Big Eats in the Big Easy

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Big Eats in the Big Easy
Dishes like Jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp étouffée are the stuff of legend, but New Orleans' dining scene has undergone a revolution and the food is now as diverse as it is delicious.
By Geraldine Campbell, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    Brunch (The Morning After)
    In the Big Easy, the best cure for a night of too much music and cocktails is brunch—usually with more music and cocktails. A weekday favorite is Commander’s Palace, where Chef Tory McPhail cooks updated Creole classics. There’s even more pomp on weekends, when a jazz trio weaves its way around tables of patrons in their Sunday best. Breakfast and jazz also mix at Arnaud’s, a French Quarter brunch institution. Café Adelaide hosts regular themed brunches, where creative cocktails are paired with breakfast from Executive Chef Meg Bickford.
    Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    Southern Sandwiches
    Even the sandwiches are over-the-top in New Orleans. Po' boys are stuffed with everything from alligator sausage to fried oysters, and Sicilian-style muffuletta subs brim with mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, provolone, and olive salad. Visit Parkway Bakery & Tavern for a quintessential roast beef po' boy, "dressed" (with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles) on flaky French bread. Then, try Central Grocery's massive muffuletta on a round sesame loaf, quartered and wrapped in deli paper. Newer shops peddle their own delicious versions of the classics. Check out chef Donald Link’s Cochon Butcher, where nearly everything is made in-house, or popular Killer Poboys, which now has two locations.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Freret's Restaurant Row
    Freret Street was once a gritty city block. But change came in 2009 with the opening of Cure, an experimental cocktail lounge serving drinks like the Sparkle Pony (sparkling wine spiced with cardamom and chai tea shrub). Now, Freret Street’s coffee shops, bars, and restaurants make it popular with locals and adventurous out-of-towners. Start your street tour at colorful hot dog hut Dat Dog, which serves German wieners, Slovenian sausages, and Polish kielbasa. Continue to Freret Street Poboys and Donuts to enjoy the raved-about donuts. Finish your stroll at Other Bar to play Ms. Pac-Man while sipping a rum and Mexican coke.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    From Gulf to Grill
    The sea is the star at Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill: Enjoy barbecue oysters with hot sauce and blue cheese in a dining room decorated with sea animal sculptures. Next door, Bourbon House assembles a towering “plateau de fruits de mer,” which includes oysters, caviar, shrimp, mussels, and crab fingers. Pêche, the latest endeavor of New Orleans restaurateur Donald Link, is quickly becoming for seafood what his restaurant Cochon is for pork: quintessential. To sample an established institution, visit Casamento's on Magazine Street and dig into the oyster loaf and fried seafood platter, while watching hulking shuckers dig into piles of just-off-the-boat bivalves.
    Photo courtesy of Red Fish Grill
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    New York Pie, New Orleans Flavor
    The happy outcome of New Orleans' increasingly diverse restaurant scene is that it's now possible to get a great pizza, no matter what you believe that is. If you prefer New York-style slices, head to Pizza Delicious, a former pop-up started by New York-born Tulane graduates that now has a permanent home in the Bywater neighborhood. At the Midway, dig into doughy deep-dish pies served in metal pans. At Alon Shaya’s restaurant, Domenica, Neapolitan pizzas come topped with tomatoes and whole milk mozzarella from St. James Cheese Company. The secret to their success is Shaya’s sourdough starter and an oven that blasts the pizzas at 800 degrees for just under two minutes.
    Photo courtesy of Besh Restaurant Group
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    New Orleans’ Classic Cuisine
    Iconic restaurants lure visitors to New Orleans. A good place to get acquainted with the cuisine is Galatoire's, a classy counterpart to Bourbon Street’s lowbrow pleasures since 1905. Its old-world décor is consistent with its classic Creole dishes. Go for lunch on Friday, and dress the part—gentlemen, that means jackets. Around the corner, distinguished Antoine's has been family-run since 1840. The establishment is known for persnickety service, and it’s not uncommon for regulars to request a specific waiter when making a reservation. In Mid-City, Willie Mae's is a family-owned institution of a different kind. The eatery is only open for lunch, and fried chicken is the only menu item you really need to concern yourself with.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Big Easy Vietnamese
    Visitors arrive expecting gumbo and étouffée and leave talking about pho, goi cuon, and banh mi. In East New Orleans, Dong Phuong is reputed to bake the best French bread in town, and the eatery also serves sweets such as mung bean pies and yucca gummy worms. Uptown is sprinkled with great Vietnamese, including Magasin Vietnamese Café—known for its unconventional banh mi, made with crusty baguettes from the nearby La Boulangerie—and Lilly's, which earns praise for its beef flank pho. For a contemporary twist on standard Vietnamese dishes, locals love Mint Modern in the Freret neighborhood, for pork belly tacos and creative cocktails during happy hour.
    Photo by Robyn Mackenzie/age fotostock
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    Bite Out of the Bywater
    The Bywater is the hippest 'hood in New Orleans. It's increasingly a destination for great dining as well. Meat lovers will want to hang at The Joint, where owners Pete and Jenny Breen serve up New Orleans–style barbecue and hearty sides. Elizabeth's Restaurant is a beloved local spot known for its praline bacon and amazing breakfast and brunch. Chef Ian Schnoebelen has opened an Italian restaurant, Mariza, in a former industrial space in the Bywater. For your neighborhood coffee fix—with sides of pressed juices and kale salads—head to Satsuma Cafe.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Late-Night Louisiana Grub
    After last call, join drag queens and other Bourbon Street revelers at Clover Grill. The gay-friendly greasy spoon is known for its half-pound cheeseburgers and waffles, biscuits, and gravy combo. For bite-sized burgers, try Krystal Burger, the South's answer to the White Castle chain. If you’re on Frenchmen Street after hours, go to 13 Bar & Restaurant and order some Tachos: Tater tot nachos with black beans, cheddar cheese, jalapeno sour cream, and salsa. And not all late-night food is greasy; Mimi's in the Marigny serves tapas, including goat cheese croquetas, until the wee hours. And if you're Uptown and craving diner food, choose from the Camellia Grill’s menu of fluffy omelets, chocolate freezes, and pecan pie.
    Photo by Frank Adam/age fotostock