517 Frenchman Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
When you're up late and you haven't eaten in hours, a greasy feast of pub grub might seem like a great idea, even if somewhere in the back of your head you know it'll prove a regrettable choice come morning. Here's where 13 Monaghan (sometimes just called 13) can offer some rare late-night solace. A combination of a diner and a bar, this hole-in-the-wall joint turns out some surprisingly healthy, refreshingly offbeat fare into the wee hours. It's established its niche as the place for a tofu po-boy or a roasted vegetable plate even at 3 a.m.
Found along the busy strip of Frenchmen Street clubs and bars, this space is long, narrow and dark, even at mid-day. The big, attractive, wood-trimmed bar followed by the open, diner-style kitchen speak to 13's dual-identity. Some people come in simply to drink at the bar and try a round of video poker, while others make a meal of it. It's a clean, neat dining room, though one major problem is insufficient venting for the kitchen, which often sends out wafts of smoke that can make the eyes ache. Note that because of video poker, customers must be at least 18 to enter 13.
Though generally on the ball, service tends to be a little gruff and offhand here, a common consequence in places where the staff has to juggle bartender and waiter duties. Service also can fall off as the dining room gets crowded and the hours tick on. By the time the inevitable after-midnight rush begins, the staff can get overwhelmed and food is often flung your way.
A quesadilla stuffed with more potato and roasted pepper than cheese makes a handy first course to share. Prepared with wheat tortillas and abundant spices, it tastes more like a stuffed Indian paratha than a gooey Tex-Mex bar snack. Another standout appetizer is called "tater tachos," which seems like a natural enough result of putting a short-order cook in the same room with tatter tots and quesadilla fillings. Covered with cheddar, black beans and jalapenos, the dish serves the same function as nachos but is much more filling. Even the standard salad here is better than the pub-meets-diner atmosphere might suggest. The mixed greens are crisp with plenty of spinach and arugula.
You can get a respectable Italian deli sandwich at 13 with salami and capicola, an open-face turkey melt or even a link of boudin sausage. But the best eating here is usually vegetarian, regardless of your feelings about meat.
The black bean veggie burger steals the show and has the crossover appeal of a good falafel sandwich. Served on crusty French bread, the "burger" is really more like a spreadable hash of black beans, rice and seasonings than a patty. It's crisped around its edges, slicked with mayonnaise and dressed with cheddar and has great texture and flavor.
13 is one of the few local non-Asian restaurants that serves a good slab of tofu. Baked, dusted with herbs and served on multi-grain bread, the basic tofu sandwich is fine, but the BBQ tofu sandwich is much better. The mild-tasting bean curd is dense and moist, dosed with a sweet barbecue sauce and served on a length of po-boy loaf. Load up the hot sauce and you really have something here.
Doubling as a bar, 13 can provide you with a properly-poured pint of Guinness or a Irish coffee to accompany that tofu sandwich. The bar stocks all the whiskeys you'd expect to find at a self-respecting Irish pub.
With nothing on the regular menu is more than $10, you can get a bite and wet your whistle at the bar here for under $15.
Somewhere between a diner and a pub, 13 is a haven for vegetarians where the chalkboard special might still be a pulled pork quesadilla. In a town where vegetarians and the health-conscious tend to measure success at a restaurant by the number of choices they have, the casual, cheap, late-night options here are worth a few accommodations.