You can't swing a loaf of French bread in New Orleans' French Quarter without hitting a po-boy shop, but locals know that not all po-boys are created equal. Between the pillowy halves of French bread (preferably from Leidenheimer's Bakery), the right ingredients can really sing. From frilly and fancy to down and dirty (metaphorically speaking), these five places serve the best po-boys in the Vieux Carré.
The Acme Oyster House is best-known as the place to get freshly-shucked raw oysters in the Quarter, but the prepared food here is also quite good, and the po-boys are especially fantastic. The seafood po-boys, and oyster sammys in particular, are second-to-none, but those who don't love seafood will also enjoy the roast beef po-boy. It's made with "debris," which is beef that's braised in a rich gravy until it disintegrates.
The star po-boy: the "Fried Peace Maker." Fried shrimp and oysters, served "dressed" with lettuce, tomatoes, pickle, and Tabasco-infused mayo.
This hole-in-the-wall grocery store and deli counter serves what many locals believe to be the best po-boys in the city. The menu is enormous, but far from pretentious, and offers every kind of deli meat, roasted meat, and fried seafood you could possibly want, in varying combinations. Squeeze to the counter in the back, order up your sammich, grab a bag of chips and a bottle of beer, and pay at the register. Take your overstuffed bag back to your hotel room or go find a bench in Jackson Square or on the riverbank, and dig in.
The star po-boy: the "All That Jazz." Grilled ham and turkey, fried shrimp, Swiss and American cheese, grilled mushrooms, and a healthy squirt of "wow sauce."
Johnny's, which claims to be the oldest family-owned po-boy shop in the world, has been a favorite of many locals since it opened in 1950. It's a down-home kind of place with red checked vinyl tablecloths, friendly service, and easy-on-the-wallet prices. It's right out of another era, really. Johnny's not only serves a wide variety of lunch po-boys, but a pretty impressive slate of breakfast po-boys -- a rarity even in these here parts.
The star po-boy: the "Judge Posetta." Ground beef, Italian and hot sausage, melted Swiss cheese.
Tucked in the back of the boisterous Erin Rose Irish Bar, Killer Poboys offers up a wildly creative and ever-changing menu of po-boys that are as delectable as they are affordable (most are under $10). Local ingredients and seasonal flavors factor heavily into Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow's creations. Don't want to eat in the bar? That's okay, get 'em to go (heck, it's New Orleans, you can get a drink to go, too).
The star po-boy: the menu changes often, but a current favorite is the "Five Spice Beef Meatloaf Po-boy" with spicy mustard, chili garlic greens, and scallion.
Chef Scott Boswell adds a gourmet refinement to a slate of traditional po-boys at this quietly elegant cafe on the edge of Jackson Square. So refined, in fact, that they're called "poor boys" on the menu, perhaps so as not to be confused with the vernacular versions you'll find at every mini-mart in town. But really, they're delicious and surprisingly affordable for such carefully-crafted sandwiches.
The star po-boy: the "Pigeali Poor Boy." Slow roasted BBQ cochon de lait pork and house-made cole slaw on seeded bread.