From Creole to Cajun and beyond, experience the ritual of food in this Gulf-coast city at any of these top restaurants in town.
The rich culinary traditions of New Orleans cause people to base their entire vacation eating their way across the city. From roots in French cuisine to Creole and Cajun traditions, the influence of African cooks to Italian immigrants—don’t take a New Orleans vacation right after you’ve started a diet.
New Orleans takes its food seriously; surrender and let it take charge.
Creole and Cajun cuisine both came by way of France, and each uses roux (flour browned with butter) and local ingredients, but their paths to New Orleans cuisine differ. Creoles, born in southern Louisiana, blended with Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and African groups that settled in large numbers in the region. Cajuns settled in southwest Louisiana after they were expelled from Nova Scotia in the 1700s. Their food is largely “country food,” and not often presented as the refined “city food” that Creole cooking is considered. While many cooks argue over what makes something uniquely Creole or Cajun, it really doesn’t matter as long as the food is good.
Gumbo, the super soup of the region, is used in both Cajun and Creole food: Creole cuisine uses okra as a thickener while Cajun cuisine uses filé, or ground sassafras leaves. But jambalaya, a one-pot paella with meat, vegetables, rice and stock, is strictly a Creole dish. Cajun dishes are more likely to feature ingredients from the country, like crawfish. Cajun cooking also uses hot peppers and spices, so take a look at that bottle of Tabasco in your cupboard. It’s from Cajun country. Same with spicy andouille sausage.
New Orleans can be frustrating to a food lover, because there’s just not enough time to try all the city’s world-famous restaurants. Give these five New Orleans restaurants a taste—they’ll quickly find a place on your list of favorites.
Tucked into an old Creole cottage in the French Quarter, Bayona is a great restaurant for a romantic evening. Each of its three dining rooms has an individual theme; the courtyard is open on pleasant-weather days; and the intimate wine room feels like a hideaway. Chef Susan Spicer, who honed her skills in France, is a New Orleans treasure. Try the oyster and Italian sausage gratin with spinach, fennel and Parmesan breadcrumbs for a starter. Then dig into the artichoke and chorizo-stuffed rabbit-roulade with tomato-pepper sofrito. 430 Dauphine St., tel. 504-525-4455. www.bayona.com
In a sweet Victorian house at the Riverbend in Uptown New Orleans, Brigtsen’s offers a delicious interpretation of Creole and Acadian (Cajun) food. Chef Frank Brigtsen trained for years under acclaimed Chef Paul Prudhomme. The roast duck with cornbread dressing and honey pecan gravy is a favorite of many regulars, but there’s something here to please everyone. 723 Dante St., tel. 504-861-7610. www.brigtsens.com
Chef Donald Link opened Cochon (French for “pig”) in 2006. It features authentic Cajun cuisine and a special love for pork. “Cochon is a good place to go to experience upscale Southern/Cajun food,” says Robert Peyton, restaurant columnist for New Orleans Magazine and food blogger.
I’ve been “stuck” here during a rainstorm and spent the time trying most of the plates, but my favorites are the jalapeño spoonbread with stewed okra and field peas; the spicy grilled pork ribs with watermelon pickle; and the Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins. Cochon Butcher, a neighborhood butcher shop, opened in January at the same address.
Lüke features Old World French and German-style food, and is an homage to old-style New Orleans brasseries. Chef John Besh grew up in southern Louisiana and has a treasure of great local restaurants: Restaurant August, La Provence and Besh Steak. I heartily recommend the flamenküche, a thin Alsatian onion tarte with bacon, caraway and Emmenthaler cheese; the cochon de lait pressed pork sandwich (think roasted suckling pig); and the Lüke burger, which has caramelized onions, tomatoes, Emmenthaler cheese and yummy bacon. If you like licorice, get an Ojen Frappé, made with Ojen, an anisette formerly made in Spain. After the distillery closed, New Orleans bought up all the remaining stock. 333 St. Charles Ave., tel. 504-378-2840. www.lukeneworleans.com
This contemporary Creole restaurant is in a rambling home packed with paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs. All the artwork has been collected by owner JoAnn Clevenger, who is also the key person at Upperline to make you feel right at home. The fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade dish originated here, so you have to give it a try. If you’re new to Creole and Cajun cooking, try the Taste of New Orleans—a tasting dinner of some favorites; $38.50. 1413 Upperline St., tel. 504-891-9822. www.upperline.com
While I love the more “upscale” New Orleans restaurants, more often I find myself at neighborhood joints—where the tables are few, but the food is hearty and always good. It’s at these places where I feel more like a local, especially when the waiter looks at my group and says, “Hey babies, what you havin’?”
Out at the far end of the Bywater, The Joint keeps its barbecue smoking. With luscious beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs and chicken, this spot is a must-stop. If you still have room for dessert, try one of a variety of pies: from pecan to key lime to peanut butter. 801 Poland Ave., tel. 504-949-3232. www.alwayssmokin.com
Elizabeth’s is the home of praline bacon. Yes, that’s what I said. Order a plate with brunch and see just how sweet bacon can be. The Carolina shrimp and grits, as well as the red neck eggs (with fried green tomatoes), are especially tasty. 601 Gallier St., tel. 504-944-9272. www.elizabeths-restaurant.com
If it’s classic soul food you’re after, come to Dooky Chase. A family restaurant run by Chef Leah and her husband Dooky Chase, the place was even mentioned in Ray Charles’ song, “Early in the Morning Blues.” Linger a while after you eat to tour their art collection. 2301 Orleans Ave., tel. 504-821-0600.
This is the best place to go for “ersters” in New Orleans: raw oysters, fried oysters, oyster loaf, oyster po’boys. When they’re not in season and could be dangerous to eat (during summer months), Casamento’s closes. Inconvenient, sure, but you’ve got to appreciate the dedication to the tasty bivalve. 4330 Magazine St., tel. 504-895-9761. www.casamentosrestaurant.com
Get in line at the Bluebird Café to get some of the best, and heartiest, breakfasts in New Orleans. From pecan waffles to huevos rancheros, homemade sausage to cheese grits—you’ll probably need to skip lunch after eating here. 3625 Prytania St., tel. 504-895-7166.
Located on funky Oak Street in the Uptown neighborhood, Jacques-Imo’s is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. With its mix of Creole and Canjun specialties at reasonable prices, it’s no wonder that patrons line the street waiting for a table. The interior is dimly lit, eclectically decorated and noisy, the perfect setting for “real N’Awlins food.” Complimentary cornbread (made from a special house recipe), blackened redfish, and shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake are just of few of its tasty dishes. 8324 Oak St., tel. 504-861-0886. www.jacquesimoscafe.com
Reporting on Jacques-Imo’s by Ashleigh Nushawg.
Destinations: New Orleans
New Orleans Restaurants This article made me hungry.