare, but there are some cool additions as well, like Nona Lena's Bruciuluni: “Pork medallions stuffed with beef, Italian sausage, and egg served with angel hair pasta & marinara sauce.” Si, signore!
Lower Garden District
Want to turn heads with a new restaurant in New Orleans? Spruce up a historic mansion into a B&B, then add a serious red-sauce joint to the mix. That’s the story behind the long-awaited Altamura, helmed by ManhattanJack’s Jack Petronella and Coleman Jernigan. Altamura is a loving ode to Petronella’s New York-Italian heritage, and if there’s anything we’ll never get tired of in NOLA, it’s a spot-on Sunday gravy and pasta so perfectly al dente, madonna, you could just die.
Like Mosca’s, you’ll have a hike ahead of you if you want to visit Del Porto, which is located in Covington on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. And, like Mosca’s, it’ll be a hike worth making, since the restaurant has been receiving critical raves since it opened in 2002. The deceivingly simple preparations shine here, especially the house-made artisan pastas.
You know an Ace Hotel isn’t going to mess around when it comes to dining, and that’s surely the case with Josephine Estelle’s entry into the NOLA dining scene. The pasta list alone is something of a marvel, with entries ranging from a killer bucatini amatriciana and short rib fusilli with mushroom and taleggio cheese, to gemelli with duck confit. The simple canestri cacio e pepe will make you weep for your gluten-free friends.
Get ready to get messy; if you’re going to “Manale’s,” you’d best order the BBQ shrimp, a dish that, strangely, has nothing to do with barbecue or grilling. It’s all about the sauce, a decadent combination of butter, olive oil, and black pepper used to poach the whole, huge Gulf shrimp. Shelling those shrimp, bathed so heavily in that sauce, means that you’re going to have butter leaking all the way down into your armpits if you’re not careful. Totally worth it, though.
If you’re visiting NOLA and staying in the Quarter and looking for great Creole-Italian nearby that’s something above a muffaletta, Irene’s is definitely your best bet. And you’ll be even more pleased if you have a hankering for comfort dishes prepared with generous amounts of butter, cream, and cheese. Just be prepared to make a reservation in advance or you’re sure to run into a serious wait for a table.
It can be hard for a chef to really stand out amongst all the spectacular Italian food in NOLA, but Nick Lama hit this one out of the park. His Magazine St eatery satisfies both in style and substance, clearly showing off Lama’s Italian roots and painstaking attention to detail, all while managing to avoid fussy pretension. Get the rosemary fettucini with rabbit ragu and chanterelles, then thank us after.
If you enjoy your mini alligator meatballs in spicy Alfredo sauce with a side of live music, head to Giovanni’s in the Quarter, where you’ll find opera singers as well as “Pasta Jambalaya” and “Fried Medallions of Eggplant with Louisiana Shrimp & Crawfish in a Vodka Dill Cream Sauce.” Combining Louisiana cuisine with Italian is clearly the hallmark here, and it’s a combo that definitely works.
Let’s say your plan to hit Irene’s didn't work out, and maybe you’re in the mood for something a bit more intimate. The Italian Barrel it is. This spot is best known for Northern Italian fare, not the red sauce, sausage, and peppers you’ll find at a ristorante specializing in fare from Naples or Sicily. Here you can have everything from an imported olive oil tasting to simply prepared white anchovies, to more hearty fare like a killer veal osso buco, as well as porcini and truffle-stuffed ravioli.
As you might tell by the name, Pizza Delicious is known for, well... pizza. In fact, it offers the most authentic New York-style slice the city has to offer, and many consider it the best pizza in New Orleans overall. But what many don’t know is that “Pizza D” also cooks up some fantastic pasta and salad dishes as well, at prices that would be twice as much in any other restaurant. Seriously, “Seared gulf fish w/ sweet corn risotto” for only $14? Or “Bucatini carbonara with farm egg, pancetta, parmigiano, peas” for $12? That, friends, is a total steal. Oh, and the slices are fantastic, too.