(UPDATED NOVEMBER 2022) The food scene in New Orleans is my favorite in the whole world—and that is a really big claim. From cajun and creole dishes to bananas foster, bread pudding, and Po’boys, my mouth waters at the thought of it. With about twenty visits to The Big Easy over the years, I’ve realized that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a really fantastic meal. Here is a 15-restaurant guide to New Orleans and what dishes are worth trying that have been tasty on my travels.
1. Mother’s Restaurant
One of the main stays in New Orleans is Mother’s Restaurant, in operation since 1938. I had Mother’s (known for their baked ham) for the first time in February, and the Famous Ferdi Special sandwich was so darned good that I had to go back in October for a return visit. Dear goodness, this knife and fork concoction is the bomb. If you fancy something else, the seafood gumbo and Jerry’s Jambalaya are other good choices.
What’s in a Ferdi Special? This po’boy comes packed with baked ham, roast beef, and the original debris with au jus gravy. The sandwich is dressed with shredded cabbage, pickles, and mayo. Perfection!
2. Cafe du Monde
I think it may be an actual crime to come to New Orleans and not try chicory coffee and beignets from the most famous place in the town. Cafe du Monde is a French market coffee stand with multiple locations.
Beignets are a little square of fried dough that is heavily dusted with powdered sugar. They come in orders of three. Be prepared for a bite of heaven in each one.
3. Two Chicks Cafe
A fantastic breakfast, lunch, and juice bar in the CBD district of New Orleans is Two Chicks Cafe. The cozy and colorful cafe has a tantalizing breakfast menu, which was the meal I went for. I knew I was going to love this restaurant from the whimsical sign out front.
My husband chose a Traditional Eggs Benedict, which comes served on a croissant at Two Chicks Cafe. It also has cajun hollandaise because it is New Orleans, right? I went with something more exotic—the Kickin’ Chicken Omelet.
The omelet was stuffed with red onion, chicken, mushrooms, spinach, goat cheese, and homemade salsa topped it. Creamy grits and toast accompanied my breakfast plate, and let me tell you— they were all three 10/10 delicious. If you are a breakfast lover, Two Chicks Cafe is a must!
4. Royal House Oyster Bar
Just strolling through the touristy parts of the French Quarter, my friend and I happened upon Royal House Oyster Bar. We liked the menu and all the open windows and patio that overlooked Royal Street. We grabbed a table and got settled in for a perfect New Orleans lunch.
Though the Royal House Oyster Bar’s char-grilled oysters sounded terrific, I went with traditional Southern Louisiana cuisine. The Taste of New Orleans plate gave me a sampling of the three best dishes— Cajun Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya, Red Beans And Rice, and Chicken Andouille Gumbo. The meal was $19 and worth every penny.
After adding a considerable amount of tabasco, three of my New Orleans favorite foods were sheer perfection. I will be eating here on all my visits to the city.
While sightseeing on Magazine Street in the Garden District, my husband and I passed EmpaNOLA, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Even though we had just finished lunch only minutes before, I wasn’t about to pass up a store specializing in baked empanadas only.
Inside the cute space, I perused the dozen or so choices of empanadas, which change daily. Empanadas run $3.75 each, and flavors range between veggie, Latin, and New Orleans ingredients and recipes. There are discounts for purchasing 3, 6, and 12 empanadas. Salad and soup are also available.
I went with the Ham & Queso (Havarti, mozzarella, cream cheese, and nutmeg), and my husband had a gumbo (chicken, sausage, onion, and peppers).
6. Lucky Dogs
The history books would read, “Lucky Dogs are a unique fast-food company offering an impulse item that serves as a snack, an appetizer, or a meal in itself,” but in a nutshell, it’s a hot dog stand that is a Big Easy necessity. The all-beef hotdog wieners are a size not available in grocery stores and are made by Lykes Company. They are sold in the French Quarter and are the only street foods you will see in that area.
Anywhere you see this rolling pushcart, know that Lucky Dogs are hot, freshly prepared, and a favorite fast-food quick bite since the 1940s. To date, over 21 million lucky dogs have been sold.
7. Ernst Cafe
I perused the menu for Ernst Cafe and decided I had to try the Debris Fries. Ernst Cafe is in a 1902 saloon building with a cool tin ceiling in the Warehouse District. It is mainly known for elevated pub food and the long list of beer. I wasn’t familiar with the Warehouse District terminology, so “outside of Harrahs” worked better for me.
I ordered the Debris Fries, which was “all that and a bag of chips”. My husband doesn’t eat beef, so they even made a small portion separately for him to try, which was so nice. The fries were piled-high with slow-cooked roast beef, then topped with queso and cheddar cheese. Oh my, this is one sinfully delicious dish. My husband had the chicken and Andouille sausage Gumbo over white rice, which he raved about.
8. Bourbon House
Bourbon House is a restaurant we almost always visit for appetizers, drinks, or dessert. On this occasion, it was for the delicious Milk Punch, a frozen concoction. We sat at the bar in the airy restaurant with warm tones and lots of light. The bartender was attentive and good at his job, which we enjoyed watching while sipping our cocktails.
So what is a frozen Bourbon Milk Punch? Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House is famous for this adult milkshake of sorts, combining bourbon with simple syrup, milk, and vanilla extract. It also has grated nutmeg dusting on the top.
One of our favorite appetizers is the Smoked Shrimp & Crab Boudin Balls, served with a remoulade dipping sauce, and for dessert, the Pineapple Upside Down Bread Pudding. Nom!
9. Gumbo Shop
We have been eating at the Gumbo Shop for 20 years or more, and you know you will always have a delightful, tasty meal there that isn’t super expensive. Serving authentic Creole favorites, this restaurant is a local’s favorite and has cute indoor dining and a darling little outdoor courtyard in the late 1700s home. This French Quarter staple opened in 1948.
The gumbo is the menu’s star, but I prefer the Creole Combination Platter with Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, and Red Beans and Rice, which you can substitute Crawfish Etouffee with an uncharge. Come hungry, leave full and happy—that is a must!
10. Gracious Bakery
Another tasty find in the Garden District was Gracious Bakery, a modern and happy space with cute decor and signage. Gracious Bakery has dozens of sweet treats—cookies, pastries, brownies, cupcakes, and more—plus sandwiches, salads, and fresh-baked bread. I loved the cold brew, full-bodied and no after taste, plus my artisan muffin was to die for!
Gracious Bakery has three locations around New Orleans, including Uptown and Mid-City.
11. Central Grocery
I don’t have to go on and on selling you on Central Grocery on Decatur Street. This old-fashioned Italian-American grocery store, founded in 1906, with a sandwich counter created and still sells the tastiest Muffuletta known to man. Good grief, this sandwich is so freaking good that I don’t even pay attention to the fact I don’t typically eat olives.
The Original Muffuletta is big enough to share and starts with Sicilian sesame loaf that is too good for words. Then, sandwiched between the bread are ham, salami, mortadella, Swiss and provolone cheese (thick slabs…yum!) and the olive salad. The bread doesn’t get soggy from the ingredients, which is impressive to me. The briny marinated olive spread contains pickled veggies and both green and Kalamata olives. Even if you are a picky eater, try one bite and let that be your determining factor. It’s unbelievably good.
12. Court of Two Sisters
Court of Two Sisters has been a mainstay in NOLA since the first time I visited 30 years ago. It is known for daily jazz brunches and an arsenal of Cajun and Creole dishes. Through the beautiful Charm Gates lies the restaurant and a truly mesmerizing courtyard, especially at night.
I stopped at Court of Two Sisters on my last visit for Bananas Foster, prepared tableside. My friend and I had the sweetest and friendliest waiter who put on a show for us, flambéing the revered dessert. Bananas Foster is made with brandy and banana liqueur. If you are against alcohol, no fear, the alcohol content is negated after cooking, and the flavors are incredible.
FYI: If you want to try something fabulous, the Barbecue Shrimp, in a peppery butter sauce, is tasty. The shrimp is so good mopped up with Leidenheimer toast points.
13. Pat O’Briens
Have you actually been to New Orleans if you haven’t stopped in Pat O’Brien’s for the ambient courtyard, beautiful flaming fountain, and world-famous hurricanes? I mean, after all, Pat O’Brien’s did invent the Hurricane cocktail.
Since 1933, visitors and locals have frequented this massive tourist attraction and city icon, all for the sake of “letting the good times roll” or” laissez les bon temps rouler,” as they say in French. Be sure to sip a hurricane or two and enjoy the beauty of this landmark restaurant and nightclub.
14. Grand Isle Restaurant
Another restaurant to check out at Harrah’s New Orleans is Grand Isle Restaurant, offering a spectacular happy hour for food and drinks. Grand Isle celebrates the fresh catches from the coast of Grand Isle, plus serves other local dishes, with an emphasis on seafood. The restaurant and patio are lovely and very spacious.
Go to Grand Isle for happy hour to enjoy discounted drinks from the massive wine, beer, and adult beverage menu and for this dish—Hot, Boiled Gulf Shrimp, discounted Wednesday and Thursday only. This dish, hot boiled Gulf Shrimp with smoked sausage, corn, potatoes, and mushrooms, is on happy hour for $8 a quarter or $28 a pound. Another excellent appetizer to consider are the Crawfish Beignets, with a lemon dill aioli. I 10/10 recommend these babies.
15. Streetcar Cafe
We discovered a new place for our restaurant guide to New Orleans— Streetcar Cafe, also pretty close to our Eliza Jane Hotel. The Streetcar Cafe was a really nice breakfast place, with reasonable prices, really good food, and professional customer service. It appears to be a neighborhood favorite for quick bites and specialty coffee.
Streetcar Cafe’s vibe was welcoming, and the decor was warm and homey; plus, they have a full bar.
I chose a cheese omelet for breakfast, which came with hash browns (or other choices) and a biscuit (or toast). My husband went for Eggs Benedict, with a side of classic grits. We also tried the house-made beignets. If I lived in New Orleans, Streetcar Cafe would be my go-to restaurant.
Want more to do in Louisiana? Here are some choices: