Po’ Boys are a New Orleans tradition, and everyone has their own favorite Po Boy.
Whether your favorite is a Roast Beef, Fried Shrimp, Fried Oyster, Ham, and Cheese, or a Vietnamese Banh Mi Po Boy, it is one of my favorite dishes to eat for lunch or dinner.
After connecting with Pontchartrain Kitchen on Instagram, they decided to do a deep dive into the history of the Po Boy. Sit back and get a good lesson in history. Check out their yummy Venison Roast post to make a Po Boy at home for yourself!
So no matter if you call it a Po’Boy, Po Boy, or Poor Boy read this blog post to get the full history of this tasty New Orleans cuisine and read some Plaid Shirt Yoga Pants approved Po Boys and shops from around the city.
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New Orleanians and their love of Po boys
Every time I cram my face with golden fried oysters resting gently between two perfect, fluffy pieces of bread, my mind wanders. I can’t help but think about the little circumstances that brought these little bivalves, some yeast and myself, on this culinary collision course.
I’m a sucker for a great story — the crazier and more factual, the better.
Although when spinning a good yarn, those two rarely coincide. Whether or not this is or isn’t the way the famous New Orleans sandwich was born, it’s still a great story.
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Po Boy History – The Streetcar Strike
The summer of 1929 saw transit strikes throughout the nation. As populations boomed, so did the need for public transportation.
With demands not being met and negotiations breaking down on July 1, 1929, over one thousand streetcar conductors and motormen from Local 194 began a strike against the New Orleans Public Service Inc (NOPSI).
As with most labor disputes in the early 20th century, the Streetcar Strike of New Orleans turned ugly very quickly.
Even though the Great Market Crash that occurred on what will be forever known as “Black Tuesday” was three months away, many people in New Orleans and the south, in general, were already well within the dire grasp of the Great Depression.
This, coupled with the nasty tactics of strikebreakers brought in by NOPSI, took a toll on the streetcar men.
With families at home to feed and no paycheck coming, the conductors would often themselves go without a meal during the long hours walking the picket line.
New Orleans French Bread
Watching from their French Market restaurant were two brothers, former streetcar conductors themselves. Bennie and Clovis Martin were so sympathetic to the men striking they took action the best way they knew how: food.
They decided to serve free sandwiches to the men on strike.
Made with a long loaf and beef slow-cooked in gravy, the Po Boy was the perfect way to help stretch the already thin dollar.
The problem was, the brothers needed a long loaf of traditional french bread that would be easy to slice and provide many sandwiches per loaf. John Gendusa stepped up, and the french loaves we know and love today was born.
The New Orleans Po Boy
With their bread and meat ready, Bennie and Clovis began giving their sandwiches to the “Poor Boys” who would break from their picketing and walk into the restaurant for a much-needed mceal and break.
The strike eventually ended, but the love of po’ boys did not when the conductors went back to work.
Mr. Gendusa continued baking his bread, and the brothers moved their shop. They kept selling Po Boys until 1972, but the sandwich they created on the bread, made by John Gendusa, would live on much longer.
Poor Boys and Oyster Loves
While there are doubts as to the validity of the Martins’ story, some claim they made the sandwiches, but the term “poor boy” had already been around.
As early as the mid 19th century, there were “oyster loaves” on many menus in the Crescent City. There are still places in the city where this term survives.
Casamentos leaps to mind. Subs, grinders, and hoagies are names that everyone knows, are used (depending on which region in which one is eating) to describe a long, narrow sandwich.
Rumors even persist that the “oyster loaf” originated in San Francisco, although I’m skeptical. In spite of all that, there is no doubting the contribution of the brothers Martin and John Gendusa had a New Orleans cuisine.
Current day New Orleans Po Boys
Throughout the years, Po Boy shops have sprung up in the Big Easy like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Some have survived to become icons, others, not so lucky.
With each new shop or chef have come new varieties: different seafood, another way to cook beef, bbq, some even vegetarian.
Like the shops that serve them, some Po Boys notch themselves a spot on the crowded headboard that is the NOLA sammich scene. Some have faded into obscurity.
As far as outside influence on the Po Boy goes, the most important one (at least according to my taste buds) occurred sometime after 1975.
Banh Mi Sandwich
With the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, thousands of people fled Vietnam and sought a new home and new start. Many of whom, who had made their livings from the sea, found a waterfront climate similar to Vietnam
South Louisiana, with its long-standing relationship with the Gulf of Mexico and a similar climate, made for the perfect new start.
Of the many culinary contributions brought by the people of Vietnam to Louisiana, the one we’re focused on today (you can count on seeing a Bo Bun Hue post in the future, Pho’s hard-drinking cousin) is the baking.
After many years under French colonial rule, baking became a central part of Vietnamese cuisine — specifically, Banh Mi, which means a small french bread (like baguettes).
Vietnamese Po Boy
Banh Mi has come to mean, a Vietnamese Po-Boy. Thanks to burgeoning popularity, not just in NOLA but across the country, Banh Mis are everywhere.
I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Harder to find, however, is the more authentic version.
The best way to judge the authenticity; it shouldn’t cost you more than five bucks. Seriously, Banh Mis are super cheap. Easily one of the best food deals in the New Orleans area.
Dong Phoung in Chalmette and the Hong Kong market in Terrytown, I think, are the two best. Although I would have a tough time choosing between the two of them, the contest in itself would be fun…and tasty.
The best thing about both? The grilled pork Bahn Mi at both locations is going to run you about four bucks. No joke. And it is a huge sandwich.
For those of you unfamiliar, Banh Mi consists of a protein (usually grilled pork), cold cuts, or meatballs. On top of which goes cucumbers, jalapenos, cilantro, and a lightly pickled mix of carrots and daikon radish.
Usually, on the downside of the bread is pate, while finishing off the whole show on top is a spicy aioli.
All this comes together to form a taste, that if done correctly, is one of the most unique flavors in the sandwich world.
Pontchartrain Kitchen’s Favorite Po Boy
Jonathan Swift once wrote, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” A lot of truth there.
The oyster certainly does not have an appetizing appearance. Although mankind has been consuming oysters for a few hundred years, the act of battering and deep-frying seems to be an invention of the 20th century.
However, whenever or wherever it began, it didn’t take long for the Po Boy community to notice.
Had I to pick one favorite type of Po Boy, I think the oyster Po Boy would be it.
New Orleans Oyster Po Boy
Deep-fried to a golden brown, with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of tabasco. A perfect blend of flavors. The Martin brothers’ original Po Boy filling has persevered throughout the years, perhaps in part to its simplicity.
A cheap cut of meat cooked down in a liquid until it was tender and flavorful. As simple a concept as that is, chefs and cooks across the south have invented dozens of new recipes and techniques, not even to mention toppings.
When I set my sights on a Po Boy for lunch, I’m usually always going to lean towards one of these two. Although, with the different varieties out there, that choice grows increasingly more difficult each year.
So, despite the fact the similar sandwiches have always existed elsewhere, and that the idea of putting fried seafood on bread may not have originated in the Crescent City, (see above skepticism) and possible problems with the Martins’ story, there is no denying that the Po Boy, in its purest sense, is a unique New Orleans food.
Where to get Po Boys in New Orleans – Plaid Shirt Yoga Pants Approved
There are so many restaurants to eat Po Boys in New Orleans, and I’ve taken the task to make sure to taste different Po Boys around town. Pontchartrain Kitchen favors Oyster Po Boys while Plaid Shirt Yoga Pants loves a good, messy roast beef Po Boy.
Keep coming back to see other locations and varieties that we’ve tasted all around town. Have a restaurant you want added to the list – make sure to reach out!
1. Black Beer Beef Debris
Killer Po Boys 811 Conti or 219 Dauphine St
There are two locations of Killer PoBoys in New Orleans – the original location back of the Erin Rose bar and Big Killer PoBoys on Dauphine Street.
The Big Killer Po Boys has an extensive menu, including catering to our vegetarian and vegan friends! But since I am not a vegetarian, I went straight for the Black Beer Beef Debris Po Boy with a Barqs Root Beer. Let me tell you its one of my favorite roast beer po boys on this list.
I don’t know about you, but there is nothing that goes better with a Po Boy than Barqs Root Beer.
These Po Boys come in one size and range from $6-13.
2. Hot Sausage Po Boy
Verti Marte 1201 Royal Street
Late-night food and Poboys go hand in hand at Verti Mart. If you are looking for a delicious hot sausage poor boy this is where you need to stop!
This 24/7 French Quarter deli offers some of the best hot sausage poboys and is one of the best-kept secrets in town! check out the menu for top notch poboys and deli sandwiches.
3. Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp Remoulade
Crabby Jacks 428 Jefferson Hwy
Crabby Jacks, an off-shoot from the famous Jacques-Imos, has been open since 2002 and is a namesake for Po Boys for the suburbs. This little hole in a wall has community seating, delicious lunch plates, and some of the yummiest Po Boys in the city.
You can either get a traditional Overstuffed Po Boy or a Specialty Po Boy. The last time I came here, I got the Fried Green Tomato and Shrimp Remoulade Specialty Po Boy.
The Po Boys here come in Regular (8 inches) or King (12 inches), and they are big enough to split with two people.
An 8-inch Po Boy ranges from $6.75-12.50.
4 Fried Catfish Po Boys
Guy’s Poboys 5259 Magazine Street
Fried Catfish po boys are nothing to pass up while looking for delicious po boys. While wandering around Magazine Street near the Garden District, make sure to grab the Fried Catfish Po Boy at Guy’s.
5. I Did it for The Turkey
Parkway Bakery 538 Hagan Ave
Open since 1911, Parkway Bakery and Tavern is always at the top of everyone’s list. In 1929 the owners added the Poor Boy sandwich we know and love today to help serve the workers at the American Can Company right down the street.
My usual Po Boy is a delicious hot roast beef Po Boy or Fried Shrimp Po Boy, but Parkway is also known for its I Did It For the Turkey Po Boy only available on Wednesdays during November.
Loaded with Dressing, Turkey, Cranberry sauce, and gravy, this Po Boy is delicious, and sure it is messy! The mix of flavors and nostalgia for Thanksgiving dinner will have you craving this limited edition Po Boy all year long.
Paired with some sweet potato fries, this Po Boy is one of the customer favorites because of the seasonality of the dish..
Don’t think that just because it is Wednesday that the line will be short. The line goes around the block for this special edition Po Boy, and there is even a fundraiser for $50 that allows you to skip the line.
These Po Boys come in Small (5 inches) and Large (10 inches). The small ranges from $5.10-12.55.
6. Grilled Beef (Bo Nuong)
Banh Mi Boys 5001 Airline Dr
Located in Metairie, next to a Shell Gas station, you can find some delicious, authentic Banh Mi Sandwiches. One of my favorite things about this restaurant location is the outside seating with the Instragrammable walls.
Banh Mi Boys has some more traditional Vietnamese Banh Mi, Specialty Banh Mi, and traditional Po Boys. Their Banh Mis are perfect for eating by themselves, or share with a friend and get some over the top fries like the Koren Fried Chicken (KFC) Fries.
The Banh Mi’s are all the same size and come on a small baguette from $5-$22. Yes – they do have one unique Banh Mi for $22, and it is a 60-day Dry-Aged Ribeye Steak.
7. Fried oyster Po boy
Domilise’s Po Boy Bar 5240 annunciation
Domilise’s was founded in 1918 and if you do not mind waiting in a line for a little bit while enjoying the Garden district, Get yourself a Fried Oyster po Boy from Domilise’s. The secret is out and even though this place is still full of locals many tourists have found this gem.
8. Famous Ferdi Special
Have you ever seen that building with a sign stating they have the World’s Best Baked Ham and a long line of people waiting for food? Well, that’s Mothers.
If you want to skip the line, some Po Boys are available all day long, including during breakfast. But don’t worry, the lunch menu starts at 10:30 am.
Mother’s Claim to fame is the Famous Ferdi Special, which has ham, roast beef, and debris with au jus gravy. If you want to spice it up a little bit, you can get the Ralph which is the Ferdi with some Cheese.
These Po Boys come in a Small or Large, and the small ranges from $9.50-13.00.
Some locals will tell you not to come here, but I purposely went here with a few friends to try out this famous sandwich and we were so happy! Mother’s is also a short walk away from the central business district and their large sandwiches make up for any tourist trap!
6. Yakiniku Po Boy
Ajun Cajun 8433 Oak St and Various festivals around New Orleans
Before 2019, you could only get the Yakiniku Po Boy from famous New Orleans, La festivals like Jazz Fest, Wednesday at the Square, and Po Boy Fest. At the end of 2019, Ajun Cajun made a permanent home on Oak Street, serving festival favorites to fans.
The Yakiniku Po Boy has Sauteed Ribeye and onions in a delicious garlic sauce. It also has carrots, zucchini, and Mozzarella Cheese.
Yakiniku Po Boy is a delicious spin on a traditional New Orleans Po Boy and Bah Mi Boy
I know once the Oak Street location is fully open at the end of the year – that this a great spot to get a Po Boy.
The Yakiniku Po Boy’s price varies depending on the festival, but I’ve seen it for about $9.
10. Prime Roast Beef Debris
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse Jackson’s Square during French Quarter Fest
Another fan favorite that is only available during French Quarter Fest is the Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse Roast Beef Po Boy.
Let me tell you this, every year at French Quarter Fest, my sister and I run to Jackson’s Square to eat this particular Po Boy.
This Po Boy doesn’t have any real frills. It is the end of a french bread loaf, scooped out and filled with a large amount of Prime Roast Beef.
The Roast Beef Debris Po Boy is historically $8 at French Quarter Fest, and it is one of the best po boys out at the festival.
11. New Orleans Oak Street Po Boy Fest
If you are in town in early November, check to see if the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is happening! This festival is one of the best ways to try a bunch of different variants of Po Boys from some of the best vendors in the city.
Thirty different restaurants participate in this annual festival.
The festival is free to attend, but you need a $5 wristband to purchase a Po Boy. If waiting in line is not your style, you can opt for a $20 fast pass wristband or $99 VIP wristband to skip the lines and live your best fest life.
12. Fried Shrimp Po Boy and Gravy
Hobnobber Cafe 5928 W Metairie Ave #8
Located out in Metairie look out for this delicious po boy shop where you can get some of the best po boys in Metairie!
My favorite was getting an 8 inch fried shrimp po boy with a side of gravy! Now if you are celebrating Lent make sure you are not getting this surf and turf deal on a Friday because the gravy does have big delicious chunks of meat in it!
The New Orleans Po Boy Obsession
Now that you know the history of po boys in New Orleans, LA and a couple of different places to try delicious Po Boys in the city, I challenge you to go out into the city on your next lunch break or vacation and find the best Po Boy in New Orleans for you.
Whether you like Fried Oysters Poor boy, Roast Beef PoBoy or a traditional Ham and Cheese PoBoys, let me know in the comments below!
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