When you arrive in New Orleans, the smell of fresh water from the Mississippi River intermingles with aromas of paprika, oregano, and deep-frying beignets. Here, all of your senses remind you you’re in a distinctive part of the American South. There are great food cities in America—and then there’s New Orleans.
I’ve been going to New Orleans since I was a kid. My parents, natives of Baton Rouge, would take us into the “Big City” for family events. We’d drive down streets with French names filled with second line parades and outdoor funeral marches, all of which were pretty unusual for a seven-year-old from Houston. It would be years until I could fully appreciate the city’s pulsing and dynamic culture, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always adored its food.
New Orleans’ world-renowned cuisine is an amalgamation of flavors and spices from places as diverse as West Africa, Western Europe, and the Caribbean. When enslaved West Africans were forcibly migrated to the city’s port beginning in the 18th century, they brought with them the ingredients, skills, and techniques that would forever shape the city’s foodways. Today, immigrants from Southeast Asia and Latin America are pushing the city’s dining forward, and restaurants like Lengua Madre and Tân Định embody New Orleans’ reverence for novelty and heritage in equal measure. Businesses here have survived devastating hurricanes and complex city politics—all to keep locals and travelers satiated with generous bowls of shrimp Creole, crawfish étouffée, and far more dishes that simply can’t be captured in one list, much less one trip. But grab a table at these standbys, and you’ll be off to a running start.
923 Decatur St.
When 113-mile-per-hour winds hurled a 10-foot brick wall into the roof of Central Grocery and Deli during Hurricane Ida, the future of this French Quarter Italian cornerstone was put in jeopardy. Though the grocery has been shuttered since that fateful week in 2021 (yet hopefully not for much longer), you can still grab their primordial muffuletta sandwiches nearby at Sidney's Wine Cellar, where the colossal sandwiches—layering antipasti, olives, cheese, and Italian cold cuts—are sold for $30 (a half goes for $15). Owner Lupo Salvatore created the sandwich in 1906 before refrigerators were commonplace, which means it can be refrigerated or kept at room temperature, making the sandwich a perfect edible souvenir.
3814 Magazine St.
Despite the resounding influence West Africans imparted on New Orleans cuisine, few from the current diaspora have made as much of a splash as Seringe Mbaye. The young Senegalese chef weaves his heritage into dishes like soupou kanja (a gumbo thickened with okra roux brimming with seafood, Louisiana rice, and palm oil) and Akara black-eyed-pea fritters (filled with Gulf shrimp and topped with kaluga caviar). Dakar NOLA shows off the range of West African and Creole cooking, and encourages visitors to rethink any white-male-centric notions they may have of fine dining.
2301 Orleans Ave
When Dooky Chase opened in 1941, its founder Leah Chase revolutionized the perception of Creole and African American cooking in the United States through dishes like red beans and rice and shrimp Creole. Her elegant Tremé restaurant was a centerpiece of the Civil Rights Movement and played host to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he needed a safe place to organize with fellow activists. Chase would go on to feed generations of the city’s African American community, several U.S. presidents, and a steady community of travelers. Today, the restaurant’s walls are emblazoned with vivid artwork from local African American artists, articles celebrating the restaurant history, and other fascinating memorabilia including a gift from Disney proclaiming the inspiration Chase provided for Disney’s first Black princess. It’s the food, however, that continues to draw an endless stream of tourists eager to try shrimp Clemenceau (an old-school Creole staple of potatoes, peas, shrimp, and aromatics), Creole gumbo, and red beans and rice—just a few dishes perfected over a lifetime.
3200 Burgundy St.
Plant-based food can be hard to come by in a city often defined by its po’boys and gumbo—but not at Sneaky Pickle & Bar Brine. Here, you’ll find dishes like grilled okra sprinkled with sesame seeds and spooned over creamy cashew sauce, and maccherone bathed in cashew-butternut cheese and tossed with cucumber, zucchini, and vegan chorizo. This scruffy watering hole boasts an uber-friendly waitstaff, and a pretty-in-pink bar where you can sip impressive cocktails while listening to a thoughtful playlist featuring everything from the wistful lyrics of The Police to the rhythmic beats of Outkast. If you happen to be in town on a Monday, take advantage of the “Orange You Glad It’s Monday” special that’s all about orange-hued cocktails and wines.
1800 St. Bernard Ave.
New Orleans native Vance Vaucresson learned to make sausage from his father, Sonny, who (with his family) ran one of the nation’s first Black-owned sausage plants. Hurricane Katrina decimated the original business, but Vance’s recent outpost is an extension of his family’s history. The deli sells sausage links of many varieties, like Creole hot, jerk chicken, and Creole crawfish, but unless you’re traveling with a cooler, the move at this family-run shop and deli is to order a sausage roll, shrimp and fry basket, or sausage plate accompanied by flavorful sauces like mango mustard and Creole green onion.
908 Bourbon St.
NOLA Poboys is open until 1 a.m., ensuring you can end a night of revelry on a full stomach. Po’boy options include the classic fried shrimp and oysters as well as other, more adventurous, hoagies like one filled with crispy fried alligator chunks. Heat lovers, this is your moment: These po’boys are well-seasoned and spicy—unless you go “Yankee” (mild). Dig into other city favorites here, too, like crawfish pies and boudin balls, which you can savor in a booth or on a walk down Bourbon Street.
1113 Teche St.
Tyler Stuart and Merritt Coscia have transformed their home into a celebration of the couple’s southern Louisiana roots and love of Indian cuisine. The menu hinges on weekly market finds, but dishes like Chingri Malai shrimp—simmered with turmeric, coconut milk, and toasted red chiles—and raj kachori, a featherlight fried puff filled with pomegranate seeds, aloo bhujia, and cilantro, rarely come off the menu for a reason.
535 Tchoupitoulas St.
Nina Compton likely needs no introduction. The Top Chef favorite and James Beard Award-winning chef flaunts her St. Lucian roots at this gorgeous restaurant housed in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. The sweet potato gnocchi with curried goat and cashews illustrate Compton’s knowledge of Creole, Cajun, and Caribbean flavors, as do fan-favorite cocktails. Two to consider: the Page of Swords (gin, Salers, dry vermouth, orange blossom, and curaçao) and the tropical Holy Trinidaiq (rum, coconut, Angostura, and lime).
1518 N. Lopez St.
When I visited this snug bar and restaurant with New York Times food writer Brett Anderson, he waxed poetic about the decadent po’boys. But for me, it’s the gumbo that consistently stands above. The family-owned restaurant sautées the shrimp just before it’s served, and despite my aversion to okra in gumbo (a point of contention among many of us Southerners), Luizza’s makes a compelling case for its inclusion.
1403 Washington Ave.
A perennial party complete with live bands and a joyous staff lures the crowds to Commander’s Palace, but it’s the attention to detail that has made the restaurant a favorite among locals and visitors alike since 1893. Don’t let the idea of turtle soup scare you—it’s a longtime New Orleans tradition, and is enlivened here with chopped egg, lemon juice, and a dash of sherry. Creole bread pudding, finished tableside with warm whiskey cream, is a comforting way to wrap up an inevitably rich and indulgent meal. Don’t forget to wear your best; shorts aren’t allowed.
3824 Dryades St.
Melissa Martin grew up in Cajun country and celebrates that culinary heritage at Mosquito Supper Club. At her Uptown restaurant, guests dine communally on the bounty of Louisiana waters through dazzling plates of Cajun seafood. While removing crawfish heads or digging for every last bit of meat in her stuffed crabs—all in a room illuminated with strings of lights and filled with the laughter of joyful patrons—you’ll likely meet new friends from places as near as the Audubon neighborhood and as far as halfway around the world. The experience is pricey, and worth a flight across an ocean for a reason: Martin works with local seafood purveyors; uses fresh, quality ingredients; and constructs dishes that rival those at even the city’s oldest and most respected restaurants.
600 Poland Ave.
The self-proclaimed “backyard party” of New Orleans is a terrific spot to stock up on wine and cheese, but I like sticking around to nibble a made-to-order charcuterie board on the beautiful patio (often to the backdrop of live music). If cheese isn’t your jam, bacon-wrapped dates and gambas served with crostini are just as excellent. Don’t rush the experience here—at Bacchanal, the bons temps are truly meant to rouler.
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