I've recently had some friends come into town and it's always fun to hear what restaurants they try, what they love, what they didn't love so much etc. So started me thinking, where have I had my top New Orleans meals? And this was a hard one, because there is so much food to try around here, yet I feel like I've only just begun to scratch the surface. Like in school you have "required reading," in New Orleans you have "required eating" if you want to be able to claim to live here. For example, I have tried a muffuletta at Central Grocery and Bananas Foster at Brennan's but I have not tried the Alligator Cheesecake at Jacques-Imo's or a roast beef poor boy from Parkway or Parasol's (I know, it's very sad).

But I have had some amazing meals around here, and once I have one I tend to want to return and repeat the experience instead of branching out and exploring things like alligator cheesecakes, which I'll get around to one of these days. But after much thinking and agonizing and making myself extremely hungry in the process, here are my top 5.

5. Brunch at the Country Club.


The Country Club is a great place in the Bywater (my hood) that has many things to offer. They've got a pool in the back, a hot tub, a cool bar and a great restaurant. I've never had a mediocre meal there. Everything I've tried has been great, and I'm so lucky to live around the corner so we can order some take-out pizza whenever we get the urge, but my favorite is brunch (which goes great with their bottomless mimosas, by the way). I love to get the French toast with a side of grits.

Since moving to the South I've come to adore grits, of all things. I suppose it might be because I fell in love with polenta after reading a chapter about it in the amazing book Heat. I urge anyone who loves food to read it (so pretty much everyone). I became obsessed with perfect polenta after that… and since grits are born of similar stuff, I try them wherever I can. Usually I am disappointed. More often than not they're bland or have a strange texture, which is sad… but I will always keep trying them if I see grits on a menu somewhere that I haven't been, always in search of the perfect bowl of pure comfort. The Country Club's grits are the best I've ever had. They are a symphony. A harmonious bowl of starchy, beautifully seasoned, buttery goodness.

4. Pork Chops – Bayona


These were some peachy barbecue pork chops served with mac & cheese. A friend of mine treated me to this meal for watching her dog while she was abroad. I have to say that I got the better end of the deal and would be happy to watch dogs (though I prefer cats) if I get to hang out at a beautiful restaurant with a friend and enjoy artfully crafted plates of food in a gorgeous French Quarter setting.

3. Pulled Pork Sandwich  – The Joint


These suckers are so good. I brought my dad to The Joint while he was in town and he loved the pulled pork so much that he bought a Joint T-shirt. And since I heard they were planning to move to a different location, I was sad to think they wouldn't be in our neighborhood anymore, but at the Mirliton Festival one of the guys at their booth told me they were just moving down the street. Whew!

2. Cochon (with turnips, cabbage & cracklins) – Cochon


I've been to Cochon a few times and always order the Cochon. Hey, if the restaurant itself and the name of the dish are one and the same, then it should be good! And it is. I know that I should probably branch out and try something else but this plate of food is just so damn good. I can't bring myself to order anything else. Also, any dessert that I've tried here makes me feel like I have no bones in my body and I just melt into my chair… like I've been enraptured by some kind of religious experience. I hope it's not too embarrassing for my dinner companions.

1. Peanut Butter Burger – Yo Mama's


Whenever someone I know comes to town, I always tell them to try the Peanut Butter Burger at Yo Mama's. The reactions vary at my suggestion. People usually think they heard wrong, or they say "really?" or just "ewwwww." But I'm telling you, these burgers are awesome. Actually, "awesome" doesn't do them justice. They are epic. They are legend. They are divine. Back when I first started writing my blog, I even wrote a love-note to these burgers. There's just something about the combination of peanut butter and bacon on top of a burger that, strange as it seems, works perfectly. It's bliss.

Of course, you'll feel like you need to run 10K afterwards and eat only spinach for a few days to counteract all that bliss.

Honorable mention:

Crawfish Enchiladas at Jazz Fest. They were amazing but I only had a few bites before my fiancé wrestled them out of my hands and proceeded to scarf them down. That's how good they were. And the lesson to be learned here ladies is that you can't come between a man and his crawfish, I guess. Even if you are starving.

So please, tell me… where have your best meals been? I seriously need to start branching out again and would love some suggestions.