By: Elizabeth Tran
When it comes to Asian cuisine in New Orleans, I consider myself an insider.
I grew up with a Vietnamese mother who cooked every night and was the definition of a snob, and a Vietnamese father who refused to eat nothing but Asian food every single meal save for the few times he dragged us to Texas Road House for peanuts and steaks. Needless to say, those experiences have turned me into someone who loves and prefers Asian fare while being enormously and annoyingly particular about the details.
When you think of New Orleans cuisine, you immediately think of Creole and Cajun, some Italian sprinkled in there. But Asian? The 504 actually has a sizeable Asian community and the restaurants to show for it. This is something I took for granted until I moved to Baton Rouge and quickly realized how abysmal sushi, pho, and curry are in other places even a mere hour and a half away.
Here are my three picks for the basic Asian food groups in the Crescent City: Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai. They are three very different taste palates, and there are choices all over the city to choose from, so let me break it down for you nice n’ easy.
Phò Tàu Bay
113 Westbank Expy, Gretna, LA 70053
9 am – 9 pm
Closed Thursday and Sunday
Pho Tau Bay is a Westbank institution and maybe one of the very few reasons anyone ever goes across the river and pays the toll without complaining (it’s only a dollar, people, geez!) The location under the expressway is unassuming, but if you drop by on any weekday at lunch hour, it is a bustling hotbed of beef broth and rice noodles.
There are many, many options for pho in the city, but I can truthfully say I enjoy their pho over a lot of other places. The pho tai is my go-to, which is the noodle soup with thinly sliced medium rare beef. There’s nothing I hate more than a luke-warm bowl of pho, so one of the pros is that my pho has yet to be anything but steaming hot. Sometimes my noodle to meat to broth ratio is off, but I have no qualms about requesting an extra bowl of broth to add. The veggie basket provided full of beansprouts, mint, basil and other greens is fresh and never wilted, which can sometimes be a problem at other pho eateries.
Their eggrolls are also a great option. Pho Tau Bay does a great job at making their egg rolls crispy and flaky on the outside, and a flavorful meaty mix on the inside. They also offer Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi), rice platters and vermicelli noodle dishes.
La Thai Uptown
4938 Prytania St., New Orleans, LA 70115
La Thai is upscale fusion Thai food that mixes the best of local seafood with authentic Thai traditions. The price point is a bit higher than your quickie lunch fix, but their menu is extensive, ranging from modern dishes with a Louisiana flair to the established noodle and curry plates. The fried calamari has sweet chili sauce that is a nice twist on the usually very salty appetizer. I am always amazed to find that the fried batter remains remarkably crispy even drenched in the sugary glaze. The same could be said for a fried eggplant medallion and grilled shrimp appetizer I tried, which was covered in a similar sweet soy sauce but never got soggy.
The star of the show is their crab cake entree. The amount of fresh lump crabmeat in this dish is incredible. It is seriously a great, classic crabcake, but definitely one of the less Thai options on the menu. Their noodle dishes are authentic though, and come in generous portions you can take home and warm up for another meal. Everything I’ve had was very subtly hot, but you can pump up the spice if you want— all you have to do is ask. When speaking to one of the co-owners, Diana Chauvin, about their more traditional noodle plates, I discovered her family had also run my absolute favorite Thai restaurant of all time that closed down after Katrina, Bangkok Cuisine in Mid-City. They make the same glass noodle dish that I have been searching for everywhere since 2005 (I’m not exaggerating, y’all) right at present-day La Thai. I don’t need another reason.
1612 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130
Nestled on St. Charles in the garden district is Sushi Brothers, a small sushi restaurant with lots of tables for two. Out of the three cuisines, I am probably the least acquainted with Japanese food, having only in recent years accepted the idea of ingesting completely raw fish. Also, the struggle of eating an entire piece of sushi in one bite often deters me from seeking out a Japanese meal.
However, their spicy seafood salad, which is a medley of fresh salmon, tuna and escolar, is now one my favorite things to eat. Clearly I have come a long way from my incredulity at eating anything raw. The seafood salad is drenched in a sour and salty brown fish sauce and is typically mixed with avocado, asparagus and cucumbers. My only problem with the salad is that the avocado, asparagus, and cucumber component of the dish is inconsistently distributed. Their presentation can be a bit unpredictable, but the salad is always still tasty. It’s just a lot tastier with all of its ingredients.
As for sushi, the rock n’ roll is a great choice. It’s filled with avocado, snow crab, asparagus and tempura battered shrimp, then drizzled in eel sauce. It’s a pretty standard take on the rock n’ roll, but I always know what to expect and it tastes delicious. On the flip side, the spicy tuna is a simple staple. The tuna is mixed into a chili paste and actually makes your nose run it’s so hot.