Are you wondering what to eat in New Orleans during your first or second trip to NOLA? We reveal 31 must eat New Orleans food favorites that you can’t miss during any food-focused trip to the Big Easy.
New Orleans is an over-achiever when it comes to food.
While other cities in the United States have a signature dish or two, New Orleans, the 50th largest city in the US, has dozens of dishes that were either invented in the Crescent City or are better due to the NOLA food culture and the city’s proximity to the Gulf.
Many traditional New Orleans food favorites incorporate elements of the city’s melting pot with influences from countries like France, Germany, Italy and Vietnam. Others have ties to Cajun and Creole cuisines introduced by descendants of Acadians and Carribean islanders who emigrated to New Orleans. Then there are Soul Food dishes, with deep direct roots to the African diaspora, that stick to the ribs and taste like home.
Though varied in origin, food is a cohesive factor that helps the city’s disparate groups co-exist and come together after devastating events like Hurricane Katrina and the more recent pandemic. Like all large American cities, New Orleans has homelessness, crime and other urban issues, but, nevertheless, its enduring spirit of community shines through during tough times. It’s why people love living there.
This deep food culture, combined with NOLA’s live music culture and craft cocktail culture, makes the city both a unique and fun place to visit. Most of all, though, it makes everything in New Orleans taste excellent.
New Orleans Food Favorites
We both fell for New Orleans before we fell for each other.
How could we not? The city plied us with sugary fried Beignets while beguiling our college-aged penchant for alcohol with high octane Frozen Daiquiris.
Daryl can still recall watching stories about Paul Prudhomme’s revolutionary food while he was just a teenager. He can also remember eating a simple yet exquisitely cooked cheeseburger at a pedestrian tourist restaurant just across from Jackson Square as his first meal in NOLA. On his second trip, less than a year later, a deeper dive introduced him to Po Boys as well as an even better burger at now-closed La Peniche in the Marigny.
Mindi has her own memories involving eating at Emeril’s and accidentally driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Since then, after visiting NOLA several more times together with a goal of eating all the best food from New Orleans, we’ve succeeded in eating a wide variety of New Orleans cuisine including all of the city’s signature dishes.
Read on to discover the New Orleans food favorites you must eat during your visit.
Gumbo’s name traces back to the West African word for okra. But, in a typical twist of food evolution, not all Gumbos have okra. While some Gumbos are indeed thickened with the slimy green vegetable, others, in a nod to Choctaw influence, are thickened with file (a thickening powder from the American sassafras tree). There are also light brown Creole gumbos and deeper darker versions of the soup with Cajun roots. We prefer the Cajun version.
A food trip to the deep south is not the same without enjoying a heaping bowl of the stuff. Options include Duck Gumbo, Crab Gumbo, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo and Gumbo z’Herbes, a (sort of) Vegetable Gumbo served at New Orleans restaurants on Friday during lent.
It’s not unusual for a visiting New Orleans eater to confuse Jambalaya with Gumbo. After all, the two dishes are both Creole/Cajun dishes popular in the Bayou. But, in reality, these two dishes have stark differences. While Gumbo is a soup, Jambalaya is rice dish inspired by settlers from Spain and West Africa. Though nobody knows for sure, we like to think that Spanish settlers from Valencia attempted to recreate their abuela‘s Paella using West Indian spices along with local pork and seafood products.
Jambalaya inspired Hank Williams to write Jambalaya on the Bayou, a festive song that’s been covered by a slew of artists including Hank Williams Jr.
Beyond rice, a proper Jambalaya recipe includes andouille sausage, shrimp, Louisiana’s vegetable trinity (celery, onions and green peppers) and a whole bunch of spices. Creole Jambalaya adds tomatoes while Cajun Jambalaya is a tomato-free dish.
Where to Eat Jambalaya in New Orleans
Coop’s Place and pretty much every New Orleans restaurant that serves Cajun and Creole dishes
3. Po Boys
The only thing confusing about the Po Boy is its name. Also called a Poor Boy, there’s nothing low class or deficient about this iconic sandwich especially when it’s topped with fried oysters or overflowing with melt-in-your-mouth roast beef.
Invented by New Orleanians (from what are believed to have been Italian immigrants – see the Muffaletta below), this submarine hybrid stands out from the sandwich pack starting with its Leidenheimer baguette. Yes, all traditional Po Boys use the same bread. Adding crispy seafood and slow cooked beef elevates the sandwich to icon status.
→ Discover more of the best sandwiches in the world.
Most NOLA natives have their favorite Po Boy spots depending on the topping and neighborhood. You can read about our favorites in this guide to the best Po Boys in New Orleans. However, you’ll want to eat them yourself to find your personal favorites.
Invented by some of the first Italians to immigrate to America more than a century ago, the Muffaletta is NOLA’s second sandwich icon. Those immigrants channeled their roots when they first made this round sandwich with bread traditionally eaten in Sicily.
They didn’t stop with the aforementioned Sicilian bread. Instead, they proceeded to add a whole lot of tasty toppings like cured meat, cheese and marinated olive salad. In our opinion, the punchy, acidic olive salad is what makes this sandwich sing.
Where to Eat Muffalettas in New Orleans
Central Grocery & Deli creates the most iconic Muffaletta in New Orleans. However, you can eat excellent versions at Bywater Bakery, Cochon Butcher and Napoleon House too.
5. Fried Chicken
Southern Americans didn’t invent the concept of battering chicken and frying it to crispy goodness. That honor goes to savvy Scotts and ancient Romans before them (and let’s not forget the Portuguese, of course). However, it’s fair to say that Soul Food cooks in America’s south have more than mastered the art of preparing Fried Chicken. It’s also fair to say that New Orleans serves some of the best Fried Chicken in the country.
→ Discover more of the best Fried Chicken in American and beyond.
Female chefs Leach Chase and Willie Mae Seaton, both now deceased, perfected the art of frying chicken at their restaurants (Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and Willie Mae’s Scotch House) located a block apart from each other. Now managed by their descendants, those two Tremé restaurants both won James Beard awards and have become destination dining for Fried Chicken fans around the world.
6. Turtle Soup
Popular in New Orleans where Cajun and Creole food rule the roost, Turtle Soup proves the age-old adage that most proteins taste like chicken. But make no mistake – the savory soup does indeed include turtle meat in its stock and also as an ingredient.
Though rare in much of the country, this thick soup is a staple at upscale New Orleans restaurants. Plan to add a splash of sherry when you eat Turtle Soup at iconic New Orleans restaurants like Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace. The fortified liquor adds a bit of zing to the meaty mix.
Yaka Mein sounds like it should be a Tibetan soup. Instead, it’s a Cajun-Chinese food favorite in New Orleans that doubles as a local hangover remedy.
Crescent City cooks prepare Yaka Mein by adding beef and noodles to a salty broth before topping the fusion soup with chopped green onions and a hard boiled egg. Sometimes they go crazy and replace the beef with shrimp.
8. Shrimp Remoulade
Remoulade wasn’t invented in New Orleans. That honor goes to France centuries ago. But New Orleans cooks made the creamy mayonnaise-based emulsion their own when they combined it with Gulf shrimp to create the salad dish appropriately called Shrimp Remoulade.
→ Discover more of the world’s best salads.
Simpler than many New Orleans dishes, Shrimp Remoulade is basically a shrimp salad served with Remoulade sauce in lieu of dressing. But this Remoulade is slightly different from its French cousin. Cajun seasonings and ingredients like spicy mustard and horseradish bring a bit of heat to the saucy party.
9. BBQ Shrimp
BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans resembles the shrimp that Crocodile Dundee ‘slipped on the barbie’ in just one way – both involve shrimp. However, unlike the Australian approach to slathering crustaceans with BBQ sauce and cooking them on a grill, NOLA chefs sauté plump Gulf shrimp in a pan with Worcestershire sauce and a whole lot of butter.
While many New Orleans restaurants serve BBQ Shrimp swimming in sauce as a main course or starter dish, Po Boy shops pile the buttery beauties on top of baguettes to create BBQ Shrimp Po Boys. Expect to wear a bib while eating this down home dish regardless of how you choose to eat BBQ Shrimp in NOLA. It’s as messy as it is tasty.
Where to Eat BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans
Although Mr. B’s Bistro is the most famous spot to eat BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans, this dish is also available at restaurants and Po Boy shops around the city.
Finding oysters in New Orleans is the opposite of a problem. Restaurants serve the plump bivalves raw over crushed ice all year long, not just during months that contain the letter ‘r.’
Some NOLA cooks fry the little critters before piling them inside Po Boys. Then there are restaurants like Antoine’s and Arnaud’s which have signature baked oyster dishes, Oyster Rockefeller and Oyster Bienville respectively. Meanwhile, Drago’s charbroils their oysters to create a dish that gets its own category in this guide.
Ironically, we didn’t eat our favorite Oysters at any of these restaurants. Proving that great Oysters are available all over the city, we ate outstanding preparations at both Brennan’s and Herbsaint.
Where to Eat Oysters in New Orleans
Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar is a solid choice for raw Oysters. Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and Drago’s all have signature Oyster dishes. Fans of Fried Oysters can order Oyster Po Boys at shops like Parkway Bakery & Tavern.
11. Charbroiled Oysters
Charbroiled Oysters are the solution to the dilemma when you can’t decide between eating Oysters or Garlic Bread. Cooks channel both foods by topping Oysters with butter, garlic, oregano, parsley and two cheeses (Parmesan and Romano) before charbroiling them on a grill.
While you could eat Charbroiled Oysters elsewhere, Drago’s is the dish’s standard bearer. Not only did Tommy Cvitanovich add the dish to the Drago’s menu in 1969, but his family’s restaurant claims to serve more than 900 dozen Charbroiled Oysters on a daily basis.
Where to Eat Charbroiled Oysters in New Orleans
Eating alligator meat is an unusual thing to do in most cities. Located in the Bayou, New Orleans is not one of those cities. Instead, it’s a city where it’s easy to find Alligator meat in Cajun and Creole dishes like Gumbo, Creole Stew and Fried Alligator Tail.
Our first alligator meal featured lush Alligator Cheesecake at Jacque-Imo’s prior to listening to live music at the nearby Maple Leaf Bar. We’ve since eaten Fried Alligator at Cochon and Drago’s as well as Alligator Sausage at Dat Dog, one of our New Orleans cheap eats favorites.
13. Crawfish (Seasonal)
Spring time is Crawfish time in New Orleans. Locals eat as many of the small crustaceans as possible at Crawfish boils, festivals and restaurants from February until the middle of May. Don’t worry, food travelers are welcome to the annual seafood party too.
If you’re not familiar with Crawfish, you may known the freshwater seafood by a different name. Mindi grew up fishing for Crawdads. Other names for the seafood critters are Crayfish and Mudbugs.
Some people like to eat Crawfish Étouffée while others prefer Shrimp Étouffée. Regardless of the protein choice, they all like to eat the savory dish over rice. But what is Étouffée?
A derivative of the French word étouffer, which translates to smother, Étouffée is a thick seafood stew typically served over rice. While it’s easy to assume that the ‘smothering’ happens when the stew is poured over the rice, the name actually refers to the Cajun / Creole technique of cooking food low and slow in a covered pan.
Unlike Gumbo, Étouffée’s roux can be either dark brown or sweet blonde. In other words you have two choices with this dish – the type of roux and the type of seafood.
Where to Eat Étouffée in New Orleans
Traditional Cajun and Creole Restaurants in the French Quarter and Jaque-Imo’s in Uptown
15. Red Beans & Rice
Monday and Red Beans & Rice are synonymous in New Orleans. The simple dish, in which red beans are stewed with leftover pork bones or smoked ham hocks and served over white rice, became a Monday tradition as an easy dish to cook on ‘clean up’ days.
While Mondays are no longer relegated for doing laundry, this day of the week remains the traditional day to eat Red Beans & Rice at black-owned restaurants like Dooky Chase’s, Neyow’s Creole Café and Willie Mae’s Scotch House. However, Monday isn’t the only day to eat heaping bowls of Red Beans & Rice in New Orleans.
All three of these restaurants serve the iconic NOLA dish all week long, not just on Monday. They also serve crispy Fried Chicken which pairs well with… you guessed it… Red Beans & Rice.
16. Praline Bacon
Praline Bacon is so wrong that it’s right.
When we saw the dish on the brunch menu at Elizabeth’s Restaurant, we had to order it. Later, when we returned to the Bywater restaurant with friends, we enjoyed the Praline Bacon so much that we ordered a second serving.
As we later learned, cooks at Elizabeth’s invented Praline Bacon, a dish that should be served all over New Orleans and beyond. Seriously, caramelizing bacon with pecan brown sugar until it develops similarities to Pralines (see below) isn’t just genius. It’s also delicious.
Where to Eat Praline Bacon in New Orleans
17. Mac & Cheese
A deep dive into American food history reveals that Macaroni & Cheese has been part of American cuisine for two centuries. The dish dates back to the 18th century when founding father Thomas Jefferson and his African American chef James Hemings brought the concept back to Monticello from Europe.
We sometimes forget about the magic of eating a hot bowl of Mac + Cheese but then we eat it and remember why it’s so good. Soul Food restaurants in New Orleans are great spots to rekindle the Mac+ Cheese magic. Not only does the dish pair well with Fried Chicken, but it also stands tall as a meal on its own.
18. Zapp’s Kettle Chips
Potato Chips are fairly standard except in New Orleans where Kettle Chips come in flavors like Spicy Cajun Crawtator and Voodoo. Zapp’s has been producing these unique flavors, as well as special edition Mardi Gras chips, in Louisiana since 1995.
Zapp’s cooks their chips in peanut oil in large kettles. We’ve spotted colorful bags of the company’s Voodoo Chips at Po Boy shops like Killer Poboys as well as at CVS stores on Canal Street. They’re also available for online purchase if you get a craving and you’re not in NOLA.
Warning – Salty, vinegary, smoky, spicy, sweet, crunchy Voodoo Kettle Chips are addictive. In other words, buy two bags of instead of just one.
Where to Buy Zapp’s Kettle Chips in New Orleans
Grocery Stores, Pharmacies and Sandwich Shops
19. Hot Sauce
New Orleans is hot and we’re not just talking about the weather. We’re also talking about bottles of Hot Sauce available at restaurants all over the city. In New Orleans, the question isn’t if you should add Hot Sauce to your food. Instead, the question is which Hot Sauce to add.
Many New Orleanians choose Crystal, a three-ingredient Hot Sauce produced locally. Those three ingredients are aged red cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt. Nothing more and nothing less.
Others opt for Tabasco made with aged tabasco peppers, salt and vinegar. While still a Louisiana product, Tabasco is produced in Avery Island near Lafayette. Yet others choose Louisiana Hot Sauce made with the same ingredients as Crystal but in New Iberia also near Lafayette.
Which Hot Sauce will be your favorite? There’s only two ways to find out – either by tasting each in New Orleans or by buying bottles online or at your local market.
Where to Eat Hot Sauce in New Orleans
Brunch wasn’t invented in New Orleans but it should have been. This is a city that celebrates everything that makes the mid-day meal great – decadent food, boozy beverages, lack of stress and live jazz.
We’ve eaten brunch all over the world from New York to Cape Town as well as in Amsterdam and Lisbon. While we can eat pancakes and waffles in all of these cities, New Orleans is the only city where we’ve eaten French Toast outrageously decorated in Mardi Gras colors and stuffed with cinnamon. It’s also where we’ve eaten Oysters so divine that we could cry. Additionally, as previously noted, NOLA is the only city where we’ve eaten Praline Bacon. Enough said.
21. Food Halls
Food Halls became a ‘thing’ in New Orleans when the St. Roch Market opened in 2015. The at-the-time new retail concept involved assembling a curated mix of local food and beverage vendors in a friendly, comfortable space. It was an immediate hit.
Not only is St. Roch Market still thriving, but that original New Orleans food Hall has inspired additional Food Halls around the city. Notable newcomers include the Auction House Market in the Warehouse District and the Pythian Market in the Central Business District.
22. Vietnamese Food
Many people visit New Orleans when the city is at its most pleasant. The breezes are cool and the skies are blue. Who would, in their right mind, visit the Crescent City between the humid months of mid May to September when the air is thick, the temperatures are stifling and the rains fall hard? Well, we did. And the weather reminded us of Vietnam.
As it turns out, Vietnamese people have become an influential element of the city’s cultural tapestry. In fact, it’s become difficult to imagine New Orleans without this growing population. Chefs, like Mopho chef Micheal Gulotta, have riffed ideas off of them and restaurants like Brigtsen’s source unique vegetables from Vietnamese co-op farms. Meanwhile, Vietnamese establishments like Lily’s Cafe and Dong Phuong Bakery have gone mainstream.
The best way experience NOLA’s Vietnamese food in its purest form is to drive or take an Uber east of the city. You can slurp Pho and eat Vietnamese dishes at restaurants like Ba Mien in the heart of the original East New Orleans area where many Vietnamese settled in the late 1970s. You’ll feel the history of this relatively young community as well as the trials and tribulations they’ve endured to become an integral, thriving section of New Orleans. Another option is to visit Banh Mi Boys in Metairie, not far from the airport, where you can experience a mashup of Vietnamese and New Orleans street foods.
23. Bananas Foster
Bananas Foster debuted more than a half century ago at Vieux Carré, the restaurant which eventually assumed the Brennan family name. Brennan’s has perfected the flaming dessert over the years, with servers flambéeing the bananas tableside throughout the day and into the night.
→ Read about our boozy breakfast at Brennan’s.
This preparation of Bananas Foster involves combining butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and bananas (of course) in a pan before adding rum and banana liqueur. Flames flair and excitement builds before the caramelized mixture is plated along with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Bananas Foster is one of those ‘only in New Orleans’ dishes that’s not to missed. And, while you could hypothetically eat Bananas Foster dessert at another New Orleans restaurant, Brennan’s has built its reputation as THE place to savor caramelized bananas floating in liquor and topped with ice cream.
Where to Eat Bananas Foster in New Orleans
Although the Beignet wasn’t invented in New Orleans, it’s become an integral part of the city’s food culture since the 18th century when Acadian settlers started frying French fritters in Louisiana. It’s even the state’s official donut. Apologies to France and ancient Rome who also claim credit for this donut varietal.
Open since 1862, Cafe du Monde is the most popular spot to eat the famous dessert in New Orleans. Click here to buy Cafe du Monde’s Beignet Mix if you want to make Beignets at home. Just make sure you have plenty of powdered sugar on hand before you fry them up.
25. Bread Pudding
Originally a dish born out of scarcity, Bread Pudding counts pantry items like stale bread, milk, cream and eggs as its main ingredients. But it doesn’t stop there. Additional ingredients like fruit, nuts, cinnamon and vanilla give the dish a richness that belies it humble roots.
Though their ancestors didn’t invent the dish, New Orleans bakers take Bread Pudding to the next level by topping the ‘carbolicious’ desert with creamy sauces featuring bourbon and rum. Talk about taking a great dish and making it even greater!
While we’ve eaten Bread + Butter Pudding in London as well as Bread Pudding in destinations like Tallinn and Scotland, our favorite version remains the one served in a paper boat and smothered in sweet rum sauce. We eat that version every time we visit New Orleans at one of the city’s best Po Boy shops and it never disappoints.
26. Grilled Pecan Pie
Grilling Pecan Pie in butter seems like overkill… until you bite into a slice of luscious Grilled Pecan Pie at The Camellia Grill. This bold move isn’t just over the top, it’s also a winning move.
The Camellia Grill doesn’t stop at grilling plain and chocolate slices of Pecan Pie. The iconic New Orleans diner takes the extra step of topping these ooey-gooey slices with scoops of vanilla ice cream upon request. The ice cream is worth the additional cost and calories.
Where to Eat Grilled Pecan Pie in New Orleans
The Camellia Grill
Although the French Quarter is less than a square mile in size, this relatively small space is more than big enough for two iconic Praline shops – Aunt Sally’s Pralines and Leah’s Pralines. Not to be confused with Praline shops in France, these two Praline purveyors craft a style of Praline that’s different from those we’ve eaten in both Belgium and France.
→ Click here to buy New Orleans-style Pralines on Amazon if you want to try them at home.
As Elna Stokes, the current owner of Leah’s Pralines and the original owner’s niece, showed us, the physically demanding process to create traditional New Orleans Praline involves smothering local pecans with a mixture of butter and sugar. Less traditional Pralines feature ingredients like chocolate, caramel, marshmallows and even rum.
Don’t confuse New Orleans’ Snoballs with typical snow cones sold in other cities. The NOLA version features shaved iced instead of crushed ice. We find the icy dessert somewhat similar to Water Ice and Italian Ice in east coast cities like New York and Philadelphia.
Snoballs have been a thing in New Orleans since 1934 when the Hansen clan started shaving ice and topping each cup with homemade syrup. Now operated by the family’s third generation, this Snoball shop is a James Beard prize-winning local institution.
However, Hansens’ Sno-Bliz isn’t the only Snoball stand in New Orleans. Each New Orleans Snoball shop typically offers a range of flavors like classic strawberry and orange as well as more modern flavors like honey lavender and satsuma. Additional ingredients like ice cream and coconut milk are also typical.
Warning – Queues at these shops are inevitable on hot summer days.
Where to Eat Snoballs in New Orleans
29. King Cake (Seasonal)
King Cake has a very specific shelf life at traditional New Orleans bakeries like Metairie’s Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes. However, other other bakeries like Haydel’s Bakery sell them beyond the Mardi Gras season.
→ Click here to buy a box King Cake kit to make at home.
Made with braided dough and frosted with icing, King Cakes are cinnamon-flavored cakes notable for having the Mardi Gras tricolor of purple, green and gold sugar on top. Each King Cake contains a plastic baby hidden inside the cake.
People who find hidden babies in their slices are considered lucky. In addition to the risk of breaking a tooth or choking, they’re also responsible for hosting future Mardi Gras parties or buying the King Cake for next year. Go figure.
30. Chicory Coffee
Chicory doesn’t actually contain caffeine but don’t let this factoid dissuade you from ordering Chicory Coffee at Café du Monde. The famous French Quarter cafe blends chicory with coffee to create a nutty, caffeinated beverage that people have enjoyed in New Orleans since the Civil War.
→ Click here to buy a can of Chicory Coffee from Amazon to brew at home.
We recommend pairing a Chicory Cafe Au Lait with a plate of Beignets at Café du Monde. The milky coffee is an ideal accompaniment to the cafe’s sugary pastries. We always do this one time when we arrive in New Orleans before moving on to third wave coffee.
Where to Drink Chicory Coffee in New Orleans
Cafe du Monde
31. Sazerac Cocktails
A complex cocktail that’s simultaneously strong, spicy and sweet, the Sazerac is one of the most popular cocktails invented in the Crescent City. According to the Louisiana legislature, it’s also the official drink of New Orleans.
The potent potable’s history dates back to the 1930s when Antoine Peychaud created the original Sazerac at his French Quarter apothecary using a recipe involving Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils cognac, absinthe and bitters. Almost a century later, Peychaud’s signature bitters remain a key ingredient in any proper Sazerac.
We enjoyed learning all about the history of this classic New Orleans cocktail during a fascinating tour at the Sazerac House. However, we typically enjoy drinking Sazeracs whenever we see the cocktail on a New Orleans menu.
Where to Drink Sazeracs in New Orleans
Every Reputable Bar
New Orleans Quick Facts
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Staying at a comfortable, convenient hotel is a must in New Orleans. During our most recent visit, we stayed in the following two hotels that met these criteria:
Check back soon to read the article about our stay at these hotels. Spoiler Alert: We enjoyed and recommend both of them.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We thank Visit New Orleans and its partners for their assistance to facilitate this and other articles.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
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