Technically, you’re in New Orleans to learn, not eat (and if you are here to eat, that’s cool too). But even if you’ve packed your conference schedule with panels, try to pencil in time to find the unique food this city’s famous for — and that you can’t get anywhere else except for versions that are usually subpar. Here’s where you can sample five classic New Orleans dishes near the conference.
You were probably heading there anyway, but Café du Monde is the place to go for beignets in the French Quarter. These square pieces of dough topped with sugar are best eaten hot from the fryer at the restaurant that’s been serving them since the 1800s with mugs of chicory coffee. Here’s a tip: hold your breath when taking a bite, or you’ll cover yourself — or the person sitting across from you — with a cloud of powdered sugar.
Gumbo is the official food of the state of Louisiana. This stew made with shellfish and/or chicken and sausage and served with rice is the result of centuries of tradition borrowed from the Spanish, French, West Africans and Native Americans. To find amazing seafood gumbo, visit Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in the Tremé neighborhood. Founded nearly 80 years ago, this restaurant became a cultural and culinary touchstone for New Orleans under executive chef Leah Chase, who died just this June. Chase’s status as a civil rights icon and legendary cook brought countless customers to her restaurant over the years, including former president Barack Obama. A lunch buffet is served Tuesday through Friday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., dinners are Fridays only from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
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A worker’s lunch, this traditional sandwich of French bread stuffed with meat or seafood can be found at most restaurants near the conference. For great seafood po-boys made with fried shrimp or soft-shell crab, go to Stanley Restaurant on Saint Ann St. for lunch or early dinner. The restaurant’s name is a tribute to “A Streetcar Named Desire” author Tennessee Williams, who lived in the French Quarter during his early days as a playwright. Open every day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., no reservations.
Whether you prefer them raw, fried or broiled in butter sauce, don’t miss out on oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico and served fresh at several places near the conference. To experience Oyster Happy Hour, visit the restaurant Luke in the Central Business District daily between 3 and 6 p.m. where you can get raw oysters for less than a dollar each. For the delicious charbroiled version, stop at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in the Hilton Riverside.
Pronounced “prah-leens” here in New Orleans, this traditional Louisiana candy made of pecans and brown sugar is the perfect tasty souvenir to bring home to friends and family. You can pick them up from one of the locations of Southern Candymakers on Decatur St. or in the French Market, Aunt Sally’s near Cafe du Monde (they usually have samples!), or Leah’s Pralines on Saint Louis St. If you miss out while you’re in the city, you can still find some available for last-minute purchase at the airport — look for The Praline Connection kiosk.
Diya Chacko is an Audience Engagement Editor for the Los Angeles Times. A New Orleans native, Diya graduated with a dual master’s degree from Columbia University’s Earth and Environmental Science Journalism program in 2010. She tends to geek out over dogs, horror movies and journalists learning to code.