Serving up classic New Orleans Italian Dishes Since 1932
Did you know that by 1920, Italians owned an estimated forty-nine percent of grocery stores in New Orleans? Many became restaurants in the early 1900s, including Mandina’s Restaurant. Still owned by the same family 120 years later, Mandina’s is one of the most historic and authentic Italian New Orleans restaurants in existence.
When you dine at a Mandina’s Restaurant, you’re partaking in an authentic New Orleans culinary experience. Much of the menu has remained unchanged for over 75 years, with locals and patrons of all ages having memories and nostalgia for an institution they spent a lifetime enjoying. The sincere hospitality of an old-world family like the Mandina’s has made this possible, and can still be found in all the Mandina’s Restaurants.
It all began with Sebastian Mandina who arrived in New Orleans from Palermo, Italy in 1898 and opened a neighborhood grocery store at 3800 Canal Street. What started as a corner grocery store became a pool hall selling sandwiches during the Great Depression, and in 1932 became the restaurant we know today when Sebastians two sons, Anthony and Frank, opened Mandina’s Restaurant (it’s here that the original Mandina’s continues to be owned and operated by his family).
At Mandina’s Restaurant of Spanish Fort you will experience this same old-world hospitality and sense of belonging. You too will create memories that last a lifetime. The Owner/Operators of the Spanish Fort location come from this same tradition of family, friends and food that Sabastian Mandina brought with him from Palermo over 120 years ago. Their family’s have been bringing others together for generations, and continue to do so today.
The rich history of Italian cuisine (to be referred to as Creole-Italian by the mid 1900’s) in New Orleans is often overlooked, and the Italian family run restaurants that rival the city's famed French Creole establishments. Food not only gave the Italian Sicilian immigrants work and purpose, but food was also central to all things Sicilian. With the corner grocery and neighborhood restaurant being the most visible evidence of their adaptation to a new culture.
Although restaurants were an anomaly in most of the United States in the early 19th century, they were plentiful in New Orleans, and flourished as early as 1844 with dishes served showing Italian and Sicilian influences. New Orleans was perhaps one of the earliest American cities to develop what is now thought of as Italian-American cuisine, as a result of the Italian owned farms, markets, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores dominated by the Sicilian immigrants and their families.
In 1850, antebellum New Orleans was home to 915 Italians, of which 97 percent were Sicilian, which meant that more southern Italians lived in New Orleans than in any other city in the United States. Between 1850 and 1870, New Orleans boasted the largest Italian-born population of any city in the United States. In 1880, only seven percent of grocers in New Orleans were of Sicilian descent, but by 1920, Italians owned an estimated forty-nine percent of grocery stores in the city. In 1910 the French Quarter was 80% Italian and referred to as “little Palermo”. And the 1920 federal census reports that thirty-five percent of Louisiana’s foreign-born population were Sicilian immigrants. Of the 171 people who lived in the Quarter on St. Philip Street between Decatur and Chartres in 1920, 161 of them were of Italian extraction, and 53 of them had been born in Italy.
The Sicily lemon was a key commodity in establishing the first Sicilians in New Orleans in the 1830s. And “brought the original Sicilians” to the city as well as establishing means of passage for “nearly all of their countrymen” who followed. Lemons were extremely popular in the city. Many used them to preserve foods and cure scurvy and showed up in New Orleans cookbooks. As late as 1884, lemons represented New Orleans’ third most valuable imported commodity, behind only coffee and sugar.
The eventual arrival of 45,000 Sicilians to Louisiana by 1910 created an especially large and lucrative native market for Italian-style pasta (by 1901, all but two of eight significant macaroni factories operated in New Orleans were owned by Italians).