If you tell someone you are going to New Orleans, you’ll immediately get a list of all the great places to eat from them. We put a question up on our Facebook page asking what people loved about New Orleans and nearly everyone mentioned their favourite place to eat! That’s because New Orleans food is one of a kind.
The food scene in the city is as much a part of the culture and heritage as Mardi Gras and Voodoo. Everyone is passionate about food and everyone has their favourite dish or favourite restaurant.
We came home a few pounds heavier after spending a week exploring all the great eats of NOLA and now we have our favourite restaurants and New Orleans food favs to share.
New Orleans Food Tour Fun
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New Orleans has its very own flavour. With famous dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, blackened fish and char grilled oysters you’ll find some of the most unique dishes in America.
It’s important to know what food to try when visiting New Orleans. We were once a couple of novices in the food department but now that we’re NOLA food geniuses, we decided to share our knowledge of New Orleans food with you so you can be ready to eat when you visit the Big Easy.
1. Gumbo at SoBou
We stayed at the W Hotel in the French Quarter and it was an excellent location on Chartres Street. It was close enough to walk everywhere, but just far enough away from Bourbon Street to be out of the crazy nightlife.
It also has one of the best restaurants in the city. Soubu is owned and operated by the Brennan family. When visiting NOLA you’ll hear a lot about this family. They founded one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in town; Commander’s Palace. And they launched the careers of celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
The Brennan’s run 10 restaurants in New Orleans and we had the pleasure of having both breakfast and dinner at SoBou.
Our top pick for SoBou’s dish is the Gumbo.
What is Gumbo – Gumbo is probably one of the most common dishes in New Orleans and you cannot visit the city without sampling a few places. It is a delicious Creole stew that is made from a thick dark roux (I learned that phrase while NOLA) made from flour and fat. Usually it is mixed with sausage, shellfish or poultry.
Our particular favourite Gumbo (and we had a lot) was at the W’s SoBou where they put a twist on the traditional recipe and mix it with creamy mashed potato instead of rice. I enjoyed the chicken and wild mushroom Gumbo of SoBou over the usual shrimp or seafood. I never really loved the seafood Gumbos and found this one much milder and delicious.
SoBou is located in the W Hotel on Chartres Street in the French Quarter
Poboys at NOLA Poboys
During our food tour with Doctor Gumbo Food Tours, we were told of the history of the Poboy sandwich.
The term came from a streetcar strike in 1929 when former conductors Benny and Clovis Martin opened a restaurant and served their coworkers free sandwiches to keep them full and ready to walk the picket lines. Whenever the strikers came in for their free meal, the cooks would yell, “Here come the poor boys!”
Our guide Ben told us that Poboys were made for energy and can be filled with anything you like.
The traditional recipe consists of fried seafood (usually catfish) with hot sauce. Poboys must always be made on French bread.
It’s not a Poboy if it’s on any other bread.
It was also on our Doctor Gumbo Tour that we also tried our first Muffuletta. We’re normally not big on meat sandwiches, but the Muffuletta is yet another unique and delicious New Orleans food dish that we never would have tried had we not taken this tour.
The popular spot to order a Muffuletta is the Central Grocery and Deli. But you can get it anywhere you want.
Like the Poboy it’s made with French bread but layered with all kinds of meat, cheeses, a gooey helping of olive oil and don’t forget the most important ingredient, the olive salad.
If you aren’t full after eating a Poboy followed by a Muffuletta, then you are ready to move to New Orleans. This town knows how to handle its food.
Doctor Gumbo Food Tours meets at SoBou in the W Hotel and lasts 3 hours where you will eat a lot of food, so come hungry!
Beignet are a Louisiana staple and when visiting New Orleans you must stop at Café Beignet for their delicious treats.
Café Beignet has been in NOLA for 27 years and is not to be confused with the more touristy Café du Monde.
Beignets are delicious deep fried dough fritters sprinkled with powdered sugar. Café Beignet also serves full breakfast and coffee.
Café Beignet is located at 334 Royal Street in the French Quarter.
Must Have Beef Brisket at TuJagues
Dave and I don’t normally eat so much meat, but it seemed that every dish in NOLA was based around a meat dish. They know how to cook it!
When traveling, we tend to go with the flow, so when we were tasting Beef Brisket at New Orleans’ second oldest restaurant, we gave it a shot.
It was melt in your mouth delicious. But the history of the restaurant was even more fascinating.
The beef brisket dates back to the 1850s when owners Guillaume and Marie Abadie Tujagu served only two dishes at lunch. A spicy cold shrimp dish and their famous beef brisket.
It was in this bar that brunch was created in America.
That’s something we heard a lot in New Orleans. It’s such an old and established city, a lot of firsts happened here in America.
Tujague’s is located on Decateur Street in the French Quarter
While taking our food tour, it was confirmed that Louisiana truly loves their hot sauce.
If you want to get to the root of New Orleans cooking, pop into Pepper Palace.
They’ll let you taste any hot sauce they have in the store and explain what each one is used for and how to cook with it.
They have all their hot sauces labelled from 1 – 10 with 10 being the hottest.
If you want to taste #10, you must sign a waiver.
We tasted a 10, but not “THE 10” As our guide said, “we still have two more hours of touring, you may not want to suffer for the rest of the trip.”
Chargrilled Oysters at Casamento’s for something different
Dave and I like to think of ourselves as purists and weren’t too keen on eating chargrilled oysters.We do love raw oysters. Why ruin a good thing right? Wrong, We are now super fans of chargrilled oysters.
Once we tasted chargrilled Oysters in New Orleans, we wondered why we didn’t try them earlier.
Casamento’s is a small local eatery on Magazine Street that is packed with people. While eating our lunch there was a line out the door. This place is popular.
We understood why, the chargrilled oysters with garlic and parmesan cheese were savoury and satisfying. We ordered a mix of raw and chargrilled oysters, and I must admit, we enjoyed the chargrilled best!
Make your way up there after touring the mansions of the Garden District. Magazine Street is a hip and chic neighbourhood where all the cool locals hang out.
Casamentos is located on Magazine Street near Lawrence Square
Best Modern Fusion with Traditional NOLA – Sac-A-Lait
Sac-A-Lait had some of the freshest food we ate in all of New Orleans. We enjoyed the simplicity yet flavourful mix of traditional food with a modern spin.
We weren’t quite ready to try the pig’s ear or frog, but after sampling the blue fin tuna tartare and array of wild roasted mushrooms they brought over some venison for us to try.
I had never had deer before and was surprised to find that it tasted better than some of the best cuts of beef we’ve ever had.
Sac-A-Lait is located in the Warehouse District on Annunciation Street. An Uber cost us $7 from the French Quarter.
Pralines – Leah’s Pralines
One of Dave’s favourite ice cream flavours is pralines and cream.
Lucky for him, I can’t stand pralines so he got my extra portion when we had some samples at Leah’s Pralines.
However, I totally indulged in the fudge and bacon brittle. I was literally like a kid in a candy store.
If you like sweets, you’ll love Pralines. They’re all over NOLA and Leah’s Pralines is one of the tops spots.
The original French Pralines are made up of almonds, but in New Orleans pralines are made from pecans, sugar, syrup and milk.
A Step in the Past – Commander’s Palace
Located in the Garden District, a dinner at Commander’s Palace. Commander’s Palace has been an institution since 1880.
Owned by the Brennan family (who as we said above own several restaurants in New Orleans), Commander’s Palace is one of those nights out that make you feel as if you have stepped back in time.
They require reservation and require business attire. Jackets are preferred for men and no shorts allowed. Most people in the restaurant were dressed to the nines and we enjoyed prettying ourselves up for the night.
We went full on New Orleans traditional food ordering and tried the turtle soup and seafood gumbo.
They were a bit strong for our taste, but I can see why seafood lovers enjoy it. Luckily our main dishes were divine. I devoured the pecan crusted gulf fish and Dave indulged in the bluefin tuna torro.
Our Garden District walking tour guide Sheila of Welcome New Orleans Tours told us that at one time if you were a valet at Commander’s Palace, you were the best paid in town.
Commanders Palace is located in the Garden District directly across the street from Lafayette Cemetery.
Schmoosing with Celebrity Experience
Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse has his roots in New Orleans and was actually the executive chef at Commander’s Palace in the 1980s.
He has opened his fourth restaurant in New Orleans and this one is called Meril. Located in the Warehouse District that focuses on small plates to share.
We sat at the kitchen bar watching the cooking staff at work as they churned out plates. We went gaga over the yellow fin tuna wraps and the rock fin tacos.
But what a treat it was when they sent us over some cotton candy for dessert. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, the cotton candy went down with ease.
Meril is another restaurant located in the up and coming Warehouse District. This one is one Girod Street and it was a 15 minute walk from the French Quarter.
Blackened fish and Jambalaya – K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
Shrimp Jambalaya is another staple dish you must try in New Orleans and we loved it at K-Pauls Louisiana Kitchen. This upscale stop has an inviting atmosphere.
If you want to finally give a “blackened” dish a go, try it here. As one of our guides told us, “blackened was invented here in New Orleans. A chef made a mistake and overcooked his fish and instead of wasting it, he named it “blackened catfish” Okay, that might be a tall tale, but it makes for a good story!
In all seriousness, it is an actual Creole technique where fish or meat is smothered in a mixture of melted butter, herbs and spices before being seared in a cast iron skillet.
Check out the menu here
Pierre Maspero’s – Touristy, but Popular
Like many of the buildings in New Orleans Pierre Maspero’s has a dark and interesting history. This was the original slave exchange of New Orleans and the spot where Andrew Jackson planned for the Battle of New Orleans.
Today it’s a popular tourist eatery because of its central location in the French Quarter. It’s the first restaurant we came upon on our first visit to New Orleans and they serve the standard NOLA food like crab cakes, crawfish and even fried alligator.
It was here that we tried fried green tomatoes for the very first time and finally understood what all the fuss was about.
And there you have it.
That is all you need to know about New Orleans food and dining. When you visit the city for Mardi Gras or just for an escape into history and Creole culture, you’ll be armed and ready with what foods to eat and where to find them.
A highlight of our time in New Orleans was definitely the dining experiences. During each meal, we were already planning where to eat next. A lot of people come to New Orleans to party and spend time on Bourbon Street, but if you are looking for an elegant vacation with upscale dining, there are plenty of options in NOLA.
Staying at the W Hotel gave us the freedom to walk or take an Uber and its modern design and New Orleans inspired themed rooms made us feel like we were having an authentic and sophisticated NOLA experience.
From going out on the town at night to watch smooth Jazz with the locals at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street to tasting signature cocktails at SoBou and Sac-A-Lait, we had an elegant and sophisticated week in New Orleans while still getting a taste of that Mardi Gras nightlife.’
Our trip to New Orleans was in partnership with The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau visit their website to learn more and plan a trip to New Orleans.
As usual all opinions and recommendations are our own.