I’ve tried foods from countless locations but New Orleans cuisine has reigned supreme on my list of favorite culinary destinations.
You don’t have to take my word for it.
For starters, New Orleans cuisine has a flavor, unlike any place you’ll visit. The mixing of cultures and ethnicities has resulted in ingredient combinations that are hard to find anywhere else.
Second, recipes in New Orleans are cherished. Natives hold certain dishes sacred and you don’t have to worry about quirky substitutions that upset your taste buds. If you want gumbo, you’ll get gumbo in New Orleans and not a brow-raising gumbo a la whim.
Finally, food is fun. From adventurous to picky eaters, New Orleans cuisine will introduce visitors to a wealth of new dishes that will leave a lasting impression.
Really, the only thing you shouldn’t forget to pack on a trip to New Orleans is your appetite.
Three Meals A Day Aren’t Enough
What I experienced, and I’m sure that you’ll likely have a similar realization, is that the standard three meals a day aren’t enough to satisfy one’s curiosity of the overabundance of cuisine. There are so many foods that aren’t as common in my hometown and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try them.
If you’re a picky eater, no worries, New Orleans has salads. For everyone else, you will lick your fingers shamelessly after meals. And it’s okay because these folks are so laid back and nonjudgmental.
An accepting and accommodating atmosphere is needed in New Orleans because you will engage in uncouth behaviors that you wouldn’t dare in front of grandma including:
- Eating until you have to loosen your belt.
- Eating with your fingers.
- Sneaking food from your travel companion’s plate when they aren’t looking.
- Licking your fingers and beneath your nails.
- Licking your plate.
- Eating dessert for breakfast.
- Walking and eating.
- Exclaiming how delicious your meal is with food in your mouth.
- Going Facebook Live while eating to share your meal with the world.
Yes. The food is that good. And yes. You will lose all semblance of manners the first time you bite into a beignet from Cafe du Monde or the shrimp and grits from Luke.
Be prepared to blow your diet and feel bad about yourself for a few weeks. It’s worth it.
I grew up in a family where we couldn’t leave the dinner table until we’d cleaned our plate, so I’ve developed the ability to cram food down. This skill finally came in handy when I wanted to have Guy Fieri-type food binges.
Thankfully, downtown New Orleans is walkable with lots of opportunities to get out and burn calories. Even if you’re only walking from restaurant to restaurant. Remember, no judgment zone!
Themed Restaurants Are My Favorite
Part of the fun of New Orleans cuisine is picking the restaurant.
After a few trips to this city, the decision becomes harder as you mull over whether to go with your tried-and-true favorites or branch out and sample a new location.
I’m usually drawn restaurants with unique names or exteriors. The more colorful and ridiculous the interior the better, especially after a few drinks on Bourbon.
Restaurant names and themes range from the simple and direct “Mother’s” to the cinema inspired “Bubba Gump Shrimp Company”. The atmosphere of each location varies, but a friendly and accommodating staff is a constant.
I may have luck on my side, but I haven’t met an unfriendly wait staff in any of my trips to New Orleans. I was even able to give a 100% tip (was on my “to do” list) to a waitress at a restaurant called Huck Finn’s.
Sure living in Washington, DC – one of the rudest cities in the US – may have lowered my standards. Or maybe the locals just love working in some of the coolest, rowdiest, and most fun eateries in the South.
Hidden gems are countless, so be sure to get off the main roads and peek into an alley or two.
I literally followed this guy waving menus into a seemingly abandoned building (I know, I know) to the bestest Po-Boy spot that I’ve ever been to. We could hypothesize that the thrill of not being led to my death contributed to the deliciousness of that meal. Who can argue with a hot, heaping side of danger?
But I would bet the sandwich was just that friggin good.
Variety to Satisfy Any Taste And Arouse Curiosity
I’ve tried alligator and frog legs, indulged on creamy rich oyster soup, ate enough fried calamari to put my conscience to shame, and tried a varied selection of New Orleans’ signature Po-Boys.
I haven’t met a food yet that I wouldn’t eat, and NOLA offers enough options to satiate even the most adventurous and voracious eater.
If you’re wondering how to take some of the goodness back home with you, you might be tempted to spend tons of money in the souvenir shops buying overpriced bags of mix and bottles of sauce.
Here’s a better way to spend your dough.
Go to one of the many small businesses located in the French Quarter Bazaar and Farmer’s Market. Not only will you find special sauces and unique seasonings that you can’t find anywhere else, but you can also talk to the people who actually made the goods. Maybe they will tell you a secret or two for the perfect dishes.
For any other New Orleans specific items, head to the grocery store. You will find items much cheaper.
Next time I travel to New Orleans, I will make it a point to get back to Mother’s – the restaurant that served my first New Orleans dinner. On my last trip, the restaurant was out of turtle soup. It’s a dish I haven’t had and one that I’m super curious about.
Stay tuned! I’ll be sure to update you when I travel to New Orleans for the Essence Festival.
Are there any other brave souls out there? What’s the weirdest food that you’ve ever eaten in New Orleans?