5 Foods To Eat At Jazz Fest, According To A Top New Orleans Chef

Come for the music, and stay for the foods you won’t find anywhere else

<p>Kendyll Hillegas/Southern Living</p>

Kendyll Hillegas/Southern Living

Long before Dr. John sang about “crawfish, jambalaya, red beans, and fine pralines” in “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” food and music were always intertwined in this city. There is no better time to experience both than during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is held every spring (April 25 to May 5 this year). The legendary event, now in its 54th year, draws people from around the world. But the name can be a bit misleading. Although there are dozens of jazz performances (plus blues, folk, zydeco, rap, country, bluegrass, and more), the week-and-a-half-long celebration is just as much about eating.

New Orleans JazzFest The main gate at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, commonly known as JazzFest.
New Orleans JazzFest The main gate at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, commonly known as JazzFest.

Why Is The Food At Jazz Fest Special?

Forget the usual hot dogs and fries—many Jazz Fest dishes are restaurant worthy. Dine on crawfish strudel, duck and shrimp pasta, and catfish almondine, but save room for desserts like praline-stuffed beignets or strawberry shortcake. You’ll also find all the regional specialties like jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, and muffulettas plus po’boys aplenty—including alligator sausage, fried soft-shell crab, Vietnamese meatball, and turducken. Many of these are available only at the festival, so grabbing a bite is as big a priority as catching your favorite musicians.

What To Eat At Jazz Fest

<p>Kendyll Hillegas/Southern Living</p>

Kendyll Hillegas/Southern Living

If that seems like an overwhelming feat, Alon Shaya, chef at local restaurants Saba and Miss River, can help. An admitted Jazz Fest fanatic, he has called the city home for 20 years and has been to the event at least that many times. Here, he pares down the multitude of options from more than 50 vendors to just a handful of recommendations that provide a delicious culinary road map for first-timers or seasoned attendees.

1. Prejean’s Gumbo

Prejean’s makes the best gumbo in the world—with pheasant, andouille, and quail—not too thick in texture, which I prefer, but full of meat and flavor. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees outside; you’ll want to cozy up to this hot bowl of deliciousness.”

2. Strawberry Lemonade

“Strawberry lemonade is the ideal cooldown. The cups are huge, and they squeeze the lemons fresh, which is something you don’t always see.”

3. Fried Pork Chop Sandwiches

“Ms. Linda Green, the Yakamein Lady herself, cooks up the most tender fried pork chop sandwiches. My move is to do two mayonnaise packets, one on each side of the meat, and then add copious amounts of Crystal Hot Sauce. Eat around the bone.”

4. Crawfish Monica

“Crawfish Monica from Big River Foods is one of the most popular dishes here for a reason, featuring noodles cooked just right with a creamy seafood sauce on top. I get a bowl each time I come.”

5. Crawfish Salad Rolls

“Don’t sleep on the crawfish-salad rolls from Smitty’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar in the grandstand, which is a great place to catch some shade. The brioche buns are filled with a chilled crawfish salad to make a Cajun version of a lobster roll.”

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