The food scene in the Big Easy has changed dramatically in recent years, as the city continues to draw in culinary talent from all over the world. Almost every neighborhood can boast exciting new restaurants and chefs constantly experimenting with bold flavors while harnessing the spirit of traditional New Orleans cooking.
Even iconic dishes like gumbo and the classic po-boy have been deliciously reinvented. As visitors flock to the city for big summer events like July’s Essence Festival, now is the perfect time to take a tasting tour of classic New Orleans dishes, as re-envisioned by both new and established chefs.
Here are our favorite modern twists:
GRILLED CRAWFISH BREAD
Willa Jean, 611 O'Keefe Avenue
Willa Jean has been wildly popular with the brunch crowd since opening last year. Located in the heart of downtown New Orleans, the restaurant and bakery features a menu inspired by Southern cuisine and which showcases the talents of the Besh Group’s Executive Pastry Chef Kelly Fields and Pastry Chef Lisa White. Willa Jean’s menu is not for the carb-shy: the homemade baked goods are the stars of practically every dish, and that’s very true in the popular grilled crawfish bread. While the gooey stuffed bread is best known as a culinary staple at the New Orleans Jazz Fest (thousands of visitors consume the dish during the ten day celebration of music and culture), customers at Willa Jean can enjoy crawfish bread all year round. Theirs is served as an open-faced sandwich, topped with creamy crawfish tails sautéed alongside onions, celery, and peppers, and layered with burrata cheese. Brunch is particularly busy, so make sure to call ahead for reservations.
BLUE CRAB BEIGNETS
La Petite Grocery, 4238 Magazine Street
There’s nothing quite like the sweet combination of a café au lait and freshly fried beignets covered in layers of powdered sugar. Justin Devillier — co-owner and head chef of the Uptown bistro La Petite Grocery — took everyone’s favorite sweet snack and gave it a savory punch. Devillier, who recently won a coveted James Beard award for Best Chef South, has had locals and visitors returning again and again for his signature blue crab beignets, served with a malt vinegar aioli. These morsels are crispy, doughy, and definitely addictive. Eat them at lunch or dinner, but they are best enjoyed with one of the restaurant’s many elegantly crafted cocktails.
DEATH BY GUMBO
Restaurant R'evolution, 777 Bienville Street
Gumbo is a dish that defines New Orleans, and a version of it can be found at practically every restaurant in the city. Gumbo recipes have been revamped through the years, but the dish is most recognizable for the smoky and spicy flavors found in Cajun and Creole cooking. At Restaurant R’evolution, the gumbo evolution continues with Death by Gumbo. Created by chef John Folse, it's one of the restaurant’s most popular menu items, and there’s a good reason why people can’t stop talking about it. A boneless quail is stuffed with rice, poached oysters, sauces, and smoked andouille and served over a flavorful soup. Cut into the quail, and the ingredients are released into the entire dish, creating a gumbo that’s unforgettable.
MoPho, 514 City Park Avenue
New Orleans is home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the United States, and for years the community has had a huge influence on the local food scene. Traditional dishes like pho — a Vietnamese broth-based soup — are now as popular as a bowl of gumbo. Mid-City restaurant MoPho has made a name for itself by retaining all the key elements of Vietnamese dishes such as pho and the banh mi — a Vietnamese-style po-boy — and revamped them with some of the ingredients and spices that are more typically associated with Cajun or Creole cooking. The entire menu emphasizes local ingredients like Louisiana gulf shrimp and oysters from nearby purveyors. The premium pho is updated with local flair and can be ordered with oxtail and mustard greens and some tasty duck confit. Chef and owner Michael Gulotta recently earned Food and Wine Magazine's Best New Chef award for his delicious and creative interpretations on Vietnamese food.
NEW ORLEANS BBQ LOBSTER
Brennan's Restaurant, 417 Royal Street
Brennan’s reopened its doors in the French Quarter last year, completely transformed by a refreshing tropical look and an upgraded menu created by chef Slade Rushing. The restaurant is known for creating the emblematic dessert Bananas Foster, and Rushing stayed true to Brennan’s culinary roots but added several surprising twists to the menu. Don’t miss his take on a barbecue shrimp dish: the New Orleans BBQ Lobster appetizer. A succulent lobster claw replaces the shrimp and is served with Creole spiced butter and a toasted baguette.
Katie's Restaurant, 3701 Iberville Street
Hop on the red Canal Street streetcar and head to Mid-City to try out a vegetarian twist on an Italian classic. The muffaletta was created in New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants, who began arriving in the late 1800s. The sandwich is traditionally served between two thick slices of sesame bread and comes with generous layers of genoa salami, ham and mortadella. Katie’s Restaurant, a cozy neighborhood spot with a steady lunch crowd, serves a vegetarian version of the traditionally meat-heavy staple. It’s filled with roasted tomatoes, eggplant, onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers. But it still has the usual generous helping of melted provolone cheese, the sesame bread, and kalamata olive salad spread — giving it the tartness that defines a true muffaletta.
Carrollton Market, 8132 Hampson Street
Oysters are an important part of the New Orleans diet, and great oyster dishes abound in the Crescent City. Head uptown to the idyllic Riverbend neighborhood, where St. Charles Avenue and Carrollton Avenue meet, to satisfy your oyster craving at Carrollton Market. This cozy bistro owned by chef Jason Goodenough has made a mark in the local dining scene with a menu full of rich dishes using local and seasonal ingredients. Oyster lovers will delight in one of his signature dishes, the Oysters Goodenough, made with flash-fried oysters, bacon, and creamed leeks, and topped with a bearnaise sauce.
FRIED RED BEANS AND RICE
Capdeville, 520 Capdeville Street
Located in the heart of the Warehouse district, Capdeville is a big draw for the after-work crowd, offering a delicious selection of small plates and a creative cocktail list. The menu pays homage to New Orleans cuisine with a quirky take on a hearty classic: red beans and rice. Traditionally, red beans and rice was served on Mondays and made with leftover pork from Sunday dinner. At Capdeville, deep-fried red beans and rice balls can be enjoyed anytime. These scrumptious bites are garnished with green onions and hot sauce for heat. The result is inventive, modern, and totally delicious.
ROASTED SWEET POTATO PO-BOY, SEARED GULF SHRIMP PO-BOY, AND THE DARK AND STORMY PORK BELLY PO-BOY
Killer Poboys, 219 Dauphine Street
Ask any local, and they’ll give you a short list of the best places to go for a traditional New Orleans po-boy — a sandwich that comes in countless varieties like fried shrimp, oyster, or roast beef and is served on freshly baked French bread that is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Killer Poboys is a relatively new shop, but it is frequently mentioned as a favorite spot for a po-boy fix. Recently expanded from a pop-up operation in the kitchen of Erin Rose Bar to a larger location on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter, Killer Poboys quickly made a name for itself on the late-night food scene. They serve up compelling and delicious variations on the po-boy, like the vegan-friendly roasted sweet potato po-boy and a dark and stormy pork belly po-boy, named for the rum cocktail. Don't miss the Asian-infused take on the gulf shrimp po-boy, which includes Sriracha aioli, daikon radish, and a coriander lime spice. Early birds will be happy to discover that chef Cam Boudreaux has continued to expand his menu at the new location, which now also includes breakfast options like the cheddar omelette po-boy.
WARM BOURBON CORNBREAD PUDDING
Toups' Meatery, 845 North Carrollton Avenue
Toups' Meatery has been on every foodie's radar since opening in the Spring of 2012. Chef Isaac Toups' menu reflects his deep Cajun roots: his family has lived in South Louisiana for more than 300 years. The Double Cut Pork Chop and Veal Sweetbreads are standouts on the meat-heavy menu. However, try your best to save room for dessert. Toups' take on the classic New Orleans' standby, bread pudding, is worth it. Warm bourbon cornbread pudding is served with a decadent bourbon pecan and fudge sauce and topped with seasonal fruit. It's a sweet end to a great meal.