Bret S. Stetka, MD


April 10, 2012

French. Spanish. Italian. Caribbean. The rich and varied -- at times decadent -- cultural mélange that makes up New Orleans has fostered one of the country's finest culinary scenes. And while we do know that you have a meeting to attend, a neurologist has to eat. Based on recommendations from seasoned locals and plenty of personal experience exploring the Crescent City's dizzying collection of food options, this guide will steer you toward some of New Orleans' most worthwhile sustenance to get you through another day of lectures.

Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Étouffée

Perhaps most iconic of all New Orleans cuisine are the city's rich and spicy stews made with a variety of meat, shellfish, and vegetables and based on the so-called "holy trinity," a mix of onion, green pepper, and celery. Gumbo is a Creole dish often made with chicken, shrimp, or Andouille sausage (or some combination thereof) and served over rice. Étouffée is similar but thicker and often made with crawfish, while jambalaya differs in that the rice is cooked along with the other ingredients. Gumbo Shop (630 St Peter St.) serves expert interpretations of all three, as does Li'l Dizzy's Cafe (1500 Esplanade Ave.).


New Orleans' best-known sandwich finds big flavor in a simple disposition: Crusty baguette-like New Orleans French bread comes topped with fried shrimp, fried oysters, or roast beef with gravy (among numerous other meat and seafood options). Order it dressed and expect lettuce, tomato, and a smear of mayo. Mother's Restaurant (401 Poydras St.) gets most of the attention -- and it's decent. But head to Johnny's Po-Boys (511 St. Louis St.) to avoid the perpetual crowd. And for our favorite, make the trek to Domilise's Po-Boys (5240 Annunciation St.). It's a bit of a hike, but the crispy shrimp and hot smoked sausage options at this endearingly ramshackle spot make it worthwhile for food enthusiasts. (Fun fact about Domilise's: NFLers and Louisiana natives Eli and Peyton Manning are big fans and their childhood photos grace the wall.)


Although not as well known as the po-boy, New Orleans' second-string sandwich might be even tastier. Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo devised the muffuletta at his grocery store and lunch counter Central Grocery in the early 1900s. Lupo topped a thick round of Sicilian-style bread with sliced cold cuts like salami and capicola and cheeses such as Emmentaler and provolone. But the key ingredient is chopped olive salad complete with olive-oil-marinated celery, cauliflower, and carrots. Central Grocery (923 Decatur St.) still makes one of the best muffulettas in town -- grab one to-go on the way to the airport -- but many locals prefer the ones at Serio's Deli (133 Saint Charles Ave.), a convenient 4 blocks from the convention center.

Humble and Historic

For a pleasant, low-key New Orleans meal, try Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.). Supposedly Napoleon Bonaparte himself had intended to move into this 200-year-old residence during his exile but never made it. Now the building houses a friendly bar and restaurant dealing in simple, humble fare ranging from healthy salads to not-so-healthy po-boys. After dinner head to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon St.). Built in the early 1700s and later occupied by the French pirate and privateer for whom it's named, Lafitte's is supposedly the oldest building housing a bar in the United States. It's dim, well worn, and the perfect place for a nightcap.