Lasagna is not a complicated dish, but two aspects of it keep most makers from excellence. First is the amount of time it takes to make it properly. Hours. Second is the amount of cheese needed to make it distinguished. The cheese component is the most expensive part of the dish, even when it’s a beef or veal lasagna. The best versions use several different cheeses, and plenty of them. The red sauce matters, too. It needs to be thick and present in a great enough amount to flow.
There are many great lasagnas out there, such that the restaurants on the bottom of this list are still first-class. I left out a few specialized versions that might fit–the fifty-layer lasagna at Eleven 79, for example. Also missing: the many lasagnas made with seafood and cream sauce. That’s a whole ‘nother list.
1. Gio’s Villa Vancheri. Mandeville: 2890 E Causeway Approach. 985-624-2597. Perfect in every way. Just the right texture, right amount and variety of cheese, right amount of meat, great sauce, a little crusty on top. Ridiculously large portion. Now try to get a table.
2. Acropolis Cuisine. Metairie: 3841 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-9046. The Acropolis comes across and is a Greek restaurant. But Italian food forms a big part of the menu, made noteworthy by an unusually superb red sauce. The lasagna takes full advantage of it.
3. Impastato’s. Metairie: 3400 16th St. 504-455-1545. This gets the prize for the richest (because of the amount of cheese used) standard red-sauce-and-meat lasagna in town. I think Sal Impastato makes it for both his own restaurant and his brother Joe’s Metairie place.
3. Sal and Judy’s. Lacombe: 27491 Highway 190. 985-882-9443.
4. Fausto’s. Metairie: 530 Veterans Blvd. 504-833-7121. If the world of New Orleans-style food were interpreted on a graph, Fausto’s food would be in the direct center. The lasagna and all the other red sauce dishes will speak to the taste you first developed for this dish back when you were a kid.
5. Sandro’s Trattoria. Metairie: 6601 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-7784. Sandro’s is a very small but careful maker of the standards of local Sicilian-inspired cooking. Hence, excellent lasagna.
6. Bosco’s. Mandeville: 2040 La Hwy 59. 985-624-5066. Bosco’s had a peculiar recipe for lasagna when it first opened. That has since gone away, to be replaced by a classic cheesy, saucy, spicy job served–like everything else here–in giant blocks.
7. Happy Italian. Harahan: 7105 Jefferson Hwy. 504-305-4666. This is a little restaurant with unusual pizza and a knack for sauces. Owner-chef Lenny Minutillo–native of New Jersey but a longtime food guy in New Orleans, turns out an oversized lasagna made not with beef but ground turkey. That’s usually enough to turn me away, but I didn’t know about the turkey when I first tried it and loved it.
8. Katie’s. Mid-City: 3701 Iberville. 504-488-6582. Katie’s lasagna is like no other in that it’s baked to order, in a round, deep baking dish that comes out bubbling. It is far too much to finish, but worth bringing home.
9. Vincent’s. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. Vincent’s red sauce dishes have a darkish, meaty quality that I find exciting and satisfying. This is true of the lasagna, whose only drawback is that it might pull you away from the many other better dishes here.
9. Vincent’s. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984.
10. Mandina’s. Mandeville: 4240 La 22. 985-674-9883.
I have never been a big fan of Mandina’s red-sauce dishes, but this is an exception. It’s also one of the few dishes that’s better at their Mandeville franchise than at the Canal Street original restaurant–which, I’m told by a regular, doesn’t even serve lasagna. The flavors arrive in this order: meaty, tomato-saucy, then cheesy. The, “I can’t eat another bite!” That’s because Mandina’s lasagna is the local size champion.
11. Venezia. Mid-City: 134 N Carrollton Ave.. 504-488-7991. I was never a fan of Venezia’s until about two years ago. They swear that nothing has changed, but I am convinced that everything is better here now than I remember. The lasagna will almost certainly fill your definition, with all the ingredients brought to bear in maximum quantity.
12. Giorlando’s. Metairie: 741 Bonnabel. 504-835-8593. Giorlando’s is a long-running neighborhood restaurant that made its name in roast beef poor boys, then slowly expanded its menu, particularly in the direction of Italy. It’s the Mamma’s old recipe style, and when that’s what you crave this will be the ticket. No shortage of red sauce.