Big Eatin’ in the Big Easy: Must-Try Foods in New Orleans

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I knew New Orleans was an incredible melting pot of cultures, but I only realized how diverse the food scene is once I researched must-try foods in New Orleans. From Cajun to Creole to a surprise Vietnamese influence, this city casts a wide culinary net with layers and layers of global influences.

Must-Try Foods In New Orleans: Culinary Influences


Cajun refers to French Canadians who came from Canada and settled in rural Louisiana. Their food is known for its smoked meats and combines flavors from French and Southern cuisine. Cajun food utilizes local food from the land, so it has lots of seafood and food from the bayous.


Creole is a term that refers to native-born citizens of New Orleans, so it can encompass a wide variety of people groups, such as French, Spanish, African, and Native American, to name a few. Locals invented this term to distinguish themselves from the other American citizens living in New Orleans. Creole food typically utilizes tomato or roux-based sauces and has more African, European, and Native American influences.


The footprint of slavery is everywhere in New Orleans, and the city has many African and Caribbean influences. Slave traders forced many Africans from their homes in the Senegambia, Benin, and Congo regions. From red beans and rice to fried chicken, okra, and gumbo (and how could we forget jazz music), African culture has left an indelible mark on the food and culture of this city.

New Orleans is a vast melting pot influenced by so many other people groups besides what I have listed here. Check out this website, which gives a brief history of the people that make up New Orleans.

Now that you know a little about the city’s diverse history, here is my list of must-try foods in New Orleans and a few restaurants you can’t miss.

Must-Try Foods in New Orleans: Seafood


If you are heading to New Orleans to try an iconic crawfish boil, go in the spring. Because we went in October, we were out of luck. I can’t wait to return someday for a steaming heap of these little mini-lobster creatures.

Seafood Boil

Since we struck out with crawfish, we compromised by having a tasty snow crab boil at the French Market Restaurant, a “100% from scratch Creole kitchen.” Washed down with cold beer and a Sazerac, this was the perfect afternoon snack. The potatoes, sausage, and corn were perfectly seasoned, and I almost liked them more than the crab.

Barbecue Shrimp

Next on our list of must-try foods in New Orleans is good ol’ barbecue shrimp. Marcus chose the restaurant Pascal’s Manale, a Creole-Italian eatery, at the recommendation of a friend. While the barbecue shrimp was good, what I loved most about this restaurant was the oyster bar.


Raw Oysters

Located in the restaurant’s waiting area, guests can stand at the oyster bar and converse with the legendary oyster shuckers who shuck with the ease and confidence one can only acquire after 25 years of experience. Check out the video of him on the restaurant website, shucking like a boss. I had a few local oysters while we waited for our table.

Charbroiled Oysters

If I could only choose one place to eat in New Orleans, this would be it for me. I love oysters raw but had never had them charbroiled before. These oysters are broiled over an open flame, drowned in a buttery garlic sauce, and topped with cheese. It was heavenly. Even if you don’t like oysters, you will love this dish. We liked it so much that we ordered a second portion.

charbroiled oysters at Drago's are at the top of my must try foods in new orleans

Gumbo/Shrimp and Grits/Turtle Soup

Since our time was limited, we had to check off three big must-try foods in New Orleans in one meal. We had dinner at Tableau, a restaurant known for its excellent balcony seating, but we were seated in the picturesque courtyard patio.

First up was an appetizer of turtle soup. While it won’t win a beauty contest, it is flavorful and unique.

Marcus ordered seafood gumbo, and I had creamy shrimp and grits. Both were so delicious with rich sauces, but the desserts stole the show.

Must Try Foods in New Orleans: Sweets

Cajun Custard Pie, aka Tarte a la Bouille

If you go to Tableau, you must order the creme brûlée, which they serve on a plate. This technique is genius because if you serve creme brûlée on a wide, shallow surface, you have much more real estate to create that charred, sugary, crunchy topping. Friends, we have been doing creme brûlée wrong in our tiny, deep dishes.

But the best surprise was the tarte a la bouille, aka Cajun custard pie. The Runaway Spoon describes it as ” a sugar cookie crust filled with rich vanilla pudding.” This creamy dessert, drizzled with caramel sauce, could easily compete with the creme brulee, and I highly recommend both.


Obviously, you can’t go to New Orleans and not have a beignet. These tasty, fried donuts blanketed in powdered sugar are delicious any time of day, so grab some for breakfast, as a late-night snack, or whenever you need to satisfy your craving.

I truly could not tell you the difference between the beignets from Cafe Beignet on Bourbon Street or from Cafe du Monde. Both restaurants serve pillowy, fluffy, and delicious beignets, but if I had to choose, I would recommend Cafe Beignet purely because the patio is more picturesque.

King Cake French Toast

This must-try food in New Orleans was a fantastic surprise because I didn’t even know King Cake French toast was a thing. If you want a decadent, unforgettable breakfast, head to Toast for one of their over-the-top French toast plates.

stuffed french toast is definitely on the list of must-try foods in new orleans

For a truly New Orleans flair, you must order the King Cake French Toast. Covered in caramel sauce and a generous portion of purple and green sprinkles and stuffed with cinnamon cream cheese, this indulgent breakfast is one you want to make sure to eat.

Must-Try Foods in New Orleans: Savory


If you like sandwiches made of fresh French bread, stuffed with your meat of choice, and slathered with sauce, the po’boy is your new best friend. Legend has it that this sandwich was created in New Orleans during a streetcar strike in order to feed the “poor boys” on the picket line. You can basically stuff it with anything you want: my choice was a spicy shrimp from NOLA Po’Boys. Crispy shrimp covered in a creamy sauce tucked into soft bread was the perfect late-night snack to cap off a night on Bourbon Street. I have no pictures because it was 1 am, and no one needs to see that.

Fried Chicken

For our southern fried chicken, we headed to the award-winning Willie Mae’s Scotch House on the recommendation of our Uber driver. Although it is a bit outside of the French Quarter, it is pretty close, and it is well worth your time. (At the time of this writing, Willie Mae’s is temporarily closed. Check the website for the latest updates.)

Look at the crispy perfection of this skin. We ordered the beans and potato salad as sides and polished them off quickly. It was finger-lickin’ good.

Must-Try Foods In New Orleans: Drinks

Now that we have covered our bases with what to eat, let’s talk about the necessary New Orleans libations.


Knows as the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac is an iconic New Orleans drink. Here is how it got its start in the Big Easy. Around 1850, the French were importing their cognac to New Orleans. Antoine Peychaud discovered this cognac and paired it with his famous Peychaud bitters to make the first Sazerac cocktail. Today bartenders substitute whiskey for cognac but it is still a tasty, belly-warming drink.


The Hurricane was invented in New Orleans at Pat O’Brien’s bar during World War II when bartenders substituted rum for whiskey due to a whiskey shortage. This passion fruit, orange juice, and grenadine-rich cocktail is named after the glass it is served in, which is shaped like a hurricane lamp. 

Pimm’s Cup

In the 1940s, the owner of the Napoleon House restaurant in New Orleans took Pimm’s, a classic gin-based dark brown spirit with notes of spices and citrus, and “gave it a NOLA twist by adding lemonade, 7-Up, and a cucumber garnish.” This is a drink that I am glad I tried once, but don’t need to try again. Not sure if it was the murky brown look or the spices, but one was enough for me, although it was light and refreshing.

Frozen Irish Coffee

Molly’s at the Market is widely believed to be the home of the famous frozen Irish coffee of NOLA, invented by Jim Monaghan Sr in the 1980s. This boozy milkshake is sweet and filling, and the bar has a great local energy.

Sugary Daquiris on Bourbon Street

Ew, is it even a trip to NOLA without one of these horrendous slushy drinks from Bourbon Street? I got the tiniest one possible and consumed probably a lifetime’s worth of sugar while drinking it, but hey, when in Rome…

Must Try Restaurants in New Orleans


It doesn’t matter what you get at Brennan’s; it is going to be delicious. I LOVED this place for the decor and ambiance alone, but our breakfast was also so good. You must also check out their cotton candy dessert: a giant cloud of cotton candy surrounding another dessert. You can view pictures of this incredible confection on their website. Home to the original Bananas Foster, flambéed table-side, Brennan’s is worth returning to for dinner and dessert.

Court of Two Sisters

This beautiful restaurant has a great brunch and is known for its gorgeous patio. Make sure to book in advance. We could not dine here but enjoyed walking through the patio and grabbing a drink at the bar.

Commander’s Palace

A local legend, this restaurant is known for its fancy dress code, legendary jazz brunch, star-studded roster of chefs, and bright blue exterior. We didn’t make it here this time but will definitely make reservations next time!

Carousel Bar

Who doesn’t want a drink in a rotating bar in a haunted hotel? It was packed when we went but we at least got to walk through.

Must-Try Foods in New Orleans: For Next Time!

I couldn’t try everything I wanted since we were only there for a long weekend. Here are the must-try foods at the top of my list for our next trip.


This noodle soup, nicknamed “Old Sober” fuses Chinese and New Orleans cuisine and is apparently great for a hangover.


Snoballs, or New Orleans shaved ice, are an extra refreshing treat on a hot day, but we didn’t see anyone with them when we visited in October. Save this for summer visits.


New Orleans has a strong sandwich game, and the muffuletta only adds to it. A Sicilian man, Lupo Salvadore, invented the Italian sandwich in New Orleans at Central Grocery. This sandwich is spread with olive dressing, ham, salami, and provolone cheese and served on a sesame-seed roll. 

Cafe Brulot

Yet another tasty drink, the Cafe Brulot at Antoine’s is a must try drink in New Orleans purely for the show of it. If you like your coffee full of liquor and then set on fire, this is the drink for you.

To wrap up…

A list of must-try foods in New Orleans could go on and on, with such a rich food scene to draw from. This barely scratches the surface but is enough to get you started on a weekend in New Orleans! Bon appetit!

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