Italians have a long and storied history in our city. In fact, during the late 19th century, just after the Civil War, there was a huge influx of Sicilian immigrants. It was an emigration so large (an estimated 290,000 individuals) that at one point the French Quarter was unofficially dubbed "Little Palermo." Though the population isn't as concentrated as it was over a century ago, the Italian influence can still be heavily felt throughout the Greater New Orleans Area, especially when you consider the proliferation of Creole-Italian cuisine. Great old-school Italian restaurants immediately come to mind-classics like Mosca's, Pascale's Manale, and Mandina's-which have stood the test of time, still serving dishes that draw faithfuls back year after year after year.
Although it's an Italian-American creation, many would argue that the simple cold-weather comfort dish of spaghetti and meatballs here is the best-with a flavor unlike anywhere else in the country. But isn't that the ubiquitous local attitude toward just about anything? Try a few dishes for yourself, and you be the judge.
Venezia Restaurant on N. Carrollton Avenue has been slinging spaghetti for over 60 years. A fast favorite for many locals, this Mid-City eatery offers everything, from pizzas cooked in their original stone oven to thick steaks and fresh seafood, as well as other house specialties such as lasagna, cannelloni, and eggplant parmigiana, Venezia offers a huge dish of spaghetti and meatballs for only $11.95. That leaves plenty of cash leftover for gelato at Brocato's (another classic Italian establishment), just a few doors down.
The beloved Creole restaurant Dunbar's reopened after a long hiatus in 2017. Before the levee failures of 2005, this popular eatery was located on Freret Street, and they were unable to return, but owner Celestine Dunbar spent the next 10 years cooking for the students of Loyola and vending at local events and festivals. Dunbar's finally reopened in a brand-new space on Earhart Boulevard in early April 2017. Although they are most known for their gumbo, seafood platters, and incredible cornbread, many have a hankering for Dunbar's spaghetti and meatballs, a $9.95 lunch special featured every Wednesday.
When talking about New Orleans' classic Italian restaurants, one must talk about Rocky & Carlos. For over half a century, fans old and new have been flocking to St. Bernard Parish to feast on favorites such as their baked macaroni and cheese, thin-cut onion rings, and veal cutlet po-boys. But, for only $11.25, you can enjoy a huge dinner plate of baseball-sized meatballs atop a pile of spaghetti-all smothered with a sweet red gravy.
Formerly located on Baronne Street in the CBD, Hobnobber Cafe was a home-style cafe launched by George and Diana Timphony in 1977. Members of the Timphony family opened successive locations throughout the Greater New Orleans Area. Though the days of dining at Hobnobber downtown are long past, you can still enjoy the Timphony's home cooking and welcoming spirit at Hobnobber Cafe on W. Metairie Avenue. Along with eggplant parmesan, seafood platters, and excellent salads, Hobnobber offers a high-piled dish of meatballs and spaghetti served with soft slices of New Orleans French bread and salad for only $11.99.
When one thinks of Casamento's, the first dish that pops into your mind is their famous oyster loaf-plump Gulf oysters dredged in cornflour, fried, and served between two Texas-thick slices of white bread. In case you didn't know, this unique mosaic-tiled eatery, which has been on Magazine Street for a century, has a lot more to offer than just oysters. Yes, there's fried crab claws and calamari, catfish and soft shell crab, but for less than $10, they also have a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs smothered in so much of that sweet Creole-Italian red sauce that you can hardly see the plate.
When Cafe Giovanni, a French Quarter favorite, closed after 26 years in business, regulars mourned the loss and crossed their fingers that chef/owner Duke LoCicero would rise again. Their hopes were fulfilled at last when just two years later, Chef LoCicero opened Dab's Bistro in Metairie on N. Hullen Street. Housed in the space formerly occupied by Cello's, the new restaurant features favorites like fettuccine alfredo and fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce, but for only $14 (lunch) you should definitely sink your teeth into their monster meatball perched atop a mound of spaghetti drizzled with a sweet red gravy and lots of grated Parmesan.
Oak Oven is something of a newcomer to the area with the launch of their first restaurant in 2012 in Harahan. A love of great Italian food and friendly staff enabled the eatery to open their second location across the lake in Covington earlier in 2017. Though many come for their wood-fired pizzas and veal piccata, Oak Oven also offers a delectable spaghetti featuring lamb meatballs and ricotta cheese. Though this dish is a tad more expensive (the small being $14), it's a dish worth forking out a little bit extra, especially when you get to sop up the sauce with their incredible house-made foccacia.
Last on this list but certainly not last in line, CIBO is a little Italian sandwich shop just a skip away from Oak Street on S. Carrollton Avenue. Somewhat squished between a defunct Capital One and what was formerly Mona's Cafe, this diminutive cafe features mostly sandwiches, like a caprese or chicken parmigiana on Italian bread, but they also offer a hefty plate of spaghetti and meatballs with sweet red sauce and a side salad for only $13. Just don't walk out the door without grabbing a little lagniappe-a filled-to-order cannoli that is so good, it just might make you turn your back on your former favorite.