10 Great Foods You Didn't Know To Look For In New Orleans

Highlights of the local food scene, beyond the well-known classics like beignets and gumbo.

A year ago, I was sorting my mother's house for an estate sale, packing up my car and preparing to live in a city that had caught my heart: New Orleans. Like every other visitor, I knew that New Orleans abounded with Creole and Cajun food (there's a longtime joke that the restaurants in the city shared the same kitchen). I was aware of its vibrant Vietnamese community and that king cake, crawfish, and, of course, cocktails could be found across the city, depending on the season.

Now, as I'm getting ready to return north until fall, I've learned that New Orleans' food scene is much deeper than many people perceive from the outside. While I enjoy an occasional beignet and never turn down an opportunity to sample gumbos, I also made a number of surprising discoveries once I was no longer a tourist.

Here is a list of dishes (and the establishments serving them) that you might not know to look for in New Orleans, whether you live here or come for a visit.

Bagels to rival New York’s

I have always been a bagel girl, and when I arrive in a new city, one of the first things I seek out is a decent source. I had no particular expectations for New Orleans, and I was ready to have my bagels shipped in from Zabar's when I heard about Flour Moon Bagels. This small shop, which opened last summer next to the Lafitte Greenway in Mid City, is making bagels as good as any I've imported from NYC. The bagels come in my favorite flavor, pumpernickel, as well as pumpernickel everything, salt, sesame, and rotating special flavors such as rosemary, za'atar, and date. On weekends, the shop features a big, chewy Jerusalem bagel that can be ripped apart and dipped into labneh.

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Flour Moon also specializes in bagel sandwiches inspired by their bread-based counterparts. The menu has featured an Italian beef and most recently a turkey reuben with sharp horseradish and Emmental Swiss cheese. Flour Moon sells out regularly, so place an order online if you want to pick up some great food and relax on the parkside patio.

Imaginative frozen treats

New Orleans' most famous frozen dessert is the sno-ball, a fluffy cousin of Hawaiian shave ice or Korean bingsu. But the city also is chockablock with small artisanal ice cream and gelato makers. One held in great affection is Piccola Gelateria, which sits a few steps off busy Magazine Street in Uptown. The owners, Ria and Ross Turnbull, run things themselves—Ria is the friendly Croatian-born scooper, while Ross, a Canadian, is in back dreaming up flavors.

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The menu is divided between dairy-based gelatos and fruit-dominated sorbetto, at least 20 flavors a day, all of which contain fresh ingredients. I recently had a cup of lemon meringue gelato that tasted exactly as promised, and the king cake gelato offered during Carnival season includes an entire king cake in each tub. Ria is a friend of the numerous children and dogs who frequent the shop, and it's likely she'll learn your name if you visit more than once.

Tasty salads (which you would be wise to eat)

On one of my earliest visits to New Orleans, I indulged in so much rich food that my digestive system simply stopped working for a few days. I learned my lesson: It's best to intersperse that gourmet food with some greens. Luckily, you can find good salads in the city and a short drive away. While the High Hat Cafe is known for its fried chicken, catfish, and pie, it always features an entree-sized salad on its specials blackboard. One tasty salad is the Cecil, which features greens, celery, bell peppers, and cornbread croutons. Top it with chicken, shrimp, or catfish if you want some protein.

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The Larder Gourmet Market & Eatery in Metairie offers a big deli case with a variety of side salads, from beets and sesame noodles to Greek salad and street corn (you can get them individually or group three as an entree). The Larder also sells the Fall Salad, available year-round, with roast turkey, couscous, goat cheese, dried cranberries, pecans, and roasted butternut squash. The Fall Salad is so big that I often divide it into two meals.

Asian cuisine, beyond the city’s famed Vietnamese food

Bowls of phenomenal pho can be had from the West Bank of the Mississippi through the French Quarter to the suburbs. Beyond Vietnamese cuisine, however, lies a broader Asian food scene that's growing throughout the area. Last year, Wishing Town Bakery Cafe opened a second location in Uptown, serving up dim sum, dumplings, noodles, and hot pot. While you can sit inside in air-conditioned comfort, there are many outdoor tables under umbrellas and big shade trees too.

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Shirley Lee, who long ran a beloved suburban restaurant called Royal China, returned to the local food scene just before Christmas last year with Miss Shirley's in the Garden District. If you are craving dim sum of the kind found in the Chinatowns of New York, Toronto, and Chicago, this is the place to go. Miss Shirley herself is seemingly always present, whether in the kitchen making dumplings or directing servers to each dining room table.

A thriving Black-owned restaurant scene

Given that well over half the population of New Orleans is Black, to dine at Black-owned restaurants is to taste the full scope of what the city has to offer. You'll want to make a beeline for Li'l Dizzy's on Esplanade Avenue, owned by the latest generation of the Baquet family. You are likely to be greeted by Arkesha Baquet, who now runs the restaurant with her husband Wayne Junior, although patriarch Wayne Senior is often on hand. Don't miss the Trout Baquet (trout topped with crabmeat), and be sure to sample the gumbo.

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A new place with long roots to try is Chapter IV, the latest restaurant owned by a member of the Chase family, famed for Dooky Chase's, helmed by the late culinary legend Leah Chase in Treme. Chapter IV is run by her grandson Edgar "Dook" Chase IV, and it has an airy, modern look with a menu featuring contemporary breakfast, brunch, and lunch dishes. Rather than the typical shrimp and grits, he offers fish and grits, and you can get barbecue shrimp in an omelet rather than the usual appetizer.

An ever-changing popup scene

Do you like fried chicken sandwiches? Want to sample a crawfish boil? Are you curious about Filipino food or spam musubi? Interested in topping it off with a luscious pastry? You can get them all at the popups and food trucks that serve street corners and bars across the city. They post their whereabouts on Instagram accounts, although you can easily stumble across them, too.

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I discovered Cochon King Barbecue in a Mid City parking lot when I was driving home from buying Mardi Gras supplies. "Get the wings," the customer ahead of me counseled. The wings are great, and the menu is regularly updated. Lately, Cochon King has offered whole hog barbecue in a plate or sandwich, and barbacoa tacos made from slow-roasted beef cheeks.

Collaborations among neighbors

I've been impressed by how many places are lending each other a hand by hosting their food stands and using their products. Mr. Shrimp, aka Larry Thompson Jr., got on peoples' radar during the pandemic, when he would deliver boxes of shrimp, corn, turkey necks, and potatoes to their homes. Now, his shrimp is appearing by name on the menu at Commander's Palace, one of the city's most elite restaurants.

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The permanent home for Francolini's is still under construction. But in the meantime, it is selling its generous Italian subs and sandwiches at The Rabbit's Foot, a cafe on Prytania Street. Francolini's menu features bread from Ayu Bakehouse, a woman-owned bakery which opened last year on Frenchman Street. Ayu's pastries, meanwhile, are being sold at coffee shops including Gospel Coffee in the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot.

Zero-alcohol drinks

One of my waggish friends refers to New Orleans as Disneyland for drunks, and it's true that it's a hard-drinking town. But for all those who choose not to imbibe, take heart: You can get tasty zero-alcohol drinks in New Orleans, and it's easier than you think. I recently went to an oyster tasting event at Sidecar in the Warehouse District and asked if there was an NA brew on the menu. Yes, indeed: I was served a Hoppy Refresher, a zero-proof sparkling water by Lagunitas.

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Brigtsen's Restaurant, a favorite for locals and visitors, has several zero-alcohol cocktails on its menu, as does Bar Marilou, a hidden spot downtown that looks like a library inside. You can find selections of spirit-free beverages at stores such as Martin's and Total Wine, and most any bartender can throw together your suggestion for a non-alcoholic drink.

Festival food aplenty

New Orleans residents were alarmed recently when John Ed Leborde, owner of Panorama Foods, announced he would no longer serve his famous crawfish bread at the upcoming weekends of Jazz Fest. Never fear: You can get the crawfish bread online, and Gabrielle Restaurant sells a version on Lenten Fridays that some diners feel is superior.

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While music is the main draw at the city's largest festivals, the food is its own celebration. Jazz Fest is also known for Crawfish Monica, a pasta dish, and for Mango Freeze, a drink that takes the edge off the hot and humid weather. That's in addition to festivals devoted entirely to foods like gumbo and fried chicken. You will not go hungry.

Fine dining

Lately, there's been a debate over whether fine dining is headed to the graveyard. Not in New Orleans. You can still put on a summer dress or a spiffy suit and dine elegantly. I regularly see groups of well-dressed, happy revelers in Commander's Palace and lesser-known but elegant spots like Gautreau's, tucked in an Uptown neighborhood.

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I joke that these are spots for people in blazers, but if you enjoy old-school surroundings, there's something delightful about being attended to by a maitre d', captain, and server, and having dinner plates presented simultaneously around the table, and that's true whether you're a first-time visitor or a longtime resident.

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