If you go into a restaurant late at night and see a lot of chefs eating there, you know you’ve struck gold. Places like these are almost always super casual and they offer gutsy, soul-satisfying food. MoPho in New Orleans is one of those places. Chef/owner Michael Gulotta, who spent a good chunk of his cooking career with John Besh at ultra-stylish August, says most chefs don’t want to eat fancy on their day off. But in New Orleans there was no laid-back industry restaurant where they could meet. So Gulotta created MoPho, a clubhouse of sorts where chefs could eat what they often crave—Southeast Asian. In the land of red beans and rice, Asian food is light, but full of flavor, he says. Of course, the restaurant needs to appeal to civilians as well, and it does for those brave enough to venture into the strip mall space it shares with Burger King and Subway. Gulotta’s traditional dishes, many of them Vietnamese, are exceptional, but he can also strut his high-end skill with dishes such as Pepper Jelly-Braised Cedar Key Clams with lamb lardo; Glazed Pork Belly Bowl with spiced peanuts and crackling; and Cast Iron Fried Sticky Rice Paella with gulf shrimp, octopus, clams, pork hock, cuttlefish ink and coconut cream. All of his elbows-on-the-table grub is so good New Orleans Magazine couldn’t help but name MoPho Restaurant of the Year, and it was a contender for Bon Appetit’s America’s Best New Restaurant. Gulotta is a chef who has found his own voice and is cooking what he loves. That’s an unbeatable combination.