I was sitting in Central Grocery on Decatur in NOLA savoring the most delicious muffuletta I’ve ever held. As I unwrapped the giant $17 sandwich, I realized why I keep coming back to his town. There’s nothing anywhere in the world like it. I was on a whirlwind tour with less than 48 hours here, and as I sat in the 100-year-old store enjoying every sesame seed and drizzle of olive oil, I thought about the things I HAVE to eat when I come to New Orleans. Everyone has their own list, of course, but here are my 10 favorite places to eat in New Orleans:
1. Cafe Du Monde: Can I really get excited about eating fried dough and waiting in line for an hour? Yes, I can. It’s an experience you simply have to have, or you really can’t say you’ve been to NOLA. While you can get beignets anywhere in New Orleans, Cafe Du Monde is the place to have them with your chicory blended coffee. There’s a reason they’ve been in business for 150 years.
2. Central Grocery: For years, I wondered why people stood outside the little Italian grocery store. One day I walked in and realized it wasn’t just a tourist trap like I'd thought. Now I show up before the lunch crowd arrives, and I rarely have to wait. The muffuletta was invented here for Italian workers in 1906. Central Grocery makes theirs with the best stuff, and the taste is unmatched. The sandwiches are so big that you can save half for dinner.
3. 25 Cent Martinis at Commander’s Palace: It’s nice to find a deal every once in a while when you’re in a city that’s not exactly known for being cheap. Commander’s Palace is probably the most famous—and one of the most expensive—restaurants in NOLA, but the lunch menu is a lot more affordable than the dinner menu, and you can get get a martini for 25 cents, which takes some sting out of the bill. There’s a limit of three, but that’s probably all you need at lunch anyway. While you’re there, try real turtle soup or a souffle. Its sister restaurant, Cafe Adelaide next to Harrah’s, offers some similar menu items at a lower price. And guess what? They have 25 cent martinis too!
4. Acme Chargrilled Oysters: For years, people have debated who has the best chargrilled oysters, Drago’s or Acme. I’ll go with Acme because it’s close to Bourbon street, has a better atmosphere, and offers dollar oyster shots. What’s an oyster shot? A raw oyster, a shot of vodka and Bloody Mary mix—a great way to start your meal. And the chargrilled oysters are hot, delicious, and covered with melted Romano cheese. What’s not to like?
5. Jacques Imo’s Alligator Cheesecake: One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life is about a 15-minute drive from the French Quarter. If you can get in the place, you’ll discover all kinds of wonderful treats. When I first heard about alligator cheesecake, I said no. After I tried it once, I can’t get it out of my mind.
6. Mother’s Ferdi Special: There are those who love Johnny’s and those who love Mother’s, but you really can’t go wrong with either restaurant. Mother’s has an amazing sandwich of roast beef debris, roast ham, and gravy that is so delicious, I crave it for breakfast. Called the Ferdi, it's named after a random customer named Mr. Ferdi who asked for ham to be added to his sandwich 50 years ago.
7. New Orleans Cooking School Bread Pudding: I’ve taken this “class” twice and was amazed at not only what I learned about the history of NOLA food, but everything created in this kitchen. The class is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, and the bread pudding is the absolute best I’ve ever had. The host will even give you a copy of the recipes, so you can impress your friends with your new skills.
8. Willie’s Chicken Shack Red Beans and Rice: I’m not exactly sure when Willie’s first appeared on Bourbon St., but one day it wasn’t there and suddenly it was everywhere. Late at night, you can get a Lucky Dog or a slice of pizza on the street, but—when in Louisiana, do as the Louisianans do, and all that—get some red beans and rice instead. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better version anywhere in the Quarter without the hassle of sitting in a nice restaurant and acting like you’re sober.
9. Coop’s Pasta: I discovered Coop’s Place years ago and thought I was doing them a favor when I stopped in and ordered something. This little hole-in-the-wall suddenly started getting all kinds of great reviews, and now there’s a line to get in the door just like at all the other great places. The pastas are fantastic, especially anything with crawfish tails and tasso. Maybe you'll even find a place to sit.
10. Yo Mama’s Peanut Butter Hamburger: At first I was troubled that someone had mixed two of my favorite childhood foods together. Clearly, it wasn't a good match, not unlike mixing fish sticks and Twinkies. Guess what? It’s really good! Well, Indonesians have been mixing peanuts and beef together as satay for years, and no one’s complained. Here’s the American version of food blasphemy, right in the heart of the Quarter.
What’s your list? What do you crave when you leave New Orleans that you can’t seem to find anywhere else?