Best New Orleans Food and Drink

New Orleans is a city for foodies with fine dining and historic cafes all around the city serving distinctive Creole and Cajun dishes.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil

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Photo by: John Panella

John Panella

New Orleans is a city for foodies with fine dining and historic cafes all around the city from the bustling French Quarter to the picture-perfect uptown Garden District. The food blends fancy French cuisine with local cooking styles to create distinctive Creole and Cajun dishes that are original to the city. Join us for a tour of the best food and drink in New Orleans.

What to Know
Cajun and Creole are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. While both begin with the region's 'holy trinity' of green peppers, onions and celery, they veer off in slightly different directions. Cajun food originated along Louisiana's bayou. Its country-style cooking starts with a dark roux and combines French and Southern flavors in homey, filling dishes like gumbo and boudin, a spicy classic Cajun sausage. Creole food also has French influences with European and African roots, but it's more refined with rich sauces and fresh seafood, like Shrimp Creole and Turtle Soup. Jambalaya is a popular hearty dish filled with chicken, spicy andouille sausage and veggies. It may be prepared in either the Creole style with tomatoes or the Cajun way without tomatoes. As in any good Southern town, grits are a staple, as well as okra.

In the sandwich category, a lunchtime staple is the muffuletta, a hearty combo of ham, salami, Swiss, provolone and olive spread. A po'boy is a classic sandwich usually served on a French baguette. It may be filled with fried seafood like oysters, shrimp, crawfish or soft shell crab.

When it comes to sweets, beignets are appropriate any time of day. These deep-fried dough balls are sprinkled with powdered sugar and served alongside a cup of coffee in cafes around town. For dessert, there's bread pudding, Bananas Foster and, during Mardi Gras, King cake with a hidden trinket inside.

Of course, sweet tea is an option if you're thirsty, but New Orleans is known for its great cocktail culture. The Sazerac, a simple combo of cognac and bitters, is said to be America's first cocktail and dates back to pre-Civil War days in the city. The Ramos Gin Fizz combines gin, lemon and lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream and orange flower water. A splash of soda water adds to the drink's effervescence.

Where to Go
Breakfast and Jazzy Brunch
The Sunday brunch and jazz at Arnaud's Restaurant is a 4-course feast with an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. Satisfy a sweet tooth with the Pain Perdu with orange-infused honey or opt for something savory with the grillades of braised baby veal scaloppini served with cheese grits. Sip a Mimosa, Bloody Mary, Bullshot or a Gin Fizz while listening to live Dixieland jazz.

Expect some unusual twists at the breakfast table at Brennan's in the French Quarter. The most popular dish is Eggs Hussarde, which features poached eggs served over Holland rusks and Canadian bacon, all topped with Marchand de Vin sauce. Brennan's is the birthplace of Bananas Foster so it's only appropriate to finish off breakfast with this flambeed dessert.

Ralph's on the Park is a cozy neighborhood restaurant in City Park. The playful Sunday brunch menu puts an unexpected twist on breakfast classics. Chicken is stuffed with boudin sausage and served alongside chocolate chip waffles and red-eye gravy while Cajun Scotch eggs are served alongside boudin sausage, cheese-grit souffle and corn maque choux.

No need to limit the brunch buffet to just weekends when you can indulge every day of the week at the Court of Two Sisters in the French Quarter. A jazz trio strolls around while diners fill their plates with classic egg dishes and savory entrees like boiled shrimp or crawfish with remoulade, zesty Cajun pasta, corn grits and Creole jambalaya.

Classic New Orleans Cuisine
The Palace Cafe reinvents classic Creole dishes in a lively cafe setting on historic Canal Street. The happy-hour deal tempts diners on weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. with $5 plates of alligator sausage pistolette, crab claws remoulade and duck spring rolls. Wash it down with Peters Planters Punch.

Mr. B's is a favorite lunchtime spot in the French quarter. Creole comfort food includes Gumbo Ya Ya with chicken and andouille, catfish fingers and crawfish etouffee.

Brigtsen's Restaurant serves Creole food in a cozy Victorian cottage near the Riverbend. Chef Frank Brigtsen is lauded for his unique spin on southern Louisiana specialties. The menu changes daily to feature the freshest local ingredients, but some standouts include rabbit tenderloin with andouille parmesan-grits cake and grilled drum fish with crawfish and pistachio lime sauce.

Cochon showcases Cajun cuisine at its best with dishes like crawfish pie, fried alligator, rabbit and dumplings and roasted gulf fish. The in-house butcher shop, or boucherie, turns out roasted suckling pig with cracklings, fried pig's ears and fried boudin.

Fine Dining
The Commander's Palace is a New Orleans institution in a Victorian in the Garden District. Behind the turquoise and white shades, the Haute Creole cuisine has been evolving since opening in 1880. The Chef's Playground is a 7-course tasting menu with the much-praised Foie Gras 'Du Monde,' a delicate dish of skillet-roasted foie gras over apple, pecan and foie gras beignets as well as Crispy Wild Gulf Fish and Cracklin' Crusted Duck.

Antoine's has been seducing diners since 1840 with French-Creole cuisine in an extraordinary setting. There are 15 dining rooms filled with memorabilia from famous guests including past presidents, film stars and even Pope John Paul II. The signature dish is Oysters Rockefeller which originated at this grand restaurant in 1889.

Local ingredients shine in Italian preparations at Bacco. The signature dish brings Italy and the southern bayou together with Maine Lobster and Gulf Shrimp Ravioli with champagne butter sauce. Pasta dishes include Louisiana crawfish tails served over fresh pappardelle or fried oysters with fettuccine.

Before Emeril Lagasse became a household name, he was the executive chef at Commander's Palace. Today, he owns 3 upscale restaurants around town. His first restaurant, Emeril's, brought his bold personality to the NOLA scene with dishes like Creole-marinated calamari, andouille-crusted redfish, and roasted quail stuffed with mushrooms and crabmeat.

Casual Spots
The action never stops at Cafe Du Monde, the sweetest spot in town. The cafe serves its world-famous beignets and dark roasted coffee 24 hours a day, 364 days of the year, closing only on Christmas. The original Cafe Du Monde, located in the French Market, is a prime place for people-watching while enjoying a plate of 3 sugary fried beignets.

A jacket isn't part of the dress code at the supremely casual Coop's Place on Decatur Street. House specialties are the Seafood Gumbo made with a dark roux and plenty of okra, shrimp, crab claws and oysters over rice. The jambalaya is a simmering pot of tomatoes, onions and peppers with rabbit, smoked pork sausage, shrimp and tasso ham. Try the Hangtown Fry Omelette with fried oysters, bacon and cheddar for a late breakfast at noon or an early one sometime around midnight.

With 45 beers on tap at Cooter Brown's, there's more than enough to wash down a plate of briny oysters at this casual bar. If you don't fall for raw fish, get a meat fix with a classic muffuletta sandwich or alligator sausage po'boy.

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