Bud's “Taste of New Orleans” plate—beads not included. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
Bud's Louisiana Cafe4320 Viewridge Ave.,Suite AKearny Mesa858-573-2837When I was in high school, I alarmed my parents when I told them I wanted to get my nose pierced. This was just before they left on a trip to New Orleans, and I was miffed that I didn't get to go along. Upon their return, when I went to pick them up at the airport, my dad came strolling off the plane sporting a big, tacky clip-on nose ring. I was mortified. Though I dropped the subject for the time being, I did eventually get my nose pierced, but I never made it to New Orleans.
But, food-wise, I have, many times, thanks to Bud's Louisiana Café. I first found Bud's years ago, in a small Little Italy storefront next to The Waterfront. Admittedly, when a landlord dispute prompted a move to Tierrasanta, I forgot about Bud's for a while, distracted by newer and different food. Earlier this year, the place relocated again—to a head-scratching spot in an undistinguishable office park just west of the Interstate 15, but that move was enough to put them back in my sights.
Bud's gets crawfish occasionally this spring while they're in season. Call ahead or get on the e-mail list for mudbug alerts. I relish the sweet crustaceans in their spicy boil, though with not quite as much gusto as the guy next to me at a recent lunch—he was impressively going to town on a platter of them, proficiently pinching the tails and noisily sucking the heads for the rich fat prized by connoisseurs and washing it all down with a couple of Abita beers.
Of the po' boy sandwiches, I the fried oyster or barbecue shrimp versions are best, though if you venture toward the fried, be warned that it seems like Bud's is still zeroing in on the ideal consistency for the cornmeal crust that batters everything. On one trip, the coating was soft, nearly sliding off our fried food, and on another, it was thick and almost cracker-like
At $17.95, the Taste of New Orleans is the highest-ticket item, but it comes with a ton of food, including a small Caesar salad, agreeably dressed with restraint. On the plate, a hulking fried filet of catfish sits next to a bed of fluffy rice, both blanketed by Bud's very excellent crawfish étouffée, a roux-thickened, buttery stew of crawfish tails, aromatic vegetables and herbs. It tastes as soulful as it should, coming from a kitchen whose chef, Bud himself, is an arbiter of this kind of cuisine, with nine restaurants and 30 years of cooking experience.
But my favorite, no question, is the red beans and rice. Deceptively simple, this iconic and homey dish is the perfect example of humble ingredients turned heavenly. The beans get silky-smooth and creamy while they simmer with a smoked ham hock, the deep, salty flavor of which is rendered into the slow-cooked dish. It's served in a yin-and-yang pattern with white rice, sprinkled with chopped scallions and red pepper for freshness and crunch. If you order the appetizer version, it's garnished with a small slice of spicy Andouille sausage. Get it as a main entrée and you can nosh on an entire link or a smoked chicken thigh.
Whatever you do, save room for, or take home, one of the homemade desserts. The pecan pie is novel here, with a layer of tangy cheesecake that counters the overt, sticky sweetness of syrup and nuts. And Bud's bread pudding is justifiably legendary; made with the same French baguettes used for their po' boy, the dessert is nearly pitch-perfect for me, equal parts bread and custard and neither too heavy nor too sweet.
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