New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards, Redux
With its distinct cuisine, New Orleans has always been an American food destination. The rich and soulful cuisine was shaped largely by the American-born descendants of French settlers, as well as by Spanish and African-American cultures. Another influx of immigrants left their mark in the form of German sausages, Caribbean peppers, and seafood harvested by Croatian fishermen. Classic New Orleans restaurants like Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s are still in operation today. Ten years ago, this gastronomically inclined city was heavily damaged after Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters inundated the city. Today there are actually 75 percent more restaurants in the city than there were before the disaster.
What to Eat: The newest addition to acclaimed chef John Besh’s family of restaurants is a surprising one. Try chef Alon Shaya’s Israeli cuisine at Shaya. There’s ikra (paddlefish caviar spread with shallots) and hummus with lamb ragù. Next, indulge in a hot roast beef and gravy po’boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Go to Commander’s Palace, a Garden District classic, for its rich bread pudding soufflé with whiskey sauce. It’s their most popular dessert and is always made to order.
What to Drink: The Vieux Carré cocktail, a combination of rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, and bitters, was supposedly invented by bartender Walter Bergeron in New Orleans in 1938. Order one where it was first mixed—at the bar at the Hotel Monteleone. Grab one of the 25 seats at the spinning Carousel Bar if one is available.
Edible Souvenir: New Orleans’ other famous sandwich, the giant muffuletta, is a legacy of Italian immigration to New Orleans in the 19th century. It’s comprised of a round loaf of bread sliced in half and filled with cold cuts, cheese, and an oily salad of green and black olives, carrots, peppers, and herbs. You can buy jars of the salad to take home at Central Grocery, the originator and most famous maker of the sandwich.
Food Experience: At Langlois Culinary Crossroads, chef and cookbook author Amy Sins offers classes on gumbo, seafood boils, and other Louisiana favorites at her facility in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.
Cultural Tip: The Gulf Coast is home to some of the largest Vietnamese-American communities in the country. Bánh mì sandwiches are easy to find in New Orleans, but they’re often called “Vietnamese po’boys.”
Fun Fact: The Choctaw introduced filé (sassafras powder) to the Louisiana Creole cooks. It’s now a vital ingredient in gumbo and valued for its thickening properties.
Staff Tip: For a more homegrown and low-key version of Mardi Gras, skip the French Quarter and search out one of the smaller neighborhood celebrations, like the Society of St. Anne parade in the Bywater. My friends Janelle and Krista did that, writing about their experience for Traveler magazine. Be sure to wear a costume, because you can’t just watch the St. Anne parade—you have to dance in it, too. For non-Mardi Gras things to do, read “The New New Orleans” by Traveler contributing editor Andrew Nelson, who lives in the city.