Not-to-be-Missed Mexican Food Along a Mississippi Highway | southernbeets

Horchata & Tamales in Mississippi

There’s a whole hot tamale culture in Mississippi.  In fact, Anthony Bourdain ate some tamales when he visited the Delta region earlier this year on his show Parts Unknown, and CNN did a little story on tamales in the Delta online at Eatocracy.com.   One day when I was venturing around at local fruit stands, I drove by a little Mexican restaurant just off Highway 49 near Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  To my surprise, I had some of the best Mexican food that I’ve had in a long time.

 

Not-to-be-Missed Mexican Food Along a Mississippi Highway | southernbeets

Not-to-be-Missed Mexican Food Along a Mississippi Highway | southernbeets

To start, the chips and salsa were awesome.  They used flour tortillas instead of corn, making for a thick and lightly crunchy chip (I prefer this over corn chips), and the salsa was homemade.  I also ordered a glass of horchata, which is a rice milk drink flavored with spices and vanilla, and one of my favorite summertime drinks (but hard to find down here).  The horchata here was thick and full of flavor, and I keep wondering why mixing it with iced coffee hasn’t become a thing yet.

As usual, I ordered way too much food.  After the chips, I had a pork tamale and seafood ceviche.   The cornmeal of the tamale was moist, the meat juicy, and the sauce spicy.  The ceviche, which is fresh raw seafood cured in lemon or lime juice, was awesome.  It had fresh tomatoes and avocado, and was a lighter alternative to the traditional Mexican dishes.

I ended up taking home half of my meal (plus a piece of amazing chocolate cake that was baked in house) and enjoyed it the next night for dinner.  The tamale was even better the next night after soaking up some of the sauce.

Amazing Mexican Food Along a Mississippi Highway

Not-to-be-Missed Mexican Food Along a Mississippi Highway

Do you have any favorite places for Mexican eats in the South?  Comment below, or send me a tweet @southernbeets.  Happy eating!

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Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee in New Orleans

“Banh mi” is the Vietnamese term for bread, and Dong Phuong Bakery in eastern New Orleans is known to have the best French bread in the city.  When I saw people leaving with shopping bags full of bread, it was clear that this place is no secret.  They’re also known for banh mi sandwiches (readers of Eat NOLA named it the best bahn mi in New Orleans last year).  These start with their house-made bread, which is filled with lightly pickled carrots, cucumber, jalapeño slices, homemade aioli, and your choice of meat (I get the #4, which is Chinese barbecue pork).  The bread is soft and crusty on the outside, and the fillings are fresh, crunchy, and flavorful.  My cravings for these sandwiches is to the point that I take a 20-minute detour home from New Orleans to pick up a few of these to go (it’s located along Chef Menteur Highway).  Another bonus:  at under $4 a sandwich, this is probably the best lunch deal in the city.

Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee in New Orleans| southernbeets

Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee at Dong Phuong Bakery

Dong Phuong consists of both a bakery and a restaurant.  The banh mi and sandwiches are served up on the bakery side.  I also go crazy for their Vietnamese iced coffee, which is sweetened and strong, and you can buy at the counter on the north side of the restaurant (if you’re in the bakery, walk though the doorway into the restaurant, then continue walking straight along the front of the restaurant).  You won’t see a menu, but they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about when you order it.

There are lots of other goodies, both savory and sweet, and they make their own King Cake during carnival season.  I usually get some cinnamon rolls to warm up the next morning, or coconut rolls to make into French toast.  I wish there were more gems like this, or at least Vietnamese coffee stands that sell banh mi sandwiches.

 

Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee in New Orleans| southernbeets

Dong Phuong Bakery in New Orleans

Banh Mi and Vietnamese Iced Coffee in New Orleans| southernbeets

Hours and other bakery items at Dong Phuong Bakery in New Orleans.

The Most Satisfying Starter in New Orleans: Herbsaint does Pasta alla Carbonara

I love spaghetti alla carbonara.  Italians proved you can never have too much deliciousness when they put pasta, egg, cheese, and bacon into one hearty forkful of goodness.  So I was excited and intrigued to see a version of this dish as a starter at Herbsaint in New Orleans.  On the menu, look for “Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg.”

This restaurant is one of the gems of Chef Donald Link (Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Peche).  It’s located in the Central Business District on Saint Charles Avenue, which is right along the parade route during Mardi Gras.  If you visit New Orleans and stay downtown, in the French Quarter, or in the Garden District, you can take a streetcar or a short cab ride.  When I went it was a beautiful not-to-hot day, so we enjoyed a walk.

After we arrived, got seated, and browsed the menu, I thought, “This dish is so decadent, I really don’t NEED to eat more than starter-sized portion, right?” (By the way, the answer is “No, you always need more pasta alla carbonara”).  And if the traditional dish isn’t decadent enough, this small plate is topped with a fried-poached egg AND a crispy piece of cured pork cheek (which is called guanciale in Italy).  After just half the dish (I shared, believe it or not), I felt so joyous and satiated that I almost forgot we had lamb neck and duck leg coming.

The Most Satisfying Starting in New Orleans is at Herbsaint | southernbeets

(top left) Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg, (top right) Slow Cooked Lamb Neck with Saffron Fideo and Tomato Confit, (bottom) Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique

Do you have a favorite oh-so-satisfying dish?  I know I’m always looking for new eats (in New Orleans or elsewhere).  Please share any recommendations by commenting below, or send me a line on Twitter (@southernbeets).

Crawfish, Soft-Shell Crab, and Strawberry Beer

‘Tis the season for tasty crustaceans and strawberry beer.  Every gathering is an opportunity for a crawfish boil, and seafood companies are selling these boiled guys by the bag.  Soft-shell (i.e. recently molted) blue crabs are plentiful and served-up fried.  And Abita Strawberry is everywhere and tastes just like Spring.

I went to Southside Cafe in Slidell, Louisiana and tasted my first soft-shell crab, which was paired with a frosty mug of Abita Strawberry.  The crab was delicious.  I’m usually not into fried food, but the breading was seasoned and crunchy and perfect.

The next day I needed more, so I went to Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar in Kenner, Louisiana (by the airport).  This was crustacean heaven, with platters of boiled crawfish and shrimp and all the pairings you could want (I went for the hushpuppies).  There are baskets to dispose of your shells, and rolls of paper towels so you can dig right in.  I shared a pound of crawfish, a platter of soft-shell crab and hushpuppies, and a dozen oysters.  That, plus two frosty mugs of Abita Strawberry, came to under $40 and it was all delicious.  I first checked to make sure they gave us the right bill (and it was), then concluded this must be the best deal for seafood in the city.

soft-shell crab at Southside Cafe | southernbeets

soft-shell crab at Southside Cafe

boiled crawfish at Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar | southernbeets

boiled crawfish at Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar

Louisiana Swamps and Bayous

I was so excited to see an alligator in the wild.  But my favorite part of the Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour was the pigs!

The tour was well-organized, the covered boats are small and had good visibility of the wildlife, and the amount of marshmallows and hot dogs being fed to the animals ensures many critter encounters.

We saw 7 alligators (including a few that jumped out of the water for food), two families of wild pigs, raccoons, snakes (eek!), and several bird species.  The tour guide brings a bag a treats that he used to get the animals right up to the side of the boat.

There were locals and tourists on the tour.  We drove to the swamp, but there is an option when you buy your tickets online ahead of time (which I would recommend) to pay extra for a pick-up service from New Orleans.  I thought this was a relaxing way to enjoy a morning outdoors (they have afternoon tours too) and see some sites outside of the city.  We took Chef Menteur Highway back towards the city afterwards and stopped at Dong Phuong for an amazing banh mi sandwich (try the #4 with the fixings) and Vietnamese iced coffee.

 

A wild sow greeting us on the boat at the Louisiana Swamp Tour | southernbeets

A wild sow greeting us on the boat (photo by Benson Chan)

Alligator Encounter on the Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour | southernbeets

Alligator Encounter on the Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour (photo by Benson Chan)

Louisiana Swamp Tour | southernbeets

our ride

Running Through the French Quarter with 26,000 People

Why would I and 25,999 others race through this beautiful historic neighborhood instead of soaking in The Big Easy?  It was for the Crescent City Classic, one of the largest 10k races in the country.

The crowd ranged from world record holders to walkers that made the 6.2 mile trek solely for the free beer at the after party.  The route started in the Central Business District, passed through the French Quarter, then traveled up Esplanade to City Park.

The weather was gorgeous (and not too hot) and the route was flat and wide enough that I didn’t feel like I was going to trip over people when passing.  This was a fabulous way to take a tour by foot around New Orleans, and the funnest run I’ve done to date.

There was a party afterwards in City Park with live music, food trucks, snacks, and of course, unlimited free beer.  The only downside to the race:  thousands of people trying to get back to their parked cars at the start, which was over 3 miles away.  There was a free shuttle service, which was a 2+ hour wait when I checked in on it.  We thought it’d be brilliant to catch a cab, but everyone else seemed to have the same idea.  It became comical to watch medal-adorned runners lining streets of Mid City flagging down cabs that were already full of runners.  We decided to take advantage of the beautiful day, rest our soles, and sip on a delicious iced mocha at The Bean Gallery before heading back to the start.

 

The Starting Line by the Superdome

The Starting Line by the Superdome

The Finish Line in City Park

The Finish Line in City Park