#23 Among The 33 Best Seafood Eateries
3 Fleur
EntreePrice-16
BreakfastNo Breakfast SundayNo Breakfast MondayNo Breakfast TuesdayNo Breakfast WednesdayNo Breakfast ThursdayNo Breakfast FridayNo Breakfast Saturday
LunchLunch SundayLunch MondayLunch TuesdayLunch WednesdayLunch ThursdayLunch FridayLunch Saturday
DinnerDinner SundayDinner MondayDinner TuesdayDinner WednesdayDinner ThursdayDinner FridayDinner Saturday

Mandina’s

Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179. Map.
Nice Casual
AE DS MC V
Website

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
For at least two generations of New Orleanians, the joys of restaurant dining were introduced in restaurants a lot like Mandina’s. Or at Mandina’s itself. Until the gourmet bistro era began in the 1980s, restaurants like this were in every New Orleans neighborhood. By then Mandina’s had become not only a rarity but seemed to be every Orleanian’s idea of what a neighborhood restaurant should be. Then Katrina came though and reminded us how important restaurants like this are to our cherished dining practices.

MandinasNS-Neon

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Mandina’s is rivaled only by Pascal’s Manale as the archetype of easygoing, Creole-Italian eating out. You can order almost any familiar local dish and get at least a pretty good version of it, from poor boys to trout with fancy sauces. Mandina’s has never been entirely consistent and its ingredients could be better. But any remediation of either of those matters would take something away. Low prices and the enormous portions usually take the edge off most dissatisfaction.

WHAT’S GOOD
Mandina’s cooks certain dishes so well that it’s easy to ignore the lame items. You come here for red beans and Italian sausage, a roast beef poor boy or beef stew, spaghetti and daube or a fried seafood platter. Soft-shell crabs amandine, oyster-artichoke soup. The pile of shrimp remoulade. Or a dozen or more other specialties. You leave happy. Especially if you had a drink or two at the bar while waiting for a table. Don’t start trouble by asking whether the trout is fresh or frozen, or whether that’s real turtle in the turtle soup. If it tastes good, it is good. And it does.

BACKSTORY
Mandina’s began in 1898 as a grocery store operated by Sebastian Mandina, a Sicilian immigrant. It evolved into a pool hall and sandwich shop. In 1932 Sebastian’s two sons turned the building into a restaurant, with their families living upstairs. Italian food was the mainstay and still is, but since the 1960s Mandina’s has been as much Creole as Italian. Hurricane Katrina put five feet of water into the building. Customers persuaded third-generation owner Tommy Mandina to repair the old place instead of building a new one. Waiting for that to be done (it took a year and a half). In the meantime, Mandina’s opened two franchises, one in Baton Rouge (now closed) and another in Mandeville. The latter started erratically, but its food has evolved into a pretty good approximation of that on Canal Street.

Chicken Parmigiana.

Chicken Parmigiana.

DINING ROOM
The layout and look changed with the renovation, but the essential elements are still in place. You enter from the side door into the bar, there to find a bunch of older guys in suits, talking to one another. (They may well still be standing there after you’ve dined.) The main dining room expanded by eliminating the stark old back room. Windows onto Canal Street are blocked only by the neon signs. A smaller dining room tacked on in the 1990s is pleasant but lacks the soul of the front room. Some of the old waiters are still there, but for the most part the staff is younger and less crotchety.

FULL ONLINE MENU

BEST DISHES
Starters
Eggplant sticks, marinara
Fried calamari
Shrimp remoulade
Shrimp cocktail
Turtle soup
Seafood gumbo
Oyster and artichoke soup
Italian salad

Entrees
Filet mignon
Hamburger steak
Ribeye steak
Broiled or fried chicken
Fried oyster, shrimp, trout, catfish, soft-shell crab or combo platters
»Trout meuniere or amandine
»Catfish meuniere or amandine
»Soft shell crab meuniere or amandine
Grilled shrimp over pasta bordelaise
Meatballs, italian sausage, or panneed veal with spaghetti
Veal or chicken parmesan and spaghetti

Sandwiches
Fried oyster, catfish, shrimp, soft shell crab, or trout poor boy
Grilled shrimp poor boy
Meatball poor boy
Hot roast beef poor boy
Italian sausage poor boy
Club sandwich
Muffuletta on French bread

Desserts
Cup custard
Bread pudding
Cheesecake

FOR BEST RESULTS
The best food on any given day will be the either the seafood platters or the home-style specials. To avoid a wait for a table, dine between standard meal hours, or later in the evening. Come with a thirst for a cocktail. Greatest danger at Mandina’s: that you will eat an entire loaf of the free garlic bread.

Soft-shell crabs amandine at Mandina's in Mandeville.

Soft-shell crabs amandine at Mandina’s in Mandeville.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Although many people like them, I have never found the red sauce dishes at Canal Street here to be especially good. Oddly, the Mandeville Mandina’s has improved greatly on the sauce and now makes it better than the original.

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.

  • Dining Environment
  • Consistency +1
  • Service+1
  • Value +2
  • Attitude +1
  • Wine & Bar
  • Hipness -2
  • Local Color +2

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Good view
  • 25-75
  • Open Sunday lunch and dinner
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Open all afternoon
  • Historic
  • Unusually large servings
  • Quick, good meal
  • Good for children
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • No reservations

2 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Frank Speyerer on March 4, 2015

    Is Mandina’s still “cash only”?

    TOMMENT: No, they finally went along with their customers’ wishes and now take plastic.

  2. rusty on March 4, 2015

    What is a “poor boy”? Is that the same as a “po-boy”?? Why do you call it that? No one does!

    TOMMENT: You are wrong. It is known who invented the poor boy sandwich: Benny and Clovis Martin, the owners of Martin’s Poor Boy Restaurant. In 1929, they started making what amounted to beef debris sandwiches on French bread, which they called the “poor boy” from then until the place closed in the early 1980s. I was a regular customer and can tell you that they NEVER used the semi-literate expression “po-boy.”

    Another notable user of “poor boy” was Richard Collin, the author of the first critical guidebook to New Orleans restaurants. In his Underground Gourmet books and his many years of columns in the States-Item, he called the sandwich “poor boy.” I was a student of his, in the 1970s, and I have always followed his lead and used “poor boy” in all my writing.

    Finally, to bring this up to modern times, “Parkway Poor Boys” is the official name of the very good and well-known shop on Bayou St. John.

    Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

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