With its rich history, artistic lure, and strong Creole and Cajun heritage, it’s no wonder that tourists flock to New Orleans in droves, accounting for forty percent of the city’s revenue. But let’s be honest – one of the main tourist draws to NOLA is the food. And anyone who comes to New Orleans without dining experiences at the top of their ‘to do’ list has flawed priorities. Either that, or they’re just one of those anomalies who merely eats to live. I’ll admit that I used to be one of those freaks of nature, but somewhere down the line, my tastebuds woke up and realized that good food is one of life’s great pleasures.
If you’re a foodie and you’re looking for a destination where you can make food the primary focus of your trip, then NOLA is the place for you. In this post, I’m sharing some of the places where we feasted on some of the best food in New Orleans.
Night one – first thing’s first. Conveniently located around the corner from our hotel in the French Quarter, we headed to NOLA to throw down on a fusion of Creole, Acadian, and Southern fare. NOLA is one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants that’s acclaimed for having some of the best food in New Orleans. The open kitchen restaurant sits in a three-story building, and after riding an elevator up to the second floor where we were seated, we turned all of our attention to the menu.
We started with a pan of wood fired Prince Edward Island black mussels which were swimming in a beer infused ham broth. The medley of charred corn, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions in the pan complimented the mussels well, and the slice of jalapeño cornbread on top was perfect for broth sopping.
For my main dish, I went for the shrimp and grits because that’s just how you get down in NOLA. The dish had bits of smoky bacon, mushrooms, and a red chili butter sauce for some kick. The grits were perfectly creamy with hints of smoked cheddar.
Of course we all sampled each other’s plates. Jave ordered the grilled pork chop which was served with brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes, and Aaron and my nephew both got the buttermilk fried chicken which came with bourbon mashed sweet potatoes. Was it good? Let’s just say that despite the large portions, all of our plates were practically clean at the end of the meal.
But we weren’t finished. For dessert, we ordered the pecan pie bread pudding with a scoop of sweet potato ice cream. You know I have a serious sweet tooth, so it’s no exaggeration when I tell you that this was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time, and I’m not really even into bread pudding. But this bread pudding was probably the best I’ve had.
As always, we were in a hurry, so we headed to EnVie Espresso Bar & Café the morning of our French Quarter tour to grab a quick breakfast before the tour started. While our breakfast wasn’t life changing, this café is a great spot for a quick, home cooked breakfast.
My brother and I each ordered breakfast sandwiches with a side of grits. In my everyday life, I’m not really a grits person, but they’re on just about every Southern menu, so I took full advantage while in NOLA. Jave ordered French toast and my nephew Xavier ordered the Breakfast’n a Go Cup. These breakfast cups are made especially for travelers like us who are always on the run. The cup features scrambled eggs, hash browns, grits, gravy, and a bacon waterfall – not too appetizing if you ask me, but Xavier though it was decent.
I won’t discourage any visitor to NOLA from ordering a bag of beignets from the renowned Café du Monde since it’s a quintessential NOLA experience. Beignets are holeless doughnuts that are covered in powdered sugar. While you’re at it, be sure to order a cup of chicory blended coffee. Chicory is the root of the endive plant, and the French added it to coffee to give it body.
In my opinion, Café du Monde is mediocre at best. So after you’ve had your obligatory bag of beignets, head over to the next spot on my list for your doughnut fix.
A short five minute walk from Café du Monde you’ll find Wink’s World Famous Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Bistro. As its name suggests, this place is famous for its buttermilk drops – dough dropped in buttermilk icing and cooked until golden. These buttermilk drops are so ridiculously good. Jave and I ordered about half a dozen and were tempted to return before we caught our flight to bring some back home with us.
Apart from buttermilk drops and other sweet treats, this bakery also serves breakfast, po’boys, and burgers. The WIFI at Wink’s is pretty good too, making it a great place to take a break from all of the walking you’ll do around the French Quarter.
On our second night, we headed over to Royal Street for dinner at Café Amelie in the charming Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House which dates back 150 years. Unfortunately, my fuzzy nighttime photo doesn’t do this courtyard justice, but even on a chilly December night, in an effort to fully appreciate the setting, diners were braving the cold outside by the heat lamps.
We settled at a table inside and got down to business. I ordered the Cajun poutine to start and the lamb meatloaf for my entrée. Jave and Xavier ordered the shrimp pasta, and Aaron got the salmon with horseradish cream.
I had higher hopes for the poutine which is topped with Cajun-spiced shredded pork, but my lamb well made up for it. But if I could order over, I’d definitely get the shrimp pasta. Although my fuzzy picture doesn’t do it justice, it was amazing, and I kept picking off of Jave’s plate.
In case you didn’t know, NOLA has a sizable population of Vietnamese who settled in the area after the Vietnam War. Many also settled in the more rural suburbs to take up fishing and shrimping like they did back in Vietnam. As a result, the Vietnamese have left their mark in New Orleans’ culture – particularly in the food. While we didn’t get a chance to eat at any Vietnamese restaurants during our brief stay, we did get a chance to eat shrimp po’boys at Killer PoBoys, a sandwich counter at the back of the Erin Rose Bar in the French Quarter.
While po’boys aren’t Vietnamese in origin, Killer PoBoys draws on Vietnamese influences to make their seared gulf shrimp po’boys. Hands down, this is the best po’boy sandwich I’ve ever had – probably because it’s reminiscent of bánh mì which is essentially the Vietnamese’s answer to a po’boy. Killer PoBoys serves their shrimp po’boys with marinated carrot, daikon, cucumber, herbs, and a Sriracha aioli. The result is sheer deliciousness. Because the shop is located in a bar, minors aren’t allowed inside. Since we had my nephew with us, we took our sandwiches to go and enjoyed them back at our hotel.
While Oak Alley Plantation isn’t in NOLA – it’s about an hour away in Vacherie, Louisiana – because we ate lunch there before our tour of the plantation, I’m including it on this list. On the plantation’s grounds, you’ll find the Oak Alley Restaurant which serves a great selection of Cajun and Creole dishes.
Considering that we’d just finished our swamp tour prior to arriving to the plantation, we were all curious to try gator nuggets, so we shared an order. They were surprisingly good – tasted like chewy, dark meat chicken. For my main course, I ordered the chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo, because no trip to Louisiana is complete without ordering gumbo. Jave ordered the seafood gumbo, and while mine was good, next time I’d definitely order the seafood gumbo with shrimp, crab meat, and okra. And of course, when in the South, you have to try a mint julep – a cocktail mix of bourbon and fresh mint. It was a refreshing way to wash down our meal.
Our bellies only scratched the surface of all that NOLA has to offer in terms of cuisine. But now that I have most of my sightseeing out of the way, during our next visit, our focus will most definitely be on digging even deeper into the city’s food scene.