Aug. 1 2014 04:12 PM

Old Town eatery serves great Louisiana cuisine, but don't get excited about the bread

New Orleans Creole Cafe’s shrimp po’boy
Photo by Mina Riazi

Everyone's a tourist somewhere. Still, nothing will make you forget that faster than a tourist-logged sidewalk on a sweaty Sunday in July. Suddenly, the "T" word becomes a curse word. Plucking a path around the sparky sightseers, you blurt the two syllables under your breath, as if together they form the greatest insult of all time: tourists. 

Despite riding on a hop-on, hop-off tour bus last summer in Barcelona, I felt nothing but contempt for the touristy mass clogging the streets of Old Town last week. I hungered for an escape—and for an early dinner. Located just off the main road, New Orleans Creole Café seemed like a solid solution to my childish whining.

I soon learned that the charming restaurant (2476 San Diego Ave.), with its breezy outdoor patio dotted by red-and-white striped umbrellas, inhabits haunted grounds. The Travel Channel recently termed the nearby Whaley House "one of America's most haunted houses." The café occupies the leafy Whaley garden, so ghosts just might be playing hide and seek among the trees. 

Fortunately, no spectral encounters disrupted my dinner. Opened in 2004, the café is owned and operated by Mark Bihm and Humberto Villegas. According to the eatery's website, Bihm is a "New Orleans native with family dating back to the 1750s in Opelousas, Louisiana." The menu reflects the co-owner's deep-rooted history with the former French colony. 

Classic Creole dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish étouffée and shrimp creole are appropriately served with a wedge of French baguette. The bread is unremarkable, though, lacking the textural complexity that defines a good baguette: a crackly crust and a soft, chewy center. 

For the most part, the crawfish étouffée doesn't need its carby companion. A white-rice dome sits smack-dab in the center of the dish and provides enough richness. Celery, bell pepper and onion—dubbed the "holy trinity" of Creole and Cajun cuisines—combine with a light golden roux to create the flavorful sauce. 

Along with the jambalaya, the étouffée is one of Creole Café's most talked-about specialties. I understand why: The meaty crawfish tails are chewy, tender and flaunt a clean, not-briny flavor; the sauce balances tart and buttery flavor notes. A crunchy hunk of bread would have been nice to mop up the last soupy spoonfuls, but c'est la vie.

If it werenít for another inadequate loaf, the shrimp po'boy would have been a top-notch sandwich. Unfortunately, the bread was a too-soft behemoth whose sheer bulk distracted from the shrimp. I ended up refashioning the po'boy, setting aside half of the bread so that I could focus more on the crisp, lightly battered shrimp. With its balance restored, the sandwich tasted great, especially after getting dunked in cocktail sauce. 

Bread pudding, doused in whiskey sauce and served hot, concluded our meal. Creole Café's version of the thrifty dessert is less pudding-like and more cake-like in texture, but still enticing. More importantly, though, the bread—snubbed by the entrées—was finally able to show its good side.

Write to and


  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28