Neil and I took advantage of free flights (on Aeroplan points) and my March Break to head down to NOLA for the first time for both of us. Here’s a brief(ish) roundup of some of the memorable places we ate in New Orleans. And yes, I did bring my big camera with me to dinner. Fear not, there are more posts to come!
On our first night in New Orleans, we didn’t want to be fussing with choosing a restaurant for local specialties. It had been a long day (that’s a story for another post, believe you me!) and we were pretty tired and hungry. Pizza seemed like a good choice and we were excited to read that Mona Lisa’s was where the locals go. We high-tailed it over there after checking into our hotel to find our first NOLA restaurant queue – something we would get very used to over the course of our trip. We put or name on the list and headed across the road to a bar to order our first “to go” drinks. Yes, in New Orleans, you can drink legally in the street as long as you are drinking from a plastic cup. Oh yes. My kinda town, especially after the day we’d had!
We enjoyed our thin crust pizzas and the friendly atmosphere.
An excellent end to a long day and a great New Orleans welcome to the city! It’s situated a little off the Bourbon street “strip” but a great alternative for those not up for the sometimes wild nights of the town.
1212 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA 70116-2555, United States
I’ll just let the sign do the talking, shall I?
We had two visits to Café du Monde during our trip – once for takeaway:
(yes that’s Neil doing a good job of not getting the powdered/ icing sugar all over himself – no easy feat!)
On our last morning, we headed there again for breakfast, this time, sitting in the outdoor/ covered pavilion.
If you don’t want to wait on (yet another) queue, either go early or in the wee hours or else do what we did for takeaway – head to the right-hand side of the building and nab a waiter and order from him or her. You will get your order much faster than even in you wait in the “to go” line. Small café au lait (coffee/ chicory and hot milk) $2.14 and 1 order of beignets (which is actually 3 of them) $2.14. I made the mistake of ordering two beignets on our first go around and we so couldn’t finish the 6 we were brought! Second time around, I tried to order one between the two of us but we were given two orders. Clearly it was unthinkable that we might share…
We happened upon Central Grocery on our first day in the city. Actually that’s not true. I already knew I wanted to check it out and after our first foray into the deadly Hurricane drinks (more on that later), we were in need of some sustenance. Enter Central Grocery where the traditional muffaletta sandwiches are said to be “manhole cover” sized. Sounds like just the thing to eat on the tails of a Hurricane.
This traditional round-loafed sandwich is usually filled with ham, salami, mozzarella and green olives. Unless you haven’t eaten for a week and don’t plan to, order a half. Or share a half. We were lucky enough to happen upon a lull in business (meaning, no queue), but even if there is one, wait. You won’t regret it!
923 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA 70112, United States
You can’t come to New Orleans without trying some gumbo, right? This dish takes its name from the African word meaning okra, and refers to numerous stew-like soups, made with seafood or meat and seasoned, served over white rice. We wandered by Gumbo Shop on our first day and really liked the look of it – not too pretentious and certainly evoking a bygone era, with unpretentious prices to match. Every second restaurant offers gumbo on its menu so it’s not a question of IF you’re going to try it but where! Gumbo Shop seemed as good a choice as any. We wandered there at 8pm on a Sunday night and waited in line for about 40 minutes. Queuing for restaurants in New Orleans is part of your everyday routine as a tourist, it seems but you always end up chatting with your queue neighbours and it’s all rather jolly. Noone seems to be in a hurry.
Seated in a cute table for two overlooking the street and its antics, we were served promptly and the service remained prompt throughout our meal. Indeed we were in and out in about an hour. It felt vaguely like a cafeteria, only with more exotic food!
For starters we ordered a cup of the seafood-okra gumbo ($4.99) which was tasty, though the shrimp were certainly tiny and had that quality of having sat around in the gumbo pot for a while. A cup to share was perfect – couldn’t eat too much of this!
For mains, we shared the crawfish étouffée ($15.99)
and the Creole combination platter (shrimp creole, jambalaya and red beans with rice) for $12.99.
As you can see, this is NOT photogenic food at all, rather sloppy and messy. We enjoyed this meal (the beans and rice were really smokey and flavourful), though I found the crawfish a little too “fishy” tasting. I am normally ok with shellfish and adore lobster but this was a little strong for my liking. We did not finish any of the dishes – it’s certainly not “light” in flavour or volume. I would recommend checking out Gumbo Shop if you are looking for some local flavours and a more local price.
630 Saint Peter Street
New Orleans, LA 70116, United States
When I knew we were coming to New Orleans, I knew we would have to try at least one “Po’Boy” during our trip. There are varying accounts of the history of the Po’Boy – a baguette sandwich filled with any number of delicious things like roast beef, shrimp, oysters and the famous “debris” (basically the crunchy parts of the roast beef that fall into the gravy and are served slathered gravy and all on the bread – to. die. for.) Some argue the name comes from the time of the 1929 streetcar strike where the submarine-style sandwiches were served to the strikers, the “poor boys” – in Louisiana dialect, this became “po’boy”.
Mothers was suggested to my by Manny Augello, a friend of a friend on Twitter and a chef in Lafayette, LA. This was a stellar recommendation. I mean, any restaurant that can make such claims as the ones below has my custom, no question!
We went early, around 5.30pm before we headed out to line up (again) in the hopes of catching a show at Preservation Hall (more on that in another post!) and again, we lucked out in the queue factor – none to speak of and we were sitting enjoying a Ferdi Special (to share), some (more) red beans and rice and a Dixie Beer in around 20 minutes.
Look how juicy the Ferdi Special is:
The procedure, for those of you who might visit, involves grabbing a menu, lining up, placing your order and only sitting down once you have paid. Don’t do it wrong. Someone will tell you off. Again, don’t be put off by the queue. It’s worth the wait.
401 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-3207, United States
I had spied El Gato Negro early on in my perusal of the guide book and we finally ended up here on our last full day. A fairly small place situated at the far end of the French Market, it’s worth the walk, even if the Market really is mostly just stalls filled with tacky souvenirs.
We started with the complimentary tortilla chips and the house dip as well as an order of guacamole made tableside:
I opted for the pulled pork corn taco ($3.75 for the “base taco” then 0.75c – $1.75 per extra topping) with sour cream, green tomatillo salsa and cheese with a side of beans (yeah, because I needed that…).
This was seriously one of the best tacos I have ever eaten, apart from perhaps some in Panajachel in Guatemala. Way too large to fold and eat like a normal taco but delicious with my knife and fork nonetheless.
Neil ordered the chorizo corn taco with similar accompaniments as well as some pico de gallo salsa. Again, exceptionally good, this taco.
We really enjoyed our little respite from the crazy streets on New Orleans in the tranquil little courtyard…
and also from the Southern food. Not that we disliked it but the weather was pretty warm and the local cuisine is just so heavy and you just can’t beat a good taco and a Dos Equis on a hot day, right?
81 French Market Place
New Orleans, LA 70116-2617, United States
So there you have it – some recommendations and things to expect if you ever visit NOLA. Don’t worry – you’ll walk a lot so you can justify all that deliciousness!