The Infinite Genius of the Louisiana Po’Boy

Two po'boy sandwiches.

There’s a lot to love about Louisiana’s culinary contributions to American culture. The origin and home of Creole and Cajun cuisine, one only needs to walk outside to find a restaurant that serves piping hot bowls of gumbo, spicy boudin balls, and rich crawfish étouffée. One of the most cherished dishes, however, is a seemingly simple sandwich.

The streets of New Orleans.
New Orleans architecture.
A New Orleans plaza.

Emerging on the grand scale during the Great Depression, the po’boy has become demonstrative of all that’s wonderful in southern Louisiana. The sandwich appears simple—some meat or vegetables are pressed between two pieces of bread. But there’s much more to the sandwich than meets the eye. Often mistakenly taken for a baguette, po’boys consist of a po’boy bread developed in the 1700s. Yielding to the humid climate of the south, cooks developed a regional type of French bread that’s made with more water and less flour than a traditional baguette. This recipe created a wetter dough, leading to a bread that’s lighter, fluffier, and holds flavor. Leidenheimer Baking Company is a leading producer of the bread, and the type of bread a restaurant uses is often a defining factor when locals share who serves the best po’boy.

Traditionally dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise, po’boys have come to mark the humble eating habits of a city known for its extravagant dining experiences. Po’boys can be found anywhere—from local restaurants to neighborhood grocery stores. They’re so celebrated in the city that the city holds an annual fall festival called the Oak Street Po’Boy Festival to celebrate the sandwich. The one-day event features live music, arts, and food vendors sharing their own take on the sandwich.

Like any American food, po’boys have taken on a life of their own. Traditional sandwiches often have meat like roast beef, or seafood like shrimp or oysters, but there are now vegetarian and vegan options available at newer restaurants. New Orleans has continued to boast the new while paying homage to their old, and their po’boy dining scene and food options highlight this truth. When visiting the city, it’s imperative to try as many delightful sandwiches as possible, and the array of options in and outside of the city makes it easy to do so.

“Emerging on the grand scale during the Great Depression, the po’boy has become demonstrative of all that’s wonderful in southern Louisiana.”

R & O's Restaurant.
Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar.

R & O Restaurant and Catering
216 Metairie-Hammond Hwy
Metairie, LA 70005

A favorite of chef, writer, and television star Anthony Bourdain, R & O Restaurant and Catering delivers on its extensive reputation in the New Orleans area. Rooted in young love, the Louisiana staple is a product of couple Ora and Roland Mollere, who ran off at the tender age of 16 to get married with just ten “silver dollars.” Married for 68 years, the couple started R&O—which stands for Roland and Ora—in 1980 with $4,000 of savings. Their four children have continued their legacy after they passed, working together to keep the restaurant going. The original location is located in Metairie, a parish in the New Orleans metropolitan area; the restaurant has become famous for their roast beef po’boy. Soft shell crab po’boys, muffalettas, and gumbo, and fried oysters are just a few regional favorites that bring tourists and locals back on a regular basis.

Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar
5240 Annunciation St 
New Orleans, LA 70115

New Orleans boasts a proud, rich history, and with good reason. City institutions like restaurants have survived city changes, changing dining norms, and no shortage of storms to serve up one of the nation’s most celebrated cuisines. Some of that beloved history is found in Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar. Opened in 1918 by Peter and Sophie Domilise, the business started as a neighborhood bar. Eventually, Sophie started cooking plate lunches for the longshoremen and river front workers. According to the restaurant, just after World War II, Peter Domilise gave the business to his son Sam, and daughter-in-law, Dorothy “Miss Dot” Domilise. Sam passed away in 1981, but his wife, Miss Dot, didn’t let the business go. She became the owner of the restaurant, living and working in the neighborhood, and sharing the goodness of the bar and po’boys with all who have come through. Though Miss Dot passed away in 2013, the restaurant has still maintained its reputation, serving up meat and seafood favorites of the locally cherished Leidenheimer bread.

Such rich history has led to stellar food. Longstanding staples like surf and turf (roast beef topped with shrimp), pork sausage, and oyster sandwiches offered with cold beer and other beverages have brought the young and old to the restaurant’s doorsteps for more than 100 years.

A po'boy sandwich.
Half of a po'boy sandwich.

Bears Poboys at Gennaro’s
3206 Metairie Rd 
Metairie, LA 70001

The suburb of Metairie may be a bit quieter than the French Quarter and other high-tourist areas of New Orleans, but packs no less flavor. At Bears Poboys at Gennaro’s, that flavor isn’t difficult to find.

Rooted in rich history, Bears and it’s mul has earned high praise from area natives. Originally opened in 1990 in the Covington parish in the New Orleans–Metairie–Kenner metropolitan area, the family-run operation owes a great debt to the 1950s. According to New Orleans Local News, Matt and Josh Watson, the current owners, recall their grandparents and parents as being responsible for the original recipes. The family ran a restaurant called the White House at the corner of Hammond Highway and Chickasaw Avenue in Bucktown. The family also ran a snow-ball stand called Big Bear’s Sno-balls. In 1977, the White House tragically caught fire and burned down, and the family moved the snow-ball stand to Old Mandeville. They named it Big Bears, and served po’boys to go up until 1990, when they moved the business again, shortening the name to Bears.

Today, many locations exist, but the Bears on Metairie Road remains a source of nostalgia for locals, and a site for terrific eats for tourists. Leidenheimer bread, a New Orleans French bread, takes the lead here. Their roast beef sandwich—bread filled with fresh, slowly cooked roast beef that’s thinley sliced and soaked in the restaurant’s homemade au jus gravy—has brought plenty of attention to the establishment. The hot sausage po’ boy—a sandwich of tender, juicy, spicy patties—is also not to be missed. Like many po’boy shops in the area, the restaurant offers numerous other po’boy varieties, like shrimp and pork sausage, bbq beef, alligator and pork sausage, and fried fish. They also don’t skimp on the rest of the menu. Boudin balls, fried fish bites, cheese fries, and a selection of specialty burgers bring the flavors of South Louisiana to anyone eager to grab a bite.

“Tradition remains invaluable in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean there’s no space for newcomers.”

A sweet potato po'boy sandwich.
A shrimp po'boy sandwich.

Killer PoBoys
219 Dauphine St
New Orleans, LA 70112

Tradition remains invaluable in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean there’s no space for newcomers. Killer PoBoys, opened just a few years ago, offers a modern approach to the classic sandwich. Located in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter near the Museum of Death in New Orleans, the restaurant does indeed offer killer po’boys. Po’boys like the “Dark & Stormy” Pork belly sandwich, complete with a New Orleans rum ginger glaze with lime law and garlic aioli; and the vegetarian roasted sweet potato sandwich filled with gently roasted sweet potato slices, wilted greens, and pickled shallots sandwiched between po’boy bread spread with a blackeyed pea and pecan spread make this an unmissable po’boy restaurant for the sandwich enthusiast. The seared gulf shrimp sandwich also stands out. Cooked in rich herbs, the gulf shrimp melds perfectly with marinated radish, carrot, cucumber, other herbs and spices, and a special sauce, reminding visitors why the New Orleans culinary scene continues to reign supreme.

Nola Po'Boy's menu.
Nola Po'Boy's sign.
A po'boy sandwich.

NOLA Poboys
908 Bourbon St
New Orleans, LA 70116

Bourbon street is known for its fair share of beverages and accompanying debauchery, but the culinary institutions that line the street are worthy of their own praise. The iconic NOLA Poboys is one such place. The no-frills establishment sits in the French Quarter near the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. Indoors, a line wraps through the restaurant, as diners eagerly wait to choose from some 45-plus po’boy varieties. With spice levels ranging from “Yankee” to “Cursing Murray” (only for the very brave of heart), the restaurant doesn’t shy away from the well known expectations of the vibrant and heated flavors of Cajun and Creole cuisine. There are hot, cold, and seafood po’boy varieties, ranging from hearty options like hot sausage, BLT, and crawfish. Their speciality sandwiches include options like the surf and turf, and the lauded alligator, a remarkably delicious po’boy dressed with the traditional toppings of mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, with a hefty layer of fried alligator. 

While the po’boys are the essential meal of choice here, NOLA Po’Boy boasts other regional favorites, too. Boudin balls—a Cajun delight of ground pork and rice cooked with seasonings and coated in breadcrumbs and fried—is a favorite of restaurant regulars. Fried okra, gumbo, seafood bisque, red beans and rice, and muffalettas also flesh out the establishment’s robust menu. Once mains have been devoured, the desserts are not to be missed. Cheesecake, red velvet cake, and vanilla and chocolate milkshakes round out a remarkably southern meal. If weather allows, be sure to sit at the outdoor tables to catch the breeze from the nearby Mississippi River, and take in the sights and sounds of the dynamic street.