by Gabie Bacques
Like any other city, there are two ways to do New Orleans—the tourist way and the local way. Luckily for everyone, they both provide phenomenal eats. However, living in the Big Easy isn’t all crawfish and beignets. Growing up in and around the Big Easy, good food is never far from reach. So here are a few of my favorite local joints that I would recommend to anyone visiting and looking to get away from the usual tourist-trap restaurants. I would tell you to take this with a grain of salt, but we’re talking New Orleans here, so it’s more like a tablespoon.
The Company Burger
If you’re looking for a classic burger and fries, look no further. The Company Burger offers fresh, juicy burgers with homemade pickles and mayos, and twice-cooked fries. Their turkey burgers are killer, and any place offering lamb on a bun is a win in my book. It wouldn’t be successful here if it didn’t have alcohol, and their cocktails are to die for. Pecan Old Fashioned? Yes, please!
I bet you heard you have to eat a po’ boy when you’re here. That may be true, and I suggest trying one if you’ve never had this authentic New Orleans creation. It’s just not as difficult to find as people make it seem. Anyone down here with the right French Bread can make a good poboy. If you want an overstuffed sandwich but are looking for something a little different, Milk Bar is your place. The variety is unbelievable, and you definitely get your money’s worth of cheesy, melty greatness.
District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew
Over the past year I’ve gained a passionate appreciation for a good donut. Luckily for me, this goldmine opened up during that time. Yes, I love beignets, but those aren’t the only donuts we have around here. With a cozy coffee-shop atmosphere, District serves up handcrafted gourmet donuts on the daily, ranging from French toast to maple-sriracha (don’t ask questions). They are truly works of art–ridiculously delicious works of art. Let’s not forget about their mouthwatering sandwiches and sliders, including Croquenuts: a savory grilled donut-y take on the French classic.
Yo Mama’s Bar and Grill
New Orleans is Drunk City, and when you are here you will drink. If you don’t drink, the people around you will drink enough for you. And when you drink as much as we do down here, good drunk food is an absolute necessity, and there is no shortage of it. Yo Mama’s is the authority on bar food, except that it doesn’t even compare. After you’ve been carousing the Quarter all night, Hand Grenade in hand, and stumble into this quaint pub (how did you get here?), you sit down, order a peanut butter and bacon burger, and you do not think about it. Just leave your body behind and float into paradise.
Crescent City Brewhouse
If you want the New Orleans experience, I insist you check out Crescent City Brewhouse. Situated on Decatur Street, a few blocks from Jackson Square, and opposite the Mississippi River Front, you will enjoy a picturesque view of the famous French and Spanish architecture while being in one of these historic buildings yourself. Courtyard dining is also available and always adds a nice touch of ambience. But enough of that, the food here is the real draw. The menu is full of definitive local favorites like shrimp and grits and crawfish étouffée, along with specialty items such as seafood cheesecake–yum! This is also a microbrewery, and they recommend one of their craft beers to compliment each entree, which I personally love and admire. If you’ve never eaten Cajun-Creole cuisine and you’re visiting the city, be adventurous. Try something that horrifies you; you probably won’t regret it!
This is just one of those places that appeals to me– simple, interesting menu with fresh ingredients. Can we just talk about the cheese fries? There are two options, and that’s not okay because I have to have them both: Organic beef chili cheese fries and Riverbend fries. For a first-timer, I recommend the Riverbend, made with Poche’s local Andouille Sausage and their house pimento cheese. You’re welcome. Their signature grass-fed beef Cowbell Burger could create world peace, but I’m personally more interested in their Mac & Cheese. Holy Cowbell. You are obligated to order this when you go. It says so on the menu. This type of place is less common here than in other big cities on the natural food train, but their affordable gourmet options are proof even New Orleanians appreciate that extra detail.
The Camellia Grill
This is a local landmark for the city of New Orleans. From morning to late night, Camellia offers breakfast and diner favorites in a full house. With bar-style seating across the iconic building, there is almost always a wait. Just go with it. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about the food, per say; it’s all about the experience. The cooks are always chipper and animated, and they provide the most enjoyable experience you’ll ever have in a diner. Their Southern personality resonates throughout the place and gives you a weird feeling of belonging unique to this magical city. It reminds you of your favorite joint back home where you order your “usual”. My favorites are the Camellia Grill’s hamburger with cheese and a fried egg, chili cheese fries, and the chocolate cherry freeze. If you get nothing else, at least have this wonderful frozen slush of milky delight.
Dat Dog has quickly emerged as a popular spot for young adults to grab a bite and drink beer. As soon as I heard about Dat Dog I made it a mission to indulge in this hot dog heaven. Starting out as an eclectic indoor/outdoor establishment on Freret Street, a local revival spot for the up-and-coming restaurant and arts community, they quickly expanded to another hip location on Magazine Street. The selection of dogs is outrageous, with alligator, crawfish, and turducken sausages, as well as your more familiar beef and kielbasa wieners. The list of toppings is endless, but if you feel overwhelmed just ask for the chef’s choice, and they’ll whip you up a perfectly composed puppy. I should also add that they have a sinful selection of cheese fries including, but not limited to crawfish étouffée fries and Anna’s White Trash fries. Their drink menu has something for everyone whether you want a nectar soda or draft beer. You couldn’t go wrong with any combination here if you tried.
This is a list of my favorite places, where my friends and I frequent most often, and for that reason I have Felipe’s at number two. They now have three locations in the general vicinity, but we choose downtown every time (unless we are right by another of course). To get an idea of Felipe’s, think of Izzo’s or Chipotle, except you can’t really compare them. It’s situated right at the start of the French Quarter in walking distance to pretty much everything. We like Felipe’s because it’s cheap, fast, and authentic, not to mention downright scrumptious. Pick a foundation (burrito, quesadilla, tacos), pick a protein (my absolute favorite is al pastor pork), and tell them what you want on it. They move and talk quickly, so decide before you reach them, and try to keep up! Burritos are enjoyed both inebriated and sober, making it my favorite Mexican restaurant in the city.
Port of Call
I can see my fellow Yat’s rolling their eyes now, but hear me out. Located at the edge of the Quarter, Port of Call is a tourist destination, but it is also a true local favorite for all generations. I grew up on the leftovers my mom would bring home on a Friday night, and there is something quintessential about the Port of Call experience.
Going there and getting seated immediately feels inherently wrong. To do Port of Call right, go in the evening, preferably on a Friday, where there will be roughly an hour and a half wait. Give them your name because you’re going to wait. Proceed forcing your way through the dark, cramped cellar-like aisle to the bar. Here, I’m giving you an option: Monsoon or Huma Huma–two fruity, potent Island drinks casually handed to you in a 32-ounce Port of Call-branded cup, which you will take home as a trophy.
The Monsoon is the fan favorite, but I personally like the tartness of the Huma Huma. Now, make your way back through the maze to begin your seemingly endless wait outside. Drink, socialize, forget how long you have to do that for, and before long, they’ll be calling your name. Sit at a table lit by a dim candle where you will find a very limited menu. Burgers, steaks, and potatoes.
At this point, you’ve finished your beverage and are now fully-prepared for the most glorious meal of your life. At Port of Call, order a burger with cheese (cooked medium-rare) and a potato however you like it (cheese, bacon, and chives). From here, it’s no time before you sink your teeth into the warmest, cheesiest hamburger you’ve ever waited an eternity for. It literally melts in your mouth. Expect to pay $10 on your cocktail and $12 on your food, but know that it is well worth it all. Yes, there’s an abundance of incredible burger joints in New Orleans, including one with the same owners as Port of Call. There is no place, however, where you will get the tradition and experience that earned Port of Call its local and national fame.
Feature photo: Camellia Grill