After booking a cheap ticket to New Orleans, the first thing I googled was “where to eat in New Orleans.” Over 67 million results appeared. When I posed the same query to my coworkers and friends, who all seemed to have visited New Orleans already, I received about the same number of recommendations.
How to sort through this mess? My question seemed to be too vast and general, and I was getting canned, general responses. After arriving here with a few starter recommendations and spending a few days in the city, I came up with some methods that helped me narrow down my list of places to eat and go for good local food, with only a few obligatory tourist experiences:
Ask everyone for recommendations on where to eat. Recommendations from people who visited your vacation spot are nice, but the genuinely insider information comes from people who live there. People are usually friendly and happy to tell you about their home town.
Focus on foods you can't get at home. I went after dishes that locals like to debate where to go for the best version: oysters, fried chicken, gumbo, po’ boys, muffaletta, alligator and turtle soup. In addition to that, I knew that there was great Vietnamese food, so I made that a priority.
Don’t wait on long lines. The food is hardly ever going to live up to your expectations after going through so much for it. The best recommendations came with the advice, “You can wait a long time at this place that you’re headed (Acme Oyster House), or you can go to this other place with oyster happy hour and almost no tourists.”
There can be good stuff in a touristy neighborhood. We got a tip about a place in the French Quarter called Coop's. We sidestepped fanny-pack-wielding tourists like ourselves and passed about 10 praline and souvenir shops to get there. When we arrived, we found a dimly lit bar packed on a weekday, a chalkboard full of local specials, $4 Abita brews and bartenders arguing with regulars about last night’s game. Servers came around the corner with heaps of red beans and rice and chicken Tchoupitoulas and we knew we were in a good place.
Keep a master list. Whenever I heard a good recommendation of a place, I added it to a note in my phone so I could choose to look back and pick it out in case dinner plans were up in the air.
Walk or bike around. This is the best way to really get a feel for a neighborhood. Plus you can stop to scope out menus and press your face against the windows.
Photo: Flickr CC / WallyG