Tony Mandina’s On The Westbank :: Back to My Roots

Tony Mandina’s On The Westbank :: Back to My Roots

I hate to cook. It’s not that I’m not good at it, it’s just that I find the whole process exhausting. It requires time, patience, the ability to follow directions, attention to detail and, worst of all, many, many dirty dishes. None of these things appeal to me. Once in a while though, I am nostalgic for the powerful, pungent Southern Italian food that I grew up with. The kind that takes all day and lots of love to make. 

When my husband and I were new to dating, I expressed this need for quality Sicilian cooking, not just run-of-the-mill Italian food. My family Christmas was a long way off and I didn’t think I could replicate the sauce myself. His eyes lit up – and that was the day he introduced me to, as he often refers to it “Tony Mandina’s On the Westbank.” (Not to be confused with “Mandina’s On Canal.”) 

When we walked in, we were greeted by the then-owners, Tony and Grace Mandina. They welcomed me like family, asked about my job and my kid and my life, like I was an old friend and not just a first-time visitor. When I dipped that first piece of bread in their sauce, I almost cried. It tasted just like home! The flavors that the taste brought back to me were truly exceptional and helped me to relive all my favorite childhood food memories. 

After that, Tony Mandina’s became a regular stop for us. It was the first place we ordered to-go food after our COVID-induced mini wedding. It was the first place I wanted to eat when I returned back to New Orleans after my dad passed away. It’s always the first place I want to visit when I don’t want to cook (which is often). And it’s the first place that my son wants to go when family is in town.

Original artwork by my son, depicting his favorite restaurant.

That’s because it’s not just the food — it’s the whole vibe. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and they always provide exceptional service. They are warm and attentive and make everyone who enters feel special. They really do care about your life, your job, and your kids. From the moment I walked in, I have felt like a part of the Tony Mandina’s family, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

The best part about it is that it is so genuine. We took a trip to Sicily a few years back and were welcomed at the train station by my fifth cousins who we’d never met. As they were hugging us with joy, smiles, and warmth and talking in a Sicilian dialect that none of us understood, I thought back to all my great aunts and the Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house, everyone talking at the same time while they passed food around the table. My son, who is too young to have had that experience, remarked: “Wow! This is like going to Tony Mandina’s!” Out of the mouths of babes, I guess. I find this to be the ultimate endorsement of their authenticity. 

It’s a family affair when we visit Tony Mandina’s.

Being from a family full of girls myself, it brings me great joy that the Tony Mandina’s legacy is now being carried forward by the next generation – the women. Mr. Tony and Mrs. Grace’s daughter and granddaughter bought it in 2020, a tough year to take on a restaurant. But they not only survived, they have thrived! They’ve added some modern touches and expanded the market to include bottling their famous Red Gravy– but the family atmosphere hasn’t changed. We are still greeted warmly by Mr. Tony and Mrs. Grace, and I’m always reminded of my own grandparents, who were at the front door with a hug, a compliment, and a kind word. And an observation about how tall the kids are getting. 

Today, take a peek in the kitchen and you might see one of the owners stirring sauce or plating salads. It is truly a family affair, as traditional Sicilian dining is meant to be.

Stephanie Davi-McNeely
Stephanie Davi McNeely has been in and around the nonprofit fundraising space for nearly twenty years. She oversees development and strategic partnerships, for the ACE Mentor Program of America, a national nonprofit mentoring program based in Philadelphia. There she is responsible for corporate and individual fundraising initiatives, as well as the growth and development of national partnerships with design and construction firms. In her spare time, she plays mom’s league softball, watches her son play soccer, takes French class through the Alliance, and serves as the First Lady of the University of Holy Cross in Algiers. She resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and 11-year-old son.


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