The 22 Most Essential Food and Drink Experiences in New Orleans
Forget Popeye’s—these hyperlocal culinary adventures provide a true taste of the Big Easy.
A lot of people come to New Orleans to drink. Much like Las Vegas, you can walk down the street with open containers of alcohol in pure, 100% legal bliss. And while downing enormous Hurricanes and Hand Grenades on Bourbon Street undoubtedly has its place, there’s so much more to New Orleans’ culinary landscape than frosty to-go cocktails.
The real reason people flock to the Big Easy? To eat. Food is one of the most vital parts of local culture. You’ve heard the phrase “eat to live?” People here, they “live to eat.” Everyday conversations center around where you’re going to get lunch or dinner, or what you just consumed and who made it. There are even exclusive online groups where restaurant-lovers share their latest and greatest conquests, providing an entirely new outlook on the city’s offerings that stretch far beyond iconic dishes like po-boys, king cakes, and crawfish boils.
Here’s a handy lay of the land: For those in the know, the four pillars of New Orleans cuisine are Creole, Cajun, Vietnamese, and Soul Food. Dress codes should always be minded—this is genteel country, after all—and fine dining spots don’t mess around when it comes to coat-and-tie requirements. There are four general geographical quadrants in New Orleans—toward the Mississippi, toward Lake Pontchartrain, Uptown, and Downtown—each with their own flavors and cultural vibes. But no matter where you’re headed, you can rest assured you’ll stumble across something delicious along the way.
Check your preconceptions at the door—here are the 22 most essential food and drink experiences in New Orleans, all told from a bonafide local’s perspective.
Bywater Bakery is a neighborhood favorite that’s garnered both local popularity and national attention in recent years. It stands as a giant red barn on Dauphine Street, and serves breakfast and lunch plus dreamy pastries and cakes most weekdays. Standouts include the Breakfast Geaux Cups, takeaway vessels teeming with savory morning bites like Shrimp and Grits. If you’re feeling the effects of a night out on the town, go for the Yaka Mein option—the piping hot beef noodle soup stocks green onions and egg to cure what ails you. On Fridays, housemade bagels with schmear make an appearance, and if it’s sugar you’re craving, treat yourself to a box of fragrant Petit Fours.
Lattes and people-watching at Satsuma Cafe
Also in the Bywater is this similarly stellar breakfast and lunch spot. Two words: Biscuits and bacon. But also cold-pressed juices and espresso. Ok, more than two words. Satsuma Cafe is a laid-back eatery with a wonderful airy patio where you can watch the masses amble by. It’s primarily a breakfast joint, with great sandwiches for lunch and, more importantly, specialty lattes that might just be the best in town. Be on the lookout for the French Decadence, which is all about balancing your caffeine fix with calming lavender.
Gumbo with a side of ghoulish lore at Muriel’s
The French Quarter
Muriel’s, located on the corner of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, serves its casual refined fare in a very spooky atmosphere. Legend has it a resident ghost oversees the all-star gumbo, grits, chicken, pork chops, and fresh salmon pouring out of the kitchen, while the holy trinity of Bread Pudding, Creme Brulee, and Chocolate Cake keeps the demons at bay come dessert time. Just don’t let the haunted reputation scare you off—the food here is good enough to ward off even the most persistent of goosebumps.
The Southern BLT at Ruby Slipper Cafe
The food here will confirm that you’re truly not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Ruby Slipper Cafe operates six locations around New Orleans, covering the city with seasonal specialty menus—not to mention seasonal beignets—always sure to satisfy. The superlative Southern BLT is where it’s at, a mess of fried green tomatoes, garden-fresh red tomatoes, thick-cut bacon, and crispy lettuce that pairs seamlessly with anything off the ample coffee menu and is guaranteed to keep you pepped up as you go about your day.
Gulf Coast seafood at Landry’s Seafood House
Let’s start with Lake Pontchartrain. At 25-miles across, it boasts the longest water-spanning bridge in the world. It’s basically a mini-ocean, and the Lakeview neighborhood could easily double as the seashore, complete with its own lighthouses. As such, the lake is dotted with seafood purveyors, and Landry’s Seafood House is a clear mainstay.
Dive into whatever seafood your heart desires—Gulf shrimp, local oysters, or crawfish everything. The Redfish Hemingway (Parmesan-encrusted, lump blue crab, lemon butter, seasonal accompaniments) is highly recommended, and you can’t miss with the New Orleans Crawfish Bread. It’s cheesy, tomato-y, and just spicy enough. Wash everything down with a couple Faux-Jitos, a Strawberry-Basil Lemonade, or a host of potent classic cocktails, then top it off with fantastic Southern staples like Bananas Foster, Bread Pudding, Creme Brulee, or Key Lime Pie.
New Orleans originals at Commander’s Palace
You simply can’t miss this place, both aesthetically and food-wise. It looks like it takes up an entire city block and is painted a bright shade of light blue. It’s also the spot when it comes to New Orleans fine dining, but to get a fuller picture of the renowned restaurant, you have to get to know its matriarch, Ella Brennan, whose family members still run the establishment. Whet your appetite by scoping out Commanding The Table, a documentary detailing Brennan’s claim to fame, a now-ubiquitous flaming dessert called Bananas Foster.
Other aspects that make this place a crown jewel of The Garden District are specialities made from locally sourced ingredients or caught in the surrounding Gulf Coast. Feast on star chef Meg Bickford’s Alligator Sauce Piquant, Crawfish Boil Gnocchi, or Shrimp and Tasso Henican, preceded by kickass starters and sides like Creole Tomato Gazpacho and Creole Cream Stone Ground Grits. And with the restaurant being the landmark it is, you should certainly make reservations ahead of time.
Lunch buffet at Dooky Chase
Just over Rampart Street from the French Quarter sits the gorgeous historical neighborhood of Treme. Did you know the late Leah Chase of Dooky Chase fame is one of the inspirations for the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog? She led a very storied life while also running this wonderful kitchen. Her legacy continues today at the Treme mainstay on Orleans Avenue, a place that’s fed Civil Rights icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and others while providing a safe haven for those working for human rights.
Their lunch buffet lets guests sample everything the city has to offer by way of staples like plump sausages and Red Beans and Rice alongside Creole favorites like Gumbo and Stuffed Shrimp. There’s even a Fried Chicken Po-boy and Tomato Basil Soup combo with your name on it. For dessert, make a beeline to the Pecan Pie and thank us later.
Sazeracs at—where else—The Sazerac House
Central Business District
As decreed by law by the Louisiana Legislature, the Sazerac is the Official Cocktail of New Orleans. The drink is a memorable blend of rye whiskey, bitters, and a touch of Absinthe, garnished with an effervescent twist of lemon peel. It was first created in the mid-1800s at the Sazerac Coffeehouse in The Crescent City and spiked with Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac. You can still get the famous tipple today a few steps away from where it all started over at the Sazerac House on Magazine Street. Sample this sturdy signature while exploring the three-floor interactive museum, complete with tours, tastings, and a built-in distillery where they produce an array of spirits in-house. If you’ve got the time, sign up for an extremely enlightening weekly tasting session and take a deep dive into the history and intricacies of this drink courtesy of expert mixologists like Matt Ray. Mark your calendars, as Sazerac Cocktail Week runs June 20 through 26.
Jazz brunch at Arnaud’s
Arnaud’s is the epitome of French Quarter fine dining, serving up the best of Creole cuisine for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday alongside a lively jazz brunch on Sundays. The restaurant celebrated its 100th year in 2018, drawing loyal customers for over a century thanks to upmarket takes on Baked Oysters and Shrimp Creole. Pregame your meal at onsite bars French 75 or Richelieu, each with their own drink programs and small plate menus spanning local seafood and other delights.
Emeril’s camera-ready eats at Meril
Meril is celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s Warehouse District outpost, and if you know anything about the Food Network superstar, it's that his name is synonymous with New Orleans, the city where Lagassee went from the kitchen to the big screen. Here, you’ll feel the history radiating off the brick walls and be wowed by the enormous platters of seafood. Start your night right with some Cast Iron Baked Cheese with ciabatta, then put some South in your mouth with the Pineapple Upside Down Cornbread with bacon marmalade. Live deliciously with Fettuccine Nero strewn with crab meat and almonds, before finishing off with a Skillet Cookie heavy with velvety salted caramel ice cream. Bam, indeed.
Beignets at Cafe du Monde (because, of course)
It might be an obvious choice, but Cafe du Monde is simply a must for anyone making their way through town. Their world-famous beignets and coffee are perfect for dessert or just a snack any time of day. The French Quarter cafe, perched directly across from Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, attracts lines that could easily last more than an hour, depending on the time of day. The wait is well worth it, but if you’d rather cut your time short, pop over to the satellite outpost in City Park a few miles away. Wherever you dine, note that Chicory Coffee or Cafe Au Lait is the go-to accompaniment for your powdered sugar-dusted fried dough buddies.
Blood Bag Cocktails at the Vampire Cafe
The French Quarter
How could you go to Anne Rice’s hometown and not get into the blood-thirsty spirit? Fly on over to chef Chris Dunn’s Vampire Cafe at 801 Royal Street and lean into the vampy vibes with specialty concoctions like the Spiked Snowball with Vampire Vodka and blood orange, the Type A- Dracula Sparkling St. Germain Cocktail or the ever-cheeky Blood Bag Cocktail, a rich, dark red sangria served in a sealed plastic pouch. To eat, expect on-theme dishes like Deviled Eggs, Vampire Filets, Vampire Burgers, Dracula Burgers, Vampire Chocolate Bats, Death by Chocolate Cake, and the like, plus a Bloodiest Mary for brunch. Throw in an Alligator Po-boy and make all your goth friends impossibly jealous.
Crawfish Sausage Dog at Dat Dog
Dat Dog sports three locations in the city, each on very popular streets (Freret Street, Magazine Street, and Frenchmen Street, respectively). Take a walk on the wild side with remixed hot dog creations like the show-stopping Crawfish Sausage Dog. Don’t knock it until you try it, alright? In case you need an extra push, the cheerfully painted space evokes a whimsical air with fun murals that’s welcoming for kids and grown-up kids alike. The full bar beckoning from inside each location doesn’t hurt, either.
Vietnamese Po-boys at Banh Mi Boys
The Irish Channel
What Dat Dog did for reimagined hot dogs, Banh Mi Boys does for the irresistible Vietnamese Po-boy—aka the banh mi sandwich. BMB now mans two locations, one in Uptown and one in Metairie, and Peter Nguyen is the guy who started it all. It’s the place to go for Vietnamese and Bayou culture combined into a single handheld wonder loaded with unusual fillings like head cheese, Vietnamese ham, pork belly, meatballs, pâté, grilled lemongrass Gulf shrimp, and more. Traditional New Orleans po-boys, Vietnamese spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, salads, chicken wings, and even bread pudding are also on offer, if you prefer to stick to what you know.
The $22 Lunch Special at Antoine’s
The French Quarter
Open continuously since 1840, Antoine’s has the distinction of being New Orleans’ oldest restaurant. Rick Blount is the fifth generation to run this storied place, and many local families can regale you with stories about having the same waiter for their entire lives. Despite the white tablecloth atmosphere, however, one of the stately establishment’s biggest draws is decidedly low-impact, at least when it comes to your budget. We’re talking about a three-course Lunch Special spanning options like Tomato Bisque, Nicoise Salad, Coq au Vin Blanc, and Pecan Bread Pudding for a cool $22. Throw in an order of Oysters Rockefeller, invented here in 1899 and replicated by restaurants all around the world, to complete the experience.
Vietnamese-fusion magic at Maypop
It doesn’t get more creative than Maypop’s chef Michael Gulotta. Gulotta’s domain, the Central Business District (known locally as the “CBD”) is Southeastern Louisiana meets Southeast Asia. They cure their own meats in-house and the lineup is forever changing—which is exactly why you’ll keep coming back. Begin your culinary journey with the awe-inspiring Bibb Lettuce Salad before pivoting to the cult-favorite Shrimp Ravioli. Keep an eye on their Instagram for the latest menu updates, and drop by for happy hour, cocktails, dinner, dessert, and some lagniappe, to boot. If you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out—you’re in for a special treat, no matter what.
Flame-roasted Oysters at Cochon
Word on the street is that actor Nicolas Cage loves the Flame Roasted Oysters at Cochon’s Tchoupitoulas Street haunt down by the river. Come here for down-home Cajun cooking and stronger-than-strong drinks, including a whiskey flight, private barrel flight, or dessert liqueur flight. Along with Cage’s beloved bivalves, other wood-fired standouts include locally sourced rabbit, shrimp, fish, and pork, and you can’t go wrong with the Strawberry Crisp or Pineapple Upside Down Cake for a sugary ending.
The Meatery Board at Toups’ Meatery
Paging all carnivores! Head on over to Toups’ Meatery in Mid-City for an unforgettable, protein-centric lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. The Toups family has been part of the landscape of New Orleans since the city began over 300 years ago, and acclaimed chef Isaac Toups is proudly behind this meaty empire. Opt for turf over surf with the Meatery Board, a charcuterie spread on steroids piled high with decadent housemade fresh and cured meats like Foie Gras Torchon, Hogs Head Cheese, Chicken Liver Mousse, Smoked Beef Sausage, and Cracklins plus a bounty of pickles and spreads. Later, Roasted Bone Marrow, Crab Claws, Lamb Neck, and Raines Farms Wagyu Steak steal the entree spotlight. That’ll take you all the way through dessert, aka a hearty helping of Doberge (layer cake with salted caramel, peanut butter, and bacon).
Voodoo Daiquiris at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
The French Quarter
Built between 1722 and 1723, this French Quarter lair is said to be the oldest structure still used as a bar in America. It’s open until the wee hours, inviting passersby to come in and bend an elbow with the ghost of Pirate Jean Lafitte whenever the urge strikes. While you’re hobnobbing with the undead, order the signature Voodoo Daiquiri cocktail, also known as the Purple Drank. The Everclear, bourbon, and grape flavoring concoction is just as refreshing—and intoxicating—as it sounds. Post up, drinks in hand, by the ancient fireplace inside or cruise out on the rustic patio—both are perfect refuges for trading ghost stories.
Shrimp & Alligator Sausage Cheesecake at Jacques Imo’s Cafe
Over by the river, the Oak Street Corridor sports cool coffee spots, clubs and hangouts like an awesome bookshop, in addition to the game-changing Jacques Imo’s Cafe, known for their signature Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. This little slice of savory, meaty, and custardy heaven runs just over $13 and comes in its own pool of special sauce. It might not sound real but, trust, it is—and you need to put it in your face, stat.
Blue Crab Beignets at La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery made a name for itself as hometown actor Anthony Mackie’s favorite restaurant, and according to the leading man, it's all thanks to the legendary Blue Crab Beignets. You read that correctly—Blue Crab Beignets. The gooey, piping hot pastries serve as the centerpiece of this marvelous Uptown eatery helmed by chef Justin Devillier. Couple yours with some grits, then move on to the Alligator Bolognese or Shellfish Stew. Locally inspired desserts include an Abita Root Beer Float and Ponchatoula Strawberry Tart, while the Butterscotch Pudding undoubtedly holds its own.
See-and-be-seen al fresco dining at the Chloe
The Garden District’s fairytale Chloe Hotel is housed in a massive antique Victorian mansion painted a striking dark navy and emblazoned with intricate iron work. Snag a table out the porch, which overlooks the boutique lodging’s ample patio stationed amid the towering palaces lining St. Charles Avenue. Imagine watching the streetcars go by as you dine—there’s just nothing more picturesque—while you admire the front-facing restaurant’s straight-out-of-Architectural Digest decor.
Run by celebrated chef Todd Pulsinelli, the kitchen’s output is just as eye-catching as its surroundings. Highlights span Shrimp Etouffee Dumplings, Beet Salad, Mushroom Melt French Dip Sandwiches, and the Twin Stack Burger, while nothing soothes a sweet tooth like the Earl Grey Tea Panna Cotta. Regardless of your order, eating on the ornate patio of a giant estate is a veritable rite of passage around these parts.