When we say eating a real-deal po'boy is a nothing less than a Southern rite of passage, we mean it. Because there are few moments in life quite like the one when you taste the perfectly crispy, deep-fried goodness that's packed into crusty, chewy French bread and dressed up with slatherings of gravy, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles for the very first time. Hot sauce optional. Po'boys and New Orleans go hand in hand, melding the history and soul of the Crescent City into a singular, mouthwatering experience. And it boasts a humble origin: the dish originated in the 1920s when two brothers, Bennie and Clovis Martin, began feeding the simple, hearty sandwich to industry strikers. The story goes that someone would yell out, "Here comes another poor boy," each time a hungry striker paid a visit. The name then evolved with the city.

At its core, the po'boy is a sandwich of excess that can be filled with roast beef, Louisiana hot sausage, fried oysters (or shrimp, crawfish, catfish, and so on), or, if desired, fried potatoes. There's even a debris po'boy that consists of any and everything that falls from the drippings of the roasting pan, smothered in gravy. The footlong sandwich is served on paper and tastes best with an ice-cold coke or root beer. A good rule of thumb: the messier you get, the better the po'boy is.

Here are a few of many neighborhood standbys that make up the city's humble yet distinctive lunchtime culture— one sloppy, footlong sandwich at a time.

Domilise's Po-Boy and Bar

5240 Annunciation Street

Domilise's, a hidden Uptown dive, reflects a very specific set of roots—it being a garage bar set in somebody's grandmother's house.
Order This: Oyster Po'boy. Enjoy a simple, platonic presentation of a lowbrow Louisiana seafood classic with a squirt of ketchup.

Sammy's Food Service & Deli

3000 Elysian Fields Avenue

Another local favorite that bucks tradition a bit, this always-packed joint in the Gentilly neighborhood has all the atmospheric charm of a near-interstate truck stop (which it basically is).
Order This: Hot Sausage Po'boy. Sammy's riff on this fiery, pork-patty sandwich will have you fanning your taste buds from the afterburn but begging for more.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern Hot Roast Beef Poboy
Credit: Cedric Angeles

Parkway Bakery and Tavern

538 Hagan Avenue

A stalwart in the New Orleans po'boy pantheon, this Mid-City barroom has more lives than a litter of kittens and a line out the door most mealtimes.
Order This: Hot Ham and Cheddar. Many folks zero in on the surf and turf sandwich (fried shrimp topped with roast beef and gravy), but the Hot Ham and Cheddar spends ample time on a griddle, getting crunchy and gooey in all the right places. Order it dressed (with shredded iceberg, mayo, tomato, and dill pickle chips) for the full Parkway experience.

Killer Poboys

219 Dauphine Street

This creative newcomer to the French Quarter grew from humble beginnings in the back of a Conti Street dive bar to open a second stand-alone space a couple of blocks from Bourbon Street's nonstop ruckus.
Order This: Roasted Sweet Potato po'boy. For the vegetarian folks who tire of grilled cheese variations, this sandwich puts earthy slabs of roasted sweet potato on a bed of pecan and black-eyed pea spread with tangy braised collards.

WATCH: Mini Muffulettas

R&O Restaurant

216 Metairie-Hammond Highway

Just a stone's throw from Lake Pontchartrain, R&O is every bit a family-run, near-suburban utility player (with great boiled seafood and pizzas), but its seeded-bun po'boys make it worth a long cab ride to the water's edge.
Order This: Roast Beef Po'boy. Try a hearty sandwich in the classic New Orleans tradition: tender stewed beef drenched in rich gravy studded with shreds of savory "debris" and then run under a convection oven to add another layer of caramelized flavor and to "keep the sloppy down."

Guy's Po-Boys
Credit: Cedric Angeles

Guy's Po-Boys

5259 Magazine Street

This single-room Uptown joint started its life as a pre-Depression corner grocery store and evolved into a favorite po'boy destination. The always-affable Marvin Matherne works the tiny kitchen with a smile and a sandwich.
Order This: Shrimp combo. Though not officially on the menu, this half-and-half po'boy plays golden, crispy crustaceans against their healthier (but still tasty) grilled counterpart.