An Expat Guide To The Cuisine In New Orleans And Five Restaurants You Should Try

New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, is also one of the culinary capitals of the United States. The city is nothing less than paradise for any food lover. This vibrant Louisiana city has an eclectic cuisine that is unique, colorful, hearty and flavorsome, to say the least. The traditional recipes are a strong reflection of its Cajun, French and Creole roots. Many preparations are strongly influenced by soul food too since the Creoles were of mixed race, with West African and Native American ancestry.While most of the fare has originated in New Orleans, its cuisine also includes popular dishes from the Mississippi River Delta and Southern Louisiana. Seafood is one of the most commonly used main ingredients, closely followed by meats like chicken, pork and sausage. Most of the food is very well seasoned with garlic, onions, celery, peppers, hot spices, condiments and file powder. Some of the cooking techniques are as complex as French cuisine.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an expat in New Orleans is surviving on burgers and pizzas from fast food chains. Anyone who visits the Mardi Gras City should make it a point to sample the local fare, especially the desserts. The local people are extremely proud of their culinary legacy and claim that you can actually experience their rich history and culture in every forkful of their delicacies.

However, those who are not familiar with the Crescent City’s cuisine usually don’t know what they should go for, since the names of the dishes can be quite confusing. Below are 10 preparations that you must try in New Orleans.

Gumbo

While the locals may argue that this traditional dish is a food group on its own, you can think of Gumbo as a thick stew that is made with a strongly-flavored broth and a main ingredient like beef, shrimp, chicken, sausage or okra. The base is seasoned with sassafras and bay leaves.

Almost all restaurants in the city will have this item on their menu, the most popular ones being Mr. B’s Bistro (The French Quarter), The Gumbo Shop (The French Quarter) and Liuzza’s by the Track (Mid-City). You can choose to have it like a soup or served over a bed of rice.

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Jambalaya

A traditional rice dish, bold in flavor and rich in spice, Jambalaya is a common feature of almost every meal in this city. There is no specific recipe that cooks follow; they just “throw in” variations of seafood, sausage, onion, tomato, peppers, spices, herbs and sauces with rice, to appease their own palates. Some even substitute the rice with pasta.

Since it is a New Orleans signature dish, you will find Jambalaya in most restaurants, but the best known spots are Crescent Pie and Sausage Co. (Mid-City), K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (French Quarter) and The Old Coffeepot Restaurant (French Quarter).

Po’ Boy Sandwiches

If you like subs, you should definitely try the Po’ Boy, which dates all the way back to the Great Depression era. While the original stuffing was nothing more than French fries in gravy, the overstuffed sandwiches today are made with French bread, roast beef, shrimps, oysters and catfish.

Ask a few locals about where you can get the best Po’ boy and each one will point you to a different restaurant. If you do get a chance, order the sandwich at Parasol’s (Garden District), Mother’s (Central Business District) and Ye Olde College Inn (Garden District).

Muffuletta

Though it is another traditional New Orleans sandwich, the Muffuletta is one of the few items that have an Italian history. Many locals regard it as a gift from the Sicilian immigrants who arrived into their city in the late 1800s. The Muffuletta is made using an entire loaf of Italian bread, piled high with Cappicola ham, Genoa salami and Provolone cheese, then topped with: olive salad, pimentos, garlic, onions, celery, parsley and capers. Condiments and herbs may be added for additional seasoning.

While most food joints serve this sandwich, the locals tend to prefer eating it at Central Grocery (French Quarter), the place where it was invented.

Red Beans and Rice

Popularly known as a Monday staple, Red Beans and Rice actually gives the locals a reason to look forward to the first working day of the week. This preparation is made with kidney beans, ham/ pork or sausage and vegetables (bell peppers, onions and celery) cooked with white rice.

Every local will have their own favorite restaurant that serves the best Red Beans and Rice in the city. According to a well-used app, the most popular joints for this delicacy include Coop’s Place (French Quarter), Acme Oyster House (Central Business District) and Napoleon House (French Quarter).

Dirty Rice

This traditional dish is made by cooking white rice with chicken liver, giblets, onion, celery and bell peppers. The rice changes color and acquires a “dirty” look, giving this preparation its name. Cayenne and black pepper are then added to give it a spicy flavor. Many of the locals replace the chicken liver with small pieces of pork, beef and sausage.

Some of the restaurants on French Quarter that are known to serve great Dirty Rice include Saint Lawrence, Verti Marte and Le Bayou.

Maque Choux

When made from the traditional corn, onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, celery and chicken stock, Maque Choux is usually served as an accompaniment. However, several cooks add ingredients like chicken, crawfish or shrimp to make it the main meal and erve it with mashed potatoes instead. In the earlier days, this dish was made from bacon grease in the braising stage though over the years people have started using combinations of oil, butter and cream as a substitute.

Fried Chicken

This American favorite, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, is served in unique and interesting variations across the city.

Don’t miss out on the Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, McHardy’s Chicken and Fixin and Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. You could also log on to popular sites like Nola and Thrillist to find out about other establishments in New Orleans that serve great Fried Chicken.

Blackened Fish

Seafood lovers will absolutely love this scrumptious local preparation. A filet of redfish is coated with a mixture of different spices and seasonings, before it is flash fried in a hot cast iron skillet. The fish is then cooked till its skin is crisp and charred black but the inside stays moist and tender.

Places that are known to serve the best Blackened Fish in New Orleans include Capt. Sal’s Seafood and Chicken, Basin Seafood and Spirits, Oceana Grill and Jacques-Imo’s Café.

Crawfish Etouffee

Often referred to as “Gumbo’s spiced-up cousin”, this stew gets its name from the French word Etouffer, which means “to smother”. The crawfish and thickened soup is served are seasoned with several spices before being poured over a bed of rice. Contrary to what many believe Etouffee is very different from Gumbo in terms of flavor. The fish can also be substituted with shrimp or crabmeat.

Other entrees and side dishes that are also a favorite with locals and visitors alike include Andouille, Barbecue Shrimp, Boiled Seafood, Boudin, Calas Dumplings, Charbroiled Oysters, Couche-Couche, Eggs Sardou, Oysters Rockefeller, Pistolette, Pampano en Papillote, Turtle Soup and Yaka Mein.

Dessert lovers will also find several local delights to satisfy their sweet tooth. Make sure that you do not leave the Big Easy without tasting the sinful treats listed below:

1. Bananas Foster
2. Beignet
3. Bread Pudding
4. Doberg Cake
5. Hubig’s Pies
6. Huckabuck
7. King’s Cakes
8. Praline

New Orleans is home to a huge number of bars, cafes and restaurants so you will have a lot of choice when it comes to eating out. Do try to visit as many establishments as you can, especially the popular food trucks. Below are five of the most popular restaurants that you should try.

GW Fins

Owned by Gary Wollerman and Chef Tenney Flynn, GW Fins is recognized for its varied seafood menu and discerning standards by patrons as well as food critics. Since 2002, this establishment has been winning the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence each year. The philosophy of the menu at this restaurant is as simple as it gets; the owners claim that “Nature writes our menu”. The chefs use the finest fish, seasonal ingredients and modern culinary techniques to ensure that every dish has the perfect flavor and texture. The ambience in the dining room is also distinct. The relaxed, yet energetic space makes for a great dining experience.

You can check the website for a look at the menu, reservations, contact details and other enquiries.

Upperline Restaurant

Located at a 15-minute walking distance from French Quarter, Upperline is a must visit for expats who are interesting in trying out classic New Orleans dishes for the first time. Restaurateur Joann Clevenger believes that restaurants are meant to be a place where people find more than just a meal; they should bolster as well as soothe a weary and hungry soul with comfort. Her goal for Upperline is to create a haven for her guests, to restore their serenity with the best local food and wine. You will therefore find classic New Orleans cuisine, served right alongside more recent inspirations.

Take a look at their menu, special events, best recipes, staff information, timing, dress code and location details by logging on to their website.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern

Ever since it opened in the year 1911, Parkway Bakery and Tavern has been a prominent landmark in the neighborhood. In the past, they were mostly known for their variety of Po’ boy sandwiches but in the last few years this eatery has become famous across the city for a lot more like their seafood options. Nevertheless, everyone who has ever eaten here will definitely recommend the Po’ boy. The USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Contest in 2016 named this restaurant for “The Best Po’ boy in Louisiana”. In addition to its great taste and huge portions at reasonable prices, Parkway has a full bar, ample seating and a photo booth. This place also hosts corporate events, movie screenings, weddings, parties and more.

Log on to Parkway’s website to take a look at their menu options, history, events and blogs.

Restaurant August

Located in a historic 19th Century French Creole building on the Central Business District Restaurant August is a must try for all locals and visitors. They have a varied variety of appetizers, seafood, meat, fowl and vegetarian items. You can also enjoy a Special Lunch menu on Fridays. This elegant restaurant has three dining areas and each one boasts of a rich interior with antique mirrors, mahogany paneling, soaring columns and gleaming hardwood floors. The main dining room offers patrons a unique experience, thanks to its two-story wine room, crystal chandeliers and intimate Gravier room.

To find out more about the owners, staff members, menu, timings and dress code at Restaurant August, you can log on to their website. You could also make a reservation for private dining online.

Cochon Butcher

A butcher shop, a wine bar and sandwich counter, you get to experience it all when you visit this restaurant. Since it has been inspired from old-work meat markets, the specialties at the Cochon Butcher include house meats, terrines and sausages. You should head to this modest joint if you are in the mood for a cheese and sausage platter or a sandwich tray.

To learn more about Cochon Butcher’s locations, contact details, team, events as well as accolades, click here. You could also view images of the restaurant and a number of their signature dishes in the online gallery, which is a treat for your eyes.

Other great restaurants in New Orleans that expats must try are Shaya (for Middle Eastern cuisine), Orleans Grapevine Bar and Bistro, Doris Metropolitan, The Rum House Caribbean Taqueria, The Joint, Irene’s Cuisine and Meals from the Heart, to name a few.


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