The last time I was in New Orleans, I was still in high school and my reason for the trip was to watch my cousin compete in the state wrestling tournament. At the time, I had yet to fully realize my infatuation with food and restaurants, so diving into and exploring the unique culture of New Orleans was not a priority. I just hadn’t been to New Orleans in a long time, so I wanted to go. That was basically my whole motivation for making the trip.
After a 10+ year hiatus, I returned to New Orleans to see my cousin again, but this time it was to attend his wedding. Now that I am older and debatably wiser, this time around my priorities were also honed in on the food and experiences that you can’t find anywhere other than the Crescent City.
Since I have little to no previous memory of New Orleans – and what memories I do have center more around family than food – I set out with a couple of goals:
- Find the best beignets (Cafe du Monde or otherwise)
- Find the best po-boy
- Check out Bourbon Street for the first time
I’m starting from scratch here y’all, so I had to hit up some of the iconic (read: touristy) spots to see if they’re worth the hype or not.
I am happy to report that I was able to address all 3 of my goals, but in doing so, I went to A LOT of places, so in the rest of this post I will talk about the food I ate (goals 1 and 2) and in Part 2 I will talk about the drinks and bars (goal 3).
Cafe du Monde
Let’s start things off with a banger. Cafe du Monde.
The name synonymous with beignets, chickory coffee, and New Orleans. This place was at the top of my list for New Orleans. I have heard many stories of friends watching the sunrise from the patio of Cafe du Monde (open 24 hours) while soaking up the affects of a night out for Mardi Gras with their famous beignets. It has a gravitas (read: voodoo) that attracts tourists (me) and long long lines.
When we arrived, the line was through the covered patio, out the door, and down the block. It was 9:00am on a Friday. Fortunately, the line moves quickly as most people are there for a quick plate of beignets.
Eventually we nabbed a table on the open air patio and, like everyone else, ordered beignets and coffee. The patio is very comfortable considering the heat and humidity that comes with Louisiana. The overhead fans are working overtime to keep the space comfortable, and are much appreciated.
This is what we’re all here for, right? These golden pillows of fried dough caked in powdered sugar. So simple, and so delicious.
The beignets were much larger than I was expecting, about the size of an index card. I had imagined them to be about 1/3 of their actual size. Additionally, they were more dense than I thought they would be. However, they were exactly as messy as I had anticipated. It is impossible to not get powdered sugar everywhere when having a plate of these beignets.
Some other things of note about Cafe du Monde:
- Cash only (helps to keep things moving quickly)
- There is a takeout or to go line (and the original location is close to both Jackson Square and the shore of the Mississippi River. Both great locations for beignet eating.)
- Relatively inexpensive considering its popularity (less than $5/person)
Overall, Cafe du Monde is a great experience. The restaurant is centrally located around other New Orleans landmarks and it is extremely quick and efficient (making the long looking lines just a short wait in reality). A nice way to kick off a visit to New Orleans.
Morning Call is the challenger to Cafe du Monde‘s beignet dominance, and they are a worthy opponent.
There are no long lines to deal with or tables to swoop into the second someone stands up. It’s a much more relaxed and easygoing atmosphere. The service is just as quick and timely, the cost is just the same if not slightly less expensive, and the beignets are, dare I say it. . . better than Cafe du Monde‘s.
That’s right, you read it here first folks! or 3rd, or 7th, or 22nd? I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Morning Call or that it’s better than Cafe du Monde, but you have now!
The beignets came out hot, fresh from the fryer (not to say that Cafe du Monde‘s beignets were not fresh, but there was a difference), and were much less dense when compared to Cafe du Monde, which more closely fits my personal expectation of beignets. However, they were still larger than expected and about the same size as the beignets at Cafe du Monde. But, the size was not as much of an issue since these beignets were more airy and less dense.
I want to quickly address the elephant in the blog post (hello); you may have noticed in the photo above that there is a scant amount of powdered sugar topping the beignets. This is because, at Morning Call, they have shakers of powdered sugar on the tables for you to top your own beignets. This is great because, at Cafe du Monde, I found myself tapping or brushing off much of the excess powdered sugar from the beignets. At Morning Call, it’s all up to you. You are the master of your fate.
Which brings me to my next topic of discussion; you may look at the above photo again and think “Well, now I understand why there isn’t a ton of powdered sugar on there, but why is there SO LITTLE powdered sugar on your beignets??!!? That’s worse than having too much powdered sugar!!!” I hear you dear reader, and I get it – I really do. Here’s the thing though; powdered sugar in shakers likes to clump together, making it difficult to get the desired amount of powdered sugar out of the container without devolving into a primal fit of rage and banging the container on anything and everything for an additional granule of powdered sugar.
That, and I had originally planned to take another photo once I had more powdered sugar on them. But once I did have enough powdered sugar, I started eating the beignets and getting another photo was the furthest thing from my mind. Such is the arduous life of a food blogger: starting to eat the food before you take pictures. : (
PRO TIP: After I sufficiently made myself look like deranged chimpanzee trying to open a coconut (shaker) to get to that sweet sweet coconut milk (powdered sugar) in a public setting, my dad simply held the shaker over his own beignets and tapped the bottom, producing the absolute perfect amount of powdered sugar with minimal effort. So do that if you want to appear more civilized, I guess? (Thanks for showing me that AFTER I was finished with my beignets, dad)
I’m going to be up front with you on this one; Drago’s is the only oyster place I went to in New Orleans. Not because oysters are gross – I really enjoy oysters, actually, so I definitely wanted to try out as may oyster shacks and purveyors as possible – but I simply did not have enough time to make it to all of the places I had picked out. When I realized that I would not be able to make it to all of the oyster spots that I wanted, I zeroed in on Drago’s because of their claim of charbroiled oysters. Now, I’ve had charbroiled oysters before, but my sources and local relatives said that Drago’s was the place to try. So that’s where I ended up. Simple as that.
I still had a lot of eating left to do that day, so I was solely there for the oysters, and let me tell you:
THESE WERE THE BEST THINGS I ATE ALL WEEKEND!
These fresh oysters are shucked, perfectly charred on an open flame grill (cooked to the point that the oyster flesh has slightly firmed up, but not at all rubbery. It’s an art.), basted in magic (some unlawfully perfect combination of butter, garlic, herbs, and probably some actual, true, real life magic), sprinkled with fairy dust (parmesan and romano cheese), and served up alongside french bread (you WILL need more bread to soak up all the delicious reminiscent juices. Trust me on this.) and lemon wedges.
We ordered 48 for the table, a party of 7, and could have easily had 48 more. Easily. The ONLY reason I didn’t gorge myself on these oysters was because I had at least two more po-boys to eat within the next two hours. Speaking of which. . . .
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
Tucked into a neighborhood 12 miles northwest of the French Quarter lies Parkway Bakery & Tavern. I know that sounds kinda far if you’re walking (stumbling) around on Bourbon Street, but hop in an Uber or Lyft and make your way to this divey, hole in the wall looking place for a fantastic hangover cure in their po-boy, excuse me, poor boy.
There’s no gimmick here. Just good food and great poor boys in a casual comfortable atmosphere. Parkway Tavern is kinda small, but that’s part of its charm. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbor at the bar while you wait for your sandwiches. And make no mistake, that’s what you’re here for, sandwiches.
Much like the restaurant itself, there are no frills when it comes to this sandwich. The seafood (in my case shrimp and catfish) is fried golden brown, fully dressed (always) well with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and mayonnaise, all contained in a slightly sweet, soft, chewy french bread roll with a flakey crust. Simplicity at its finest.
The poor boy sandwich at Parkway Tavern is an edible manifestation of the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Okay guys, I’ve gotta come clean about this one. I had not heard of Radosta’s before I set foot in New Orleans. My aunt, who lives in New Orleans, recommended it to my dad and brother the night before I arrived and they, in turn, recommended it to me. Honestly, it wasn’t high on my list because I trusted my research and it hadn’t come up one single time. But they kept telling me about it, and how they think I would really like it, and yada yada yada. They wore me down and I fit it in to be the last place I tried in New Orleans before heading home the following morning.
Radosta’s, located in the middle of a Metairie neighborhood, is a mix between a restaurant, a small grocery/deli, and a neighborhood hangout. It doesn’t even have a website! At least not one that I could find. Their Facebook page will have to do.
At Radosta’s, order your food at the deli counter, grab a drink from a cooler, and wait at one of the tables for your food to come out while accompanied and surrounded by the neighborhood regulars. Maybe watch the small TV in the corner of the sitting area if you’ve gotten your fill of looking at the taxidermied ducks frozen in mid flight on the walls. You know, normal New Orleans things.
Soon after, you will be presented with, in my one-long-weekend-in-New-Orleans expert opinion, one of the best po-boys in all of New Orleans.
Like the poor boys at Parkway Tavern, there’s nothing really special about the po-boys at Radosta’s, and that is seemingly what makes it special. The seafood (shrimp this time) is fried and seasoned perfectly, it’s fully dressed, the bread is soft, chewy, and slightly sweet, and there’s a bit of tang from the mayonnaise and pickles. It all works in perfect concert together.
Now, is it the hipster part of me that wants to love this weird, New Orleans suburb neighborhood, no-webiste-having fixture as the best po-boy shop in all of New Orleans? Maybe. My expectations were not high walking into Radosta’s; perhaps that’s why it was so good? It eluded my research, which hurts my pride a bit (okay a lot), and I don’t like that. But I can’t deny that it was my favorite po-boy of the weekend.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because it’s actually a really really good po-boy made with fantastic and fresh ingredients? The best po-boy even. Their sign does claim that they’re famous after all!
New Orleans is easily one of the best and most unique cultures and culinary cities in the world. You could easily stumble into any random backyard and be welcomed to join in one of the best meals of your life. But, outside of those serendipitous encounters here’s a recap of my favorites in the Crescent City:
- Beignets – Morning Call
- Oysters – Charbroiled Oysters at Drago’s
- Po-Boy – Radosta’s
Seriously though, it’s hard to have a bad meal in New Orleans, so as they say, “Laissez les bon temps rouler“. Whatever that means.