Updated: May 29
In New Orleans, people "do not eat to live, they live to eat." There are so many unique dishes available in New Orleans, you could spend a whole trip just eating and not taste of all the deliciousness the city offers. Residents in New Orleans are united in a love affair with food. You can experience this love on white linen tablecloths in bites of Crawfish Etouffée, in shaded courtyards in spoonfuls of Turtle Soup or on a park bench in mouthfuls of a stuffed Po Boy dripping with roast beef gravy. Known for a melting pot cuisine, as much as for its Mardi Gras parades, New Orleans, Louisiana ranks as one of the best foodie destinations in the United States. If you are interested in eating your way through this foodie paradise, let this New Orleans "Bucket List for Foodies" send you to the the best places to try her unique cuisine and guide you through the extensive menus in New Orleans.
The Culinary History of New Orleans
Traditional New Orleans food is a blend of Creole classics, rustic Cajun fare, with Spanish, West African and French influences. Seafood plays an important role in the kitchens of New Orleans due to its abundant availability in the area. Some Creoles are people of mixed race who also have West African and Native American ancestry. The Creoles, most of whom originally spoke a dialect of French, created a sophisticated and cosmopolitan society in colonial New Orleans. You experience the French influence in the rich sauces and complex preparation techniques. Creole dishes often include onions, bell peppers, celery, tomatoes, and okra. Creole cuisine includes such dishes as Gumbo and Jambalaya, both of which are heavily influenced by West African and Caribbean flavors.
Cajun cuisine is also based partly on French cuisine and relies heavily on local ingredients such as onions, bell peppers, and celery. It is hearty, rustic fare with complex flavors but easier to prepare than Creole dishes. The Cajuns are descendants of the Acadians, French-Canadian colonists who were expelled from what is now eastern Canada by the British. Most of the Acadians settled in rural areas of southern Louisiana in the 1760s and 1770s. The Cajuns speak their own dialect of French. Cajun cuisine uses less fish and more shellfish, pork and wild game than Creole cuisine. It is not always spicy even though Cajun food is known for its use of many seasonings, including garlic, cayenne pepper, and filé powder.
Soul food was created by the African American and Caribbean descendants of slaves. It is closely related to the traditional cuisine of the South, with origins tracing back to West Africa. It often features hearty, flavorful dishes made with economical ingredients.
The cuisine of New Orleans is constantly evolving with the influx of new flavors and ethnicities. As the city grew, it was also influenced by later immigrants from Germany, Italy and most recently Vietnam and Mexico. The Italians added Stuffed Artichokes and Muffulettas to tables in New Orleans. Vietnamese refugees migrated to New Orleans in the 1970s, acquainting residents with Pho and Banh Mi, which have now become staples of the city’s food scene. Another international influence is Alon Shaya, who came to the city in 2015 introducing Mediterranean cuisine with an Israeli emphasis, offering dishes like Borekas and Shakshouka. Eating in New Orleans is experiencing the most vibrant cultures in the United States.
What Food is New Orleans Known For?
Red Beans and Rice
New Orleans had close trade ties to the Caribbean. In the early 1800s, as sugar plantations developed in southern Louisiana, many slaves were imported from other sugar-producing areas in the Caribbean. They brought with them their rice and beans dishes, which, in New Orleans, became known as "Red Beans and Rice." Traditionally simmered all day Monday while the households catch up on laundry, Red Beans and Rice is still a Monday tradition today. Practically any cut of pork, from ham hock to sausage to pickled pork, is placed in the pot along with red beans and spices like bay leaves, thyme, cayenne pepper and sage and set to simmer on the stove for hours. Cooks from New Orleans insist that the only way to get the recipe right is to use Camellia Brand dried red kidney beans. Some of the best places to try Red Beans and Rice: Camellia Grill, Mandina's, Willie Mae Scotch House, Dooky Chase, Coops Place.
According to legend, the Po Boy was created during a 1929 streetcar strike, in New Orleans. With drivers and motormen manning the picket lines, Martin Brothers Restaurant promised to serve the workers for free. They asked local baker John Gendusa to invent a hearty, inexpensive sandwich. When strikers came to the backdoor of the restaurant to claim their free sandwich, someone in the kitchen took their order yelling, “Here comes another poor boy!” The name stuck to this delicious combination of seafood or roast beef, vegetables and french bread. The components of a quality po-boy include: a portion of Leidenheimer (a local New Orleans bakery) french bread overflowing with fried seafood or meat and dressed with shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo. You taste this New Orleans staple at: R&O’s, Liuzza's by the Track, Parkway Bakery & Tavern, Johnny's Po-Boys.
Essential Online Links For Booking Your Trip to New Orleans
Logistics: Uber is available in New Orleans as are Taxis although the waits can be very long. Here are two airport transfer options that will considerably reduce your wait times, New Orleans Transportation Service or Private Transfer New Orleans to New Orleans MSY.
Top-rated New Orleans tours and experiences:
☆New Orleans French Quarter Food Adventure (perfect for foodies)
☆New Orleans City Tour: Katrina, Garden District, French Quarter & Cemetery (great for people who are visiting with limited time)
☆Adults Only New Orleans Ghost, True Crime, Voodoo and Vampire Walking Tour (perfect for mystery lovers)
☆The National WWII Museum Admission + Campaigns of Courage Guided Tour Ticket (essential to avoid lines)
Top places to stay in New Orleans: Roosevelt Hotel - Historic Luxury *** Ritz Carlton, New Orleans - Splurge Worthy*** Royal Sonesta, French Quarter - Best Location Luxury***Place d'Armes - Best Location Budget Friendly***Check out booking.com for the lowest prices on Accommodations
My favorite Guidebook for New Orleans: DK Press New Orleans
My favorite New Orleans Foodie Book: Hungry Town
Looking for More Information on Visiting New Orleans, check out these Blog Posts
Beignets were first introduced to the city by the French Creole colonists in the 18th century. The concept is simple. Fried dough is covered with mounds of powdered sugar, the result is deliciousness. Traditional Beignets are light and fluffy with no filling, but I’ve recently had stuffed beignets, savory beignets (like crab beignets), and even glazed ones. The simple version is best served with café au lait or chocolate milk.
Many stores including grocery stores and French Quarter gift shops sell the mix, you can make them at home.
There are many things to love about the traditional French Creole menu at Arnaud’s and Antoine's but it’s difficult to pass up the air-puffed, pillowy, fried potatoes, on their Appetizer menu. This treat is called Potato Soufflé and served with a Béarnaise Sauce. These thin cut potatoes are double fried in hot oil. The temperature changes cause them to puff up as they fry. It is said that the original recipe was served to the King of France when he was delayed, arriving to a banquet. The recipe was brought to New Orleans by Antoine Alciatore, the original owner and namesake of Antoine's Restaurant. Add a French 75 cocktail and it is the perfect pairing of cocktail and appetizer.
Gumbo is a Louisiana local dish that could be considered a soup or a stew. Traditionally it comes in two different varieties, chicken and andouille, or seafood and is served over rice or potato salad. Gumbo is a delicious combination of French, Native American and West African influences.
Thickened with a roux, a mixture of oil and flour, Gumbo has a wide variety of ingredients such as celery, peppers, okra, onions, chicken, sausage and/or seafood. Meat and sausage Gumbo can be thickened with filé and Seafood Gumbo with okra. You may also see Gumbo made with duck, venison, or squirrel. You can put a scoop of Potato Salad in your Gumbo before serving, as do people with German roots. At the first sign of winter, it is easy to hear locals get excited about Gumbo season. The queen of Creole cuisine Chef Leah Chase said, “There've been a lot of problems solved in that dining room over a bowl of Gumbo.”
Gumbo recipes are handed down from generation to generation or from chef to chef. Some of the best places to enjoy Gumbo is Commander's Palace or one of the Emeril's family of restaurants. You can trace the history of Commander's Palace's Gumbo recipe through the original Paul Prudhomme's cookbook. Prudhomme was an early chef at Commander's Palace. He was followed by Emeril Lagasse. All three of these Chef's cookbooks have essentially the same Chicken and Andouille Gumbo Recipe, which distinctively starts with frying chicken in cooking oil and using that oil to make the roux. The Mosquito Supper Club has an outstanding Gumbo recipe that was passed down by four generations of family matriarchs to Chef Melissa Martin, the owner of The Mosquito Supper Club and cookbook author.
Thin Fried Catfish
Fried seafood is a staple in New Orleans. Fresh from the Gulf and seasoned to perfection, there are many places to satisfy your fried seafood cravings throughout New Orleans My favorite is a New Orleans specialty, Thin Fried Catfish. It was originally served at Middendorf's. It is worth the 45-minute drive to swampy Manchac Pass to get this deliciousness. Closer to the French Quarter, you can get thin Fried Catfish at New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood
Jambalaya/Shrimp Créole/Crawfish Étouffée
These are three traditional New Orleans dishes. Jambalaya is different than Gumbo because it is not a soup but an actual rice dish. This Creole dish, which can be thought of as paella’s distant cousin, is comprised of the “holy trinity” (a New Orleans expression for onion, celery, and bell pepper), tomatoes, rice, stock, a multitude of seasonings and meat, seafood, or both. Jambalaya is a New Orleans mainstay that absorbed French, Spanish, African and Native American influences. Legend has it that Jambalaya was the result of the Spanish settlers attempting to make paella, but with tomatoes and without the hard-to-find saffron. This humble dish of rice may not seem like much, but jambalaya should never be underestimated, it is a truly delicious dish. Places that have Jambalaya on the menu: The Gumbo Shop, Dooky Chase, Coops Place, and Mother's.
Crawfish étouffée is a tasty way to eat crawfish. The word étouffée (pronounced eh-too-fey) comes from the French word “to smother.” The best way to describe this dish is a very thick stew, well seasoned and full of crawfish or shrimp, served over rice. In some ways, it is similar to Gumbo with the same types of Creole seasonings, served over rice, and made with a roux. Unlike gumbo, étouffée is often made with a lighter or "blond" roux, giving it a lighter color and almost sweet flavor. You can find étouffée on the menus at Deanie’s Seafood, Jacques-Imo’s, French Market Restaurant, Felix's Oyster Bar.
Just like Jambalaya and Étouffée, Shrimp Creole is one of the most delicious dishes you'll find served in New Orleans. Plump Gulf Shrimp simmered in a rich and tangy tomato-based sauce with plenty of Creole seasonings and spices. Sauce Piquant is the tomato based Cajun cousin of Creole. You may find earthier proteins like alligator or squirrel in Sauce Piquant. My favorite version is Red Fish Sauce Piquant. Both dishes are ladled over rice. These dishes epitomize comfort food with a South Louisiana accent.
Shrimp Creole is one of those foundation recipes. The heart of the recipe is a simple, rich, red sauce with a distinctive flavor. Creole, as well as Cajun recipes, are often characterized as spicy. That's somewhat misleading as these recipes often blend layers of flavor that can result in a subtle but distinctive mild spiciness without the overriding heat. Utilizing locally available ingredients, like Creole tomatoes and other vegetables, succulent Gulf Shrimp are simmered in a delicious sauce. Traditional New Orleans Shrimp Creole is an example of the melding of French, Spanish, African, and Native American cultures. You can order a Seafood Creole dish at Jacques-Imo’s, Neyow’s Creole Cafe, Mr Ed’s Oyster Bar, Evangeline.
In New Orleans, seafood is a food group and it is served in a multitude of ways. BBQ Shrimp is a beloved local dish. Despite the name, it is not cooked on a BBQ pit and is not slathered with barbecue sauce. It can be ordered as an appetizer or entree. Served with the heads and tails on, in a sauce made with Worcestershire sauce and butter, you use your bare hands to eat them and most restaurants will provide French bread to sop up the rich savory sauce.
BBQ Shrimp has its roots in the Italian community of New Orleans, adding it to the list of Italian Creole classic dishes. You often see it prepared with a bit of tomato paste or prepared chili sauce, strengthening it's Italian connection. In the 1950s, at Pascal’s Manale, the first BBQ Shrimp was created. A diner told the chef about a delicious dish from a business trip in Chicago that used shrimp, butter and pepper. BBQ Shrimp is traditionally made with Gulf shrimp, marinated and baked with butter, creole seasoning, black pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, white wine, garlic, and hot sauce. You can try BBQ Shrimp from the restaurant that invented it, Pascale's Manale or at Mr. B’s Bistro, Emeril's, GW Fins, or Bourbon House.
Not only is Commander’s Palace regarded as the ultimate New Orleans fine dining experience, but this New Orleans institution is also one of the last few restaurants in the country to serve this once popular Southern delicacy. Turtle Soup consists of a thick, rich broth, turtle meat and an array of vegetables and spices.
Turtle Soup is one of the hallmark recipes of both Creole cuisine and Commander’s Palace. Make sure you allow the waiter to spike yours with a little extra sherry for an extra dose of deliciousness.
The swamp gives us some of Creole cuisine’s more unusual ingredients. Turtle Soup is one of those dishes. Turtle Soup is rich, silky, and robust, garnished with hard-boiled egg and a drizzle of dry sherry. In the old days, any eggs inside the turtle were incorporated into the recipe, giving rise to the use of boiled egg as an accompaniment or garnish for the dish. Today Turtle Soup is made with farm raised, ground turtle. You can taste this delicacy at Commanders Palace Brennan's and R'evolution.
The name King Cake comes from the Biblical story of the three kings who bring gifts to Baby Jesus. A blend of coffee cake and cinnamon roll, king cake is usually iced in purple, green and gold icing, the colors of Mardi Gras. It can be stuffed with fruit filling and/or cream cheese.
Hidden in its interior or under a slice, is a small plastic baby. Whoever finds the baby must bring the next King Cake ensuring a never ending round of food and fun. Whether at the workplace, school or home, King Cake is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the Mardi Gras season.
King Cakes appears in supermarkets and bakeries between early January through Ash Wednesday. Some bakeries across the city begin selling as early as December. Several bakeries offer overnight delivery anywhere in the United States. If you are looking for Traditional King Cakes, my recommendation is Haydel’s Bakery. Brennan's offers less traditional but delicious flavors. Both Haydel's and Brennan's offer shipping. Seasonal shipping is also available through Goldbelly.
Oysters in New Orleans are their own food group, served by the dozen piled high on crushed ice. Although they can be found in coastal cities around the country, oysters harvested in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans are a little bit different from northern versions. They are large, plump and full of briny flavor. At restaurants around the city, Gulf oysters are served raw, fried, baked or chargrilled. You can enjoy oysters year-round. Traditionally, due to lack of refrigeration, they were only served in the months that have an “R”: January, February, March, April, September, October, November, and December. Some restaurants have dedicated oyster bars, while other restaurants have a long bar meant for standing and oyster slurping. Some restaurants shuck them in the kitchen out of sight and others share the process with you. Raw oysters are safe to eat and very delicious. If you choose to eat them raw, they are served with lemon, cocktail sauce, horseradish and crackers. Some of my favorite places for raw oysters are Drago's, Cooter Brown's, Casamento's, and Felix’s. Casamento's has been serving oysters since 1919 and they are only open during "oyster season". Felix's is an iconic, stand up, French Quarter Oyster Bar, located at the corner of Bourbon Street and Iberville St. If you are an oyster lover there are some oyster dishes you should not miss in New Orleans. Chargrilled Oysters are a delicious combination of butter, cheese, garlic and herbs are used to season the oysters, then they are grilled on the half-shell. The sauce is great for sopping up with french bread. This iconic dish was created at Drago's, although they are served throughout the city. In my opinion, Drago's serve the best Chargrilled Oysters. Even if you do not like oysters, you will love chargrilled oysters!
Antoine’s is one of the oldest restaurants in the country and has remained true to its Creole roots for centuries. In 1889, the restaurant created Oyster Rockefeller in response to a shortage of escargot. The recipe remains a family secret, but it involves breadcrumbs and a sauce of spinach and herbs. Oysters Rockefeller are served warm from the oven. Restaurants throughout the United Staes have tried to copy the recipe, but Antoine's still serves the best.
Oyster Bienville is decadent and one-of-a-kind dish served up at the French Quarter staple, Arnaud’s. Opened in 1918, this Creole Restaurant serves Gulf oysters with diced shrimp, green onions, mushrooms, herbs, and a white wine sauce. They are baked and served warm. They are rich and briny. Arnaud’s offers a variety of baked oysters. You can order the Oysters Arnaud, to get a taste of them all.
Italians started moving to New Orleans in the1800s, bringing Italian flavors with them. In 1906, a Sicilian immigrant, Lupo Salvadore, started Central Grocery in the French Quarter, introducing the Muffuletta to New Orleans. A Muffuletta is a sandwich made with Italian cold cuts (ham and salami), provolone cheese, olive salad and a great bread. The olive salad is made up of chopped green and black olives with onions and olive oil and spices. The bread is a round, sesame seed, loaf. One whole sandwich is big enough to split with 2-3 people. It has become one of the quintessential must try foods when visiting New Orleans.
Where to get Muffulettas: Central Grocery was damaged heavily during Hurricane Ida last summer, and rebuilding is going slow. A reopening date has not been announced and the building still does not have a roof. However, Central Grocery is still in the Muffuletta business. You can pick one up at Sidney's Wine Cellar, 917 Decatur Street, next door to the the original Central Grocery on Decatur Street. You can also get the Central Grocery Muffulettas at Rouses Market, 701 Baronne Street and Moisant Market, inside the New Orleans Airport. Central Grocery muffulettas are also available for nationwide delivery through Goldbelly.
Several restaurants have Muffulettas on their menu. Napoleon House was built as a refuge for Napoleon Bonaparte. Today it is a restaurant/bar with its distressed walls and classical music. This 200 year old building is a French Quarter classic. You can enjoy a Muffuletta with their signature drink, a Pimm’s Cup. At Cochon Butcher you will find a Muffuletta created by James Beard Award winning chef, Donald Link.
Crawfish are a traditional New Orleans seafood that is served boiled, sauteed, baked, fried or as a seafood base to pasta dishes. Crawfish are a freshwater crustacean that resembles a small lobster. They live under rocks and along the water’s floor. They are found locally in Louisiana streams, ponds and rivers. Crawfish season is in the spring months, they can be found from the beginning in January until May. They are served boiled with herbs, spices and vegetables, usually potatoes and corn. A traditional boil is when Crawfish are served to you with the shell on, you peel them to eat them. Crawfish can be found on menus fried as well as in Crawfish Bread, Crawfish Etouffée, and Crawfish Pasta. For traditional Boiled Crawfish in the Spring, check out these place: Fiery Crab, Seafood Sally's, Bevi Seafood and Bayou Beer Garden.
Snow Balls are a New Orleans summer treat. In other cities, they are called snow cones or shaved ice, but in New Orleans, it’s called a Snow Ball. It brings icy delight to children of all ages. A Snow Ball is a customizable mound of fluffy shaved ice, flavored with sweet syrups and topped or stuffed with any number of mix ins and add ons. Flavors range from stand to stand, but there’s typically an extensive selection to choose from. Standard flavors like strawberry, wedding cake, and blue raspberry can be found at just about any stand. Unique flavors like bananas foster, praline pecan, and king cake can be found at select stands. Don’t forget the add-ons like a condensed milk drizzle, an ice cream stuffing or gummy bear infused. Everyone has their neighborhood favorite Snow Ball stand, here are a two of my favorites: Hansen's Sno-Bliz, Plum Street Snoballs,
Sausage is a mainstay in many Creole and Cajun dishes. Andouille and Boudin are the two most common types of sausage found on South Louisiana menus. What is the difference between boudin and andouille? Boudin is pork scraps, and sometimes blood, cooked with rice and stuffed in casing. It usually includes organ meat. Andouille is a smoked, cured, garlic spiked sausage, often used to add flavor to dishes or seafood boils.
Thought to be created in France or Germany, Andouille is typically found in Gumbo and Jambalaya. You can also pick some up at the grocery store to cook take home. Veron Andouille is my favorite grocery store brand. If you are interested in sausage and sausage making, you may want to follow the Louisiana Andouille Trail. One stop on the Andouille Trail is my favorite Andouille shop, Jacob’s World Famous Andouille, just outside New Orleans in LaPlace, Louisiana
Boudin is loose rice sausage originating in France and perfected in the South Louisiana, Cajun Country. It has made its way onto New Orleans menus. It is most common to see it on the appetizer menu as Boudin Balls, where the sausage is rolled into a ball, battered, and deep-fried, instead of the filling being stuffed into pork casings. It also shows up as a stuffing for poultry dishes. You can find the best Boudin at Cochon Butcher, Kingfish and Toups Meatery.
Although Bread Pudding was not invented in New Orleans, it does have a delicious presence on menus throughout the city. Bread pudding was historically a poor person’s dish because it is a tasty way to eat leftover slices of bread. The dessert uses layers of bread, eggs, sugar, milk, spices which is baked and topped with whiskey sauce My favorite version is White Chocolate Bread Pudding, originally created at Palace Cafe. If you want to eat Bread Pudding for breakfast, head over to The Ruby Slipper for their White Chocolate Bread Pudding Pancakes. Traditional versions can be found on almost every menu in New Orleans. Don't miss the Bread Pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace, it is legendary.
If you are interested in dessert, consider Bananas Foster. Brennan’s invented Banana Foster. In the early 50s, New Orleans served as a port of entry for bananas coming from Central and South America. Wanting to promote the imported fruit, the restaurant’s owner Owen Brennan asked his Chef to include bananas in a new dessert. This delicious dish is made with bananas, vanilla ice cream, and a sauce made of brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liquor. The sauce is cooked, usually table side, with bananas. When the dish is ready, rum and liquor are added and the dessert is set on fire. If you have brunch or dinner at Brennan’s in the French Quarter, you can taste the original Banana's Foster. You can also find it on the menu at Palace Cafe and Arnaud’s.
If you visit New Orleans in the Spring, a dessert made with Ponchatoula Strawberries is a must. In the early 20th century, Ponchatoula (a town on the northwest side of Lake Ponchartrain) had acres of strawberry fields. New technology allowed for refrigerated railcars allowing the strawberry harvests could be transported farther by train. 1931 was the peak of strawberry farming in Ponchatoula with about 23,500 acres of strawberry farms. While strawberry production has dwindled over the years, the demand for them has remained strong. There is nothing better a sweet dessert of locally gown strawberries. My favorite in the Strawberry Shortcake on the menu seasonally at Commander’s Palace.
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