3048 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, 504-304-6030
New Orleans has plenty of Chinese restaurants, and most people probably already have their favorite. But this offbeat restaurant on the edge of the Bywater is something new, bringing a very modern approach and plenty of multicultural influences to the Chinese menu.
Red's is so casual it can appear to be a temporary pop up. It's in the ground floor of what had been a ramshackle grocery for many years and it's easy enough to pass it by without knowing there's a restaurant inside now. Ceilings are low, tables and settings are spare and the dining areas can feel jammed in. But when you consider the quality of food for the prices charged, the trade-off for some creature comforts seems worth it. There is a small patio in the back for outdoor dining, and a pair of counter booths facing directly into the open, busy kitchen.
Service is as casual as the setting, which seems to fit the mode of this place. Most importantly, the staff is knowledgeable about the unusual menu. Most dishes require some explanation and they make reliably good recommendations.
The menu makes little distinction between appetizers and entrees, and the best way to order here is in the familiar Chinese restaurant fashion anyway – get a few dishes to share around your table. The dish that gets the most attention is the kung pao pastrami, which crosses big chunks of smoky, peppery beef with a spicy stir fry of coarsely-cut peppers, onions and celery. Slices of soft rice cake are there to cut the heat, but they can have a gummy texture that tends to get in the way. The pastrami itself, however, is worth the price of admission. The General Lee's chicken is another go-to. It's an excellent fried chicken dish, with a thick and flavorful crust with the crunch of cracklin', shot through with red pepper heat, lots of crushed peanuts and cool cilantro. You'll want to pair one of these meaty dishes with a rice or noodle dish. The confetti fried rice starts out fairly standard, though it gets the unusual combination of fish and dense, red Chinese sausage. One of my favorites here is the sesame noodle dish, for the velvety texture of the thin egg noodles whipped through a deep dark juice of sesame and soy sauce. Vegetable dishes tend to be very spicy or deeply flavored, like the delta broccoli glazed with a starchy sauce made heady from fermented black beans, garlic and lemon. Blue Lake beans are long, green and crisp, and interspersed with bits of chewy dates and sharp horseradish, with heat that comes at you from several different angles. For something more approachable, there are crawfish Rangoon, the familiar turnovers with cream cheese and crawfish and a sort of Chinese-Creole mustard sauce over finely chopped jalapeno.
There is a full bar with a small selection in the wine, beer and specialty drink categories. These tend to pair well with the spicy food (the white wines are crisp and a little sweet, for instance). Frozen cocktails are a timely addition for summer.
Red's Chinese is a good bargain by any reasonable measure. Most dishes are under $15 and are served in generous portions that two people can split. Sample a few dishes and add drinks and a couple can still dine here for under $60.
This restaurant arrived with plenty of buzz, and the menu is definitely eye-catching. But if you can roll with the casual service and ad hoc setting, you'll find an accessible spot for big flavors, adventurous meals and good values.