Red beans and rice, étouffée, gumbo—New Orleans’ signature dishes only get better the longer they simmer. The same is true for the city and its food scene, which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. Weathering and wading through setbacks and storms in that time, the Unfathomable City has almost become a victim of its own resilience with new restaurants, pop-ups, coffee shops, bakeries, cocktail lounges, food halls, and delis opening at a dizzying pace. The boom has turned New Orleans into arguably the most fascinating food destination in the country.
Whether grabbing a cup of coffee or sitting down to a multicourse meal, you will find that New Orleans suspends reality much like the rainbow-colored liquors in slurried ice whirling through a daiquiri machine. Eating or drinking here is never ordinary, no matter where or when you do it.
Bite into crispy Oysters St. Claude in Upperline’s art museum of a dining room; sip a restorative ginger tonic on Pagoda Café’s tropicaldreamscape patio; and even question how the taste of a wood-fired whole red snapper can belie its simple, straightforward preparation at Pêche Seafood Grill. Find a hidden oasis of wine and live music behind a worn fence at Bacchanal Wine set in the Bywater neighborhood. On Holy Thursday, sink your spoon into a bowl of delicious gumbo z’herbes, stirred together by 95-yearold Leah Chase at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Carry a cherry red Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s next door in a go-cup to wait in line for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, or drink a beer in the blacksmith shop that pirate Jean Lafitte used as his headquarters for smuggling in the 1700s. Watch cups of shaved ice turn Technicolor at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, and remember that restaurants can be fun again at the themeless sandwich spot Turkey and the Wolf. Taste the blend of the city’s food cultures manifested in a bowl of Yakamein soup at the purple-painted bodega Manchu Food Store.
Discover you can afford another round at Arnaud’s French 75, the 2017 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Bar Program. Crack crawfish tails with strangers in a front yard on the walk back from Jazz Fest, and leave with a new crew of friends.
Witness the theatrical Bananas Foster Flambé at Brennan’s, or take in the pageantry of a feast at Commander’s Palace.
But more importantly, book the trip. Don’t put off your first visit to New Orleans any longer—and be sure to go all in.