1. Mona's Cafe (3901 Banks St., 482-7743; 3151 Calhoun St., 861-2124; 504 Frenchmen St., 949-4115; 4126 Magazine St., 894-9800) -- Lemon-touched hummus, lamb kebabs and tabouleh salads are not traditional New Orleans dishes. All the same, locals rely on the city's Middle Eastern restaurants for these healthful, economical standbys. Each of the four Mona's locations has its own strengths -- such as the extensive Middle Eastern grocery store on Banks Street, and the always-succulent chicken shawarma on Frenchmen Street. All locations serve freshly baked pita bread.
2. Juan's Flying Burrito (2018 Magazine St., 569-0000; 4724 S. Carrollton Ave., 486-9950) -- The dual Juan's Flying Burrito locations embody individual characteristics as well. There are more tattoos per square line-cook inch at the original Magazine Street restaurant, for example, and more natural light on Carrollton Avenue. They excel equally at offering inexpensive food that's Mexican in theory but unique in execution. We love the Veggie Punk: pinto beans, potatoes, jalapenos, Monterey Jack cheese salsa and rice rolled into a burrito as big as many forearms.
3. Slim Goodies Diner (3322 Magazine St., 891-3447) -- There's only one Slim Goodies. It would be difficult to replicate the retro-hip ambience created by white paper lanterns swaying above lipstick-red booths and servers who've got that '70s thing down pat. Slide onto a stool at the diner counter, order a chocolate malt and let the octopus-armed cooks entertain as they pour pancake batter, fry bacon and slide bowls of cheddar-topped chili beneath the broiler at almost comic speeds.
4. Guy's Po-Boys (5259 Magazine St., 891-5025) -- Guy's is the consummate no-frills New Orleans po-boy shop. The cashier is often on the phone managing take-out orders, in which case you shout your order to owner Marvin Matherne, whose able hands bless every sandwich. His fried catfish and fried potato po-boys are tops -- for the sake of excess, ask for both with roast beef gravy. The Galactic, an off-menu tribute to the local funk band, includes grilled shrimp, fried catfish and Swiss and cheddar cheeses.
5. Kyoto (4920 Prytania St., 891-3644) -- Regulars at Kyoto are also schooled in the off-menu specialties, some of which are inventions of the staff and others of creative customers. The Steve Roll, for example, is composed of tuna, snow crab, salmon and avocado inside and wasabi tobiko outside. Close to the Tulane and Loyola University campuses, Kyoto excels at both neighborhood friendliness and uber-fresh raw fish.
6. Bennachin (1212 Royal St., 522-1230) -- It's often harder to find an inexpensive, quality, sit-down restaurant in the French Quarter than it is to find a free parking space. Thank goodness for Bennachin, an intimate West African cafe located on the sleepy end of Royal Street. Here vegetarians may enjoy jama-jama ni makondo (vibrant sauteed spinach served with coconut rice and plantains), while carnivores choose from at least five beef stews. BYOB.
7. Adolfo's (611 Frenchmen St., 948-3800) -- Secreted above the Apple Barrel Bar along the hip-hopping Frenchmen Street, Adolfo's is a date destination if we've ever seen one. It's candlelit, there's a short but sweet wine list, and since each entree includes salad and pasta, meals stretch through several lusty courses. From Chef Adolfo's closet-size kitchen come all-handmade cannelloni, a robust marinara sauce and nightly fish specials. 8. Montrel's Creole Cafe (4116 Marigny St., 288-6374) -- In close proximity to Dillard University and the UNO Lakefront campus, Montrel's Creole Cafe offers Creole soul food in grandmotherly quantities. You'll know you've found Montrel's when you hear the soft jazz and island riffs cranking from the outdoor speakers. The festive mood extends into the dining room, thanks to cantaloupe-colored walls, red tablecloths and specialties such as whole shrimp swimming in sweet barbecue sauce.
9. R&O's Pizza Place (216 Hammond Hwy., Metairie, 831-1248) -- Out on the banks of Lake Ponchartrain, R&O's hits the mark on a stunning variety of plates, from boiled seafood to dripping roast beef po-boys to pizza. It's an anything-goes family joint -- expect to see children chasing each other around tables wielding emptied crawfish heads. Here, it's perfectly acceptable to order a crawfish pie and an Italian salad and gravy fries and a slice of housemade cheesecake.
10. Ye Olde College Inn (3016 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-3683) -- We must tip our hat to Ye Olde College Inn for obvious reasons, and also for some that are not so obvious. While most of this landmark's regular clientele graduated college a long time ago, the happiness found in the fine-tuned oyster po-boys here is timeless. Stellar hamburgers are of the small, greasy variety, and the lightly battered onion rings are unparalleled.
And for dessert ... Angelo Brocato's (214 N. Carrollton Ave., 486-0078) -- Wherever they dine, Orleanians like to merge at Angelo Brocato's afterwards for its old-fashioned Sicilian sweetshop ambiance and housemade ice cream. Zuppe inglese, panna cotta, nocciolata and fiore di latte are some of our favorite flavors.
- Tracie Morris/Young Studio
- Pick a Mona's, any Mona's, for great Middle Eastern food that won't break your bank.