Here’s the situation: you are not, in fact, going to live forever. But the wonderful thing is, you’re alive right now, and that means you have time to spend your life living. And, in New Orleans, “living” is synonymous with “eating.” It would be impossible and imprudent to try and eat everything in the Big Easy before you shuffle off this mortal coil, but we’ve done you the favor of narrowing down that list to 48. Forty-eight wonderful, perfect, exemplary, iconic dishes that you need to experience in this life. And they are...
The Company Burger
There are many hamburgers in New Orleans, from gourmet to ghetto (we’ll never get tired of a Bud’s burger with shredded cheddar, bacon, and hickory sauce), but when it comes to pure burger simplicity and execution, it’s impossible to beat this one. Also, they have tots.
Thin fried catfish
Its secret may have been poached by other local restaurants, but that doesn’t mean that the original still isn’t the best. And yes, it really is worth the 45-minute drive to swampy Pass Manchac to get it.
The Half and Half po-boy
When it comes to seafood po-boys in NOLA, this is always a clear winner, owing to the fact that the family-run business batters and fries every shrimp, catfish, crawfish, or oyster to order. It results in a line, sure, but that line is worth waiting in. Always.
Beignets and cafe au lait
A classic. We don’t care if it’s filled with gaudy tourists and their out-of-season Mardi Gras beads and socks with sandals. If you’ve never had this combination, you’ve never truly been to New Orleans.
The Creole Slammer
Brunch is and has always been a big deal in NOLA, but breakfast is making a serious comeback. This plate of crispy hash browns smothered in crawfish étouffée and topped with eggs is perfect evidence of this phenomenon.
Because this fried chix is consistently dubbed the best in the 504, you need to hit Willie Mae Seaton’s legendary restaurant before you hit your grave.
The celebrated “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase is something of a torch-bearer when it comes to the indigenous food of New Orleans, and nothing shows that better than her spot-on seafood gumbo.
Fried frog legs and goose fat fries
Eating swamp animals is a heralded institution in south Louisiana, but so is elevating their lowly status to higher planes. We submit article of evidence No. 1, the amazingly spicy, crispy, falling-off-the-bone frog legs at The Delachaise on St. Charles Ave, particularly when paired with its devilish goose fat-fried frites.
The Elvis Roll
The name might have “Cali” in it, but Kanno takes advantage of Gulf seafood in its elaborate, soybean paper-wrapped rolls (which substitute snow crab for rice, so no cheap fillers here). This one is a combo of salmon, avocado, snow crab, and is topped with colossal lump crab meat.
A dozen charbroiled oysters
You can find charbroiled bivalves seemingly everywhere in NOLA these days, but it wasn’t always so. If you want the real deal, go to the source: Drago’s in Fat City, where they invented -- and perfected -- this beautifully simple and glorious dish.
A roast beef po-boy
There are roast beef po-boys, and then there are roast beef po-boys. This, friends, is the platonic ideal of that sandwich: long-simmered chopped (not sliced) beef in a dangerously dark gravy served on seeded Leidenheimer bread, preferably dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and plenty of “mynez.” You will never find its equal.
Get ready for a multiple-napkin situation when you sit down at Manale’s, which claims to have the “original” New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp: gargantuan Gulf monsters swimming in a spicy, peppery butter sauce. Make sure there’s plenty of French bread for dipping. Also, Lipitor.
Oysters Mosca and spaghetti bordelaise
Among all baked oyster preparations in the New Orleans area (including oysters Rockefeller, which was invented at Antoine’s), it’s difficult to beat one of the namesake dishes at Mosca’s, and it's well worth the drive out into the West Bank hinterlands to get it. Be forewarned, though, you’ll be sweating garlic for days (also worth it).
Soufflé potatoes (and a French 75)
There are many things to love about the traditional French Creole menu at Arnaud’s, but it’s difficult to get past the perfect, air-puffed, pillowy fried potatoes and a French 75 (or Brandy Crusta) at Arnaud’s. It is the perfect pairing of cocktail and bar snack, period, end of sentence, end of paragraph, end of book.
The Galatoire Goute
Most who have the famed Friday lunch at Galatoire’s know to trust their waiter when it comes to ordering. That said, you can never go wrong with this huge appetizer combination of some celebrated classics: shrimp remoulade, crabmeat maison, oysters en brochette, and shrimp (sometimes crawfish) maison. The best hits of a more than 100-year-old restaurant. You can’t go wrong.
Tableau exceeds in making the traditional Creole fare of similar Grande Dame French Quarter restaurants lighter and more interesting. But you can’t mess with the classics, and they know that over there. Hit Tableau for breakfast/brunch, and you’ll find this NOLA staple of poached eggs, creamed spinach, and hollandaise served over artichoke hearts.
Le Pig Mac
All sandwiches are pretty much amazing at Donald Link’s casual butcher shop-cum-deli, but this burger stands out: “Two all PORK patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” Sing it with us. You know you want to.
Pita and sides
Alon Shaya broke the mold in NOLA when he opened his dream restaurant, a modern Israeli stunner that won him a James Beard Award. Good reason for that, too: the house-baked pita is the best pita you’ve ever had in your life, especially when paired with the various house-made hummus options, ikra (crème fraîche and caviar), baba ghanouj, and more.
Le Grand Plateau De Fruits De Mer
This is definitely a grand gesture of a dish; a tower of chilled seafood you really need to experience before you snuff it, featuring a whole Maine lobster, 16 oysters, 12 shrimp, 10 clams, 16 mussels, giant crab legs and, for good measure, ceviche.
Sure, the house-cured meats, hand-made pastas, and amazing pizzas at Domenica are worth your attention. But there’s something so amazing and special about its whole head of cauliflower, cooked sous vide for tenderness and then roasted in its wood-fired oven and paired with a whipped feta sauce that will make you want to lick the bowl if it were socially appropriate.
Cream of Nectar Sno-Ball
Is it really worth waiting in that line? Yes. It’s really worth it. And phooey to you if you don’t at least add condensed milk on top. It’s a Sno-Ball, not a kale smoothie. Live a little!
Braised lamb neck
Carnivores have so much in which to delight in Isaac and Amanda Toups’ Mid-City meat-porium, including amazing boudin balls, cracklins, foie gras, and charcuterie with pickles for days. But really, you can’t pass up the giant, tender braised lamb neck served with a fennel and black-eyed pea salad.
If you’ve never had this combination of bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum, and vanilla ice cream set on fire in spectacular fashion right at your table, you’ve really never lived. So make that happen, stat.
You may have seen Chef Justin Devillier on Top Chef, but don’t think that his media-friendly persona impacts the seriousness of his craft, as is evidenced in the masterful combination of a rich turtle meat bolognese (yes, turtle -- it’s a thing here) with perfectly al dente pasta and, for good measure, a soft-boiled, breaded, and lightly fried egg. Genius.
The crawfish sausage smothered in crawfish étouffée
Until the advent of Dat Dog, the most notable hot dog options in town were the Lucky Dog carts in the French Quarter. Thank goodness that’s changed. Many sausage options avail you at Dat Dog, but the crawfish version is not to be missed, especially when piled with a generous amount of crawfish étouffée. You will never find a dog like it anywhere else, guaranteed.
The House Bowl ramen
New Orleans has oodles of rice noodles, thanks to the abundance of Vietnamese restaurants, but less so when it comes to ramen. For a true Japanese ramen experience, Noodle & Pie has you covered with perfectly chewy noodles and rich bone broths. Also, pie!
Chef Frank Brigtsen is something of a local culinary hero, and the restaurant that bears his name is proof as to why. His interpretation of Acadian/Cajun cuisine is absolutely wonderful, particularly when it comes to rabbit preparations, which change seasonally, but should definitely not be missed -- especially when pan-fried and served with Creole mustard, braised greens, and potatoes.
Sure, there are tons of places to choose from in New Orleans when it comes to a dozen (or three) on the half shell, but really, Casamento’s is the place, and it has been since 1919. There will be a line. And you will wait in it. Don’t forget to tip Mike the shucker as you do, and he’ll give you a half dozen or so to start with while you await your table.
The Ménage à Foie
The playful name of this dish -- a trio of foie gras preparations selected by the chef -- should give you an indication of how playful Chef Phillip Lopez’s ode to modernist cuisine really is. Past versions have included foie gras cotton candy with foie Pop Rocks, and a “living terrarium of foie gras.” Fatty duck liver has never been this much fun.
Chilled corn and avocado bisque
This is a swanky Magazine St spot that’s high on class and perfect for a date, and there are many notable options on the menu. But you must, must, must try the cool and silky corn and avocado soup, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat. It is the perfect summertime soup, perfectly executed.
Bone marrow and snails
Chef Kristen Essig has been killing it with her her reinvention of the beloved Rampart St restaurant. You’ll want the French onion grilled cheese, but don’t forget to start with the snails and marrow, finished with a Herbsaint shot right out of the bone. An unforgettable experience.
Smoked, fried soft-shell crab
Smoked seafood is excellent. Fried seafood is also excellent. Fried soft-shells, better still. But all three together? You can find this inimitable dish at Clancy’s, a longtime popular Uptown spot.
Whole grilled fish
Whatever comes off of the live-fire hearth at the center of Chef Ryan Prewitt’s kitchen is going to be special, but the real stunner of them all is the whole fish, big enough for the table and heavily sauced so that you get a bite of saucy goodness with every bit of fish flesh.
The state of pizza in New Orleans used to be somewhat dismal, and if you were looking for a real NYC-style slice joint, you were out of luck. Fortunately for the Big Easy, we now have Pizza Delicious, which turns out authentic foldable slices and pies over in Bywater. Wash it down with a cold beer (or some Toulouse Red absinthe), and you’ll be golden.
This one is a layup, a gimme, a complete no-brainer, not to mention one of the hallmark recipes of both Creole cuisine and Commander’s. Make sure to spike yours with a little extra sherry from the carafe at the table for an extra dose of awesome.
Gulf fish amandine
You’d better be packing a hungry attitude when you hit this quintessential Canal St Italian/Creole joint, because it is certainly not known for skimping on portions. The huge, pan-fried gulf fish smothered in a rich brown butter sauce with almonds is a classic, and few do it better.
Angelo Brocato’s has been satisfying sweet toothed New Orleanians for 110 years now, and that looks like it’s not going to abate any time soon. Go for the cannoli (filled fresh to order), stay for the Italian ices, especially the lemon.
Saturday cochon de lait
Between the outstanding chicken wings and the crispy P&J oysters, it’s hard to pick a clear winner on Chef Michael Gulotta’s Mekong Delta-meets-Mississippi Delta fusion spot. However, Gulotta roasts an entire suckling pig (cochon de lait) on Saturdays, which he serves until portions run out. You really need to try this pork. Now.
There’s a very good reason that the overwhelming choice for Vietnamese-style rolls for most restaurants in New Orleans come from this humble NOLA East bakery. If you pay a visit in person, you’ll find that wonderful chewy, crackly-crusted bread, which you can have filled with traditional bánh mì elements (roasted pork, Chinese meatballs, BBQ chicken, etc.) for no more than $4.25.
“Classic French cuisine with a local accent” is the MO at the charming Patois, and Chef Aaron Burgau pulls off the concept brilliantly. See, for instance, the roasted chicken stuffed with boudin, wrapped in crispy chicken skin, and served with Tasso-braised greens, roasted sweet potatoes, and chicken gravy. Mais ouis, we’ll take it!
Louisiana blue crab and linguini
It was a bit of a shocker when Chef Alex Harrell left the lauded Vieux Carre eatery Sylvain to open up Angeline, but the results, thus far, are out of this world. His seafood pasta dish is is humble, yet complex, and fashioned with mint, serrano chiles, crab butter, and Florida bottarga.
A stick of Roman Candy from a horse-drawn cart
Roman Candy Co.Various locations
Is it the best taffy in the world? That depends on whether or not you spent your childhood in New Orleans. The company making this local treat turns 100 years old this year, and what better way to celebrate than working your way through a stick of hand-pulled chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry? Hardly dentist-approved, but you won’t really need those teeth after you croak anyway, right?
Ms. Linda GreenVarious locations
Everybody in NOLA knows that if you’re looking for yak-a-mein, you’re looking for Ms. Linda Green, the queen of this Chinese-style beef noodle soup, topped with a boiled egg and plenty of green onion. No, it doesn’t have yak in it, but it is filled with a spicy, salty broth that will overpower even the worst Ash Wednesday hangover.
Bacon jalapeño duck poppers
The specialty at Chef Brian Landry’s spot has always been fresh Gulf seafood, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find some brilliant carnivorous delights there. Order whatever’s in season from the Gulf for your main, but you absolutely need to start a meal here with these fried balls of bacon, duck, and peppery goodness.
The Central Grocery might have invented the muffaletta, and perhaps Donald Link perfected it at Cochon Butcher, but there’s nothing like the singular experience of enjoying one of these wonderful Italian sandwiches topped with plenty of olive salad at the house built for Napoleon Bonaparte. The mottled walls and classical music are a French Quarter institution, as is its signature Pimm’s Cup.
Tuna “Ice Cream Cones”
You’ll find much to love at this modern Caribbean restaurant in the W Hotel “South of Bourbon,” but the adorable yellowfin tuna sashimi waffle cones, topped with pineapple ceviche and basil avocado ice cream, might very well be the best single-bite dishes in New Orleans.
For many years, if you wanted the best Vietnamese in the Crescent City, you had to make the trek across the Mississippi River to the West Bank. These days, Viet options abound on the East Bank, but a trip to Gretna is worth it, especially for the brilliant, authentic flavors at Tan Dinh. A bowl of hot, spicy beef pho there will never fail to satisfy.
Of all the notable chefs in New Orleans, it’s difficult to think of one more universally beloved than Susan Spicer, whose influence on the local dining scene could never be overstated. At her flagship restaurant, Bayona, you’ll find out exactly why she has accumulated so much loyalty and longevity. If you’ve never had sweetbreads before, this is your gateway -- gloriously pan-fried and served with with either a lemon caper or sherry mustard butter. And if you've had them before, well... you’ll likely not find any better than here.
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