Life is Noodiful
Noodles are a staple food in many culinary cultures – Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, German – and they are made with everything from wheat to rice to acorn meal. They are cheap to make, easy to store and preserve, and lend themselves to thousands of preparations. Noodles are a got-to for feeding young families on a budget, so, many of us literally cut our teeth on them. They are familiar and we find them comforting. Doubt the comforting power of noodles? Just shove a bowl of Kraft mac and cheese or buttered noodles with Parmesan in front of a crying child.
To make the cut for consideration as one of New Orleans’ best noodle dishes the noodles had to be made from a grain, so no zoodles and no spaghetti squash. The dish also had to be about the noodles themselves, rather than noodles as a vehicle for something else—like a fried soft-shell crab or a meatball, as tantalizing as those foods may be.
Despite their mild and agreeable nature, noodles had to be the star of the show to make the cut.
Drunken Duck Noodles
4519 Magazine St., 504-373-6471
2200 Royal St., 504-948-9309
Upon graduating from LSU with a degree in landscape architecture, Keith Scarmuzza decamped to Thailand where he worked on resort developments and fell in love with Thai food. He and his wife Surpeeya married in Bangkok. When the couple moved back to Keith’s native New Orleans there was no Thai food that met their standards. They opened the original SukhoThai (meaning ‘Dawn of Happiness’) in 2003.
The couple developed all the recipes for their two restaurants and continue to work hands-on with a team of chefs, most of whom are Thai. The Drunken (so called because of the generous amount of sauce) Duck Noodles start with fresh, wide rice noodles. Duck (choice of either breast or half of a duck) is marinated in a combination of anise, cinnamon, black pepper, celery, and soy sauces, then lightly stewed, then flash fried before it is stir-fried with the chewy noodles in roasted chili paste with garlic, onion, carrot, broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, sweet basil, and egg. The result is a fragrant, visually appealing dish with a symphony of fresh flavors.
93 5th St, Gretna
A native of Chiang Ria in northern Thailand, Chef Suda Oun-in said “I like Pad Thai to the extent I was willing to go home late after school to wait for the Pad Thai restaurant to open, even though I knew I would argue with my father after I got home.”
As a classically trained Thai chef, Oun-in travelled all over Thailand eating what remains her favorite dish.
Her job as a chef with Marriott hotels transferred her from the island of Similan to downtown New Orleans in 2010. With a dazzling smile and seemingly boundless energy, Oun-in met Jeerasak Boonlert, a Buddhist monk, at Chua Bo De temple on the West Bank, at which he had been serving as a missionary since 2008. The couple married in 2012 after he returned to secular life upon completing his practice with the temple. They opened Thai D’Jing in Old Gretna in 2020.
Oun-in’s Pad Thai uses the customary base of rice noodles, egg, and red and green onion but her sauce of tamarind, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, and red chili pepper is of a brighter, redder hue than others found around town. The chef speculates this is the love she pours in.
“Noodles are essential to the dish but so is the love, the warmth, and the feeling that you want to convey to the person who is tasting it,” she said.
Her Pad Thai is offered with a choice of protein including tofu, shrimp, chicken, beef, and scallops.
Spaghetti with Seasonal Produce and Bowfin Caviar
611 O’Keefe Ave.
Chef Michael Gulottta credits Chef de Cuisine Conner Hinderks with the brilliant marriage of house-made spaghetti that showcases seasonal produce—it might be figs, roasted Asian pears, winter squash— with Bowfin caviar, crème fraiche, lemongrass soubise, and coconut chili vinegar. Like so many dishes, the team conjures up at Maypop this combination of disparate flavors should not work, yet somehow, they do: the chew of the spaghetti is offset by the sweetness of the roasted produce. The tang and heat of the vinegar play against the produce while the Bowfin adds pops of briny texture. The lemongrass soubise bathes everything in vibrancy and the crème fraiche lends tang and creaminess. This should be enough to set your tastebuds on alert, but if more is needed, house charcuterie is offered as an add-on.
(in the Pontchartrain Hotel)
2031 St. Charles Ave.
Everything about Jack Rose feels vaguely otherworldly, like Andy Warhol might walk in at any time. There is the Mad Hatter-like, color saturated, Instagram-driven décor. The Champagne “bongs” that allow users to down their glass of Champagne or sparkling wine in next to no time, effectively launching you off on that rocket to Russia that much faster. Then there is the “Fettucine Nero”—deeply black squid ink pasta with a faint brininess that offsets giant, creamy, deftly seared scallops, and wild mushrooms in an unctuous sauce of parmesan and vermouth. The eye-popping dish arrives garnished with bright herbs and flowers, making it even more unforgettable.
Chef Linda Green’s Yaka mein
Chef Linda Green, the Ya-Ka-Mein Lady
neworleanssoulfood.com, @cheflindagreen on Instagram for information on popups
Lore has it that Black southern soldiers fighting abroad in the Korean War were first exposed to a version of yaka mein—a soupy elixir of savory roast beef or pork and shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, scallions, spaghetti, and occasionally, vegetables in a spicy, salty broth with heavy doses of soy sauce and black pepper. The soldiers consumed it after a day on the battlefield or an evening in a bar to sober up and fortify themselves. They brought the tradition home with them and ever since it has been served in some of the city’s Black bars, where is it often referred to as “Old Sober.” Chef Linda Green “The Ya-Ka-Mein Lady” learned to make the restorative dish from her mother. She carried on the tradition through her catering service and started selling it from the back of her pickup at second line parades, various festivals, farmers’ markets, and food truck gatherings around town.
(in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery)
535 Tchoupitoulas St.
A chef needs mojo to bring together the ingredients in this dish and Nina Compton has that in spades. Though she has been making pasta throughout her global career, she really honed her exemplary technique at Scarpetta, where she started digging deeper and focused on perfecting the craft.
“I love scialatielli and really wanted to use Louisiana shrimp in a pasta dish,” said the James Beard Award-winner. “At the same time, we were receiving these beautiful, briny clams so I added those. For the sauce I used puréed cauliflower and to brighten it up, added habanero, coconut milk, star anise, lemongrass, and ginger. The sweetness of the sauce works with the brininess of the seafood.”
Jimmy Lee Moran, scion of the legendary Moran restaurant family behind Moran’s Riverside and Bella Luna, will deliver just-made pasta of your choosing (anything from Angel Hair to Pappardelle) to your door for $9 a pound. He makes his pasta with a Toresani-style machine, which rolls the pasta—as opposed to extruding it—resulting in a product that is delicate and whisper thin, like billows of clouds on your tongue. Jimmy delivers in the New Orleans area, just call him 504.715.5019.
Moran’s Fettuccine Alfredo
Serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as a side
1 pound fresh fettucine noodles from Jimmy Moran
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pats, at room temperature
1/3-pound grated Parmesan cheese
2-4 tablespoons whole milk or half-and-half, scalded and kept hot
- Bring a tea kettle filled with water to a boil. Fill a large, shallow, heat-proof serving bowl with the boiling water. Set aside.
- Bring a stockpot filled with salted water to a vigorous boil. Add the fettuccine and stir gently to separate the noodles. Cook for one minute then taste the pasta to determine if the texture is as you desire. Do not overcook.
- Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Keep it hot.
- Loosely drain the pasta, allowing some water to cling. Working quickly while wearing oven mitts, dump the water out of the reserved serving bowl and dry the interior with a dishcloth. Add the pasta to the bowl. Immediately add the butter and mix well, tossing with a fork and a spoon or kitchen tongs. Add one fourth of the cheese. Toss gently, yet thoroughly, to break up any lumps. Add one tablespoon of the hot milk or half-and-half and toss. Continue alternating the cheese and the hot milk or half-and-half until the pasta is loose and creamy, neither wet, nor dry. Add a bit of the reserved water from cooking the pasta if necessary to achieve a creamy sauce.
- Divide among serving bowls and top with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Nod to Noodles
The oldest evidence of noodles is from 4,000 years ago when a plate of rice lamian was found during an archeological dig in northwest China. Data indicates that soon after the Etruscans, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans all started producing pasta similar to what we eat today made with grains native to their respective cultures. What the ancient Romans called “laganum” was made with a dough of water and flour that was kneaded then cut in strips. It was very much like today’s fettuccine.
Spicy Dan Dan Noodles
5236 Tchoupitoulas St.
The Dan Dan Noodles Chef Hao Gong serves at Luvi are of the style his grandmother made for him as a child in Shanghai in the1970s. Ground chicken breast is cooked with black bean paste, brown Sochu, and garlic to form a hearty sauce. It is served over slippery wheat noodles floating in a pork and chicken bone broth rendered creamy with white tahini paste, then topped with scallions and chili oil. The name of the dish refers to a type of pole walking street vendors hoist over their shoulders to carry baskets—one filled with noodles, the other with sauce—suspended at either end. Over time the name of the inexpensive dish became synonymous with that of the dan dan poles.
704 S. Carrollton Ave.
A staple in Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, Singapore Noodles combine a tangle of whisper-thin rice vermicelli, curry powder, vegetables, scrambled eggs, and a protein. At China Orchid in the Riverbend neighborhood, an abundance of shrimp rounds out the dish.
Situated in an uninspiring strip mall, for 35 years China Orchid has never disappointed. The portions are fresh and hefty, the service is friendly, delivery is available Uptown, and the prices are thrifty.
Cacio e Pepe
516 Julia St.
New Orleans, 504-322-3216
Cacio e Pepe (literally, cheese and pepper) is the simplest of all ancient Roman pasta dishes. It is also one of the easiest to screw up. At Sophia, Chef Talia Diele takes no shortcuts. She tosses house-made tonnarelli pasta (like spaghetti but with squared edges) with Locatelli Pecorino, black pepper, and several ladles of the hot, salted water used for cooking the pasta. The pasta is tossed swiftly and repeatedly until the sauce emulsifies and coats the pasta. She then scatters over a few pink peppercorns before the dish is raced to the dining room as it has zero hold time. The result is perfection.
Seafood Lo Mein
3507 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Metairie
No bells, no whistles, no charm. This operation is mostly drive-through with a few counter stools and a couple of booths. It is also, hands down, the greatest bargain around for those low on dough with the need to feed a crowd for under $15. A large takeout clamshell container of Seafood Lo Mein had to be wrestled into closure so crammed was it with noodles, shrimp, crawfish, tuna, salmon, white fish, surimi and vegetables in a light, flavorful sauce. Everything is cooked to order and service comes with a smile.
Macaroni Pie with Creole Red Gravy
1117 Decatur St.
Chef Eric Cook’s belt-busting take on the sacred goo of Southern holiday dinners was inspired by the macaroni and cheese with red gravy at Rocky & Carlo’s, a spot frequented by Cook and his family when he was a child growing up in St. Bernard Parish. Cook’s version at Saint John is both decadent and homey. A deep, chewy crust forms at the bottom of a baking dish crammed with bucatini noodles and a custard sauce of heavy cream, eggs, and sharp cheddar that is piled high with more cheddar. What comes out of the oven is a solid mass that is cut into generous squares. Each bite is an explosion of textures. A finishing foil of Creole Red Gravy brings depth and acidity needed to cut through the richness of the pie.
Plant-Based Miso Ramen
Union Ramen Bar
1837 Magazine St., Suite B
After an inspirational trip to Japan to study the various styles of ramen, and after hosting numerous pop-ups Nhat “Chef Nate” Nguyen’s first entrepreneurial venture came together just as the pandemic was taking root. He has carved out his own style that eschews the use of the usual pork-based tonkatsu broth in favor of a lighter approach. His bright spot offers a selection of dishes based around his silky house-made noodles: Original Tori with a poultry-based broth; Miso with a plant-based broth; Slap-Ya-Kimchi Mazeman (brothless with blackened chicken, kimchi, and poached egg); and Dirty Mazemen (brothless with ground beef, tasso, roasted sweet pepper and poached egg).
The plant-based Miso broth arrives loaded with ramen topped with confit oyster mushrooms, roasted tomato, spinach, wakame, black garlic oil, and a poached egg.
Sauteed Italian Oysters and Veal Stuffed Cannelloni
Vincent’s Italian Cuisine
7839 St. Charles Ave. 504-866-9313
4411 Chastant St., Metairie 504-885-2984
Go to Vincent’s for dinner and a show.
“Hey Baby, how’s your family? Look how big you’ve gotten! How’d that deal work out? We’ve got a special on the menu tonight that’s got your name on it, Mr. C! What a lovely dress, looking good! Let me get chair for you, ma’am. It’s a dry vodka martini with an olive and an onion: I’ll have that sent right over.”
Watching co-owner Anthony “Tony” Imbraguglio work his art is straight up cinema verité. Ever in motion with fluidity and grace, his is the kind of relaxed, though courtly, service associated with a dying breed of older restaurateur. But this 40-something man has the touch: He makes children feel important, women beautiful, and men virile. Many warrant hugs or a kiss on the cheek. Upon administering his greeting, Imbraguglio’s guest stands taller. What, after all, would one expect of the most important person in the room—even in a room full of them, you just know it’s you Tony admires most.
The food at Vincent’s is as fresh, flavorful, and robust as it has ever been in the restaurant’s nearly 25-years. The House Specialty, “Veal Cannelloni,” is a silken creation involving sheets of house-made pasta stuffed with a puree of ground veal, spinach, and Parmesan set atop a pool of Alfredo cream and finished with light red sauce. Equally satisfying, the “Sauteed Italian Oysters” are plump, lightly battered Gulf specimens sauteed with a lively Bordelaise of green onions, garlic, and olive oil that bathes angel hair pasta.
Spicy Miso Chicken Ramen
4430 Magazine St.
To enter Haiku on Magazine Street one must first cross a covered, raised outdoor porch to reach the entrance. The intimate, jewel-like interior pretty much lacks natural light and is, instead, subtly lit to reflect the tiny metallic flecks in the stone counter of the sushi bar, and hung with serene art. Even when busy it feels like a secret—just the place to slurp a bowl of slippery ramen noodles when it is hot outside, but you want to forget about it.
The extensive menu includes ramen with choices of tonkatsu, kansu, shoyu and miso broths as well as selections of protein.
The spicy miso ramen with chicken comes with chicken chashu, baby bok choy, a marinated egg, thinly sliced scallions, and narutomaki in a miso broth deep with umami undernotes.
Duck Leg Lasagnette
Del Porto Ristorante
501 E. Boston St. Covington
At the stylish Del Porto, Chefs David and Torre Solazzo, three-time James Beard award finalists, have been turning out rustic Italian fare and hand-made pasta since 2014, making it a neighborhood favorite in Covington and a destination restaurant for the entire metro area. It’s hard to go wrong on the menu but the promise of cooler weather brings cravings for the “Duck Leg Lasagnette,” a personal-sized portion of something you do not way to share, anyway. Thin sheets of house-made pasta are layered with duck braised with locally grown fall greens and wild mushrooms, and ricotta, then topped with a house-made founduta of Montasio cheese that is gratineed just before it hits the table.
Tagliatelle with Seasonal Seafood
428 E. Boston St.Covington
Opened in the Spring, The Gloriette is a beautiful confection of a restaurant. A lush garden mural by Graham Menage scrolls across robin’s egg blue walls, tucking its way into the alcoves behind two recessed tables to form a cocoon of brilliant garden flowers. Banquette seating covered in azure blue ultra-suede invites lingering, gazing through the picture windows upon a verdant park of moss-draped oaks while sipping proper cocktails from elegant coupee glasses.
A standout on Chef Steven Marsella’s appetizer menu is a tangle of wide ribbons of Tagliatelle cradling sauteed Screaming Oaks mushrooms, bottarga, and lemon chili gremolata. Depending on the season the dish may bear crawfish tails, shrimp, or lumps of crabmeat. It is a light, lovely, and fragrant way to start a meal in this stunning space.
Basil Spaghetti and Pappardelle Bolognese
1320 Magazine St.
At the rear of The Bower, a chic, verdant spot in the LGD, is an open kitchen manned by Chef Marcus Woodham where he makes his perfect, chewy, billowy pasta. The kitchen’s expansive picture windows overlook a lushly planted courtyard and outdoor dining spaces. It seems like an inspiring place to work. Perhaps this is Woodham’s Kryptonite.
It was a hot day, and the Basil Spaghetti was just the ticket. Perfectly al dente spaghetti is coated with fresh basil pesto, preserved lemon, oven dried cherry tomatoes and burrata. Crack into the burrata and its rich cream will spill out atop the pasta. Bliss.
When the chill sets in I am headed back for another visit with the Pappardelle Bolognese of pork, beef, Parmigiano, and aged balsamic. It is finished with truffled cultured cream.
Lamb Lasagna and Blue Crab Mafaldini
700 Magazine St.
The standout noodle dishes at Gianna cover the seasons.
When a real chill in the air hits, the luxurious “Lamb Lasagna” will keep you cozy and satiated. The thin pasta sheets are house-made and arranged in layers between braised lamb shoulder slow cooked with mushrooms, a Northern Italian-style Bechamel sauce, and nutty Grana Pandana. When it is too hot to breathe outside, noodles from Gianna are still the answer. The “Blue Crab Mafaldini” is as light and uncomplicated as the lasagna is rich and complex. Ruffled ribbons of house-made mafaldini form a nest in a shallow pool of crab stock. The twirled ribbons are topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, shaved jalapeños, and topped with breadcrumbs toasted in butter.
Angel Hair Ziad
Maple Street Café
7623 Maple St.
Evergreen and always bustling, Maple Street Café was opened in 1997 by Jordanian bothers Jameel and Traeq Alqutob, both of whom started their American culinary careers in the kitchen at Andrea’s before opening their own place in an Uptown cottage, where they describe their food as “Mediterranean with an Italian flair.” Jameel continues to man the kitchen on Maple Street where he is joined by other family members, now in their second generation, who help run the front of the house. The elder Alqutob has an affection for naming dishes for loved ones. Such is the case with “Angel Hair Zaid,” which he named for a nephew. For the dish a generous portion of fresh, U-10 Gulf shrimp are sauteed with several varieties of wild mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in a light sauce of olive oil and garlic then served atop al dente, angel hair pasta.
Oysters Dante and Shrimp Mediterranean
1838 Napoleon Ave.
Best known as the birthplace of New Orleans-style “Barbecued Shrimp” and for its sprawling oyster bar, despite its provenance as a Creole-Italian restaurant, it’s easy to assume pasta dishes in the 110-year Pascale’s Manale would be an afterthought. Not so. There are real standouts on the menu including “Oysters Dante” — crisp fried oysters served over penne pasta bathed in a brandy-butter sauce with prosciutto and mushrooms. Another standout: “Shrimp Mediterranean” combines colossal sauteed Gulf shrimp with a touch of marinara sauce studded with roasted garlic, spinach, Kalamata olives and penne pasta with a finishing of Romano cheese. Both dishes are served exclusively at lunch.
4113 Magazine St.
Chef Aom Srisuk’s version of Mii (noodles) Kiew (wontons), checks all the boxes for a fresh, satisfying dish brimming with flavors and textures. Small, pillowy wonton dumplings (dumplings and noodles in one perfect dish!) filled with shrimp and pork are composed atop a tangle of egg noodles lightly dressed with the vibrant house-made special sauce. Also composed atop the noodles are a choice of barbecue pork or slow-cooked five-spice chicken (both are divine), baby bok choy, dry chili, crushed peanuts, and a shower of fresh herbs.
A native of Thailand, Srisuk and her husband Frankie Weinberg opened the diminutive Pomelo one year ago on a bustling stretch of Magazine Street. Srisuk wanted to start off small then grow her business as demand dictates for the food she has been cooking since she was a child helping in her family’s restaurant before opening restaurants of her own in Bangkok and later in her hometown of Ayutthaya. After moving to New Orleans with Weinberg, she cooked in the kitchens at Restaurant August, and Cho Thai before opening Pomelo where the recipes are her own and she does most of the cooking.
She is slowly introducing New Orleans diners to Thai specialty dishes with which they may be unfamiliar.