Atomic Burger's juicy version of the New Mexico specialty is happily included on this top 10 list compiled by Times-Picayune food critic, Brett Anderson.
Last week, I returned to "work" for the first time since the winter holidays. Occasioned by the arrival of a bubbly (if needy) new boarder with a hollow leg for milk, the nine-week absence amounted to by far the longest stretch I've spent in New Orleans without any urgent professional obligation to visit restaurants.
It was a time for reflection, personal growth and not much sleep. It also afforded me the opportunity to make dining decisions based on factors (like convenience and price) I've rarely considered in over 20 years of restaurant reviewing.
What did I discover about myself? That I would not turn to dust if I stayed home for dinner two nights in a row -- and that my cravings for po-boys, pizza, cheeseburgers and oysters rage even harder when I'm not bound by the structure of my vocation.
Here are highlights from my months of recreational dining.
Brennan's 417 Royal St., New Orleans, 504.525.9711
It's far from the sexiest thing on offer here. But if Slade Rushing's sharp version of this anachronistic Brennan's staple is indicative of what he's accomplishing deeper into the revamped dinner menu, we can expect the chef to settle in for a long run on Royal Street.
Liuzza's by the Track 1518 N. Lopez St., New Orleans, 504.218.7888
There's a good reason Liuzza's by the Track is famous for its po-boys, frosty beers and spicy shrimp-chicken-sausage gumbo. I'm still often drawn to the chalkboard specials, particularly the pot-cooking, as I was the day I ordered this hot and soupy etouffee brimming with plump tail meat.
Drink of Laughter and Forgetting
CellarDoor 916 Lafayette St., New Orleans, 504.383.5583
The drink is named after a Milan Kundera novel. Why? Mike Yusko, the drink's creator, couldn't say, at least not exactly, which would likely suit Kundera just fine. The drink is included here, in a column about eating, for having achieved the kind of balance I admire in creative cooking, and for so successfully drawing out the refreshing qualities of Cynar, an herbaceous and, in lesser hands, difficult liqueur.
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Atomic Burger 3934 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, 504.309.7474
After 14 years of New Orleans living, I've come to accept that suffering through gridlock on Veterans Memorial Boulevard is simply unavoidable. If it was otherwise, I'd still find my way to this locally bred fast food joint for its juicy version of the New Mexico specialty.
Kung Pao Pastrami
Red's Chinese 3048 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, 504.304.6030
This proudly inauthentic Asian restaurant in Bywater didn't invent the amalgamation of Jewish-American-Chinese staples. But we can all thank the restaurant for bringing it to New Orleans.
Dolce Vita Wood Fired Pizzeria 1205 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504.324.7674
Wood Pizza Bistro and Taproom 404 Andrew Higgins Drive, New Orleans, 504.281.4893
Dolce Vita recently underwent a minor renovation (you can now sit at the bar) and a major personnel change (founder Bogdan Mocanu is no longer involved) despite only being 17 months old. Wood is even newer. Both offer convincing evidence that excellent pizza is becoming another thing New Orleanians can take for granted.
Oysters on the Half-Shell
Pascal's Manale 1838 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, 504.895.4877
Shucker Thomas "Uptown T" Stewart told us they came from St. Bernard Parish. It was February, when for my money Louisiana oysters show best: plump but not overly large and as salty as anything harvested from the other coasts.
Oysters Rockefeller Soup
Clancy's 6100 Annunciation St., New Orleans, 504.895.1111
I don't recall ever having this before: A swamp-green soup pulsing with spice topped with crouton-crisp fried oysters. I was temped to order a second bowl as my main course.
Pagoda Café 1430 N. Dorgenois St., New Orleans, 504.644.4178
You can taste the booze, and it goes great with your cup of morning joe.
Guy's Po-Boys 5259 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504.891.5025
One thing you can always count on when you walk into Guy's: Finding owner Marvin Matherne busily assembling po-boys in the open kitchen just behind the cash register. He's one of the city's hardest working restaurateurs. Just don't call him "guy."