New Orleans' cuisine is inextricably linked to the words "Cajun" and "Creole", however there is a distinctive difference between the two. Where Creole food is derived from the complex sauces and white-clothed tables of the European aristocracy, Cajun fare was born in the country, out in the bayous South of the city. Think about the difference between a French salon and a hunting camp. Well, we're here for the hunting camp. Here's where to find some the best Cajun eats in the Big Easy...
Any restaurant that bills itself as “The Original Cajun Restaurant”, better walk the walk if it’s going to live up to its name in NOLA, and Mulate’s does just that. Sure, there’s plenty of fried gator, stuffed fish, jambalaya, and roux-based gumbo on the menu, but the fact that the place is also a zydeco dance hall really sells Mulate’s as a solid taste of Cajun country.
What you're getting: The Fried Alligator Platter
Sometimes you need to go a little far afield to satisfy your Cajun jones, and Zydeco’s is worth a trip across the river. Their fried fare is great, but make sure not to overlook the seasonal boiled seafood platters, especially when crawfish are in season (think late spring).
What you're getting: A boiled seafood platter
What happens when you pluck a good ol' boy from the bayou, give him a decade or so of fine dining kitchen experience, then let him open up his dream restaurant? Toups’ Meatery, that’s what. Isaac Toups, along with his wife Amanda, play the old Cajun favorites like a fiddle (boudin and cracklins, of course, and a meat board that will stop your heart), while also serving up more refined modern fare, like a brilliant lamb’s neck paired with black-eyed peas. And if you’ve ever wanted to drink whiskey out of a marrow bone, you can have that, too.
What you're getting: Boudin and cracklins
Born in the early 1900s, Bon Ton was reinvented in the mid ‘50s by a couple who brought their family recipes from the Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Pay particular attention to the crawfish bisque; it’s the best in town.
What you're getting: The Crawfish Bisque
Butcher may have opened as a humble sandwich shop (and literally as a butcher, of course), but its popularity has since expanded enough to warrant a physical expansion of the place as well. There are plenty of NOLA favorites on the menu -- especially its amazing muffaletta -- but you’ll also find tons of house-cured meats and sausages, like andouille, boudin, and tasso, not to mention a Jambalaya Stuffed Whole Chicken.
What you're getting: That Jambalaya Stuffed Whole Chicken...
You can’t think Cajun food in New Orleans without thinking of Chef Paul Prudhomme, the man who brought the rustic fare of Acadiana to the attention of the country, and then the world. Chef Prudhomme invented blackened redfish, one of the most popular dishes in town, so it’s safe to say that if you’re going to get blackened fish anywhere, you should get it at K-Paul’s.
What you're getting: Um, the blackened redfish
Chef Frank Brigtsen and his eponymous, enchanting Riverbend restaurant have been beloved in the Big Easy for decades. It’s no surprise, then, when you realize that Brigtsen worked for years under Paul Prudhomme himself (see above), which is clearly evident when you experience his elegant, Cajun-inflected menu. Get the rabbit. You will not be disappointed.
What you're getting: Panéed Rabbit
Along with Frank Brigtsen, Chef Greg Sonnier also cut his teeth in Prudhomme’s kitchen, serving as the chef’s "blackened redfish boner" (heh), often deboning more than 250 fish on a busy night. Sonnier’s much adored restaurant Gabrielle was sadly closed after Hurricane Katrina damage and subsequent rebuilding issues, but you’ll now find the chef at home and cooking some of the most exciting food of his career at Kingfish, particularly the Rotisserie Chicken Pot Pie, or Cochon de Lait Pot Pie.
What you're getting: Cochon de Lait Pot Pie
Nathanial Zimet may have started Boucherie as a “K&B purple” food truck, but it quickly outgrew its mobile beginnings into a brick-and-mortar shop that’s been a local favorite ever since. Expect refined, contemporary takes on South Louisiana cuisine (Pulled Pork Cake, for instance), and, true to its name, plenty of house-aged, smoked and cured meats.
What you're getting: Pulled Pork Cake
Like Boucherie, Vacherie gets its name from the Cajun practice of butchering and cooking an entire animal in a single day, in this case a cow instead of a pig. But you’ll find both on Vacherie’s menu, especially the gritcake and collards: "pan-fried pimento cheese gritcake over fresh collard greens smothered with smoked pork belly". Yes, please.
What you're getting: Gritcake and collards
The building housing Maspero's is impressive, dating back to 1788 and once served as a coffee house for pirates and people like Andrew Jackson (no kidding). Pay particular attention here to the Natchitoches Meat Pies, as well as the Seafood Pistolettes -- French rolls filled with a creamy cheese sauce with Gulf shrimp, bell peppers, and onions -- which are messy as hell and well worth it.
What you're getting: Crawfish Etouffee
Okay, if you’re really looking for authenticity in your Cajun food and you don’t feel like trekking out to Eunice or Opelousas, check out this pop-up restaurant at the Tigermens Den on Royal St, which looks to give you the feeling of a true Acadian meal the way it is out on the bayou. Get your reservations online in advance, because they go quickly, even at $100 a seat.
What you're getting: Whatever they're cooking that night
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1. Mulate's201 Julia St, New Orleans
2. Zydeco's Cajun Restaurant7010 Highway 23, Belle Chasse
3. Toups' Meatery845 N. Carrollton, New Orleans
4. Bon Ton Cafe401 Magazine St, New Orleans
5. Cochon Butcher930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
6. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen416 Chartres St, New Orleans
7. Brigtsen's Restaurant723 Dante St, New Orleans
8. Kingfish337 Chartres, New Orleans
9. Boucherie8115 Jeannette St, New Orleans
10. Vacherie827 Toulouse St, New Orleans
11. The Original Pierre Maspero's440 Chartres St, New Orleans
This CBD spot bills itself as the "Original Cajun Restaurant", and it has a menu to back up the claim, with fried gator, stuffed fish, jambalaya, and more.
Sometimes you need to go a little far away to satisfy your Cajun cravings, and Zydeco’s is worth a trip across the river. Its fried fare is great, but make sure not to overlook the seasonal boiled seafood platters, especially when crawfish are in season (think late spring).
Helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Isaac Toups, this Mid-City spot serves a carnivore-centric menu with bold Cajun flavor. Large entrees like the grilled Georgia quail with farm-fresh seasonal vegetables and saba satiate and surprise; light bites range from addictive cracklins and deviled eggs with smoked trout roe. Minimalist metal chairs and refurbished wood surfaces give Toups a cabin-like feel that enhances the relaxed, convivial vibe.
Established in 1953, BTC offers a number of Cajun/Creole favorites, but they're most well known for their etouffees, which can be made with shrimp or crawfish.
Cochon's generalist meat offshoot, Cochon Butcher, is a hybrid butcher shop, deli counter, and wine bar in the same warehouse building as its pork-centric sibling. There are house-cured meats, sausages, and terrines to take home, but you're really here for the sandwiches, precisely the Muffuletta, stacked with nearly an inch of pink-hued, salty meats (pastrami, mortadella, Genoa salami), creamy provolone, and olive salad. You can order it to-go, but if you're staying, make sure to pair with a side of pancetta mac & cheese.
Located in the French Quarter, K-Paul's is a legendary establishment from the late renowned chef Paul Prudhomme, and is considered the birthplace of the NOLA delicacy blackened redfish, which is served alongside a host of other traditional, elevated Cajun dishes. Prudhomme's Cajun jambalaya (culturally different from French Creole) features tasso sausage, chicken, and a jalapeño kick, and is a must-try when dining at this iconic restaurant with exposed brick and white tablecloths.
Run by James Beard Award-winning chef James Brigtsen, Brigtsen's is proof that old-school ambiance and adherence to a rotation of classic dishes can trump the trendy and constantly evolving. Regulars here dress for the occasion, sitting down to meals of oysters, soft-shell crabs, and pulled pork, all in a victorian cottage setting that evokes your wealthiest friend's summer lakeside retreat.
Thibodaux native, Chef Nathan Richard, created a menu at the casual Kingfish restaurant that combines the Cajun reverence for honoring ingredients and culinary history with a sophisticated, often playful take on modern trends that excite visitors and natives alike. The plateau de fruits des mer is this spots take on a traditional meat charcuterie board, using local seafood to create all manner of fresh and cured sausages, terrines, and smoked items.
This Crescent City butcher and bistro serves up savory mains like smoked Wagyu beef brisket with Garlicky Parmesan fries and St. Louis-style Niman Ranch ribs with spicy boiled peanuts & crispy fried shallots.
Vacherie gets its name from the Cajun practice of butchering and cooking an entire animal in a single day, in this case a cow, instead of a pig. But you’ll find both on Vacherie’s menu, especially the Gritcake and collards, made with a pan-fried pimento cheese grit cake over fresh collard greens smothered with smoked pork belly. Yes, please.
Maspero’s talks a good game about being an “authentic Cajun experience”, and for the most part, that's true. The building itself is impressive, dating back to 1788, and the menu is also a big hit, with options like the Natchitoches Meat Pies, as well as the Seafood Pistolettes -- French rolls filled with a creamy cheese sauce with Gulf shrimp, bell peppers, and onions -- which are messy as hell and well worth it.