Visitors to New Orleans nearly always make the requisite stops at legendary dining institutions like Cafe du Monde, Antoine’s, and Dooky Chase. But the locals know that there’s a thriving culinary culture beyond the beignet, gumbo, and oysters Rockefeller. When weirdo foodie Andrew Zimmern went on record as saying the next big food trend would be Filipino cuisine — and that there was in fact a popular pop-up Filipino restaurant in NOLA — we knew we had to take a closer look. Read on for a mouthwatering roundup.
Milkfish is the first Filipino restaurant in New Orleans! Chef Cristina Quackenbush came to New Orleans with almost 25 years of restaurant experience, and sought to add tastes of her homeland to the already exciting flavor profiles of the city. A mixture of Asian and Spanish ingredients and flavors, the lumpia (a version of the eggroll), adobo, pancit (noodles), halo-halo (shaved ice), and more are finding ardent fans among locals. A bonus for veg-heads: many menu items can also be prepared vegetarian. Find Milkfish for now at the Who Dat Cafe in the hip Marigny neighborhood.
Speaking of veg-heads… With all the seafood and pork products found in “traditional” NOLA cuisine, you could be forgiven for thinking that being vegetarian or — gasp — vegan in New Orleans is next to impossible. Not so. The Wandering Buddha is a Korean veggie and vegan pop-up (currently looking to reopen a brick-and-mortar restaurant) that pops up at weekend markets and festivals. Another cultural mash-up: Carmo, which serves vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free Brazilian food in the Arts Warehouse District. They specialize in exotic fruits — which end up in fresh-pressed juices and cocktails — fresh salads, and sandwiches with tropical and Brazilian flavors.
Pioneered by Ferran Adria in Spain, molecular gastronomy as a technique and cuisine has since made inroads around the globe. At Root, Chef Phillip Lopez uses food science to tell a story over the course of a meal. Manipulating solids into liquids, and liquids into dust and gels, Lopez transforms seemingly prosaic dishes like a vegetable salad, deviled eggs, smoked scallops, and carrot cake into delicious surprises almost guaranteed to diverge from (and surpass) your expectations.
Probably the largest new immigrant group in New Orleans, the Vietnamese have fostered a burgeoning food culture since the 1980s. Every Saturday, you can head to the Vietnamese Farmers Market in New Orleans East to find produce like chilis, okra, lemongrass, and papaya, as well as live ducks and chickens and Vietnamese baked goods. Traditional produce thrives here since the climate is similar to Vietnam. Many of these ingredients find their way to the banh mi and pho of joints like Singleton’s Mini Mart (a convenience store/sandwich shop that serves Vietnamese specialties on Saturdays), and Lilly’s Cafe in the Lower Garden District.
Most Indian — as well as Pakistani and Bangladeshi — immigrants to NOLA have arrived in the last 40 or so years and settled in the suburbs (including the parents of current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). We like Nirvana uptown and Schiro’s Cafe in the Marigny, another combo convenience store/restaurant. While the latter has a fairly abbreviated Indian menu (alongside New Orleans classics), its atmosphere and service make it a popular destination. There’s also a B&B above the cafe, and a laundromat in the back. Talk about full service!
Spanish influences abound in Creole cuisine (the onion, bell pepper, and celery of the “holy trinity” all came from Spain), but Latin American foods are newer additions to the NOLA dining scene. We’re happy to share several delicious examples. Try La Macarena, and don’t let the name put you off (we have the song stuck in our head now, too). These are the best pupusas in the city and, according to none other than Drew Brees himself, “the best Latin food in N’Awlins.” It’s also vegetarian friendly, so tell your veggie friend to stop whining that he “won’t be able to eat anything” in New Orleans. Other must-trys: La Boca in the CBD for authentic Argentine steak service, Sarita’s Grill uptown, for 2-for-1 Friday night margaritas (and excellent tacos), and Mayas, which serves up “nuevo Latino”/Caribbean food with flair.