New Orleans is food heaven.
Everything there is a mind blowing experience for those trying Creole food in Louisiana for the first time. If you like spices, sophisticated bases, meat/dairy, and flavors from Native Choctaw, West African, Arcadian, French, Spanish, and German cultures melding into one, you will not be disappointed when you eat in New Orleans.
New Orleans has a ton of restaurants in my bucket list, and I got even more amazing recommendations from both locals and people who travel there frequently. So, when I traveled there on a spontaneous, last-minute day trip, I knew exactly what I wanted to eat, and my mind was blown by all the amazing food I had.
For this trip, I really wanted to focus on local food and food experiences that would be hard to find done well outside of New Orleans or Louisiana. And I was only there for a day, so I wanted to try as many foods as I could. Here’s what you need to eat in New Orleans in 24 hours if you want to try the best local dishes!
Beignets and Chicory Coffee @ Cafe Du Monde
This is like the most iconic New Orleans restaurant ever. Beignets in their simplest form are a fried dough covered in powdered sugar. They were brought over by the French to New Orleans (so, you don’t pronounce the “t”). If you like sugar, fried things, or biting into pillowy, perfect dough, you will like beignets.
Your beignets won’t be complete without a cup of their cafe au lait made with chicory coffee. Despite food being my only hobby, I had no idea what chicory was before this trip, but picture an earth-y/chocolate-y note to your regular medium roasted coffee.
Their first location is open 24 hours and in the French Quarter, which is the quintessential and ridiculously cute New Orleans tourist area that you cannot miss. Since I arrived at 6 AM, there was no line (and in fact, not much going on in the normally lively district), so a new friend I made on the bus and I walked to the Mississippi River and enjoyed our delicious pastries there. Cafe du Monde is definitely not the only beignet place in New Orleans (I personally like Cafe Beignet better), but it is the most famous!
Jazz Brunch @ Commander’s Palace
A bunch of fancy jazz brunch places were recommended to me by my bougie friends, but when traveling without money, or friends, or friends with money, this was a little out of the question.
It’s still on the bucket list, though, so if you are in a more favorable situation than I was, let me live through you. Please check out what was recommended to me hundreds of times by people who lived in/visited New Orleans – the iconic, high-end Creole restaurant: Commander’s Palace. Like Emeril used to chef at this place. Read about its history here.
Jazz Bars @ Frenchman Street
Instead me and my new friend wandered down Frenchman street on recommendation from our Uber driver. It’s lined with bars/clubs, and each one is playing live jazz music! I can’t think of a place anywhere else in the world with a higher music to business establishment ratio. It’s an experience you can’t miss!
It’s fun walking down the street and seeing the bands, but it’s even better walking inside, getting refreshing local beers (it was too early for sazerac, okay), and watching them play. They have food too, including brunch at some places. I learned about zydeco, which is a Creole style of music and that in general, there are a ton of Louisiana music genres. How are there so many types of music in one US state?!
Gumbo @ Dooky Chase
You just have to get gumbo in New Orleans or Louisiana in general.
If you don’t know, the simplest definition of gumbo is a stew, made up of complex, tasty flavors and often served with rice. It’s a literal flavor explosion. Depending on the style (Cajun, Creole, your grandma’s), different meats, vegetables, and roux may be used. Creole style is likely what you’ll see in New Orleans and it additionally adds seafood, filé (sassafras) powder, and tomatoes. You can read more about the styles here.
Dooky Chase is just one option. I found out about it because Obama visited and had the gumbo. What I loved about this place though is the history. Did you know this restaurant was where black people back in the day could meet safely and talk about social justice issues and plan civil rights movements? Cafe du Monde couldn’t even serve black people until the 1960s!
Jambalaya @ Coop’s Place
Jambalaya is another classic Louisiana food.
At its most basic, it’s a rice and meat dish with a ton of strong flavors and spices.
One of the friends I made here had been to New Orleans a few of times, and this was one of her favorite restaurants for jambalaya. When we arrived, we found out that the wait was over an hour! Since we brown folks had braved a KKK rally (technically it was mostly counter protesters) to get to this restaurant, we were not going to back down from the wait.
Once inside, the jambalaya was so good, it melted the slight stressfulness away and made us forget that we had waited for an hour in the heat and humidity. I had a rabbit jambalaya, which really tasted like chicken.
Fried Green Tomatoes, Remoulade Sauce, Corn Cakes, Fried Catfish, and Shrimp Étouffée with Cheesy Grits @ Who Dat Coffee Cafe
The sad thing is the catfish and shrimp étouffée was the special of the day, so I don’t know if you can actually still get it from this restaurant. But the good thing is these are all foods popular in Louisiana, and you absolutely need to try them when you’re in New Orleans! Fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, and grits are all traditional Southern foods. Étouffée is a seafood stew that uses a lighter roux than gumbo and has both Creole and Cajun varieties (you can read more about it here)
And the other good thing was this cafe was amazing, served literally some of the best food I’ve ever had, and had super friendly staff. Still check it out and try something new!
Bonus: Oysters @ Felix’s, Shrimp Po’Boys @ Parkway, Crawfish (if it’s the season)
These are all bonuses because despite being on my bucket list, I didn’t get the chance to try them!
Felix’s was recommended by the same people who recommended Commander’s Palace. Oysters just get talked about a lot when you discuss New Orleans food because the Gulf of Mexico is right there!
Parkway was recommended by the internet when I was digging for the best po’boys. Po’boys are traditional sandwiches from Louisiana with fried seafood and on a French baguette. I did have po’boys a different time in New Orleans, but it was at a school cafeteria (to be fair, they were good, but not something I would put in this blog).
This list just very barely scratches the surface of Creole, Cajun, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Southern food. But if you have just a day in New Orleans, you know which things you can try out!
What do you think of these foods, restaurants, and experiences? What are you most excited to try? What would you add? Let me know in the comments!