Culpepper's Cajun Kitchen
6502 S. Academy Blvd., 282-8479, culpeppers.net
My favorite memory of eating Boudin, a sausage that takes on a variety of forms internationally, is from an open-air market on the French side of St. Martin Island. Caribbean spices dominated a transcendent conch rendition and blood-stained an amazingly potent Boudin Noir.
And so I found myself excited to see a Cajun Boudin link ($7.49) — meticulously sourced from the East Texas Gulf area — on Culpepper's menu paired with standard, crispy crinkle-cut fries and three dense, peppery hush puppies with crunchy fried dough shells. (I also nabbed a $2.99 side of water-logged, ham-flecked Down Home Mustard Greens for fiber.) The textbook mushy pork-and-rice boudin, the texture of wet Thanksgiving stuffing once you break the casing, burst with herby zest and a little cayenne bite, needing no saucing. Louisiana Crawfish Company Hot Sauce aided the fries, though, as did a side of the fantastic house remoulade. — Matthew Schniper
5214 N. Nevada Ave., 590-8633, ilvicino.com/universityvillage
There's none of the downtown location's in-off-the-street joie de vivre, but the newer Il Vicino's got its own '60s, Mad Men thing going on; think trendy, round ceiling lamps, smooth wood paneling and jazzy pan-flute music. And, thankfully, the southern location's full-court press of whether-you-like-it-or-not customer service is less prevalent here, though I was still asked if I was done with my last bite two or three times within a couple minutes.
I just couldn't part with any morsel of the Bianca ($8.75), one of the best pies in the city. The wood-fired juggernaut offers the low, salty tones of capocollo ham, funky layers of goat and Gorgonzola cheeses, sweet caramelized onions and the centering earthiness of Portobellos. Drench it in the house's chili oil to complete your fix. Another bit of tasty, the Rustica ($7.95) earns points for being unapologetically puckering, stacked with artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and capers. — Bryce Crawford
2628 W. Colorado Ave., 636-2120
Leo Weinman, former chef/manager at the south end's Yummy Yaki Japanese Restaurant, recently took over this longtime west side staple. And whatever he's doing, he's doing right, with flavorful, top-notch Yakitori execution.
At lunch, our yakisoba (lo mein noodles, $9.63) plate rested two glistening, moist chicken skewers atop the sweet soy noodles sporting flecks of stir-fried veggies and fresh chive garnish. And the yakitori and shrimp plate ($7.57) delivered the same lovely meat sticks alongside two flattened and thoroughly breaded fried prawns, which were great dipped in the house Fireball Sauce, a killer, Sriracha-like, wasabi-jalapeño chili paste. Sides of fresh cabbage with a nice tangy house dressing and sticky rice lightened the load, while included cups of beef soup were appreciated. Finally, dessert egg rolls (two for $1.75) made for a fun finish, the blackberry very blintz-like, and the banana an easy favorite. — Matthew Schniper