There’s really nowhere else in the world like New Orleans, where the street musicians are better than professionals and every cocktail comes with a to-go cup. But what really makes New Orleans special is the food--from old-fashioned Creole favorites like gumbo and jambalaya to some of the country’s best ethnic eats. It wasn’t easy to narrow down our favorites--we could pretty much set up shop here and eat for the rest of the year--but we took one for the team.
1. Beignets and Café Au Lait from Café Du Monde
This is your first stop in New Orleans. Beignets are non-negotiable.
2. Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Frequently called America’s best fried chicken, and with good reason. This family-run local favorite has been serving up perfectly crispy, golden birds since 1957.
3. Quail Salad at Bayona
This gem of a restaurant, tucked away in a 200-year-old Creole cottage, is a taste of old-fashioned French Quarter elegance. With one bite of this exquisitely smoked quail, it’s almost like there aren’t any frat boys pounding Hurricanes outside the window.
4. Curried Cauliflower Hummus and Pita at Shaya
The hardest reservation to get in NOLA these days is for….Israeli food. Don’t question it; just go. Even if it means an 9 p.m. dinner on a Tuesday.
5. Chargrilled Oysters at Drago’s
Fresh oysters, drenched in garlic butter and Parmesan, grilled over a charcoal fire. Pardon us as we wipe away the drool.
6. Shrimp Po’Boy at Domilise’s
You’ll be waiting in line for 45 minutes, but that’s only because they’re battering and frying every single piece of freshly-caught seafood to order. Get it “fully dressed,” with ketchup, mayo and pickles, like the locals do.
7. Roasted cauliflower at Domenica
Who needs meat? This impressive app is a full head of cauliflower, poached in wine, roasted in olive oil and served with whipped goat cheese.
8. Turtle Soup at Commander’s Palace
Classic New Orleans. (And if you can’t quite stomach eating a turtle, get the Shrimp Henican.)
9. Bananas Foster at Brennan’s
For over 60 years, dinners at Brennan’s have ended with a bang--or, at least, a flaming pan of bananas, caramel and ice cream. This is the place that invented the famous dessert, and still where it’s done best.
10. Praline Bacon at Elizabeth’s
It’s praline bacon. Do we really need to say anything else?
11. Gumbo at Galatoire’s
Long Friday lunches at Galatoire’s are an old New Orleans tradition. Three rules: get there early, order plenty of booze and start with a bowl of the legendary seafood gumbo.
12. Muffaletta at Central Grocery
This French Quarter deli invented the famous Muffaletta sandwich—a pile of Italian meats, provolone cheese and garlicky olive salad on round Sicilian sesame bread.
13. Le Pig Mac at Cochon Butcher
It’s impossible to go wrong at this artisanal butcher/sandwich shop/wine bar. But we’re particularly fond of its take on the McDonald’s favorite--two perfectly smoked pork patties with (yes, you guessed it) special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun.
14. Satsuma Sno-Bliz at Hansen’s
The best way to beat that sticky bayou heat…
15. Eggs Stanley at Stanley
Eggs Benedict, NOLA-style, with cornmeal-crusted oysters and Canadian bacon, served on an English muffin. Plus, anything at this Jackson Square favorite comes with a side of the best people-watching in town.
16. Blue Crab Beignets at La Petite Grocery
As if beignets weren’t addictive enough, this new bistro stuffs them with fresh crabmeat and mascarpone, and serves them with a malt vinegar aioli. One order is never enough.
17. Oyster Loaf at Casamento’s
Basically a fried oyster sandwich, for the uninitiated. Also a great place for raw oysters, or any other bivalve-related needs.
18. Samoa Donuts at District Donut
Our favorite Girl Scout cookie, in doughnut form.
19. Whole Grilled Fish at Peche
Seafood reigns supreme at this perennial James Beard favorite. We love the family-style whole fish, topped with fresh salsa verde.
20. Jambalaya at Mother’s
There’s not much atmosphere, and there’s usually a line of tourists around the corner, but when it comes to New Orleans classics--like spicy jambalaya stuffed with andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken and ham--Mother’s does it right.
21. Potato Gnocchi with Blue Crab and Truffles at Restaurant August
Crab? Check. Truffles? Check. Creamy, perfect, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi? OK, we’re in. Especially if it’s part of the ultra-decadent tasting menu at John Besh’s gorgeous shrine to fine dining.