The most important thing to pack when visiting New Orleans is an empty stomach.
The Crescent City has one of the world’s greatest culinary scenes. Born from a fusion of the diverse cultures that have fueled the city for the last 300 years, New Orleans cuisine blends Creole, Cajun and soul food. French, Spanish and West African flavors can be found in abundance, along with plenty of fresh seafood from the Gulf.
There are countless restaurants and dishes in New Orleans to keep foodies well-fed for weeks (if not months). If you’re overwhelmed with so many delicious options to choose from, we’ve rounded some of our favorite must-try dishes and drinks that NOLA has to offer.
Check out these delicious dishes, classic cocktails and more, below.
Rise and Shine
Start your day with one of the most iconic New Orleans foods: beignets. These deep-fried squares of choux dough are great for absorbing what’s left of last night’s drinking. (Just maybe don’t wear black if you plan on ordering a plate — they’re covered in heaps of powdered sugar.) Get ready to throw some elbows for a spot at the always-bustling Café Du Monde. The popular tourist destination has a simple menu: dark-roasted coffee with chicory, beignets, orange juice, milk and hot chocolate.
If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial for breakfast, consider venturing to the Bywater for brunch at Elizabeth’s. The shrimp and grits alone are worth the trip, but you’d be a fool to leave without an order (or two) of their famed praline bacon.
A Satisfying Sandwich
Not every meal in New Orleans requires you to take time from sight-seeing for a full sit-down affair. No trip is complete without one immensely satisfying muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery. It’s a perfect combination of Sicilian meats, cheeses, olive salad and pickled vegetables served on seeded Italian bread. The “whole round” order is enough to feed two hungry travelers, while the half-round is a perfect lunch if you’re traveling solo.
Another New Orleans’ signature sandwich is the po’ boy. You can grab a great one all over town, but we recommend heading uptown to Guy’s. While most po’ boys feature fried seafood, like shrimp, catfish and oysters — you can get a slightly lighter option with Guy’s grilled shrimp sandwich.
Get Shucked Up
There’s a wealth of quality spots to grab Gulf seafood throughout the city, from high-end, white tablecloth establishments to mom-and-pop hole-in-the-walls. Be sure to grab a plateful of beautiful Gulf oysters — meatier and plumper than Northern bivalves — available raw and cooked throughout the city.
Slurp down a dozen raw oysters at Felix’s. Pros will belly-up to the bar to order a freshly shucked dozen to be eaten while standing. However, for a whole different experience, venture out to Drago’s for the original charbroiled oyster, served hot with butter, garlic, herbs, Parmesan and Romano cheese.
Free to Fry
New Orleans is certainly not the place to worry about your summer beach body, so allow yourself the freedom to indulge in some of the best fried food in the world. Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme is one of the most celebrated fried chicken spots in the world. The family-owned restaurant uses a wet batter to create the crispy skin that has visitors lining up before opening at 10 a.m.
Another fried bite well-worth the carbs and calories are the blue crab beignets at La Petite Grocery. James Beard Award-winning chef and owner Justin Devillier’s surprisingly light beignets packed with sweet, tender blue crab meat are a delectable treat.
Give Your Body A Break
Sure New Orleans is famous for its fried seafood po’boys and sugary sweet frozen drinks, but there’s plenty to enjoy that won’t wreck your summer body goals. If you’re traveling with a crew of vegan, vegetarians and meat eaters, there’s a wide selection of delicious options at Green Goddess. Or you can savor innovative vegan and raw takes on New Orleans classics at Seed, like the pan-fried eggplant po’boy.
For a higher-end healthy experience, be sure to schedule a meal at Shaya. The Israeli restaurant was named the best new restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2014.
Crescent City Classics
Inspired by Spanish paella, the Creole classic dish jambalaya is a hearty meal usually featuring rice, sausage, chicken and spices and can be found at lots of places throughout the city. One of the best around is Jerry’s Jambalaya at Mother’s. Their spicy take includes tomatoes and Italian herbs.
Throw yourself a sausage party at Cochon. The “swine bar” has plenty of pork to choose from, but be sure to grab an order of the boudin. A tasty mix of rice, meat, chicken liver and poblano peppers, the fried boudin at Cochon is served alongside pickled peppers.
If you’re feeling adventurous, sit down for supper at Commander’s Palace for a bowl of turtle soup. The origins of the iconic dish can be traced back more than 300 years when French settlers came to the area in the 1700s. The thick soup is finished tableside with dry Sherry.
In the spring and summer months, nothing beats the heat like a snoball from Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. (They’re typically closed from late-October through March.) This shaved ice is typically more finely ground than your usual sno-cone, allowing the wide variety of flavor syrups and toppings to soak in.
The official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac, is a must-sip for visitors. A complex, rye-based classic, enjoy it among the hand-painted murals and gorgeous hardwoods at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Another potent New Orleans classic cocktail is the Vieux Carre. Sharing its name with the French Quarter, this mix of rye, cognac, vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters traces its roots to Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge in the 1930s. You can still order one at the rotating bar inside the Hotel Monteleone.
For those that prefer beer to cocktails, there’s a growing suds scene in New Orleans. Abita may be be the most well-known Louisiana brewer, but if you want a taste of true NOLA flavor take your pick from the longest running producer operating in city limits, NOLA Brewing Company, Courtyard Brewery (which boasts a beer garden, art gallery and food trucks) or the innovative flavor combinations of Brieux Carre.
Of course, there are a few New Orleans’ traditions you have to try that may not win any awards for their sophistication. Lax open container laws make drinking on-the-go a uniquely NOLA experience. There are several places to grab to-go frozen drinks, but we recommend a big, frosty order from Gene’s Curbside Daiquiris (1040 Elysian Fields Ave.; 504-943-3861).
Meet the Family
Sometimes you want a taste of the familiar among the locals. Grab a vodka-soda (or whatever your typical go-to may be) and get to know the local LGBT community at the city’s best gay bars. Bump and grind to the banging beats at Oz, enjoy people watching from the balcony at Good Friends or sing karaoke at Bourbon Pub and Parade. You can mix it up with locals at the laid-back 700 Club, or get a little wild at The Phoenix, New Orleans’ hub for the leather and Levi’s crowd.