By: Scott Gold
Here’s the situation: you are not, in fact, going to live forever. But the wonderful thing is, you’re alive right now, and that means you have time to spend your life living. And, in New Orleans, “living” is synonymous with “eating.” It would be impossible and imprudent to try and eat everything in the Big Easy before you shuffle off this mortal coil, but we’ve done you the favor of narrowing down that list to 17. Seventeen wonderful, perfect, exemplary, iconic dishes that you need to experience in this life. And they are…
1. Beignets and cafe au lait
Cafe du Monde
A classic. We don’t care if it’s filled with gaudy tourists and their out-of-season Mardi Gras beads and socks with sandals. If you’ve never had this combination, you’ve never truly been to New Orleans.
2. The Half and Half po-boy
When it comes to seafood po-boys in NOLA, this is always a clear winner, owing to the fact that the family-run business batters and fries every shrimp, catfish, crawfish, or oyster to order. It results in a line, sure, but that line is worth waiting in. Always.
3. Fried chicken
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Because this fried chix is consistently dubbed the best in the 504, you need to hit Willie Mae Seaton’s legendary restaurant before you hit your grave.
Credit: Flickr/Jason Lam
4. A dozen charbroiled oysters
You can find charbroiled bivalves seemingly everywhere in NOLA these days, but it wasn’t always so. If you want the real deal, go to the source: Drago’s in Fat City, where they invented – and perfected – this beautifully simple and glorious dish.
5. Oysters Mosca and spaghetti bordelaise
Among all baked oyster preparations in the New Orleans area (including oysters Rockefeller, which was invented at Antoine’s), it’s difficult to beat one of the namesake dishes at Mosca’s, and it’s well worth the drive out into the West Bank hinterlands to get it. Be forewarned, though, you’ll be sweating garlic for days (also worth it).
6. The Galatoire Goute
Most who have the famed Friday lunch at Galatoire’s know to trust their waiter when it comes to ordering. That said, you can never go wrong with this huge appetizer combination of some celebrated classics: shrimp remoulade, crabmeat maison, oysters en brochette, and shrimp (sometimes crawfish) maison. The best hits of a more than 100-year-old restaurant. You can’t go wrong.
7. Cream of Nectar Sno-Ball
Is it really worth waiting in that line? Yes. It’s really worth it. And phooey to you if you don’t at least add condensed milk on top. It’s a Sno-Ball, not a kale smoothie. Live a little!
Credit: Flickr/Chris McCorkle
8. Bananas Foster
If you’ve never had this combination of bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum, and vanilla ice cream set on fire in spectacular fashion right at your table, you’ve really never lived. So make that happen, stat.
9. Raw oysters
Sure, there are tons of places to choose from in New Orleans when it comes to a dozen (or three) on the half shell, but really, Casamento’s is the place, and it has been since 1919. There will be a line. And you will wait in it. Don’t forget to tip Mike the shucker as you do, and he’ll give you a half dozen or so to start with while you await your table.
10. Smoked, fried soft-shell crab
Smoked seafood is excellent. Fried seafood is also excellent. Fried soft-shells, better still. But all three together? You can find this inimitable dish at Clancy’s, a longtime popular Uptown spot.
Credit: Flickr/Robert Young
11. Turtle soup
This one is a layup, a gimme, a complete no-brainer, not to mention one of the hallmark recipes of both Creole cuisine and Commander’s. Make sure to spike yours with a little extra sherry from the carafe at the table for an extra dose of awesome.
12. Gulf fish amandine
You’d better be packing a hungry attitude when you hit this quintessential Canal St Italian/Creole joint, because it is certainly not known for skimping on portions. The huge, pan-fried gulf fish smothered in a rich brown butter sauce with almonds is a classic, and few do it better.
13. Thin fried catfish
Its secret may have been poached by other local restaurants, but that doesn’t mean that the original still isn’t the best. And yes, it really is worth the 45-minute drive to swampy Pass Manchac to get it.
14. A muffaletta
The Central Grocery might have invented the muffaletta, and perhaps Donald Link perfected it at Cochon Butcher, but there’s nothing like the singular experience of enjoying one of these wonderful Italian sandwiches topped with plenty of olive salad at the house built for Napoleon Bonaparte. The mottled walls and classical music are a French Quarter institution, as is its signature Pimm’s Cup.
For many years, if you wanted the best Vietnamese in the Crescent City, you had to make the trek across the Mississippi River to the West Bank. These days, Viet options abound on the East Bank, but a trip to Gretna is worth it, especially for the brilliant, authentic flavors at Tan Dinh. A bowl of hot, spicy beef pho there will never fail to satisfy.
Chef Frank Brigtsen is something of a local culinary hero, and the restaurant that bears his name is proof as to why. His interpretation of Acadian/Cajun cuisine is absolutely wonderful, particularly when it comes to rabbit preparations, which change seasonally, but should definitely not be missed – especially when pan-fried and served with Creole mustard, braised greens, and potatoes.
17. Veal sweetbreads
Of all the notable chefs in New Orleans, it’s difficult to think of one more universally beloved than Susan Spicer, whose influence on the local dining scene could never be overstated. At her flagship restaurant, Bayona, you’ll find out exactly why she has accumulated so much loyalty and longevity. If you’ve never had sweetbreads before, this is your gateway – gloriously pan-fried and served with with either a lemon caper or sherry mustard butter. And if you’ve had them before, well… you’ll likely not find any better than here.
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