At the end of 5 days in New Orleans, I felt like I had gained 100 lbs because of all of the eating we did. I regret nothing!
New Orleans is considered Americas "food city." There is literally something for everyone including some serious cultural eating you cannot get anywhere else. Yes, I'm talking about the Crescent City's famous Cajun and Creole influences.
In this post, I give a short review of all the traditional foods you cannot miss and the best places to order them. You'll also learn about the current BBQ craze and up-and-coming Vietnamese trend. Catch them both before they go out of style!
1. Red Beans and Rice
Where: It's everywhere!
I never thought to put red beans and rice together for a side dish until New Orleans. Now it seems like such an obvious combination to me.
They sauté onion, garlic, peppers, ham stock, celery, hot pepper sauce and lots of spices then throw in the beans and rice—and it comes out like crack. I could not get enough!
You'll see it on the menu as a side almost everywhere in N'awlins.
2. Crawfish Boil
Where: Three Legged Dog, but the options are endless when it's in season
My one food goal in New Orleans was to try a crawfish boil. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found out we had just missed crawfish season.
I was super disappointed.
But then, out of sheer luck, we walked by a bar one morning and saw a sign out front that read, "Crawfish boil tonight at Midnight." Sure enough, Three Legged Dog had a crawfish boil in the middle of July.
New Orleans locals go wild for crawfish boil mainly from March through June. Usually on any given day during that period you can find a bar or even a neighbor cooking up some crawfish.
Crawfish tastes a lot like lobster or crayfish. It's served really spicy and mixed with sausage, whole chunks of corn on the cob, and red skin potatoes.
After tearing off the shell and removing the nasty bits, you will get a small piece of edible meat. This is why you take an enormous pile like you see in my photos. It all adds up but it's not as much as it looks!
This was such a wonderfully unique meal that was only available to us because the Chef "knew a guy" in Mississippi who found some and caught them that day.
3. Po' Boys
Where: Cafe Maspero
The po' boy is considered the sandwich in New Orleans.
While we were specifically told to get over to Cafe Maspero for their roast beef po' boy, there are many different kinds of po' boys to sample.
Try a fried oyster or shrimp po' boy from just about anywhere you see it on the menu!
4. Fried Chicken
Where: Dooky Chase or Willie Mae's
In the New Orleans airport, a woman sitting nearby recognized Jono and I from Dooky Chase's restaurant. We had come from there on our way to catching our flight. She asked us what we thought of the food. We raved about the fried chicken. She agreed, but then said she liked Willie Mae's better.
Apparently, these two establishments have competing views and a loyal following around one or the other. I don't think you can go wrong with either one, but I cannot speak for Willie Mae's.
All I can say is how absolutely amazing Chef Leah Chase's fried chicken is. I don't even like fried chicken, but I love hers. People at the restaurant were literally lining up for it at the buffet.
Even if you fall in love with Willie Mae's chicken, I would suggest visiting Dooky Chase's restaurant.
Chef Leah Chase is a legend and an icon. She was the inspiration behind Disney's Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, she has cooked for countless celebrities and politicians including Barack Obama, and she is an important figure in African American history as an activist and art collector.
I'll probably be writing a separate post just to cover all of her awesomeness at a later date! Anyway, if I had to choose I would go with Dooky Chase for all of the food there, every time.
Where: The Gumbo Shop
You really have not eaten Louisiana Creole cuisine if you have not had gumbo while in New Orleans. It has both French and Spanish influences and always includes smoked sausage. Then other meats (e.g., chicken, pork, seafood) are mixed in with vegetables.
Gumbo is served in a big bowl—almost like a stew—and over white rice cooked separately.
The chicken andouille gumbo from the Gumbo Shop was out of this world! Locals suggested it to us and it even says it on the menu—locals say their gumbo is the best in the city.
Where: Deanie's or Cajun Seafood
You can get seafood all over town but the most frequently recommended to us was Deanie's.
We had the seafood gumbo which I found too salty. But Jono and I also shared a Half Seafood Platter which was amazing.
The portion was heaping so I can't even imagine taking on their Giant Seafood Platter. You'll be able to check off all the must-try seafood of New Orleans because the platter includes shrimp, catfish, oysters, stuffed crabs, and crawfish croquettes.
I am generally not a huge fan of fried food, but each item on this platter was fried to perfection. My favorite was the crawfish croquettes—don't miss 'em!
7. BBQ Ribs
Where: Blue Oyster or The Joint
There's a huge BBQ fad happening in New Orleans that began a few years ago. So, at this point, there are many options to choose from and they all do what they do quite well.
Jono was a rib-eating champ for the 5 days we were in New Orleans. In that time, he tried BBQ ribs from 4 separate restaurants (and I had a bite of each!).
According to Jono, the best ribs were at Blue Oyster. A close runner up was The Joint. I'd say the Joint was better for the dive atmosphere. You'll find a more polished atmosphere at Blue Oyster.
For a saucier rib experience, go with the Three Legged Dog. Those were my personal favorite because they were quite literally falling off the bone.
Here's a curveball! I kept hearing people say New Orleans has really good Vietnamese food. Apparently, Vietnamese cuisine is a new fad starting to catch fire.
Lots of first generation Vietnamese-Americans are opening up restaurants that fuse together the food NOLA locals love with their Vietnamese style favorites.
At MoPho, you'll see chicken wings and fried oysters on the menu alongside phos and noodles. How about a paella with lime leaf aioli or a roast lamb curry with creole cream cheese roti? Definitely unique.
I had a duck pho and it was fresh and delicious!
MoPho was a really nice detour from all the typical cajun, creole, and BBQ cuisine we had been eating.
There are many Vietnamese restaurants to choose from, but MoPho was recommended to us by a local. Also, the chef, Michael Gulotta, was named Best New Chef in the 2016 Food and Wine.
Where: The Gumbo Shop
The main difference between jambalaya and gumbo is the rice. While the rice is cooked separate from gumbo, it is mixed with everything else in jambalaya.
There are two kinds of jambalaya to try around town. The Creole version has more tomatoes giving it a saucier look and feel. Meanwhile, the Cajun version is a bit drier—but no less tasty!
The Gumbo Shop makes it to this list again with its spicy, Creole-style jambalaya plate.
10. Hurricane Cocktail
Where: Pat O'Brien's or anywhere on Bourbon Street
First created at Pat O'Brien's Tavern, the Hurricane Cocktail is the most famous drink in New Orleans. One drink is sure to give you a fast buzz and your daily dose of Vitamin C. It's a mix of 2 oz light rum, 2oz dark rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice, syrup, and grenadine.
Almost every bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter will feature the Hurricane on their menu. Just make sure it's served in the glass it was named for—a tall, curved glass resembling a hurricane lamp.
The French Quarter has streets lined with bakeries and sweet shops pumping out the smell of sugary pralines. When you can no longer resist the smell, duck into any one of these shops and sample some for free!
Then buy a box because you know you can't help yourself.
Or maybe that was just me?
Where: Café Beignet or Café Du Monde
Last, but not least: The beignet. You truly have not experienced New Orleans until you have indulged in the powdered-sugary-goodness that is a beignet.
There's usually so much powdered sugar on these little fritters that you should be warned: Do not to blow out through your nose when you take a bite. If you do, it'll be a winter wonderland all up in your face!
Lots of people recommend going to Café Du Monde for their beignets. Meanwhile, my favorite chef on the Food Network, Alton Brown, was on The Best Thing I Ever Ate raving about the beignets at Café Beignet. In order to settle the debate, Jono and I went to both places.
I must say – they both have good beignets but they are very different. Café Beignet's beignet had less powdered sugar and was much lighter and fluffier than the beignets at Café Du Monde. If you want a crunchier, crisper, more sugary experience, then you'll love the beignets at Café Du Monde.
I could eat either and be very, very pleased.
Coffee lovers may want to settle for Café Du Monde since everyone says a must-try is their cafe au lait (basically a coffee with milk). However, Café Beignet is equal competition with its Chicory Coffee—what Alton says is exquisite when paired with their 3 beignets.
Those French and Spanish folks dropped some seriously tasty (and spicy!) recipes when they landed their wooden boats on Louisiana's shore over 200 years ago.
Now, traditional dishes have been perfected and modern flare has been introduced making for a foodie's heaven on Earth in New Orleans.
I can't wait to return one day if only so I can leave 100 lbs heavier one more time!