Guiding Bite: Chef Justin Devillier’s Culinary Guide to New Orleans
Get to know NOLA through the stomach of renowned local chef Justin Devillier, who picks his favorite spots for po-boys, cheap beer, and belly-busting baleadas.
This story originally appeared on Coastalliving.com.
Meet the Chef
Justin Devillier might be a California native, but since he made the leap from Orange County to New Orleans in 2003, he’s become one of the Big Easy’s brightest young chefs. After working in the kitchens at Bacco, Stella, and Peristyle—where he trained under his mentor, Anne Kearny-Sands—Devillier joined the team at La Petite Grocery.
After helping to rebuild the space following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Devillier shot through the ranks, took over ownership of the restaurant, scored a James Beard award for Best Chef: South, and became a household name on the 11th season of “Top Chef.”
If that weren’t enough to entrench himself in Louisiana’s rich culinary landscape, the chef recently opened his second restaurant, Balise, which has helped further his vision for a more modern New Orleans cuisine. Between juggling a newborn, two kitchens, and dozens of employees, here’s how the Crescent City’s adopted son likes to explore his hometown. And in New Orleans, that’s through its food.
Related: 5 Coastal Chefs to Watch
Best Dive Bar
Pal’s Lounge is this retro dive bar in Mid-City with great drink specials and vintage Playboy centerfolds on the men’s bathroom wall. It’s been here since 2002, which isn’t that old by New Orleans’ standards. But it’s become an institution in its own right. Anyone that I bring there immediately falls in love with it. It’s one of the best bars in a city surrounded by great bars. When I first started going there in 2003, the draw was $1 PBRs. They’ve since upped it to $2. But I’ve moved on anyway. I’ve since matured into drinking Miller High Life.
Everyone’s always asking me, “What’s your favorite po-boy?” And for me, it’s relative to what kind of po-boy you want. If you want roast beef, definitely go to R&O’s. If you want fried oysters, it’s probably Domilise’s. But I like Parkway Bakery and Tavern because it’s a one-answer spot. Everything is good across the board there. Whatever you order off the menu, you’re going to be satisfied, whether it’s the po-boys, or my favorite, the sweet potato fries with roast beef gravy.
Surprisingly, Pêche Seafood Grill, the restaurant from Donald Link and Ryan Prewitt, has my favorite rib-eye in town. I also love their crab-stuffed shrimp, but we ordered the steak on a whim one night, and now I’ve gone back for it numerous times. Sometimes midday. It’s got to be somewhere around 32-ounces [it’s actually 22 ounces], wood-grilled, with a sprinkling of fried onions on top. Whenever I’m having a steak craving, I’m going to Pêche Seafood Grill. Seriously.
Ideal Market is a Central American grocery where I like to go shopping since they carry a bunch of products you don’t normally find at your local Rouses [Market] or Whole Foods. They have a hot line in the back where they’re making baleadas that are crazy good, but super unhealthy. It’s a Honduran breakfast with a thick tortilla that’s more like a flatbread or pupusa, wrapped around a pound of egg, crema, queso, and beans. There came a point where I recognized that I was eating 2 or 3 week and I had to reign myself in.
[Bevi Seafood Co.] was opened by a chef named Justin Leblanc who left the fine dining world to open these 2 very classic seafood boil shops. Outside of the Gulf Coast, I know those aren’t very common. But here in New Orleans, there are a lot of little walk-in shops. The big difference is that he introduced the techniques and quality standards he picked up in fine dining. He hand-sorts all the crawfish in the back. I just can’t think of a better place to get them in New Orleans.
Best Coffee Shop
The owner [of Cherry Espresso Bar], Lauren Fink, started out in the corner of Stein’s Market & Deli where she had a little espresso machine and would charge people using her Square. She was able to parlay that into a brick and mortar. They put a lot of work into what they do, and what they procure. The menu changes almost daily with guest roasters such as Roseline and Madcap. I usually grab a single-origin cappuccino and one of the great breakfast small plates.