There really is no foodie destination in the US quite like New Orleans. From its blend of Cajun, Creole, and African cuisine to the undeniable influences of French, Spanish, and Vietnamese traditions, New Orleans truly is a melting pot of culinary cultures.
And with its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is blessed with an abundance of fresh seafood, which plays a crucial role in the city’s world-famous cuisine. From oysters Rockefeller and seafood gumbo to crawfish étouffée and barbecue shrimp, New Orleans takes its seafood very seriously.
But it’s not all about the seafood! Delve into New Orleans’s culinary history, and you’ll find that all manner of dishes were invented here. Antoine Peychaud mixed up the first Sazerac cocktail in 1838, Salvatore Lupo served the first muffuletta in 1906, and Ernest Hansen dreamed up the syrupy snowball in 1933, to name a few.
And then there’s the Vietnamese influence, which slowly started permeating New Orleans’ culinary landscape in the 1970s. Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find all sorts of Vietnamese eateries serving up fragrant bowls of pho and grilled pork banh mi sandwiches (aka “Vietnamese po-boys”). Just further proof that New Orleans cuisine is a constant surprise!
Whether you want to sample beignets at the iconic Cafe Du Monde or warm up with a bowl of turtle soup at the famous Commander’s Palace, you’ll never tire of eating your way through this food-loving city!
With so many different dishes to try and restaurants to visit, you might not know where to begin. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the absolute must-eat foods in New Orleans and the best places to try them. Add these iconic New Orleans dishes to your foodie bucket list, and you’ll have an incredible time eating your way through The Big Easy!
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13 Foods to Eat in New Orleans
1. Sample as Many Po-Boys as Possible
You honestly can’t visit New Orleans without sinking your teeth into as many po-boys as humanly possible. Luckily, you’ll find these addictive Louisiana-style sandwiches around every corner in New Orleans!
If you’ve never had a po-boy before, it’s basically made up of crispy New Orleans French bread stuffed with anything from roast beef to fried oysters to all sorts of creative fillings. If you want to order like a local, get yours “dressed,” and your po-boy will be topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise.
For the best traditional po-boys in New Orleans, you can’t go wrong with the “All That Jazz” Po-Boy from Verti Marte, the Fried Shrimp Po-Boy at Parkway Bakery & Tavern, the BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy at Liuzza’s by the Track, or the Fried Oyster Po-Boy from Domilise’s.
For something truly indulgent, try the Beef Brisket or Burnt Ends Po-Boy at the legendary Walker’s BBQ. Or, if you prefer your po-boy with a creative twist, Killer PoBoys serves up seriously good Glazed Pork Belly and Ham & Pimento Cheese renditions of this must-try New Orleans food. They also have a bunch of vegetarian versions for non-meat eaters!
2. Fill Up with a Massive Muffuletta
New Orleanians have a thing for massive and delicious sandwiches – which is a definite good thing! If you’ve had your fill of po-boys or are in the mood for something new, the muffuletta is one of the top must-try foods in New Orleans!
This iconic Italian-style sandwich first appeared on the New Orleans food scene way back in 1906, when Italian immigrant Lupo Salvadore opened Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. It was here that he first put the muffuletta on the menu – and later on the New Orleans culinary map!
The original muffuletta was made with a loaf of round Sicilian sesame bread layered generously with salami, ham, mortadella, Swiss cheese, and provolone. But the key ingredient is the “olive salad,” a mixture of olives, pickled veggies, and olive oil.
Whether you’re looking for a fine dining version or a grab-and-go meal, you’ll find all sorts of delicious and creative renditions of the muffuletta around NOLA. If you want to try one for yourself (and you should!), you can still sample “The Original” version at Central Grocery. Alternately, Verti Marte is a top pick if you’re looking for a late-night snack in the French Quarter. This place serves both hot and cold muffulettas 24 hours a day.
For something a little more gourmet, head to Cochon Butcher in the Central Business District. Here James Beard award-winning chef Donald Link carefully engineers each sandwich by layering quality, house-prepared cuts of mortadella, capicola, and salami onto house-made bread. This version is purposefully served hot to bring out the flavors of the gooey cheese and juicy meats!
3. From Pho to Banh Mi – Try All the Vietnamese Food
When you think of must-eat foods in New Orleans, Vietnamese cuisine might not be the first thing to pop into your mind. But once you really delve into New Orleans’ multi-cultural food scene, you’ll notice the presence of Vietnamese restaurants around what seems like every corner.
After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese refugees settled in New Orleans, and with these new residents came the lemongrass and fish sauce-infused cuisine that now plays such a pivotal role in the city’s foodie ecosystem.
The banh mi is Vietnam’s answer to New Orleans’ famous po-boy sandwich. Think New Orleans French bread slathered with pate and mayo and stuffed with cilantro, pickled veggies, cucumbers, jalapeño, and all sorts of creative traditional and New Orleans-style fillings.
And then there’s the fragrant beef pho at Phở Tầu Bay Restaurant, the shrimp-stuffed steamed bao buns at Le’s Baguette Banh Mi Cafe, and the herb- and fish-sauce infused bun (vermicelli noodle) dishes at Phở Noi Viet. If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food before, it’s a must if you’re NOLA-bound!
4. Boil, Peel, and Suck Boiled Crawfish
If you’re visiting New Orleans during the spring, you’ll have to sit down and try a crawfish boil at least once during your trip. This seasonal delicacy is an institution in New Orleans, and you’ll see locals reveling in backyard boils throughout crawfish season.
But don’t worry if you feel left out – many of the city’s restaurants boil up vats of these mudbugs to satisfy your crawfish cravings. If you’re wondering where to get crawfish in New Orleans, Frankie and Johnny’s Restaurant serves up boiled crawfish with potatoes and corn along with ice-cold beer on their outdoor patio in Uptown. It’s a local favorite!
Clesi’s Restaurant & Catering and Bevi Seafood Co. are two other excellent options if you’re in Mid-City. And for a Vietnamese twist on the traditional crawfish boil, don’t miss out on the ultra-popular Viet-Cajun version at BOIL Seafood House in the 11th Ward and their sister restaurant, Hieux Boil Seafood House in Mid-City!
5. Dig into a Plate of Jambalaya
Speaking of famous NOLA dishes, jambalaya is another one of the most popular foods to eat in New Orleans. Like so many of the city’s best foods, this dish was invented in New Orleans, but its roots lie outside of the US.
Jambalaya shares similarities with Spanish paella, French rice pilaf, and West African jollof rice. But the New Orleans spin on these dishes fuses chicken, seafood, and andouille sausage with assorted veggies, peppers, and onions. The mixture of meat and vegetables is then cooked with rice and spiced broth, creating a seriously flavor-packed dish.
Coop’s Place dishes up what many argue is the best jambalaya in town. This Creole version is made with boneless rabbit, smoked pork sausage, chicken, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and rice and seasonings, of course. But what makes it really stand out is the addition of shrimp, crawfish, and house-made tasso (smoked Cajun-seasoned ham)!
6. Cure Your Hangover with Yak-a-Mein
Yet another distinctly unique New Orleans dish, yak-a-mein has long been a staple among the city’s African-American community. Known as “Old Sober” for its hangover-curing properties, this comforting soup is made up of noodles, hunks of beef, a hard-boiled egg, and chopped green onions – all drenched in a salty broth and drizzled with soy sauce and hot sauce.
The name yak-a-mein sounds Asian for a reason. While the origins of this iconic New Orleans food is largely contested, it’s widely theorized that it was brought to the city by Chinese immigrants in the mid-19th century and given a Creole twist by New Orleans natives.
However it came about, yak-a-mein is one of the must-eat foods in New Orleans, and you’ll find it being served in corner stores and by street vendors all around the city. For the best yak-a-mein in New Orleans, you’ll want to seek out Ms. Linda, the Yak-A-Mein Lady. Ms. Linda’s yak-a-mein is legendary, and, if you’re lucky, you can find her ladling steaming bowls of it at festivals, second-lines, and pop-up events around New Orleans.
If you can’t find Ms. Linda, Manchu Food Store on N Clairborne Ave and Eat Well Food Mart on Canal Street serve up some of the best yak-a-mein in New Orleans!
7. Warm Up With a Bowl of Gumbo
When it comes to things to eat in New Orleans, you have to add gumbo to your foodie wish list. This dish is such a crucial part of Louisiana’s identity it is actually the official state cuisine!
Gumbo is prepared with a dark roux that’s magically transformed into a hearty stew with the addition of a Creole spice-infused broth, okra or filé powder, shellfish, chicken, ham, and/or sausage, and more, depending on where you try it.
You’ll find gumbo on menus across the city, but if you want to sample the best of the best, you should definitely stop by Gumbo Shop. Their Chicken Andouille and Seafood Okra gumbos are widely considered the best in town!
If you’re hungry for more, Mr. B’s Bistro serves up their signature Gumbo Ya Ya with chicken and andouille sausage, and Liuzza’s by the Track is known for their perfectly spiced Creole Gumbo with sausage, chicken, and freshly sautéed shrimp, which is added right before it’s served. And for something extra special, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant serves up an overloaded version packed with everything from crab, shrimp, and chicken to sausages, ham, and veal brisket!
8. Eat All the Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp and grits is a Southern staple, but rest assured you’ll find some seriously delicious versions in New Orleans. The best versions in town use the freshest Gulf shrimp paired perfectly with high-quality grits and generous amounts of butter. The result is a delicious and comforting dish you’ll want to order again and again!
At Gris-Gris, Chef Eric Cook dishes out an addictive version made with stone ground grits, Gulf shrimp, and smoked sausage, complemented with roasted red peppers and cherry tomatoes. Then there’s the Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits with andouille, trinity, and smoked tomatoes at Atchafalaya, and the creamy beer and rosemary butter-infused shrimp and grits at Ruby Slipper.
For a creative spin on this classic Southern dish, try the stone ground grits with Gulf shrimp, Creole cream cheese, and Worcestershire barbecue sauce at Broussard’s and the blue corn grits with smoked mushrooms, stewed eggplant, and cheddar cheese at NOLA Restaurant.
9. Beat the Heat with a Snowball
There’s nothing better than hunkering down with an ice-cold snowball on a sweltering summer’s day in New Orleans. Snowballs are an institution in New Orleans and date all the way back to the 1930s when locals George Ortolano and Ernest Hansen simultaneously invented electric ice-shaving machines and started topping mounds of ice with a variety of flavored syrups!
The thing that makes the “snowball” different from the “snow cone” is that the electric ice-shaving machines create a fine and fluffy mountain of ice compared to the traditional snow cone, which is much more coarse and crunchy. The texture of the snowball makes it way easier to soak up the syrup, too.
In the summer months, you’ll notice snowballs for sale on what seems like every corner in New Orleans. For the original snowball created by Ernest Hanson, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, which has been serving up these icy mounds of goodness since 1939.
And then there’s Casey’s Famous Chocolate Snowball at Casey’s, the Orchid Cream Vanilla Snowball at Plum Street Snoballs, the Cheesecake Stuffed Snowball at SNO-LA Snoballs, and the Caramel Frappuccino Snowball at NOLA Snow Snoballs, to name a few!
10. Try a Bowl of Turtle Soup
If you’re looking for famous foods to eat in New Orleans, you’ll have to try at least one bowl of turtle soup. This dish dates back over 300 years – when the early French Acadians settled in Louisiana – and remains one of the most popular New Orleans dishes today.
Turtle soup is typically made using a beef-based stock with the meat from snapping turtles (which are ubiquitous in New Orleans), hard-boiled egg, parsley, lemon, and sherry. For the best turtle soup in New Orleans, pay a visit to Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. Their soup takes three days to make and is served with a side of sherry – it’s incredible!
Brennan’s also serves up an excellent version made with 100% turtle meat, brown butter spinach, grated egg, and aged sherry. Other standouts include the veal stock-infused turtle soup from Galatoire’s and the homemade turtle soup au sherry from Mandina’s.
11. Become Addicted to Beignets
You honestly can’t go to New Orleans without stuffing your face with as many beignets as possible. These deep-fried, sugar-powdered morsels of goodness date back to the 17th century, with the arrival of French settlers.
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find these square French-style doughnuts on every brunch menu in the city! If this is your first visit to New Orleans, sampling a beignet at the iconic Cafe Du Monde is a must! This place has been churning out these addictive treats alongside chicory coffee and cafe au lait since 1862.
Café Beignet has four locations across the city and is well known for their handmade beignets, as well as their huge omelets and waffles. For something a bit different, Criollo fries up some seriously good Blue Crab and Corn beignets, and Stuph’D Beignets & Burgers has a huge menu of sweet and savory versions. Think Creole Crawfish and Oreo Cheesecake beignets!
The options and ingredients are honestly endless, so we suggest trying as many traditional and creative versions as possible during your next trip to New Orleans!
12. Sip on Sazerac
If you find yourself in the mood for a tipple, then you should definitely try a Sazerac cocktail. This famous concoction might just be the oldest cocktail in the world, and it was invented right here in New Orleans in the 1830s!
Rumor has it that the Sazerac was invented by Creole apothecarist Antoine Peychaud, who combined Sazerac-de-Forge et fils cognac with Peychaud’s Bitters, absinthe, and sugar. Today, this iconic drink is typically mixed up using rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters, Herbsaint, and a cube of sugar served in an Old Fashioned glass.
For one of the most famous Sazeracs in town, definitely visit The Sazerac House on Magazine Street. Not only can you sip a traditional Sazerac, but this whole place is dedicated to New Orleans’ favorite cocktail. You’ll find all sorts of cool interactive exhibits here!
Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel and Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone are two iconic places to try this drink if you want to sip in style. Or, for something a bit different, The Roost Bar at Brennan’s mixes up three versions.
First, there’s the Classic Sazerac with Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Herbsaint Rinse, and Peychaud’s Bitters. Then there’s the Thompson’s Dream with Willett 4-Year Kentucky Straight Rye, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Herbsaint Rinse, and the De Forge with Sazerac De Forge Cognac, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Herbsaint Rinse. You can’t go wrong with either one!
13. Sample All the Fresh Gulf Seafood
With its location near the Gulf of Mexico, it’s no wonder why seafood dominates New Orleans cuisine. From raw oysters to barbecue shrimp, you’ll absolutely love sampling all of New Orleans’ iconic seafood dishes during your trip!
Charbroiled oysters are one of the must-eat foods in New Orleans. With this famous dish, oysters are plucked from the Gulf of Mexico, placed on a hot grill, ladled with seasoned butter, and topped with a mix of cheeses. For some of the best charbroiled oysters in town, you can’t go wrong with Drago’s or Acme Oyster House.
Crawfish étouffée is another iconic New Orleans food. This humble dish is made from crawfish cooked in a gravy with the “trinity” of onions, bell peppers, and celery, as well as plenty of spicy Cajun seasonings. Mother’s Restaurant and Creole House Restaurant & Oyster Bar both have excellent versions.
Then there’s the Seafood Okra Gumbo at Gumbo Shop, the Barbecued Shrimp at Mr. B’s Bistro, and the Oysters Rockefeller at Galatoire’s. If that’s not enough, you’ll find endless options for raw Gulf-fresh oysters on happy hour and brunch menus across New Orleans!
There you have it! The 13 best foods to eat in New Orleans. What’s your favorite thing to eat in New Orleans?
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