New Orleans’s hugely popular Jazz Fest is just around the corner, from April 22nd to May 1st, and will this year feature a dreamy lineup—heavy hitters such as Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and Herbie Hancock along with hot newer acts like Janelle Monáe and Hurray for the Riff Raff.
If you’re headed to one of the best food towns in America, you’re lucky on a couple of fronts. First, the weather is still tolerable: hot and humid but not “I-live-in-a-swamp-with-gators” hot and humid. Second, it will still be crawfish season, a several-month window when the tiny freshwater crustaceans are devoured en masse. Look for bars and restaurants, such as Bayou Beer Garden and Willa Jean, offering “all-you-can-eat” or happy hour specials. (And if you get an invite to a crawfish boil, when the suckers are cooked in giant tubs with spices, corn, and potatoes, go.)
Having just eaten our way through New Orleans this February, here’s our bucket list of 10 foods to eat right now, as the weather starts to turn: They’re light and not too heavy—with the exception of fried chicken, which is always a crucial move in NOLA—and all are affordable.
Frozen French 75 in a Go Cup at Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar
A local pal tipped us off to the excellent 50-cent-oyster and frozen drink happy hour at Superior Seafood. From 4 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. daily, you can get gargantuan (think: Slurpee-sized) frozen mojitos and French 75s to go for a mere $7. There may be brain freeze, but it is worth it.
Sazerac and Pimiento Cheese at Cure
Even if you’re not staying uptown, it’s worth the Uber ride to Cure, where from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 3 p.m.-7 p.m. Friday through Sunday you can sip classic cocktails such as NOLA’s own Sazerac on a sweet patio—without breaking the bank. (Pimiento cheese is an unorthodox cocktail pairing, sure, but this is an unorthodox town.)
Oyster Po’boy at Bevi Seafood Co.
You’re going to eat a po’boy while you’re here. If you’re smart, you’ll seek out a killer oyster po’boy like they have at Bevi. Their “Smokey Oyster” includes fried oysters with bacon and smoked Gouda. It works.
Rum and Banana Zeppole at Compère Lapin
The talented Abigail Gullo helms the bar at this new restaurant, and is (rightfully) making headlines for her cocktail chops, but among the finest things we tasted here were the fried banana zeppole, served with a caramel sauce that’d be straight up divine with good rum.
Fried Chicken at Key’s Fuel Mart
At some point, you’re going to be running on fumes, moving quickly between shows or bars. Fill up your tank literally and figuratively at Key’s Fuel Mart, where the fried chicken—easily some of the best in town—is well-seasoned, wonderfully crisp, and juicy.
Halloumi at Shaya
Shaya was our favorite meal in town on a recent visit, so it needs to make two cameos: In addition to the lamb hummus, you want the halloumi, a slab of lightly fried, salty, fresh-tasting cheese served with—depending on the season—perhaps a gorgeous celery root puree and winter greens, or local chanterelles with a swirl of blueberry vinaigrette.
Lamb ragú hummus at Shaya
Buy your hummus in a plastic container at the supermarket? This is a whole new ballgame: Chef Alon Shaya makes super-silky spread, scattering it with crisp fried chickpeas and delicately spiced lamb ragú. Slightly charred, puffy pitas are hustled to your table just as they emerge from the wood-fired oven.
Broiled Oysters at Casamento’s
Arrive before the rush at this old-school seafood hotspot, and go for the grilled oysters. Loaded with garlic, Parmesan, Worcestershire, parsley, and butter, they’re served with a couple of white bread toast points, all the better for soaking up the garlicky, buttery sauce.
Zapp’s Voodoo Chips and a Swamp Pop
Zapp’s is a legendary local chip brand. Try the “Voodoo” flavor, the result of a happy accident in the potato chip lab. It’s a salt-and-vinegar chip, a BBQ chip, and a spicy chip all in one. Pair them with a ginger ale or satsuma-flavored Swamp Pop, the brainchild of two cousins from nearby Lafayette.
Crawfish Capellini at Pêche
The James Beard Award-winning restaurant is known for many things aquatic—whole grilled redfish; a killer smoked tuna dip—but among our favorites is the capellini, a thin noodle laced with crawfish when it’s in season (and sometimes crab), often spiked with jalapeños. Light, bright, and spicy, it’s perhaps the definition of what you want to eat in the hot spring.