10 dishes you must try in New Orleans

New Orleanians are always prepping for a party. This is abundantly clear when you’re dodging the revelers ping-ponging their way through the French Quarter.

But they are also warm, humble, and so eager to feed you.

For me, New Orleans is an oasis that my family escapes to from the cold winters of New York where we run our restaurant. And when we’re here, we always end up devouring the very best meals. Just rememberL The number rule for the Big Easy is to come hungry.

So get ready to slurp some oysters from a half shell, lick your fingers clean of the oil-slicked, salty muffuletta, and crunch through the golden crust of fried chicken before you pound the pavement in search of a cinnamon-laden King Cake. These are the 10 dishes you definitely cannot miss during your stay.

Po’ boy

No food item is more synonymous with New Orleans than a po’ boy. The dish was coined early in the Great Depression by hungry, striking, streetcar employees. The “Poor Boy,” a layered sandwich by any other name, was a quick, easy, and cheap way to eat. What was once a meager meal—a flash of mayonnaise, a layer of ham or roast beef or fried seafood, lettuce, tomato, and pickles on a long French bread Leidenheimer loaf—can now be found in hundreds of variations throughout the city. Warning: the last thing they are in modern times is meager.

As its name suggests, the family-run Frady’s has a little bit of everything: Newspapers, a rotation of daily specials in a warmed glass case, toilet paper, Zapp’s chips, canned beer, and yes, the city’s very best po-boy. While the options here seem endless, a fried oyster or roast beef poboy is the ticket. Order it “dressed,” and it will come with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo, ketchup, and hot sauce. Overflowing, messy, and insanely delicious, it’s the best lunch money can buy.

Tip: The deviled eggs shouldn’t be missed either, so if you see them in the refrigerator, snag ’em. Frady’s is cash only, but they do have an ATM in the back.

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice sprung from humble origins. They were a laundry-day food made on the leftover coals that were stoked for boiling the washing water. Whether or not Mondays are still for cleaning clothes, they are indeed the day for legumes in New Orleans. Simmered low and slow, the kidney beans get tender in chicken stock and are then mixed with celery, onion, bell pepper, bay leaf, hot sauce, and smoked ham hock.

The sign outside of Liuzza’s by the Track, a corner joint just a stone’s throw from the fairgrounds where Jazz Fest takes place, reads ‘Beer in a frosted mug.’ Equal parts local bar and family dining room, Liuzza’s abides by Monday as Red Bean Day, and the crowds get there early to enjoy it. The addition of a pork chop or hot sausage link feels comforting and indulgent all at once.


Bowl of gumbo with crab

Lil Dizzy’s Cafe
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Gumbo—a hearty dark stew of bell pepper, celery, and onion with a smattering of sausage and seafood—is Louisiana’s state cuisine. Thanks to its origins in African, French, and Choctaw cooking, there are now as many renditions as there are people in the South. Adding Andouille sausage and fluffy white rice for serving is in both creole and Cajun gumbo, but there are creative additions on menus all over the city.

Even if you’ve never stepped foot in the door before, the Baquets who own and operate Lil Dizzy’s, will make any newcomer feel like a regular. The scents of an authentic New Orleans kitchen will knock you over when you enter the door: sausage, fried okra, macaroni and cheese, vinegar-soaked greens, and gumbo. The small, tile-clad room of eight tables (with four picnic tables outside) is intimate enough to make friends with the next guests over. If you’re lucky, they may tip you off to the route for some of the Treme neighborhood’s incredible Second Line parades.

Tip: Lil Dizzy’s is only open until 3 pm, so go for lunch. And if it’s a boozy lunch you’re after, grab one of Arkesha Baquet’s signature cocktails. Don’t forget that New Orleans has an open container law, so on your way out of a restaurant, simply ask for a “go cup,” which makes strolling a little more entertaining.

Fried chicken

Fried Chicken is ubiquitous in the Crescent City, with gas stations as likely to hawk a six-piece as any fine dining establishment is to include it on their prix fixe menu. However, not all drumsticks are created equal. Some wear batter-like armor; others offer only a whisper of a crust. Some come heavily spiced with cayenne and smoky paprika, some are dry-brined and salty, and others are slightly sweeter. I wouldn’t discourage a hungry passerby from trying any of these renditions, although saving appetites for the mom-and-pop spot below is an excellent idea.

You’ll find McHardy’s on Broad Street, between the Treme and Bayou St John neighborhoods. Once inside, it’s clear why patrons travel across the Crescent City and wait very patiently in line here. Three generations of The Mogilles family (including teenage granddaughters) work together as a small, well-oiled machine that consistently cranks out crispy, golden, piping-hot fried chicken that never misses a beat. Pair it with their homemade tomato-heavy BBQ and decadent potato salad that feels more like deviled egg dressing, and you’ll never want another kind of bird again.

Tip: While you wait for your order, head around the corner to Domino Sound, where an impressive Afro-pop, reggae, and brass band record collection is both sampled and sold. Once you have your chicken, take it 10 blocks north to City Park, where you can sprawl out near the museum. (McHardys doesn’t have seating and is only open until 5 pm, so plan accordingly).


Pascal’s Manale Restaurant
Image: Management/Instagram

Gulf oysters are the opposite of dainty northeastern oysters. They can be as large as a saucer, and are incredibly meaty. What makes them so unique is that they are a true reminder of where they are from: With each shell pop, you will be reminded of this sweet, swampy, steamy corner of Louisiana’s southernmost city. Briney, metallic, and ever-so-slightly sweet, they are the perfect companion to a Gin martini and good company.

The old wooden bar, the servers in ties, and the dining room filled with white linen-clad tables tell you this is an old-school red sauce joint. You’re not here for manicotti, though. It is the oysters and their shuckers you came for. Buy chips with the bartenders and head over to the tiny marble counter behind it, where you’ll get fast, fresh gulf treasure and an earful of information about this historic city.

Charbroiled oysters

Charbroiled oysters deserve a category all their own. Making great use of the large number of gulf varieties, these half shells are topped with cheese, breadcrumbs, lemon, garlic, and parsley, turning what was once a light appetizer into a meal all on its own. As their name suggests, they get a fast, hot pass through the broiler, making the topping slightly melty and the oyster perfectly poached.

Casamento’s is the kind of restaurant they hope to recreate on movie sets. The space is long and thin, with only a dozen tables, and is tiled in green and white from floor to ceiling. It’s flanked by a bar that runs down the entire length of the front room. You want to keep ordering food so you can stay and revel in the beauty, the smells wafting from the kitchen, and the line of fascinating people.

Tip: Order a beer as you wait for a table, then sit up against the bar to take in the sights.


Napoleon House
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

To the untrained eye, a muffuletta looks awfully familiar. The sesame-flecked bread, provolone, ham, and salami immediately remind you of an Italian sub. It begs the question, ‘What’s the fuss?’ The fuss is the crunchy, salty, acidic olive salad packed inside. And even more, the way the signature round loaf—somewhere between ciabatta and focaccia—soaks up the bright olive oil it is slicked with.

The muffuletta was created by Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Part deli and part Italian specialty goods store, it was an oasis in a stretch of late-night cocktail bars and flamboyant daiquiri shops. Sadly, Central Grocery suffered significant damages at the hands of Hurricane Ida in 2021. Their reopening is imminent, but in the meantime, the Napoleon Bar serves a mean muffuletta that is a worthy substitute. Belly up to the bar with this larger-than-life sandwich and a stiff Sazerac, and you’ll have yourself a perfect New Orleans evening.


The pillowy beignet (ben-yay) is truly something to behold. This powdered sugar-dusted rectangle that fits neatly into your palm and is always served warm is neither a donut nor a zeppole. It is another thing entirely.

Don’t be intimidated by the throngs of tourists that wrap around Cafe Du Monde’s flagship store along the French Market corridor. The line moves swiftly, and the people-watching is top-notch. Coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages are the only other item on offer here. If you’re looking for the whole experience, grab a cup of the chicory brew to pair with your beignet.

Tip: If you want to eat beignets like the locals, hop in an Uber and cross the Mississippi to Gretna on the West Bank. There, Antoine’s bakery has a glazed version, made to order while you wait in the car. Get a half dozen; they go down easy.

King cake

Image: RLS46212/Tripadvisor

The fabled and highly sought-after king cake is worth tracking down if you visit New Orleans during Carnival season. Twisted into a ring and laced with cinnamon, these chewy pastries are only made and served from Kings Day in early January to Mardi Gras Day (aka the eve of Ash Wednesday) in February. While fillings and toppings know no bounds, the most “classic” version is iced and decorated in Mardi Gras colors—green, purple, and yellow. The most famous of the traditions surrounding this delicacy is the hiding of a plastic baby inside, an icon of baby Jesus, which bestows the good fortune on its finder of buying the next cake.

The best King Cakes can be a bit elusive. To increase your chances of sampling at least one, I want to give you options: Dong Phuong’s cream cheese King Cake is among the most revered pieces of food in all of New Orleans. The Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans East sells out fast but is worth showing up early and waiting for. The King Cake Hub, a roving shop serving as a drop-off for a dozen bakeries around the city – including Randazzo’s and Haydel’s – is another excellent place to peruse a wider selection.

Tip: Killer Po’ boys on Dauphine Street serve Dong Phuong king cake by the slice. They sell out fast, so go when they open for a ham and pimento cheese po’ boy and ask for the goods immediately.


Yakamein’s beginnings are a bit uncertain, but its ability to withstand changing tides in the Crescent City is worth taking note of. Most certainly derived from Yat-Gaw-Mein, this soy, and Worcestershire spiked broth, made most often with spaghetti noodles and topped with a hard-boiled egg and scallions, is said to have made its way here with African American soldiers returning from the Korean War or the influx of Chinese immigrants coming to build the railroad to Houston. In either case, this comforting, no-nonsense dish, nicknamed ‘Old Sober,’ is right at home in a place where over-imbibing is the law of the land.

Where to get it: Ms. Linda ‘The Yakamein Lady’

Yakamein isn’t the most widely available food on this list, but it is worth seeking out for its belly-filling deliciousness. There are a few restaurants that riff on Yakamein, but the simplest version, which I fell in love with and that the city knows so well, is the kind served in a styrofoam bowl out of the back of Ms. Linda Green’s truck. Ms. Linda posts her ‘pop up’ locations on Facebook, and they span Grocery store parking lots, museum grounds, Mardi Gras routes, and college campuses.

Tip: Swing by a corner store for chips, drinks, and some cash, then find Ms. Linda and park yourself nearby. She is full of stories and will, if you’re complimentary of her delicious broth and slurp it down quickly, ladle more over your noodles.


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