There’s no doubt about it: New Orleans is one of the top cities in America when it comes to cuisine. The Big Easy is world-renowned for its blend of cultures, fabulous music, and diet-busting food. While there are the touristy spots -- including crowd-pleasers Café Du Monde, Commander’s Palace, and Brennan’s -- New Orleans is also home to lesser-known eateries well worth checking out.
Here are some of the Big Easy’s culinary hidden gems.
With its festive, quirky atmosphere and incredible menu, Jacques-Imo’s Café is worth a visit (or even two) during your time in New Orleans. Located on Oak Street in the city’s Uptown neighborhood, this place is a local favorite, so you’ll want to arrive early. Even then, prepare to wait a while for a table. The bar opens into the dining room, and often, you’ll be escorted through the bustling kitchen to your table. We’ve seen this place so packed that the owner pulled his pickup truck up to the sidewalk, threw a plastic table in its bed, and served four customers a full meal there! We’re not sure if that was up to code -- or even legal -- but it gives you an idea of just how tasty the dishes are, and how laid-back the service is.
From alligator cheesecake (not a dessert!) to fried grits, po’boys, and, of course, gumbo, you’ll get a true taste of southern Louisiana at this spot. Wash it all down with an Abita beer or two, and you’ll have a dining experience you won’t soon forget.
Sometimes, even when you’re on vacation, all you want is a spot to settle in, grab some beers and pub grub, and watch the big game. If this is the case, go where the locals hang out: Cooter Brown’s. This neighborhood watering hole, located in the Black Pearl area near the Riverbend, features more than 80 beers on tap, a good menu, and a laid-back vibe. But it’s really known for its raw bar. That’s where freshly harvested Louisiana Gulf oysters are popped open right in front of you, plopped on a tray of ice, and are ready for eating within minutes. Dress these delicious, briny treats with fresh lemon, mix your own cocktail sauce to optimum spice with horseradish, and slurp away!
To get your taco fix in New Orleans, head to Taqueria Corona on Magazine Street. This is the perfect place to go after exploring Magazine’s many shops and boutiques. The neighborhood taqueria is lauded for its fantastic fish tacos and top-shelf margaritas, and everything is made fresh to order. While Taqueria Corona has grown since its founding in 1988 to include two other locations, it retains its commitment to both quality and service -- and its homey feel. The prices are quite reasonable, and a stop at Taqueria Corona will leave you full and ready for the rest of your day’s adventures.
The French- and Japanese-inspired N7, located in the Bywater neighborhood, is a true hidden gem. Tucked away in an industrial cul-de-sac behind a tall wooden privacy fence, the restaurant is barely marked. Once you’re in, though, the magic happens.
N7 -- named for the Nationale 7 highway that once ran from Paris to the Italian border -- is a delight. Its wine list is focused on smaller European winemakers; there is indoor, outdoor, and garden seating; and the fabulous menu features savory tartines, house-made charcuterie, and a number of vegetable-forward dishes. For a special Francophile treat, order a can of imported seafood including sardines or escargot; the restaurant calls this “can-to-table service.” Meals are served tapas-style, so be sure to hang on to a menu in case you decide to order another round.
Nine Roses Café
As we mentioned before, New Orleans is a melting pot. Large groups of Vietnamese people came to the city after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and have left their culinary mark on the Big Easy. To sample some of their best dishes, head to Nine Roses Café in the French Quarter.
At Nine Roses, the salads, rice and noodle entrées, and traditional pho (Vietnamese beef broth) are menu favorites. The first location in Gretna was founded by Tu Nguyen more than 25 years ago. Her children have since taken up the mantle and opened a sister café in the Quarter, but every once in a while, Mama Tu will show up in the kitchen. This is a place where family traditions and love for good food are nearly palpable. When you’re ready for a break from gumbo, this is the perfect place to visit.
You simply must try po’boys while you’re in New Orleans. These massive sandwiches, served on crusty white bread and usually featuring fried seafood, are as popular as gumbo, étouffée, and dirty rice. For a contemporary twist on these gut-busting classics, head to Killer PoBoys on Dauphine Street or its smaller pop-up version inside the Erin Rose Bar. Both are located in the Quarter. Fillings for these fancier po’boys include roasted sweet potatoes, seared shrimp, pork belly, and house-made chorizo. Trust us -- this is the best place to eat after a late night out!
High Hat Café
To get a true taste of the Mississippi Delta and southern Louisiana, head to High Hat Café in Uptown. This unassuming but amazing neighborhood spot features authentic cuisine at reasonable prices. Don’t skip the shrimp remoulade or the fried chicken and catfish, and if you’re lucky enough to be there on a Monday, be sure to order the traditional red beans and rice. The Delta tamales and pimento cheese are surefire Southern crowd-pleasers as well.
High Hat also serves up a weekend brunch that includes chicken and waffles, corned beef hash, and cornmeal pancakes. There’s also a full bar and wine list -- this is New Orleans, after all!
For classic Creole cuisine with modern flair, Brigtsen’s Restaurant in Uptown can’t be beat. Tucked away in a Victorian cottage, the restaurant has won dozens of awards since it opened in 1986. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the seafood here really shines, as do the game dishes like rabbit and duck. Most items are locally sourced from nearby farms and waters. The restaurant’s offerings include classic bread pudding, pecan pie with caramel sauce, and lemon icebox crème brûlée, so make sure to save plenty of room for dessert!
North Broad Seafood
Have your heart set on a boiled crawfish feast? North Broad Seafood has got you covered. It’s a grab-and-go place in Mid-City that offers a selection of boiled seafood plus side dishes like corn and potatoes, gumbo, grits, and red beans and rice. It also offers a variety of beers and sodas, and you’ll pay for your seafood by the pound. Keep in mind that there’s no table service, but the food is terrific, and North Broad is a hands-down favorite with the locals. Don’t forget to grab wipes to clean up your hands after your meal. Ask for them at the counter.
Sometimes you just need to satisfy your sweet tooth, and Bittersweet Confections on Magazine Street in the Warehouse District is the perfect place to do just that. While the bakery does quite a bit of custom-cake business, it also offers truffles, chocolates, cupcakes, cookies, and tarts. During Carnival season, Bittersweet also cranks out king cakes, a New Orleans favorite. Grab a few pastries to go, or stay for a cup of coffee and savor your sweet treat in the shop. Either way, you’ll enjoy some of the best dessert the city has to offer. These are vacation calories, after all -- they don’t count!
Headed to New Orleans? Check out these eight little-known attractions and these 12 totally free things to do in the city. If you want to hear some great jazz music while you're there, be sure to stop by some of these venues.