French Quarter: 539 St. Philip. 504-529-8811. Map.
AE DC MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
In a part of the French Quarter where most people on the streets are from out of town, Irene's stays full all the time with an enthusiastic mix of local diners and the most avid visitors. They are there for the best of reasons. The food here is lusty, aromatic, ample, simple, just offbeat enough to set it apart from other Italian restaurants, consistent. . . and something of a bargain. This formula has so much appeal that a major theme in any discussion of Irene's is "How long did you have to wait for a table?"
WHY IT'S GOOD
The menu shows a bit more influence from Northern Italy than most New Orleans Italian restaurants do. Pasta and red sauce is good here, but a footnote to the menu rather than a main theme. Roasting, sizzling in olive oil, rife sprinkling of fresh herbs and garlic, and fresh seafood are the main themes. The menu is abbreviated but covers a great deal of ground, with a dish or two from every common food category. And a bit more than that in the seafood department.
Irene DiPietro's family has run Italian restaurants around town for decades. She's related to the owner of Fausto's, for example. She and former partner Tommy Andrade--who departed to start up Tommy's in the CBD in the early 2000s--opened Irene's in the early 1990s. It was a hit from the first day, even in the face of a somewhat spartan space and an issufficiency of tables. But food conquered all.
It's in an old paper warehouse with many odd spaces. The kitchen, entrance, and bar are not where you'd think to find them. The dark main dining room isn't big enough to accommodate everybody who'd like to eat there, and some tables outside it are not very comfortable. The service is thoroughly friendly but usually a little scarcer than optimal.
Parma prosciutto with marinated artichokes
Oysters Irene (pancetta and Romano; photo above)
Escargots in mushroom caps with garlic butter
Paneed oysters and grilled shrimp
Ricotta and spinach ravioli
House salad (greens and tomatoes)
Sauteed fish with shrimp, roasted peppers and corn macquechoux
Cioppino (Italian fish stew with pasta)
Shrimp or mussels with linguine
Soft-shell crab with pasta and crawfish sauce
Chicken rosemarino (roasted half, with garlic and rosemary)
Duck St. Philip (raspberry and pancetta demi-glace)
Bistecca alla fiorentina (ribeye)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Show up right when the place opens if you don't like waiting.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
There is no good place to wait for a table here. The reservation system is sketchy and can't be counted upon. It was nice when they were open for lunch for a while after the hurricane, but that meal is gone now.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +3
- Service +1
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Small private room
- Unusually large servings
- Reservations accepted
This review was updated with new information on 6/9/2010.
A list of over 350 full, current reviews is here.