What to eat in New Orleans: 10 must-try local delights

From the French Quarter to the Mississippi River, explore the city and discover the flavors that have made New Orleans a premier foodie destination.

No city in the world is quite like New Orleans, and experiencing its unique culture is like taking a culinary journey through the heart of Louisiana. From Creole classics like gumbo and jambalaya to fresh seafood and beignets dusted with powdered sugar, the possibilities for culinary exploration are endless. Many of the city's most famous foods are influenced by its history as a French colony, utilizing a wide range of spices and flavors from around the world.

For those lucky enough to call New Orleans home, eating together with family and friends is an essential part of socializing and celebrating life. Whether it's an elaborate feast or simple street food, you're sure to find delicious and unforgettable foods to try in this vibrant culinary capital. So pull up a chair, grab some hot sauce, and laissez les bon temps rouler—let the good times roll!

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1. Get your gumbo on

Deeply rooted in the region's history and culture, gumbo originated from West Africa and has evolved with local influences to become the culinary delight we know today. Created from roux, vegetables, and meat or seafood—as well as cajun seasonings and spices—the flavors can vary greatly depending on the recipe. Thanks to its adaptability, gumbo can be found anywhere from corner cafes to high-end restaurants throughout the city.

How to eat the best gumbo in New Orleans

Visit five distinct eateries on the Afternoon Food History Walking Tour and sample authentic gumbo and other Creole classics in the historic French Quarter.

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2. Discover authentic jambalaya

Originating in New Orleans, jambalaya is a popular food known for its blend of various cultural influences, including African, French, and Spanish. This creolized cuisine, traditionally made with rice, sausage, and an array of seafood or poultry, has transformed into several variations across Louisiana and continues to be a staple in the region.

How to eat the best jambalaya in New Orleans

Combine your jambalaya with a refreshing drink on the Combo Cocktail and Food History Tour that takes you to some of the most iconic eateries in New Orleans.

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3. Grab a po' boy to go

Po' boys have been a staple of New Orleans cuisine since the late 1800s when brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin opened up a sandwich shop to help support striking streetcar workers. The sandwich, which consists of French bread filled with fried shrimp, oysters, roast beef, or ham, has become so beloved that there is even an annual festival dedicated to them—the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival.

How to eat the best po’ boy in New Orleans

Join the French Quarter Food Tour with a Local to get your hands on your very own po' boy in the neighborhood that's home to the city's most historic dining establishments.

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4. Experience the flavors of Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters Rockefeller features oysters topped with a buttery mixture of herbs, breadcrumbs, and other flavorful ingredients that are just as rich as their namesake, John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest American of all time. Today, Oysters Rockefeller remains a favorite among seafood lovers due to its unique blend of flavors and textures that epitomize the best of New Orleans cuisine.

How to eat the best Oysters Rockefeller in New Orleans

Try Oysters Rockefeller and much more on the Cocktails and Brunch Crawl and enjoy a mix of Creole and Cajun flavors to kick off your afternoon in the French Quarter.

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5. Indulge in beautiful beignets

These beloved fried pastries were first introduced to the region by French colonizers during the 18th century. Now a staple throughout the city, beignets can be found in most restaurants and cafes, where they can be enjoyed alongside a cafe au lait as part of an indulgent breakfast or midday snack.

How to eat the best beignets in New Orleans

Explore the city one beignet at a time on the Guided Underground Donut & Beignet Walking Tour where you'll visit eateries that give Cafe Du Monde a run for its money.

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6. Embrace tradition with red beans and rice

Red beans and rice has a rich history that dates back to the city's Creole culture. Due to its affordability, it became a go-to dish in working-class communities. It has since become an iconic symbol of the city's cuisine. Its popularity even led to the creation of Red Beans and Rice Day, celebrated every Monday in New Orleans.

How to eat the best red beans and rice in New Orleans

Fill your plate with red beans and rice on the 3-hour Garden District Food and History Tour where you'll get a taste of authentic Creole and Cajun foods.

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7. Surprise yourself with king cake

King cake is a traditional pastry and an integral part of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration. With roots in the Christian celebration of Epiphany, this colorful treat features a small figurine representing baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. Whoever finds it is crowned "king" or "queen" for the day.

How to eat the best king cake in New Orleans

On the Bywater District Food, Beer, and History Tour, explore the bohemian district where you'll find freshly baked king cakes during the Mardi Gras season at Bywater Bakery.

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8. Sip on turtle soup

The unique flavors and textures of turtle soup have made it one of the most popular dishes in Southern Louisiana. Typically made from snapping turtles or soft-shelled turtles, turtle soup was once considered a luxury item only enjoyed by the upper classes. Today, many eateries across New Orleans offer versions of turtle soup on their menus for all to enjoy.

How to eat the best turtle soup in New Orleans

Start your day in New Orleans in style at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch Buffet where you'll get a taste of the finer things including freshly-prepared turtle soup.

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9. Dig into a crawfish boil

Crawfish were first introduced to Louisiana during colonial times by the Acadian people and have since become an integral part of Cajun and Creole culture. Harvested from the marshes during spring, these freshwater crustaceans are boiled in large pots alongside potatoes, onions, and corn. The finished product is a messy yet delicious feast of cultural significance to New Orleans' cuisine.

How to eat the best boiled crawfish in New Orleans

Crawfish boils, oysters, and more are on the menu during New Orleans' Lower Garden Food Tour where you'll experience regional specialties while learning about the area's history.

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10. Don't forget Bananas Foster

Created by Chef Paul Blangé for Brennan's Restaurant, Bananas Foster is a classic dessert dish that originated in New Orleans in the 1950s. It consists of ripe bananas cooked in a caramelized mixture of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum and then flambeed at the table with more rum. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the city and is now a must-try for a sweet treat in the city.

How to eat the best Bananas Foster in New Orleans

There's no better place to try Bananas Foster than at the place where it all began: Brennan's Restaurant. Top off a meal with this delicious dessert to experience a piece of history.

FAQs

What are the must-try traditional dishes in New Orleans?

To start your culinary journey in New Orleans, dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and po'boys are the perfect introduction to the complex flavors of the city. To top off any meal and satisfy your sweet tooth, beignets and Bananas Fosters are both Southern Louisiana specialties.

What are the best food tours in New Orleans?

To taste a little bit of everything, the Combo Cocktail and Food History Tour takes you to iconic eateries and bars in New Orleans, where you'll sample award-winning food and drinks. For a family-friendly experience, the Guided Underground Donut & Beignet Walking Tour offers sweet treats to both young and old at several iconic NOLA locations.

What are the top local food markets in New Orleans to visit?

The French Market, which has been a fixture in New Orleans since 1791, offers you everything from fresh produce and seafood to local crafts and souvenirs. Another must-visit market is the Crescent City Farmers Market, which operates weekly in several different locations around the city. For traditional Creole cuisine, the St. Roch Market is an excellent choice, with over a dozen unique vendors.

What is the best time of year to visit New Orleans for food lovers?

In summer, the city hosts its annual food and music festival: the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. During this event, top chefs from around the country come together to showcase their culinary skills and offer unique dishes that highlight the best of Creole cuisine. Alternatively, autumn is when seafood is in season, which means fresher oysters and shrimp as well as seasonal delights such as gumbo and jambalaya.

How much should I budget for food in New Orleans?

On average, you can expect to spend about $55-$70 per day on meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The city's signature Creole and Cajun cuisine comes at a slightly higher price point compared to other delicacies. Regardless of your budget constraints, there are many ways to taste New Orleans' culinary delights without breaking the bank.