Nothing, but nothing, has the power to spoil New Orleans’s appetite. The people of this city love to eat, and they eat it all—from simply fried oysters and perfectly dressed po’ boys to cutting-edge dishes served Cajun style. Here, a meal-by-meal primer of the Big Easy from a lucky visitor who came to eat and stayed to listen.
When local business owners pulled together in move-on mode and reopened faster than seemed possible after Hurricane Katrina, natives dubbed Magazine Street, a six-mile ribbon of shops and restaurants, the “aisle of denial.” Only a few blocks away, on the edge of the Central Business District, Mother’s reopened with Vice Admiral Thad Allen, head of the disaster relief effort, as its first customer. Regulars and tourists alike line up to order at the counter, cafeteria-style, but dishes such as grits and debris (roast-beef edges in gravy) or red-bean omelets with baked ham and biscuits are delivered to your Formica-topped table by old-time waitresses who may well call you darlin’.
Don’t leave the neighborhood without swinging by homey corner restaurant Elizabeth’s for fried chicken livers with pepper jelly or lacquered praline bacon, baked in brown sugar with crumbled pecans and tasting—if you can imagine it—like pig candy. The hand-lettered sign, swaying when the breeze blows off the river, promises real food done real good. For weekend brunch, order “red neck eggs” (poached and served over fried green tomatoes with grits) and sweet rice fritters called calas, a nearly extinct regional specialty.
Founded in 1919 by Italian immigrants, Casamento’s takes pride in its oyster loaf: a sandwich of fried oysters layered between two slices of house-made buttery white bread (rather than a French-style po’ boy roll). But check the calendar, because the tiny Garden District oyster house is only open in the cooler “r” months. If the time is right, plunk those freshly shucked oversize warm-water oysters onto some saltines and wash them down with the coldest local Abita Golden beer in town.
During the summer “r-less” months, there’s always La Petite Grocery, a cozy neighborhood bistro nearby. Chef Justin Devillier’s top-notch half-pound burger comes with his house-made pickles and sweet Vidalia-onion marmalade.
There’s only one way to end the debate over where to find the best po’ boy in town: head for the Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Whether you go for the roast beef with gravy or golden fried shrimp, the basic anatomy of Parkway’s perfect rendition is always the same: “dressed” (lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and pickles) on distinctive New Orleans–style French bread (lightly crisped crust, interior as airy as cotton candy) from the celebrated Leidenheimer Bakery. Nothing better, nowhere else.
A grande dame of French Creole cooking since 1905, and still family-owned, the clubby Galatoire’s has long earned its place in the social scene. If you sit in the mirrored ground-floor dining room (not the second floor) and order without studying the menu, you might—just might—pass for an upper-crust regular. Cheat sheet: Get the “grand goute,” a seafood appetizer trio featuring the restaurant’s signature shrimp rémoulade.