I was going to follow up my Packing List for Mardi Gras with a run-down of how to game the parades, but I have nearly a year until the next Mardi Gras comes around.. and I’m hungry, so reminiscing about the best eats in NOLA is a much more appetizing post idea. See what I did there?
I ate basically everything in the entire city (not really but I’d still consider myself a pretty good food authority) and have a recommendation for everything except crawfish. These are the must-try places and, most importantly, what NOLA Cajun bayou classics to get at each.
Gumbo: I think I ate gumbo every time I saw it on a menu. It’s magical and wonderful but hands-down the best seafood gumbo I tried came from Superior Seafood. This place was highly recommended to us from a local thanks to their 50-cent raw oysters at happy hour, but I needed more than just a few dozen sea boogers in my stomach to handle parade drinking, so gumbo happened. And it. was. magical. (For reference, I tried gumbo at Drago’s, Mother’s, a few local holes, Mr. B’s Bistro… Louisiana, I think you’re out of gumbo.)
Oysters: Obviously, Drago’s takes this one. ManFriend’s family has been making “Drago’s style” broiled shrimp since ‘Nam, so when we went it was a non-negotiable meal. The original Drago’s is out in Bum-freaking-nowhere, but their oysters alone earned them the entire main floor of the Hilton on the river. Service was pretty lame, but does that really matter when a hot platter of garlic-and-butter-smothered charbroiled oysters is on it’s way to you? No, I didn’t think so.
Etouffee: Mother’s Restaurant is a NOLA icon, so be prepared to wait, but rest assured it is worth it. I’m sure most of the menu is delicious, but if you’re going for something like gumbo or jambalaya, get the crawfish etouffee. It’s a little thicker than a gumbo, but saucier than a jambalaya, almost like a Cajun version of a seafood chowder. (Actually, likening it to a seafood chowder doesn’t do it justice. Just go eat it.) I tried etouffee at Drago’s and a local dive and Mother’s won by a landslide.
Po-Boy: Mother’s Restaurant wins again when it comes to po-boys, although I’ll be honest and tell you it was the only po-boy I ate. And it wasn’t a seafood po-boy. Please, resist the urge to scream at me as to how I can call myself a “food authority” if I didn’t even eat a shrimp po-boy. And then shove one of Mother’s roast beef po-boys with debris in your pie hole and eat your insults. Does eating something called “debris” sound disgusting? Yes. Is it? Absolutely not. You know all those little bits of meat that fall off when you slow-roast beef? And all those juices they swim in? Yeah, Mother’s pours that over your sliced roast beef sandwich and tops it with a lettuce slaw that is perfectly seasoned with condiments and this sandwich is what Jesus would eat.
King Cake: If you can’t get to a Rouse’s (the local grocery store chain) for a straight-up grocer bakery King Cake like every other local Louisianian does, find District Donuts, Sliders, and Brew, and sink your teeth into a King Cake donut. It is every bit as sugary and glorious as it sounds, filled with a cinnamon cream and topped with frosting, sprinkles, and a tiny little baby.
Bloody Mary: Identifying a winner in this category took a lot of research. But, because I am dedicated to this blog and giving some great travel feedback, I put the time and effort into thoroughly researching every Bloody Mary opportunity I came across. I actually think I’ll need to go back and conduct a verification study, but for now the best Bloody Mary I drank in NOLA came from Mayas Restaurant. It was located just a few blocks away so it made an easy stop to order “to go” drinks each morning when we headed out. The bartender added pickle brine, sherry vinegar, and spicy pickled green beans to the drinks and I think those additions set these BM’s over the top.