New Orleans, Louisiana: the rich, hot and hearty base of the American melting pot. Home of the Saints, the birthplace of jazz, and a marvel of international architecture, you can easily spend a vacation here endlessly feeding your intellectual and cultural curiosity. A much easier craving to satisfy will be your hunger, though, because New Orleans may be the greatest place for food on Earth.
I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans as part of a group that made it their mission to eat their way through the Big Easy. The result was the single best culinary experience of my life, one you can replicate in a couple days (or one, if you’re game) by visiting these 5 New Orleans dining options.
1. Coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde
Nothing gets you ready for a day of bayou adventure like a breakfast of carbs and caffeine, so start your New Orleans food tour at Café Du Monde, located in the French Quarter. Nestled between the beautiful grounds of Jackson Square and the northern side of the Mississippi River, the quaint, open-air design of Café du Monde harkens back to the Napoleonic year in which it first opened: 1862!
Only closed on Christmas, this 24-hour stalwart attracts scads of visitors (and brisk, but lengthy lines) using beignets, palm-sized fried dough mounds that come generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Simple, affordable and perfectly paired with some of the café’s fresh coffee, this signature sweet makes a fine replacement for your morning Tim’s run. No wonder you’ll find people around the French Quarter wearing a dusting of powdered sugar on their clothes at all hours.
2. Brunch at Lula Restaurant Distillery
Hop a southbound streetcar and head toward the stately houses and bustling flea markets of the Lower Garden District. On its border you’ll find Lula’s, which is as young as Café Du Monde is old. Don’t let the new upholstery and all-you-can-drink vodka bar fool you, though; Lula’s is brunch with a Louisiana twist.
Tangy creole slaw salad and the shrimp and grits add new notes to brunch standards; if you haven’t had your fill of pastry just yet, try the pain perdu topped with Lula’s own rum pecan sauce. If you plan to visit Lula’s on an empty stomach, take note: the staff can describe the day’s specials with a zeal and zest that will have discerning tongues salivating and empty bellies roaring.
3. Muffulettas at Central Grocery & Deli
Walk yourself back to the French Quarter in order to free up some of your gastric real estate – you’re going to need it. Central Grocery & Deli has been supplying French Quarter denizens with meat, cheese and bread since 1906, but it’s a freshly made combination of all 3 that inspires out-the-door lineups: the muffuletta sandwich.
Served on large, fluffy slices of Sicilian sesame bread, muffulettas are not for those with small appetites or small mouths. This Italian sandwich, said to have been created by the deli’s original owner, comes loaded for bear with and salami, ham, 3 kinds of cheese, and a healthy layer of house-made olive salad. Salty, savoury and satisfying like no other sandwich out there, a New Orleans muffuletta demands two hands and at least as many napkins.
4. Crawfish boil at Miel Brewery
Head south and hug the Mississippi (not just your taxed stomach) as you venture toward Tchoupitoulas Street, which features many of the city’s most popular local breweries. It’s dealer’s choice when it comes to choosing a delicious local-made beverage, but I recommend checking the event calendar at Miel Brewery, especially if it’s the weekend. Why? Because, more often than not, Scramuzza’s Seafood will be out front hosting a delicious crawfish boil!
Stored in a camping cooler and boiled in front of your eyes, these vibrantly coloured crustaceans are as tasty as they are tricky to eat. The cooks from Scramuzza’s will give you the gist on how to properly twist, crush, suck, pinch and squeeze a crawfish to get the flavour-packed meat and juices out. Don’t stress if it takes some getting used to; each tray comes with plenty of crawfish to practice on and devour.
5. Fine dining at Galatoire’s
If you’re worried about hiding the crawfish stains and powdered sugar still clinging to your shirt, good news: your last stop requires a dinner jacket. The famous Bourbon Street offers many of New Orleans’ flashiest entertainments, but you can easily slip away from the commotion by settling in for an evening of fine wine and upscale eating at this third-generation family restaurant.
As far as presentation goes, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at Galatoire’s, so let your taste buds lead the way. The duck and andouille gumbo is surprisingly subtle, while the shrimp étouffée pairs splendidly with a light cocktail. Expect nothing less than a true bon vivant experience from one of the New York Times’ 10 Greatest Old Dining Institutions. This is a popular destination for dinner and events, so keep an eye out for sparklers, lest you be caught with escargot in your mouth when the restaurant joins in on a rousing verse of “Happy Birthday.”
Bonus: House of Pepper Tasting Bar
While spice is no stranger to many of New Orleans’ signature dishes and restaurants, this bonus stop is the place to go if you’re a true heat-head…or a masochist. There doesn’t seem to be a foot of space in this French Quarter shop not outfitted with a bottle of hot sauce designed to wring sweat, swears or at least a good laugh out of you.
The two hot sauces that stand supreme are at the front, far from the refrigerated milk available for purchase, and right next to the waiver you have to sign before sampling either offering. Given my love of spicy food and a choice between “Death Nectar” or “Endorphin Rush,” I opted to try the less immediately morbid of the two. True to name, I did feel an endorphin rush…it just took 20 minutes of teary-eyed panting, milk chugging, and reflecting on my poor choices (like travelling without emergency medical coverage in the States) to get there.
Where gets your vote for “greatest place for food on Earth?” Let us know in the comments below!