City Guides

Navigating the New Orleans Po’Boy

A foot-long field guide to the classic sandwich

photo: Peter Frank Edwards

The Gulf shrimp po’boy at Killer Poboys.

Though the Crescent City is known for its wide range of restaurants—from corner joints to white-linen old-world Creole palaces—New Orleans has a particular culinary attachment to the humble po’boy, the city’s variation on the long-sandwich tradition.

The near-universal origin story is that the sandwich was invented by sympathetic grocers during the 1929 streetcar strike to support and sustain strikers during the work stoppage (“We gotta feed them poor boys…”). Filled with crispy fried local seafood, slow-stewed roast beef, or cold cuts made magic on a griddle, a po’boy is a meal that’s appropriate any time your stomach starts to growl.

Below are several of the most popular po’boy variations. Be sure to order it “dressed” (with mayo, crispy lettuce, tomato slices, and dill pickles), and hunker down for one of New Orleans’ best lowbrow dining experiences.

 


Fried Seafood

A few miles down on the coast, oyster dredges and shrimp boats ply the Gulf of Mexico’s waters and bring New Orleans a flood tide of delicious, affordable seafood. If you’re a fan of crunchy fried shrimp or meaty, properly cooked oysters in sandwich form, these should be the mainstay of your walk-around-New Orleans diet.

 

French Fry

A double-carb nod to the sandwich’s origin story, this bare-bones version layers crispy potatoes on a puffy French loaf, then tops them with ladles of roast beef gravy (for savor) and the traditional condiments (mayo, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, dill pickles).

 

Roast Beef

Savory, gravy drenched, and messy as hell, a properly made roast beef po’boy should be a bit of a challenge to eat. The gravy is the real star here, with chunks of slow-cooked roast adding beefy goodness. Pro tip: The success of a proper roast beef is measured in napkins. (The more you need, the better it is.)

 

Hot Sausage

New Orleans’ “hot sausage” is its own variation on the porky po’boy food group. Usually served patty-style and cooked up on a burger griddle, hot sausage has a pronounced cayenne kick and just enough grease to provide late-night belly ballast, should you need it in the wee hours. (No judgment here. We’ve all been there.) Add American cheese if that’s your thing.

 

Fried Catfish

Meaty freshwater fillets from our bewhiskered feline fish are more associated with nearby Mississippi, but that doesn’t mean the fry cooks of New Orleans can’t turn them into a solid lunchtime po’boy. Delicately flavored, substantially crunchy.

 

 

Hot Ham and Cheese

Yeah, yeah. Anybody can make a ham and cheese sandwich, right? But New Orleans cooks can turn standard deli items into something transcendent. Put thin-sliced pig on a flat-top grill until it starts to caramelize and the edges crisp up, add a couple of cheddar slices, and let them melt for a bit. On the fluffy po’boy loaf, they become something else altogether. Don’t sleep on this one.

 

Specialty of the House

Food cultures make progress when working cooks—well schooled in and respectful of local food traditions—get a little bored and possibly a little tipsy in the kitchen. (Don’t laugh. It happens.) They start experimenting with ingredients, flavors, and influences that push boundaries of form and culinary customs. This gets us Roasted Sweet Potato po’boys (at Killer Poboys), riffs on the Vietnamese bánh mi tradition, and countless po’boys named after groundbreaking locals who have admittedly “eclectic” tastes (the burger-based Judge Bosetta at Johnny’s Po-Boys comes to mind). Scan any menu for unfamiliar names and pay homage to these unsung pioneers of the New Orleans food scene.


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