The greatest thing about New Orleans’s iconic food culture might just be how welcoming it is to the uninitiated. There’s no need to be intimidated when entering the land of gumbo, po' boys, and beignets, rather the challenging part is whittling down the options in order to taste the very best. Let this guide help cut through the noise — and hotel promotions — to get straight to the good stuff.
Welcome to the Big Easy
When it comes to specialties of the city, among its vast food iconography are the famous dishes invented by New Orleans restaurants, from oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s to Brennan’s coming up with bananas Foster to the gumbo z’herbes at Dooky Chase. And like so much else from New Orleans, the stories behind their inventions only serve to bolster their icon status. Wondering what classic dishes and drinks to try where? Start with a shrimp po’ boy at Domilise’s, beignets at Cafe du Monde, Creole gumbo at Dooky Chase, oysters at Casamento’s, barbecue shrimp at Pascal’s Manale, a French 75 at the French 75 Bar, and a sazerac at the Carousel Bar.
Where to Start on Eater New Orleans’s Best Maps
Eater New Orleans maintains frequently updated guides to everything from where to find sno-balls to specific dishes like yak-a-mein — an iconic New Orleans noodle soup and hangover cure. Here, Eater narrows the field to highlight some of the very best destinations in the area.
Eater New Orleans’s list of standouts includes a number of exceptional restaurants in most of the city’s neighborhoods. For a day’s worth of knockout dining, start with breakfast at Brennan’s or Molly’s Rise and Shine; a lunch of fried chicken at Willie Mae’s or a garlic oyster po’ boy at Liuzza’s by the Track; and dinner at Brigsten’s for the best of modern Creole cuisine in a charming cottage on the Riverbend; Mosquito Supper Club for an exploration of Louisiana cuisine in a peaceful setting; or Marjie’s Grill for something a bit funkier.
Among the hottest of the hot right now is Lengua Madre in the Lower Garden District, serving a modern Mexican tasting menu from chef Ana Castro in an enchanting setting, Bar Brine, the dinnertime reinvention of Bywater favorite Sneaky Pickle, and Le Chat Noir, a fancy destination for oysters and wine in the Warehouse District. On the more casual side, Seafood Sally’s in Uptown offers vacation favorites like boiled shrimp and crabs, fried seafood platters, raw oysters, and classic Southern sides. Saint John in the French Quarter is the city’s newest medium for contemporary Creole cuisine, informed by the upbringing of Louisiana native, Saint John’s chef and owner Eric Cook. Fritai, the celebrated restaurant serving Haitian specialties in historic Treme, continues to receive national recognition, as does Saint-Germain, the Parisian-influenced tasting menu restaurant and wine bar in Bywater.
Iconic Dishes and Restaurants
Perhaps more than anywhere else, New Orleans is a city filled with iconic dishes. Po’ boys, red beans and rice, sno-balls, beignets, and gumbo help define the city; many are also central to a restaurant’s identity and history, like turtle soup at Commander’s or muffulettas at Central Grocery. Here’s a guide to the city’s 25 most iconic dishes and where to get them. For a further taste of New Orleans history, have a meal at one of these classic Creole restaurants.
Enjoy cocktails at the handsome Hermes bar at Antoine’s restaurant or at Arnaud’s James Beard Award-winning French 75, both longtime classics on Eater’s essential bars map. To get a feel for neighborhood bars, look no further than Kermit Ruffins’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, R Bar in the Marigny, or Pal’s Lounge in Mid City. As for the hottest spots to imbibe? Try cocktail havens Jewel of the South or Manolito in the French Quarter, the revamped Columns for a classic Southern porch setting, or the enduringly popular Barrel Proof and Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29.
Brunch was popularized here in New Orleans at Madame Begue’s, when it was called “second breakfast” and served as a nightcap for dock workers. Commander’s Palace invented the jazz brunch — and it’s still very worth a visit. Consider a contemporary Southern brunch at Gris-Gris in the LGD, now served six days a week, or a classic Creole meal at Cafe Sbisa in the Quarter. For something a bit different, there are casual but inventive menus being served at newer destinations like Mister Mao, Piece of Meat, and Fritai. Here is a complete guide to the hottest new spots for brunch, and for the booziest brunch deals in town, see this guide.
Don’t get brunch spots confused with New Orleans’s essential breakfast restaurants. For an extravagant meal complete with bananas Foster flambéed tableside, look no further than Brennan’s. Find funky and fun settings for breakfast at Molly’s Rise and Shine in the Garden District, both locations, or Bearcat, Alma Cafe in Bywater, and downtown’s Two Chicks Cafe. For a classic greasy spoon breakfast, the famed Camellia Grill Uptown on the beautiful St. Charles Avenue, Stanley in the French Quarter, or Slim Goodies Diner on Magazine Street all knock it out of the park.
It’s been said that New Orleans is America’s finest lunch town, and locals take the midday meal seriously. From po' boys and muffulettas to three-martini lunches, it is not a meal to skip when visiting. For the ultimate New Orleans lunch experience, head to Galatoire’s (Gentlemen: Bring your jackets) or Dooky Chase’s.
For casual, quicker options, Parkway Bakery and Tavern is a favorite for roast beef or fried shrimp po' boys, and it sits right next to Bayou St. John for a lovely post-lunch stroll. If you’re in the Quarter, go with Johnny’s Po-Boys, or a muffuletta from Napoleon House (with a Pimm’s Cup to wash it down). To try some of the city’s best sandwiches that aren’t po’ boys, Stein’s Deli, Cochon Butcher, and Turkey and the Wolf — try the collard green melt — are the best of the best. Not a sandwich fan? Go another route at one of the city’s favorite spots for pho, Lilly’s Cafe on Magazine Street, or Toups Meatery for a taste of Cajun in Mid City, or Lil Dizzy’s for fried chicken and sides in Treme. For more lunch suggestions, check out Eater’s complete guide to New Orleans’s essential lunch restaurants.
Head to Casamento’s, Pascal’s Manale, or Seafood Sally’s for big, wild Gulf of Mexico oysters and a lively atmosphere. To taste the farmed oysters, smaller and often more consistent and sweeter in flavor, head over to Seaworthy in the Ace Hotel (it’s open late), Donald Link’s seafood mecca Pêche, the new and elegant Le Chat Noir downtown, or Warehouse District hotspot Sidecar Patio and Oyster Bar, which also has one of the city’s best courtyard dining areas. To find a good deal on oysters every day of the week, here are a dozen of the best oyster specials in New Orleans right now.
Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free Dining
Start with Sweet Soulfood, a vegan soul food spot with mac and cheese, stuffed bell peppers, and many of the other New Orleans soul food classics. Meals from the Heart is a lovely option in the French Quarter, and the newer Kindred in Uptown serves excellent fresh fruit daiquiris in addition to delicious vegan cuisine. Here are complete maps of spots for vegan or gluten-free dining.
New Orleans is the birthplace of a number of sweet treats — bananas Foster, as mentioned, sno-balls, pralines, beignets — the list goes on. Beloved dessert shops like Angelo Brocato and the trendy Sucre are joined by a bevy of restaurants known for their versions of bread pudding, Ponchatoula strawberry shortcake, and sweet potato pie — find those here. Eater maps the best bread pudding in town here, and to cool off with a sno-ball from spring through fall, let this be your guide.
New Orleans Food Neighborhoods To Know
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food person needs to get acquainted with — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
The French Quarter
The oldest and the most famous section of New Orleans, the French Quarter or Vieux Carre is home to Bourbon Street; throngs of tourists; residents (the French Quarter is first and foremost a neighborhood); and some of the most iconic dining and drinking experiences in New Orleans. These run the gamut from boozy co-cups of frozen Irish coffee at Molly’s at the Market and purple drinks at Lafitte’s to the hip offerings of Sylvain and classic courtyard dining at Bayona. In the Quarter to experience the classics? Make a reservation at Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, or Cafe Sbisa.
Here are full guides to great French Quarter bars, incredible restaurants, and purely iconic dining experiences. Only have 24 hours to pack in all the best dining and drinking in the French Quarter? Let this be your guide.
Treme is the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States and considered by many to be ground zero for New Orleans culture — with Mardi Gras Indians, second lines, and tons of good music. Head over to Kermit Ruffin’s Mother-in-Law Lounge or the Candlelight Lounge for a night of music. Grab breakfast at Buttermilk Drop Bakery and plan to have lunch at Dooky Chase’s, where some of the city’s most influential cooking can be had. Have dinner at Gabrielle, an intimate neighborhood destination for refined Creole, or at Fritai, Charly Pierre’s Haitian hotspot. There’s also one of the best vegan restaurants in town, Sweet Soulfood.
The Lower Garden District, stretching from St. Charles Avenue to the river, and Jackson Avenue to the Expressway, is home to a great number of new restaurants and bars. Longtime favorites include HiVolt for coffee, Surrey’s for breakfast, and Lilly’s for pho. The LGD is also home to some of the best sandwiches in the city from nationally-lauded Turkey and the Wolf to hot dinner destinations like Ana Castro’s Lengua Madre and Gris-Gris, chef Eric Cook’s contemporary Southern restaurant. Barrel Proof and Bakery Bar are a few blocks away for after-dinner drinks; the former is a dark, edgy bourbon haven, and the latter is a charming corner hideaway for a delicious dessert and nightcap.
The Garden District
The Garden District, with grand homes surrounded by lush landscaping on oak tree-lined streets, stuns with its opulence. Even the cemeteries seem lavish, especially Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which sits across the street in the shadow of Commander’s Palace restaurant behind black iron gates. The food of the Garden District follows suit, from the smart Coquette to 1920s-era oyster bar Casamento’s, covered in tile from the floor to the ceiling.
Bywater has become a destination for dining and drinking in the last decade or so, a credit to many creative minds who have set up shop in this downriver neighborhood. For a quintessential New Orleans corner store experience, head to Frady’s for po’ boys or the “old man’s plate.” Grab a beer at neighborhood dives Markey’s Bar, Vaughan’s, and BJ’s, or for a more refined setting, Bacchanal’s sprawling outdoor area is perfect for afternoon or evening wine-drinking and small plates. It’s also home to some of the city’s best barbecue from the Joint, and on the other end of the spectrum, Saint-Germain, where a range of food and drink possibilities make for a memorable dining experience, and Bywater American Bistro, chef Nina Compton’s acclaimed neighborhood bistro. Here’s a full list of spots not to miss in the Bywater.
Faubourg Marigny, on the downriver border of the French Quarter is home to Creole cottages, Frenchmen Street music clubs (like the Spotted Cat), St. Claude Avenue bars, and eclectic restaurants. To combine all three, head to Snug Harbor. For dinner and cocktails, check out the Elysian Bar, or for a funkier option, Anna’s a few blocks away. Here’s a full list of the best spots to dine and drink in the Marigny. If it’s food and music you’re after, these spots, both in and out of the Marigny satisfy the ears and the stomach.
Jazz Fest brings tons of music lovers to this area every April and May, but there’s no bad time to enjoy mussels and frites at Cafe Degas or paella at Lola’s, both of which overlook tree-lined Esplanade Avenue. For lunch, find Creole and Southern food at Neyow’s, a po’ boy at Liuzza’s by the Track, or barbecue from Blue Oak BBQ. Ralph’s on the Park provides dinner with a view of City Park, and for a refined, memorable meal, Sue Zemanick’s Zasu is one of the best spots to open in town in recent years. An acclaimed butcher shop-turned-steakhouse, Piece of Meat, is a meat lover’s dream, starting with the beef tallow candles served with dinner.
The large Uptown area is home to stunning examples of 19th century architecture, Audubon Park, and Tulane and Loyola University. It boasts some of the city’s hottest restaurants, like Mister Mao and Seafood Sally’s, classics like Camellia Grill, and white tablecloth legends like Clancy’s. When broadly defined, the neighborhood includes stunner Mosquito Supper Club, Freret Street’s cocktail gem Cure, and the lovely Gautreau’s, which is one of the area’s best dinner upscale destinations in addition to La Petite Grocery. Of course, the neighborhood is also home to the city’s favorite dive, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge.
Other neighborhood guides to dining and drinking:
Along the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line
Bayou St. John
Near the Superdome
New Orleans Food Terms to Know
By Stephanie Carter
Bananas Foster: The New Orleans port along the Mississippi River is one of the largest in the United States. In the 1950s, it brought in lots and lots of bananas from Central and South America. When Brennan’s accepted the challenge to make a dessert with the inexpensive yellow beauties, one of New Orleans’ most iconic desserts was born. It’s brilliantly simple really — bananas sliced lengthwise and flambéed in dark rum, banana liqueur, sugar, and cinnamon, before it’s spooned hot over vanilla ice cream.
Barbecue Shrimp: To understand this dish, first erase any ideas of what barbecue actually is. Found all over New Orleans, barbecue shrimp is made of Gulf shrimp cooked in butter, garlic, white wine, and Worcestershire in a sauté pan on the stove. No smoke. No pit. There are lots of versions of it, but the original at the 100-year old Pascal’s Manale still tops the list.
Beignets: One of New Orleans’ most famous treats, the Cafe du Monde version of the cloud-like, square doughnuts piled high with powdered sugar is really worth some stomach real estate. Walk around to the river side of the building, where there’s an open window for viewing beignet-making. If sweet isn’t your thing, sit down for the savory, blue crab version at La Petite Grocery.
Boudin: This loose rice sausage comes from Cajun Country, but in recent years it has made its way onto New Orleans menus. While many Crescent City versions pale in comparison to the Cajun versions, Cochon Butcher and Bourée at Boucherie have it nailed.
Bread Pudding: An exercise in frugality, stale bread is soaked in a mixture of eggs, cream, and sugar before being baked and laced with whiskey sauce. Heavy traditional versions abound, but the ethereal bread pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace is legendary.
Chargrilled Oysters: Drago’s restaurant created the chargrilled oyster — a shucked oyster topped with garlic and herb butter, and both Romano and Parmesan cheeses, then grilled. The original Drago’s is in Metairie, but there’s also one located in the Hilton Riverside just off Canal. It isn’t as atmospheric, but it’s definitely convenient. For totally different flavor, try Cochon’s wood-fired oysters with chile garlic butter.
Chicory: During Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, the French used chicory, the dried and ground root of the Belgian endive, in coffee to stretch the commodity when it was expensive or not readily available. Even though it was no longer needed, it made its way to French-leaning New Orleanians and has stuck around for tradition’s sake. Brennan’s keeps it brewed all the time. Cafe du Monde includes chicory coffee in its famous cafe au lait.
Cochon de Lait: A marinated, pit-roasted suckling pig is the closest Louisiana ever came to making its own claim to barbecue. The dish hails from from Acadiana, but there are plenty of swoon-worthy options in town, most notably at Walker’s BBQ, a regular on the festival circuit that sells a highly coveted cochon de lait po-boy, and at Donald Link’s Cochon with its version served with cabbage, cracklins, and pickled turnips.
Crawfish: Ninety percent of the crawfish from Louisiana are consumed in Louisiana, and they are lightyears away from the Chinese crawfish that have started to make their way into the freezer sections across the U.S. From spring to early summer, find boils all over town. To buy a few pounds of boiled crawfish, head to Bevi’s Seafood. For more boiled crawfish options, head right over here.
Daiquiri: New Orleans isn’t snobby about cocktails, generally applauding the classic daiquiri and the frozen daiquiri in equal measure. Manolito, a Cuban bar in the Quarter, serves about the best classic daiquiri you can find outside of Cuba. The fresh juice versions of the frozen daiquiri at Bourrée are the perfect antidote to summertime heat (grab some spicy boudin or chicken wings white you’re there). And the thrill in the freedom of ordering a daiquiri from a drive-thru window simply adds to the pleasure of this sweet, braining-freezing treat at New Orleans Original Daiquiris.
Go-cup: Speaking of buying booze through drive-thru windows, New Orleanians take their booze to the streets when they wish. However, it must be in a “go-cup,” meaning not glass. Bars usually have some of these within reaching distance on the counter or next to the door to grab on the way out. Just ask if it’s not visible — and place your trash in a receptacle when you’re done.
Gumbo: New Orleans is known for gumbo, an actual multi-cultural melting pot blending sausage-making contributions of the Germans, ground sassafras from American Indians, okra from West Africa, roux technique from the French, and sometimes oysters harvested by Croatians or shrimp caught by Vietnamese fishmongers. Try the chicken and andouille gumbo from High Hat Cafe, the gumbo yaya at Mr. B’s or the smoked turkey, sausage, seafood, and chicken recipe from Nice Guys Bar and Grill.
Jambalaya: A one-pot, rice-based dish that some compare to paella, Coop’s Place serves a rabbit and sausage jambalaya that’s available late into the night.
King Cake: The classic Carnival dessert officially hits the bakeries on Twelfth Night, marking the beginning of Mardi Gras season. While the most common is the classic, brioche based version, the French king cake, puff pastry and almond cream, is gaining some ground. If you are lucky enough to get the king cake baby, know that it is both a gift and a mandate: It’s up to you to bring the king cake to the next party, which is probably tomorrow. Here’s a list of Eater New Orleans’ favorite king cakes.
Muffuletta: After Sicilians arrived en masse to New Orleans beginning in late 1800s, the area near the French Market became known as “Little Palermo” and the “Italian Sector.” Sicilian workers often stopped into Central Grocery for bread, olives, cold cuts, and cheese for lunch, which they ate standing up or with a plate perched tenuously in their laps. Salvatore Lupo, who opened Central Grocery across from the French Market in 1906, decided there had to be a better way and it involved bread as big as a plate. The iconic storefront has been closed since Hurricane Ida (though expects to return), but the famous sandwich layered it with olive salad, genoa salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, and Swiss cheese can be found at Cochon Butcher and Napoleon House, two of the city’s favorite versions. Here’s a full map of Eater’s favorite muffuletta spots.
Po’ boys: The po’ boy goes back to the 1920s when the New Orleans streetcar drivers went on strike. Two former streetcar drivers, the Martin brothers, ran a bakery at a time and took pity on their former colleagues with free sandwiches. When a striking streetcar driver came in, the bakery workers would call out, “Here comes another poor boy!” The airy New Orleans-style French bread gets stuffed with everything from roast beef to fried seafood to french fries and debris. Do try Liuzza’s by the Track’s garlic oyster po’ boy, a beguiling combination of fried oysters and garlic butter. And get a frosty goblet of Abita to go with it. Similar to the po’ boy, 1920s classic Casamento’s serves a must-try oyster loaf, which means the fried oysters get sandwiched between two slices of thick, toasted white bread rather than New Orleans-style French bread.
Dressed: When you order a po’ boy (see description in map section above), you’ll be asked if you want it “dressed,” which means lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo. Some spots have slight variations on this, like Guy’s, where dressed means all of that and ketchup.
Sno-ball: A city that gets as hot and humid as New Orleans needs a few icy tricks up its sleeve to stay cool in the summer. The New Orleans sno-ball may seem like a cousin of the ubiquitous and more widely known snow cone, but in the New Orleans version, the makers shave the ice until it's super-fine. No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the James Beard Award-winning Hansen’s. Here’s Eater’s full map of sno-ball stands.
Ramos Gin Fizz: This frothy gin-based cocktail shaken with orange blossom water and an egg white is so good that Louisiana’s larger-than-life Governor Huey P. Long flew a bartender from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans to New York to school the NYC bartenders on the cocktail in the 1930s, decades after Henry Ramos shook his first one at the now-defunct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in the late 1800s. The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt is still the place to get one.
Sazerac: Made with cognac or whiskey and Peychaud’s Bitters over a little ice and sugar in a glass coated with Herbsaint or absinthe, this brooding cocktail goes against the Hurricane-swilling, patio-pounding idea of drinking a lot of people have about New Orleans. In 1838, Antoine Amedie Peychaud concocted this drink using his family’s bitters recipe at his French Quarter apothecary. There are lots of good places to find one, but the handsome, Art Deco-style Sazerac Bar with its floor covered in tiny tiles, long bar, and comfortable club chairs is classic.
Yak-a-mein: Known as “old sober,” this brothy noodle soup rich with the umami saltiness of soy sauce was once primarily sold at second lines and in the back of African-American bars, packed full with yesterday’s brisket or other meat and topped with a hard-boiled egg. No one really knows where this dish came from, but it’s become popular in all parts of the New Orleans community. While the best version is inarguably from “Yakamein Lady” Ms. Linda, who can be followed on Instagram here and Facebook here for pop-ups, there are a number of corner stores and restaurants to find the specialty a full list of spots.
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