Seeing all the Mardi Gras posts around the interwebs right now, I am flooded with memories of my first trip to New Orleans a few years ago. I had such a blast exploring the food and culture in what’s since become one of my favorite American cities. I had a blast, and hopefully I’ll be able to visit again sometime outside of Mardi Gras. (It was fun, but definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type thing.)
Like any adventure, there are plenty of spots I didn’t get to hit that I wish I could have: Chef Sue Zemanick killed it on one of the episodes of “Knife Fight” I judged last year, and I hope to see what she has cooking over at Gautreau’s sometime soon. I also wasn’t able to lock down a table at the classic NOLA establishment Commander’s Palace due to all the Mardi Gras traffic. I also didn’t get a chance to hang out much in Bywater, which I’ve been intrigued by since one of my writers did a travel piece on the area back when I was editing Brand X.
But I did get to eat a lot of great local dishes. Oh! And if you’re in Los Angeles, you can still get a taste of the Big Easy. There are some great spots around town — in fact, it’s becoming a trend to do NOLA-style bars and restaurants here. Here’s a list of my favorites locally, and below my list of favorite spots in the Big Easy:
James Beard Award winner Donald Link served up one of my favorite meals during my trip to NOLA, including incredible gumbo and pork parts of all kinds. (The restaurant is called Cochon, or pig in French, after all.) Link does all the Creole/Cajun classics at his cozy restaurant, like fried gator tail or pan roasted shrimp with cornbread & country ham butter, and the incredible turkey, kale and black eyed pea gumbo pictured above. What’s really wonderful is that all of these Louisiana classics are done using local produce and proteins. They also had fantastic cocktails. It was definitely my splurge meal, but so well-worth it.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
I know, this is culinary blasphemy for some, but fried food just makes me feel icky. The exception to this rule has always been fried chicken. I can’t get enough of the stuff. And I’ve never had better than at Willie Mae’s in NOLA. Seriously you guys, it’s perfection. The breading is just so crackly and salty and delicious, and the meat inside just impossibly juicy and tender. I literally at half a bird to myself. No, I am not ashamed. And you won’t be either — unless you’re in New Orleans and don’t take the journey to Treme for this James Beard Award earning joint. Trust me, it’s not to be missed. Apparently there’s a more central location that just opened in Uptown, too, but I’d say head to the OG to take a peek at the classic.
Acme Oyster House
I am a sucker for oysters. It’s actually a problem, actually. I shouldn’t be trusted around those lovely little bivalves alone. Order a dozen and share them with me, and you’re lucky if you get more than one. So naturally this renowned home to Louisiana seafood was a must, and it lived up to the hype. I just love divey old spots with history, and Acme Oyster House — which opened in 1910 — is just that. They do po’boys and fried oysters, but I like mine naked, or with a splash of lemon at most.
Central Grocery and Cafe Du Monde
I realize that these are sort of “touristy” spots, but again, I am all about the classics when visiting a historic city like New Orleans. Central Grocery is known for creating the muffaletta — a massive, oval-shaped focaccia-like loaf split and stuffed with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone – perfect for toting around for a picnic. (You can easily split one with your travel buddies, if you have one.) And Cafe Du Monde, I mean, COME ON! Is there any doubt that you have to try their beignets and chicory coffee. They are to die for.
The Spotted Cat
Not only does The Spotted Cat have the most amazing live jazz nightly, but they also had pupusas in the back. Being from SoCal, I really miss Latin American cooking when I’m on the road, so when I saw a woman making fresh, cheese and pepper stuffed El Salvadorian street food out of the back of this club, I was elated. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was the taste of home I was looking for. Plus the vibes on Frenchman Street are amazing.