New Orleans knows its seafood. In many regards, it’s the lifeblood of the city and the region.
Fried, boiled, baked, broiled: New Orleanians cook their fish and shellfish in endless ways. Always, though, the flavors are big. Just like the shrimp and especially the legendarily oversized oysters of the Gulf Coast.
This collection of must-try New Orleans seafood dishes is merely a snapshot of the open-water cornucopia available in the Crescent City. And being that New Orleans is a majority Black city in a country where Blackness has had a limitless impact on culture, many of the dishes featured are served at Black-owned restaurants. Now, time to get to eating.
Catfish Jourdain at Lil Dizzy’s
Fridays are fish day in New Orleans, especially during Lent. At Lil Dizzy’s in the Seventh Ward, the end of the week means Catfish Jourdain is the special of the day. And, oh boy, is it ever special.
To begin, a filet of catfish is fried. Then it’s topped with both shrimp and crab in a silky lemon-butter sauce and a smattering of green onions. Were the special to stop there, you’d be plenty content. But, no, you also get to select two sides to accompany your fish. Dirty rice, collards, mac and cheese, candied yams: Choose your weapons. There is no wrong answer.
Fried catfish at Barrow’s Catfish
There is a near-infinite supply of fried catfish across the Deep South. It’s because of much of the region’s proximity to water. It’s the way locals adore seafood. It’s the way people love, love, love a well-fried piece of protein.
Thus, in New Orleans, there are oodles of great fried catfish. Something about Barrow’s just hits right. Yes, there’s nostalgia afoot: The original opened in 1943, and the family’s eventual two locations were wiped out during Hurricane Katrina. So when the Barrow family finally opened Barrow’s again, this time in a new location, in July 2018, the city heaved a sigh of relief. A Black-owned business with crackly-battered fish and some of the finest, simplest potato salad there ever was? Yup. Barrow’s is a legend.
AYCE (all you can eat) either crawfish or crab at Seafood Sally’s
Every Wednesday is more like Hands-On Day instead of Hump Day at this Riverbend restaurant. That’s when the AYCE (all you can eat) boiled seafood special happens at Seafood Sally’s.
During crawfish season, which runs from January-ish through July-ish, endless arrays of mudbugs are served with the restaurant’s signature chile butter. You keep ordering round after round until your fingers are a-tingle and your stomach can’t, well, stomach another platter. Then when crawfish season ends, blue crab season takes over. Your methodology remains the same: Keep eating until you’re (beyond) satiated.
Chargrilled oysters at Morrow’s
There’s nowhere in New Orleans quite like Morrow’s. It exists at an uncommon intersection: Classic New Orleans dishes like red beans and rice and platters of fried seafood sit alongside bibimbap and Korean lettuce wraps.
Chargrilled oysters are a fixture of Crescent City dining and at Morrow’s there are two variations to choose from. Go classic to see what the prototypical chargrilled oyster with garlic butter should taste like at its greatest. Or try the Oysters Morrow, in which the oysters are also topped with crabmeat before broiling. Heck, this is the City That Care Forgot, so order both.
Whole wood-grilled fish at Pêche
Much of the menu at this seafood-focused restaurant takes a spin in the enormous wood-grill oven. And one of the best dishes—a Pêche signature—is the whole fish.
That head-and-tail-on fish is often redfish, a staple of the Gulf of Mexico’s waters. The wood smoke infuses the supple flesh and the intense grill heat burnishes the skin. It’s finished with a load of plucky salsa verde. Here, that means a fairly smooth paste of parsley, mint, anchovies, lemon, vinegar, and both black and red pepper. Bring friends: You’ll need mouths.
Shrimp and grits at La Petite Grocery
First things first: Shrimp and grits is a Lowcountry dish, not a New Orleans dish. Nonetheless, shrimp and grits has become a kind of synecdoche for southern food, especially southern seafood dishes.
The version at La Petite Grocery knows its place, providing a nod to south Louisiana with the use of Cajun tasso rather than smoked bacon, and specialized additions like shiitake mushrooms and charred corn. The grits are creamy and lush, as you would hope, and the huge shrimp on top are equally big on Gulf flavor.
Shrimp creole at Rosedale
“Hidden gem” is the kind of phrasing that is tossed around like a salad in a to-go clamshell. Susan Spicer’s oasis located in a sequestered corner of Mid-City is a textbook example of the genre. It’s a roadhouse with superb eats and a freewheeling drink menu.
You’re here for many dishes, if you’re wise. But the shrimp creole is essential. It looks, as with many southern Louisiana eats, like not very much: a ribbon of shrimp in a moody, murky red-brown gravy, flanked by a round slab of fried eggplant and a hillock of Louisiana-grown white rice. Oh, the flavor though. The gentle brine of the local shrimp running alongside the bass of that deep gravy. The giving insides of the eggplant puck. The subtle complement of the rice. This is New Orleans eating at its homiest—and finest.
Oyster loaf at Casamento’s
You could eat this fried oyster sandwich as if it were a po’boy. That would mean you order it “dressed,” which loads the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Fair warning: The waitstaff may (quietly) judge you, and so, too, would many a native who grew up eating at Casamento’s. We’ve even seen one native mock her also-native husband for ordering his oyster loaf dressed.
Ordering drama aside, experiencing an oyster loaf with the least adornment at this more than 100-year-old Uptown restaurant is indeed an optimal approach. That way there is little between you and bivalve bliss but two planks of buttered white “pan” bread and a superb fry batter. A dose of hot sauce is all else you might need—and maybe some lemon. Remember: Casamento’s, being family run, is cash only and shuttered during the summer.
Blue crab hummus at Saba
Hummus is an essential order at this Israeli–New Orleans spot. This, after all, is a restaurant that prides itself, deservedly, on its puffy, yeasty pita always served warm. You will be doing a lot of dipping and swiping.
The chickpea puree is smooth as a newborn’s cheek and loaded with the proper amount of tahini. The blue crab iteration is always on the menu but its guise changes with the seasons. Sometimes it’s served with snap peas, sometimes with lemon and tarragon. No matter the version, the dish tastes, somehow, like it was born here. And you could argue it was.
Oyster bread at Nice Guys Bar and Grill
Seafood bread is a New Orleans stalwart. It’s available at festivals and in a variety of restaurants. It’s rich and cheesy and absurdly delicious.
Seafood-bread makers usually zero in on one seafood, say, crawfish, and blanket it in cheese and bake to golden crispness. At Nice Guys, the recipe goes hard. Its version salutes fried oysters, the bivalves embedded in a mixture of creamed spinach, bacon, and a mix of provolone, Parmesan, and mozzarella all baked into French bread boats.
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