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New Orleans' St. Claude Avenue Is the Next Big Thing in Great Food | Frommer's David Landsel

New Orleans' St. Claude Avenue Is the Next Big Thing in Great Food

This drag in the Big Easy's Bywater neighborhood has emerged from years in limbo to become the city's most unexpected and rewarding gastronomic draws.
It seems so long ago now, but there was a time in recent history when the Bywater, that sliver of New Orleans' Ninth Ward just east of the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, was considered an up-and-comer, a place you went to get a feel for the real New Orleans.
Today, with its multi-million dollar infrastructure projects (if you haven't seen Crescent Park yet, go), cool shops like Euclid Records (one of the South's best for vinyl), and smart restaurants serving things on toast, the Bywater pretty much feels like a new kind of Uptown—Uptown for the young, creative set. If only, the new arrivals whispered amongst themselves, something could be done about St. Claude Avenue. Shared in part with the Marigny and marking rather explicitly the divide between those increasingly gentrified areas and a New Orleans on which most visitors politely pass, St. Claude Avenue for years was a collection of auto body shops, corner stores, homes in poor repair, edgy dives like the Saturn and the Hi-Ho, and a less-than-gentle reminder to the casual explorer to turn around and go back to where they'd come from.
In those low years after a certain storm that shall not be named, driving up and down St. Claude felt a lot like a March stroll through a New England garden, an occasional sign of spring peeking up from the barren ground. Here was an art gallery that never seemed to be open, there a grimy coffee shop, the sort that seemed to mostly function as a clubhouse for young people with no proper work to do.  
These days, St. Claude still looks like St. Claude, but the energy has changed dramatically. Walking down its crooked sidewalks, your companion the traffic rushing to and from the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard Parish beyond, it feels as if St. Claude is on the brink of something. Like this could be the next big thing.
St. Roch Market
2381 St. Claude Ave.
The tipping point had to have been the beautiful renovation of this historic all-weather shed dating back to too long ago, now re-imagined as an absurdly pretty food hall. It's the least St. Claude thing on St. Claude, which has brought the gawkers out for a look and a dozen oysters, a cocktail or three. Operating with the intent of incubating smaller businesses, the modernized market still feels more like a visitor from another planet than a part of the neighborhood, but most visitors barely notice. It is, for better or worse, an anchor for the avenue, the first of many reasons to add St. Claude to your next New Orleans itinerary. 
Shank Charcuterie
2352 St. Claude Ave.
Cancel the day trip to Acadiana—some of Louisiana's tastiest boudin, the one-of-a-kind, well-seasoned pork and rice treat squeezed out of sausage casings and into your happy little mouth—can be had here at a very reasonable price. Everything served up at this smoky butcher shop and café (headcheese plate, anyone?) across from the St. Roch Market comes from the mind of proprietor Kris Doll, a local charcuterie pro. For those who live to eat meat, this feels something like a lunchtime essential.  
Sólo Espresso
1301 Poland Ave.
Where is New Orleans hiding some of its very best baristas? Why, underneath the porch of a creaky old home near the Industrial Canal, of course. Tucked behind a thicket of tropical greenery just steps off the avenue, the crew here pulls terrific shots with beans from a variety of top national roasters. Humble it may be in appearance, but the atmosphere, the casual but competent service, and, most of all, the coffee, vault this cozy hideout far above a good chunk of the local competition. Check out their Saturday food pop-up events for a rotating selection of good eats. 
Faubourg Wines
2805 St. Claude Ave.
This serious shop specializes in small producers from around the world, but it's also a great hangout for local oenophiles. An array of attractively priced bottles and a $2 corkage fee—not to mention a selection of fromages from local expert St. James Cheese Co. and fresh bread from Bellegarde, one of the best bakeries the city has seen in years—make this a great place to kick off (or end) an evening on the town. Can't commit? Free wine tastings are held Wednesday evenings. 
Red's Chinese
3048 St. Claude Ave.
Crawfish rangoons, Kung Pao pastrami, General's chicken—this isn't your typical Chinese (or Chinese-American) food, and that's the point. With more than a nod towards the popular Mission Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and New York, this irreverent and pleasantly affordable lunch and dinner spot has quickly become a neighborhood favorite. Here on a Tuesday? Daiquiris are $5, all day long.