New Orleans isn’t a hotbed of Cajun cuisine – you need to head out of the city into the towns of Southwestern Louisiana for that, places like Bayou Lafourche, Lafayette, New Iberia, Lake Charles and Thibodeaux. But there are some really good chefs with Cajun roots here in town, as well as fried food emporiums where you can find boudin balls and alligator sausage.
If you’re confused about the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine, for which New Orleans is world famous, think country, rustic fare vs. citified French-inspired gastronomy. “Cajun cuisine is rustic French country cooking, while Creole food boasts an air of sophistication, ever-evolving and heavily influenced by European cultures,” explained Tommy DiGiovanni, executive chef at Arnaud’s Restaurant, a bastion of Creole tradition. Chef Emeril Lagasse put it this way, “Cajuns use ingredients from the land, including fish, shellfish, ducks, frogs and nutria. But of course, there’s crossover, mostly seen in dishes with rice such as gumbo and jambalaya.”
At the restaurants on this list, you can savor modern Cajun fare as well as housemade sausages and pickles, fried rabbit and chicken and dishes like chicken and andouille gumbo, Cajun jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, blackened Louisiana drum and frogs legs treated to Buffalo-style basting.
If you like your Cajun eats with drinks and partying on the side, Mambo’s is your spot. With the only rooftop bar on Bourbon Street, this 10,000 sq. ft., three-story bar and restaurants draws crowds for good eats, big drinks and plenty of elbow room for watching the game and chilling. Besides the kitchen team’s signature crab cake topped with a spicy crawfish and mushroom cream sauce, the menu offers the likes of blackened gator bites, crawfish poutine, fresh and char grilled oysters, bbq shrimp and grits and a range of po-boys and salads. For a substantial option, try the blackened redfish Lafourche, named for a Cajun bayou parish about two hours down the bayou from New Orleans. Local redfish is seared and served on a bed of mashed potatoes,topped with crawfish and mushroom cream sauce and fried crawfish tails mustard greens on the side. Gluten free and vegetarian options are available. Get the bread pudding for dessert.
Recommended for Cajun because: Mambo’s serves large portions of Cajun and local specialties right on Bourbon Street.
Beth’s expert tip: Try the taste of New Orleans for a sampling of favorites includinggumbo, crawfish etouffee and red beans and rice with smoked sausage.
The Gumbo Shop is the perfect place for a fun, casual lunch served in a small, cozy, characteristically New Orleans setting. Visit this local favorite often and sample a variety of savory gumbos, including chicken andouille gumbo, seafood okra gumbo and the meatless gumbo z’herbes. Other popular dishes include favorites like crawfish etouffee, blackened fish specialties and alligator sauce piquante. The location is ideal, right next to the St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter. The venue consistently tops the local weekly Gambit’s best gumbo lists, which is saying a lot in a city with hoards of gumbo aficionados.
Recommended for Cajun because: Although known for their gumbo, the Gumbo Shop dishes plenty of Cajun specialties.
Beth’s expert tip: The gumbo here is consistently ranked among the best in town by local foodies.
Nestled in the Warehouse District, chef/owners Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski pay homage to all things swine at this inspired and authentic Cajun restaurant. Link mines his German-Acadian roots with dishes such as fried boudin with pickled peppers, pork-and-black-eyed-pea gumbo and delectable fried chicken livers with pepper-jelly toast. Reservations are recommended as this place gets packed. Or choose to dine at the same location at the more casual and newly expanded Cochon Butcher, same great charcuterie dished out of a sandwich counter and wine bar that will remind you of an old world meat market. Here’s a tip: get the muffuletta, some locals say its better than Central Grocery’s. And here’s another tip: the grilled oysters may just be the best in town.
Recommended for Cajun because: Some of the best pork in New Orleans happens on the plate at Cochon.
Beth’s expert tip: Don’t miss the char grilled oysters – they’re made with a compound chili butter and are some of the best in town.
Chef Jeff Heard mines his New Orleans and comfort food roots at this excellent Central City eatery, with its catering division named for his mama Audrey Mae. With a background that includes more than 25 years in hotel service and a decade as banquet manager at Restaurant August, this chef is steeped in Southern hospitality and the guest experience. His menu, while not strictly Cajun, uses Gulf ingredients like crawfish to create popular dishes like crawdat fries, topped with a creamy cheese sauce studded with crawfish and
a hearty file gumbo, served Cajun style with potato salad.
There’s always red beans and rice on the menu – not just on Mondays, with fried chicken or fish on the side. Shrimp and grits and stuffed bell peppers are good options, same for the Superdome, a signature dish that pairs blackened fish with a lobster cream sauce, potatoes, sweet corn and onion rings. If you go hungry here it’s your own darn fault.
Recommended for Cajun because: This chef brings a fine dining background to a solid menu of Southern comfort and Cajun-inspired cuisine.
Beth’s expert tip: Get the crawdat sauce on something – blackened steak or fish for instance – because it’s the chef’s signature.
Compact and crowded, Coop’s probably isn’t on most travelers’ agendas which is a crying shame. Located right on Decatur not far from the French Market, Coop’s remains a locals’ haunt, with its well-worn surfaces and gritty elan. Unpolished, seductive, and even a touch dingy, Coop’s is the real deal. Staples like shrimp Creole, Cajun-fried chicken, fried oysters and rabbit and sausage jambalaya are always good bets for lunch or order the tasting plate, which features the items above along with scrumptious portions of seafood gumbo and red beans and rice with sausage. This place serves food late if you need to circle back at the end of a night on Frenchmen Street.
Recommended for Cajun because: There’s always a line out the door at Coop’s – and there’s a reason for that: the place is simply good.
Beth’s expert tip: If loud bothers you, move along. But this lively French Quarter spot is the real deal as long as you can jump into the fray.
Restaurant R’evolution, situated in the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street, channels the creative powers of two chefs, James Beard-winner Rick Tramonto from Chicago, and John Folse, a local chef-personality from Donaldsonville. With competent Chef de cuisine Jana Billiot responsible for fomenting this dual vision, the menu here is imaginative and showy, with a price tag to match. Modern takes on Cajun/Creole dishes include Crawfish Stuffed Flounder Napoleon and the Gulf Shrimp and Grits. Can’t decide what to eat? Like most powerhouse New Orleans Restaurants, R’evolution offers a tasting menu where you can sample a bit of this and that. The bar is known for handcrafting a great Sazerac.
Recommended for Cajun because: Restaurant R’evolution offers an ultra contemporary take on traditional Cajun cooking.
Beth’s expert tip: Try the “Death by Gumbo” which includes a whole quail stuffed with oysters.
This is Cajun meets Creole cooking at its best. Brigtsen’s chef/owner Frank Brigtsen is legendary in the region and his culinary prowess superb. Trained with chef Paul Prudhomme. for seven years, chef Brigtsen sources many of his ingredients locally, with daily menu specials that are always a good idea. You won’t be disappointed by the roast duck or blackened tuna, but don’t miss the rabbit and Andouille gumbo, shrimp and grits and pulled pork with pepper jelly glaze. Brigtsen’s is a quick streetcar ride uptown from the French Quarter. Chef Brigtsen has garnered many awards including Best Chef Southeast from the James Beard Foundation.
Recommended for Cajun because: Chef Frank Brigtsen is a Cajun/Creole superstar chef. His flagship restaurant is well worth a cab ride uptown.
Beth’s expert tip: If you streetcar/ride share to Brigtsen’s, plan to spend the evening in the Riverbend/Carrollton area, a charmingly authentic neighborhood.
Jacques-Imo’s is a Cajun/Creole mecca notable for its truck-turned table for two beckoning the Oak Street pedestrian crowd. The shrimp etouffee and Smothered Chicken highlight a menu of favorites that deliver huge portions at reasonable prices – all entrees include salad and two sides. Locals love the fried chicken – although that argument will never be settled in New Orleans, this version is right up there. The paneed rabbit with tasso pasta is another winner, and for dessert, what else but the alligator cheesecake? Jacques Leonardi, the chef and mastermind of this venue, is usually on hand to chat up guests and talk food.
Recommended for Cajun because: Jacques-Imo’s is a lively, locally cherished neighborhood joint tucked into a two-story shotgun on historic Oak Street.
Beth’s expert tip: Don’t leave until you try the alligator cheesecake, a hefty slab of savory cheesecake chock full of shrimp and alligator nuggets.
Chef Ricky Cheramie brings his twist on traditional homestyle Cajun dishes to the table at this breezy, newish spot steps from the Convention Center. His menu features swamp favorites such as alligator, crawfish, and raw oysters; from the flatlands, there are tastes of wild boar sausage, duck, Cajun marinated prime rib and boudin-stuffed free-range Statler chicken breast with a side of field pea fricassee. IF you’re feeling a salad, compromise and get your Caesar with fried oysters on top. Beers are all local and are served in bottles and on tap. And for our wine lovers Manny Pineda has developed a list exclusively for this menu.
Recommended for Cajun because: Galliano delivers authentic Cajun flavors in the heart of the city, just steps from the Convention Center.
Beth’s expert tip: This is one of the few spots in the Warehouse district that serves both raw and char-grilled oysters.
Toups’s isn’t geared to vegetarians – although there is a daily veg plate and a salad option. But if housemade charcuterie and Cajun dishes like gets your pulse racing, then run don’t walk to this Mid-City eatery, where reservations are strongly suggested. Owned by chef Isaac Toups and his wife Amanda, Toups’ serves contemporary Cajun cuisine, dishes like Gulf shrimp stew, double cut pork chops with dirty rice, boudin balls and cracklins.The chef, who worked for Emeril for a decade before opening Toups’ in 2012, describes his menu as what happens when a Cajun boy spends 10 years in fine dining. Toups comes by his Cajun flare honestly – he hails from Rayne, Louisiana, “the frog capital of the world.”
Recommended for Cajun because: Toups’ Meatery is a chef-owned meat palace in Mid-City, a natural add on if you’re heading to Rock’N’Bowl for music.
Beth’s expert tip: If you love Toups’ Cajun flavors pick up a copy of his book, Chasing the Gator, on sale at the restaurant.