Our must-try food to eat in New Orleans will help you choose what to eat in New Orleans and where to find it.
If there are two things that the Big Easy is best known for, it’s music and food. Louisiana culture is at its most dense in this iconic American city and gumbo and po’boys are the fuel that keeps spirits rocking day and night.
If you’re anything like me, you understand that to know a city is to dive into its food scene, and finding the best food to eat in New Orleans might just introduce you to experiences that you had never expected to have.
If you’ve ever taken New Orleans food tours, you’ll know that there is a story behind every dish. It sometimes seems that each unique ingredient can be traced back to a secret family story, connection, or adventure. So to help you dive into the New Orleans food scene I’m going to introduce you, not just to what to eat in New Orleans, but tips to help you find the best of the best. The dishes that aren’t just a flavor sensation, but those that, if you’re willing to dig a little, come with an incredible story.
An Introduction To New Orleans Food
New Orleans is one of, if not the most unique city in the United States of America. This big city on the Gulf Coast is sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain. New Orleans was a hugely important city during the colonization of the USA. Offering access to both the Gulf and the Mississippi River, New Orleans offered idyllic access to the heart of the country.
While its strategic importance was hugely important, what led New Orleans to stand out culturally in this up and coming nation was the melding of cultures that led to the fusion of some of the world’s best cuisines.
New Orleans food draws its fascinating bouquet from a mix of French, Italian, Spanish, African, German, and Indigenous heritage. And the fact that all of these cultures melded so seamlessly in early US history helped to breed a food culture that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
The region is made even more unique thanks to the influx of Acadian culture. Most of the Acadians were french settlers in the Canadian Maritimes who were forced from the country when they refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the British Empire. Many then made their way south and settled Acadia, a community just north of New Orleans. Beyond the change in address, they also brought with them their unique culinary culture.
New Orleans cooking has led to a number of world-renowned dishes including oyster’s Rockefeller from Antoine’s Restaurant to a dish all sandwich-lovers should know, the Muffuletta, which was originally crafted at Central Grocery.
What To Eat In New Orleans
If you’re planning your travels to the city and are trying to decide what food to eat in New Orleans, this list will walk you through the dishes that no food lover should miss. From Cajun to Creole and the full circle of dishes surrounding them, here is my New Orleans food guide.
There are few dishes more synonymous with Louisiana culture than gumbo. This dish can be traced back through African routes and comes from Africa. In fact, the name gumbo comes from the West African word “ki ngombo” which means “okra”.
The original gumbo recipe has changed much in the few hundred years since it was first brought across the ocean on African slave ships. Today, this classic Creole and Cajun dish is created with a ‘roux’ base.
A roux is a flour and fat mixture that makes up the heart of many French dishes. To this, many recipes add in chicken, sausage, and seafood and season the mixture with a custom blend of spices and salt. There are two unique styles of gumbo found, Creole gumbo, which is cooked with tomatoes, and Cajun gumbo which is cooked without.
While many places claim to make the best gumbo in New Orleans, there are a few who can claim that top spot. For Creole gumbo head over to Neyow’s Creole Cafe at 3340 Bienville St. in Mid-City. Chef Tanya Dubluclet’s restaurant might not be the easiest to find, but it’s worth the time it takes to get there.
Chef Tanya crafts a mean file gumbo using shrimp, crabs, smoked sausage, ham, and a secret blend of seasonings served over white rice. The restaurant also serves up incredible oysters and fried fish as well. You might want to bring a friend (or a few) so you can taste a few dishes.
For Cajun gumbo in New Orleans, you’ll want to give Nonno’s Cajun Cuisine and Pastries at 2025 N Claiborne Ave. a visit. their homestyle gumbo is packed with fresh ingredients including jumbo shrimp, crab meat, sausage, and chicken. Chef Shermond Esteen Jr. serves up a dish that won’t leave anyone hungry. Their roux is ultra-smooth and delicious, and you’ll definitely be wanting an extra dish to take home with you.
Beignets are a French-style fritter, but, as is the norm among the best food in New Orleans, the unique culture of the city has led to the creation of something truly unique. The New Orleans Beignets were introduced to the city by the Acadians and have quickly become one of the most famous treats in the city.
When it comes to the best beignets in New Orleans there is really only one place to look. Cafe du Monde introduced these square powdered sugar-coated treats to the city way back in 1862 and, a century and a half later, still sells them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, closing only for Christmas and the odd hurricane (safety first after all!).
These light and crispy delights are crafted from yeast dough that is rolled to just the right thickness. The dough is cut and formed into squares, deep-fried, and then blasted powdered sugar. You can often find many different styles of beignets in New Orleans, but, like many dishes, I believe that the classic style is the best.
Oh, jambalaya, it’s a dish that makes me so happy every time I indulge. This mixture of rice and either seafood or pork is typically combined with celery, pepper, onion, and a combination of herbs and spices to make a rich, creamy dish. Jambalaya is a traditional dish among both Creole and Cajun cultures in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana. The dish is similar in texture to Spanish paella, so those with experience in Spanish cooking might find it familiar.
Like many of the best food to eat in New Orleans, there is a subtle difference between the Creole and Cajun versions of this food. Creole jambalaya is cooked with tomato while Cajun Jambalaya is made with roux.
Similar to gumbo, jambalaya is a New Orleans food that has evolved through family recipes that are passed down from generation to generation, so finding the best jambalaya in New Orleans is really a matter of personal taste. And if you ask around, the correct answer is usually “my Mama’s!” But you can’t go wrong by grabbing a bowl of Jerry’s Jambalaya at Mother’s Restaurant.
Mother’s is located near the waterfront at 401 Poydras St. and has been in operation is 1938. The owners, Simon and Mary (Mother) Landry have made this a popular hang out for Marine soldiers stationed in the city and has earned a reputation for selling some of the best food in the city at some of the best prices. Their authentic Creole jambalaya isn’t to be missed. But they’re also a hot spot for po’boys as well.
Interested in making your own? You can check out our delicious Creole-style authentic jambalaya recipe right here.
Po’boys, or “poor-boys” might be the most famous sandwich in New Orleans Po’boys are served on crusty French-style bread. They’re topped with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise and layered with seafood, smoked pork, meatballs, and anything else available to throw into them. Po’boys were the classic “give ’em what you got” sandwich.
They were originally created as a charity to help feed striking streetcar workers in 1929 by Martin Brothers’ French Market Restaurant and Coffee Stand which eventually closed in 1972. Since then, the sandwich has taken on a life of its own and can be served up in a number of creative ways.
Modern-day po’boys can range from simple to elegant, humble to elegant. But in general, these classic sammies are big, heavy, and perfect for sharing.
If you’re looking for the best po’boy in New Orleans, you could end up shuffling around the city from joint to joint. Because the po’boy is such an improvised sandwich, it really comes down to how you like it. You can find them in every style from shrimp to veal parm.
If you ask enough locals though, you’re guaranteed to hear about Adams Street Grocery at 1309 Adams St. This popular spot located near Tulane University offers a tremendous number of options including roast beef and gravy, fish, and (my favorite) fried shrimp po’boys. They’re priced to sell and rank up there with the best po’boys in New Orleans.
Where po’boys are long and large sandwiches, Muffulettas are large and round. These classic New Orleans sandwiches are typically topped with Italian deli meats along with cheeses and an omelet salad. The original Muffuletta was crafted by Salvador Lupo at the request of Italian dock workers that regularly frequented Lupo’s Central Grocery.
He wanted the men to have something that was easy to carry out with them so that they wouldn’t take up valuable real estate with their large deli spreads. And what he created would become one of the must-try foods in New Orleans.
Today, muffulettas can be found in deli’s and restaurants throughout the city, but a stop by Central Grocery at 923 Decatur St. will take you back to where it all began.
Classic muffulettas are served warm. They can generally be ordered in whole or half size. But be warned, these sandwiches are HUGE. A typical muffuletta can feed a family of four comfortably. So, if you’re grabbing one for yourself, expect to have leftovers.
Boasting some of the fattiest and juiciest ones around, Louisiana’s oyster industry is big business. Not only are these big moneymakers for the region, but they are deeply loved by many people in New Orleans. It’s no surprise as to why. Oysters are known to be an aphrodisiac and the local saying of “Eat oysters, love longer” speaks to the passion of the residents of this great city.
The oyster industry in Louisiana owes its heritage to early Croatian immigrants. Many of them brought their skills from the Old World with them and discovered ripe pickings near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi.
You can find oysters in nearly every style within the city. From deep-fried to wine-dipped, but raw oysters are the go-to. And Antoine’s Restaurant at 713 St Louis St. is the destination for the now world-famous oysters Rockafeller. This famous dish was first crafted in 1889. And the chef kept the recipe a tight secret for decades, refusing to share it with other restaurant owners in the city.
Because of this, chefs throughout Louisiana were forced to make up their own oysters Rockafeller dishes. And this led to the spinach-infused dish that many culinary fanatics know today. But the original, which is still served at Antoine’s to this day, does not include spinach at all!
Deep-Fried Soft-Shell Crab
There are few places that you can travel to throughout the world and see something as special as soft-shell crab on nearly every single menu. This delicacy, prepared with blue crabs that have recently molted their hard exteriors lets you enjoy the scrumptious meat inside without the need to crack the hard outer shell.
Softshell crab in Louisiana is typically served lightly breaded and deep-fried. However, more and more chefs are putting their own unique twists on this classic dish. you’ll find them served in wine broth and even on their own po’boys.
You’ll find soft shell crabs on the menu year-round. But, to get the best soft shell crab in New Orleans you’ll want to wait till between February and March. This is the season when they are typically in their molting season.
Some of the tastiest soft shell dishes is served at Seither’s Seafood at 279 Hickory Ave. This family-style restaurant features a range of great dishes including boiled crawfish, but it’s their soft shell crab platter that keeps people coming back for more.
Crawfish is one of the most famous dishes in Louisiana, and in New Orleans, you can find some of the best. Classic Louisiana crawfish are boiled in a large pot filled with water loaded with spicy herbs and served with a side of young potatoes, corn on the cob, sausage, and mushrooms. However, you’ll find there are as many ways to cook crawfish as there are restaurants in New Orleans.
Crawfish, or mudbugs as many locals call them, are kind of like freshwater lobster. These small crustaceans typically spawn in rocky areas of rivers, lakes, and swamps. They have a similar taste to lobster and shrimp.
You’ll typically find crawfish sold by the pound in many locations across the city. But for something special, check out the boiled crawfish at Schaefer Seafood at 1726 Lake Ave. It’s best to call ahead to check their current inventory and price. The crawfish served here is all at market value. And don’t expect to find a table. This is a take-it-and-go kind of establishment. The lines can be long but the staff moves super fast. And they serve up some of the best crawfish in Louisiana.
Don’t think for a second that I’d leave this list with only one dessert. Beignets are great, but this is a lot of food to eat in New Orleans without having a few more treats.
First invented at Brennan’s Restaurant in 1951, Banana’s Foster has become one of the must-try foods in New Orleans. Originally created to help drive business to a relative who was a fruit vendor, chef Paul Blange and Ella Brennan created the dish and named it for Richard Foster, a frequent customer of the restaurant.
Banana’s Foster takes ripe banana’s which are then sauteed in sugar, rum, and liquor before being flambeed tableside. The dish is then served over vanilla ice cream.
King Cakes are a New Orleans tradition, and they are delicious! These sweet, donut-shaped cakes covered in colorful icing can be traced back to the Middle Ages and it has their roots in both France and Spain. The cakes were typically handed out to peasants by the lords of the counties to celebrate the Christian Epiphany.
In typical New Orleans, fashion locals have created their own fun twist to this centuries-old cake tradition. The cake, which is now served for family or friends gatherings during Mardi Gras celebrations usually contains a small plastic baby which is tucked somewhere under the cake. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the baby must bring the King Cake to the next year’s gathering.
One of the best places to pick up a King Cake (if you decide not to make one on your own), is Dong Phuong Bake Shop at 14207 Chef Menteur Hwy.
Dong Phuong offers shipping at pickup and features a wide range of flavors including cream cheese, pecan, cinnamon, strawberry, and almond cream.
Where To Find The Best Food In New Orleans
If you’re looking for the best food in New Orleans, we have you covered. These must-try dishes and where to find them will delight your flavor senses as your explore one of the coolest cities on Earth.
If you’re looking for the best way to experience all of the incredible flavors of New Orleans, consider joining one of these incredible New Orleans food tours and have one of the expert local guides share a deeper glimpse of the city with you.
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