FROM PO’ BOYS TO GUMBO: A Guide to Traditional New Orleans Cuisine


Written by Barbara Toombs

If music is the beating heart of New Orleans, as is often said, then the city’s cuisine is its lifeblood. Dishes invented in the city include po’ boy and muffuletta sandwiches, oysters Rockefeller and bananas Foster, among others. Perhaps the most distinctively recognized regional cuisine in the United States, the food of New Orleans draws its influences from an incredible melting pot of cultures that have converged in the city over its 300-plus years of existence. Here you’ll find a cornucopia of offerings that include Creole (with American, French, Spanish, Italian, West Indian and Mexican characteristics) dishes, the French-influenced Cajun cuisine, hearty soul food and the freshest of fresh seafood. Other contributions to the food scene came from Italians who came to live in the city in the early 1900s, Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, and migrants from Central and South America in more recent years.

While the New Orleans food culture is continually evolving, there are some distinctive dishes for which the city is known. Here’s a quick rundown (along with suggestions of where to try them out) of some – but certainly not all – Crescent City classics:

Po’ Boys: Not surprisingly said to stand for “poor boy,” this sandwich is made of New Orleans-style French bread filled to overflowing with your choice of traditional hot roast beef and gravy, shrimp (fried shrimp is a classic!), oysters, crab and more. Local tip: “Dressed” means it comes with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickles. Try them at Johnny’s Po-Boys or Killer Poboys in the French Quarter, or Guy’s Poboys in Uptown.

Oysters: Situated at the convergence of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is BIG in New Orleans, with oysters topping the list. In addition to oysters Rockefeller, you’ll find oysters Bienville, oysters en brochette, fried oysters, raw oysters on the half shell … you get the idea. Check out the oyster dishes and more seafood at Drago’s in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside (Barrett-Jackson’s host hotel) in the Warehouse District or Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House in the French Quarter.

Muffaletta: This delicious gift from NOLA’s Italian immigrant community is a round, seeded bun that is halved and loaded with layers of cold meats and cheese (salami, ham, mortadella, mozzarella and provolone cheese are favorites). A “salad” made with chopped olives, capers, peppers, parsley, giardiniera (gherkins) and garlic tops it off, with the juices soaking into the soft bread for extra deliciousness. Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District and Napoleon House in the French Quarter are two great places to indulge in this classic.

Crawfish Boil: No matter what you call them – mudbugs, crayfish, crawfish or freshwater lobster – these bright orange crustaceans are big in the Crescent City. They’re at their best when boiled in huge pots of water with salt, lemon, garlic, cayenne pepper, chunks of potato, corn on the cob and Creole seasoning. Local tip: Suck the juice out of the heads, where it all collects during cooking. Try them out at Boil Seafood House in the Garden District or at Cajun Seafood in Uptown.

Beignets: Pronounced “ben-yay,” the beignet is a square piece of dough that has been deep-fried and heaped with powdered sugar. What’s not to like? They are traditionally served with coffee and chicory. If you haven’t sampled these at the renowned Café du Monde in the French Quarter, you haven’t been to New Orleans!

Jambalaya: Thank the city’s Spanish settlers for this contribution, who reimagined their paella into a flavor-packed rice dish incorporating chicken, smoked sausage (andouille), Creole and Cajun spices, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery and more – all cooked together in one pot. One of the top spots in town for jambalaya is said to be Coop’s Place in the French Quarter.

Étoufée: This Cajun/Creole dish is comprised of shellfish – usually crawfish, shrimp, crab or a combination – simmered (or “smothered”) in a flavorful broth and served over rice. Try it at Mother’s Restaurant in the CBD or Mambo’s in the French Quarter.

Gumbo: This all-in-one stew is made with chicken, pork or seafood layered with fresh vegetables, herbs and spices and thickened with okra or filé. Authentic recipes use andouille sausage to pack an extra punch. Unlike with jambalaya, the rice for this dish is cooked separately. Check out the delicious versions at Herbsaint in the Warehouse District or Heard Dat Kitchen in the CBD.

Looking for other options? For a great New Orleans dining resource, be sure to visit the Eater New Orleans website, – bon appetit!

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By: Barrett-Jackson
Title: FROM PO’ BOYS TO GUMBO: A Guide to Traditional New Orleans Cuisine
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Published Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2023 15:33:22 +0000


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