To truly know New Orleans is to respect all of its divergent forms. Some strains pay tribute to the aristocratic old-guard (Sazeracs and crawfish étouffée served in gilded dining rooms); others, like late-night beignet binges devoured in a Pimm’s Cup-fueled stupor, reflect a more democratic form of hedonism. But this tug-and-pull—between high and low, contemporary and historic—is at the heart of New Orleans’ storied culinary history, which mashes up African, French, and Spanish traditions in ways that are wholly unique to the region.

The city’s kitchen pros know what really makes New Orleans tick (spoiler alert: it’s not the tourist traps of Bourbon Street). When they’re off the clock, they avoid the throngs of stumbling out-of-towners in the French Quarter, opting instead to sidle up next to local patrons. We asked 12 of the city’s finest chefs and restaurateurs—as well as a couple bartenders—to school us on quirky dive bars and homey Southeast Asian cuisine that they run to when they want to eat and drink well without any fuss.

Stephen Stryjewski

Chef-owner at Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Calcasieu, Pêche Seafood Grill


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Brothers III Lounge (4520 Magazine St, 504-897-9912)

Stryjewski says: “It’s an old man bar with a great country jukebox, a crappy pool table, and lots of characters to talk to at all times. It’s the spot to end the night or begin the day with cheap beer and a shot of bourbon.”

Isaac Toups

Chef-owner at Toups’ Meatery


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Lilly’s Café (1813 Magazine St, 504-599-9999)

Toups says: “Ms. Lilly is always there when you walk into her place. She heads up all the food and service and remembers every person that’s been in there. The Spicy Saigon rolls, served with traditional fish sauce instead of the Americanized peanut one, are fire-hot.”

Tory McPhail

Chef at Commander’s Palace


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Kingpin (1307 Lyons St, 504-891-2373)

McPhail says: “The Kingpin is a smoky, dark bar known as a destination for hospitality industry insiders. It is also the best place in New Orleans to catch a Saints game. At most dive bars, you would never order anything but bottled beer or a Jack and Coke, but Kingpin makes the best dirty martinis and margaritas.”

Michael Gulotta

Chef-partner at MoPho


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Banana Blossom Thai Café (2112 Belle Chasse Highway #10, Gretna, 504-392-7530;

Gulotta says: “Like all great Thai places, it is in a nondescript strip mall on the outskirts of the city. But the food is vibrant and delicious, and the owner is one of the nicest guys around. Every time I go I order the spicy clams with garlic, basil, and coconut. It covers the spectrum: hot, sour, briny, and slightly sweet. I always get an extra order of hot roti to sop up the sauce.”

Alex Harrell

Chef-owner at Angeline


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Liuzza’s by the Track (1518 Nlopez St; 504-218-7888,

Harrell says: “It’s one of those true New Orleans neighborhood restaurants. You wouldn’t know it was there if someone didn’t take you because it’s tucked back off the main road, surrounded by houses. The tables are packed together, and you’re eating with a good cross-cultural mix of people from the neighborhood—not a lot of tourists. I usually see four or five cops on break. My order is predictable: I always get a cup of the Creole gumbo and half a fried shrimp po’ boy. The deep-flavored gumbo has a thinner style broth, featuring both shrimp and crab. The po’ boy is my favorite because the breading on the shrimp isn’t really heavy, so you don’t feel stuffed afterwards.”

Nathanial Zimet

Chef at Boucherie


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Chicken & Watermelon (3400 South Claiborne Ave; 504-896-4596,

Zimet says: “They have the best wings in the city. And next door is a daiquiri shop. This place is actually the inspiration for Bourré, Boucherie’s new restaurant, which will open this spring.”

Slade Rushing

Executive chef at Brennan’s


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Rivershack Tavern (3449 River Rd, Jefferson; 504-834-4938,

Rushing says: “This honky-tonk style bar with mannequin-legged barstools is a neighborhood joint to catch some great live music. The building is nondescript, and it would be hard to miss if not for the live chickens running around outside—it could very well be your great aunt’s house along the river road. I love to have a few of their Bloody Marys (best in the city) on my days off and chow down on their signature buffalo shrimp.”

Liam Deegan

Managing partner/bartender at Barrel Proof


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Bud Rip’s (900 Piety St, 504-945-5762)

Deegan says: “It truly is an old man bar. It has an old New Orleans interior, a good pool table, and great decorations in the bathroom. I order a pitcher of Budweiser to share with friends, which they serve with frozen goblets. What more could you want?”

Justin Devillier

Executive chef/owner at La Petite Grocery


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Café Abyssinia (3511 Magazine St, 504-894-6238)

Devillier says: “I love under-the-radar spots because you can get in and out fairly easily and have a relaxing, quiet lunch. There are no theatrics; just eat delicious food and head back to work. Café Abyssinia is a great Ethiopian spot. Order any of their stewed meat dishes with fermented pancakes and eat with your hands.”

Kevin Farrell

Co-owner, Booty’s Street Food


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Pal’s Lounge (949 North Rendon St; 504-488-7257,

Farrell says: “After peddling around the live oaks surrounding the fairgrounds, I always hit Pal’s Lounge. Pal’s is a classic dive in the sense that you need to be buzzed in just to enter its premises. The windows say ‘mixed drinks,’ but all I ever order here is whatever seasonal beer local hero Abita Brewing Co. is offering at the time, whether it be the Strawberry Harvest Lager or the super boozy Andygator. The only real cure-all for a sweat-covered body on a summer day is a pint dripping with condensation.”

Alon Shaya

ExecutivecChef/partner at Domenica and Pizza Domenica


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tan Dinh (1705 Lafayette St, Gretna; 504-361-8008)

Shaya says: “I get the lemongrass-chile chicken wings, spicy fried tofu, and grilled pork spring rolls. I love that you can go at pretty much any time of the day and have a craving fulfilled. It’s cheap, fast, and it always tastes like I’ve ascended to heaven.”

Neal Bodenheimer

Co-owner at Cure and Bellocq


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Saint Bar & Lounge (961 St Mary St; 504-523-0050,

Bodenheimer says: “The Saint is hands down one of the best places to ‘decompress.’ Great staff, great room, and great music. No frills, but you can get a good drink there if you go on the right night. I generally end up drinking High Life and Irish whiskey. Somehow the hours seem to slip by too fast at the Saint, and next thing you know it’s 5am.” (Photo: Pableaux Johnson)