When it comes to New Orleans, Mardi Gras and food, always listen to the locals

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Fried Shrimp Bánh Mì at Mondo in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Rush Jagoe)
Fried Shrimp Bánh Mì at Mondo in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Rush Jagoe)

Editor’s note: Our parent company, Local Voice Media, has employees who work in all different parts of the organization to make our content possible. Some take some pretty interesting trips as well. This story is from Tom Mahnken, our Vice President of Creative Services.

It’s Mardi Gras season in New Orleans as more and more people will be descending on the Crescent City between now and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28.

But like I’ve preached before, there’s so much more to New Orleans than just Mardi Gras. There is the music, the people and of course, the food. When you visit this great city, come hungry.

Related: Headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Music advice from a seasoned pro

Before I go over some of the different eateries to visit in New Orleans, please note that it is by no means an exhaustive list. For every place I name, someone who lives in or is from the city can name 10 more that you shouldn’t miss.

Word of advice: Always listen to the locals.

The famous beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy CafeDuMonde.com)
The famous beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy CafeDuMonde.com)

Café Du Monde is home to those famous beignets, close relatives to the fried dough you find at so many country fairs. Only difference is that this delicacy features 10 times as much powdered sugar on top. Wash them down with a cup of coffee and chicory. The taste for coffee and chicory was developed by the French during their civil war. Coffee was scarce during those times, and they found that chicory added body and flavor to the brew. Coffee with chicory may take some getting used to, but it’s the New Orleans way.

The “original” muffuletta sandwich at Central Deli and Grocery. (Photo courtesy CentralGrocery.com)
The “original” muffuletta sandwich at Central Deli and Grocery. (Photo courtesy CentralGrocery.com)

Central Grocery and Deli opened in 1906 and is famous for their “original” muffuletta sandwiches, which is basically a huge sandwich with layers of marinated olive salad, cheese, salami, ham, and any number of other ingredients, depending on who’s making it. The name of the sandwich comes from the bread, known in Sicily as “muffuletta” (pronounced “muffu-LET-ta”). You can’t eat a whole one by yourself.

The Golden Fried Shrimp Poor Boy at Parkway in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy ParkwayPoorBoys.com)
The Golden Fried Shrimp Poor Boy at Parkway in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy ParkwayPoorBoys.com)

Parkway Bakery and Tavern is a great spot to grab a classic poor boy sandwich. In other places, they might call it a sub, grinder, or hoagie but somehow, a “po’ boy” just sounds better. It’s a traditional sandwich from Louisiana and almost always consists of meat, which is usually sloppy roast beef, known as meat curtains, or fried seafood which includes shrimp, crawfish, oysters and crab. At the Parkway, which has been around since 1911, they have a wide range of poor boy sandwiches. Everything from fried shrimp to alligator sausage to a golden grilled reuben. According to their web site: “We’re poor boy experts.”

Fried oysters at Cooter Brown's in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy CooterBrowns.com)
Fried oysters at Cooter Brown’s in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy CooterBrowns.com)

Cooter Brown’s can be used as a great excuse to hop on a streetcar in the Central Business District and then ride it up St. Charles Street. It’s a lazy trip past some of the most beautiful homes in the country, and when you get off at Cooter Brown’s, a huge pile of freshly-shucked oysters will be your reward. They also have more than 80 different beers on tap.

Cupckaes and pastries from Cake Cafe and Bakery in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy NolaCakes.com)
Cupckaes and pastries from Cake Cafe and Bakery in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy NolaCakes.com)

Cake Café and Bakery in the Bywater District is an extremely popular spot for good reason. Everybody needs breakfast after a night in New Orleans and they feature dishes like shrimp n’ grits and the crab omelet. Both are cooked to perfection in a kitchen so small you will wonder where they keep the ingredients. And for an extra buck, you can have one of Cake Café’s cupcakes with your meal. It would be a bargain at five times the price.

One of the many wood fired pizzas at Mondo in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Rush Jagoe)
One of the many wood fired pizzas at Mondo in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy Rush Jagoe)

Susan Spicer’s Mondo promises, and delivers, “Flavors of the world, with a New Orleans accent”. It is not a cheap meal, but I don’t regret a single penny I have ever spent there. It is the kind of food you eat very slowly in order to savor every subtle flavor. An excellent wine list makes this a place you can really settle into for a leisurely dinner with good friends. Remember what I said about locals? The chef, Susan Spicer, and her family live in the Lakeview neighborhood where Mondo is located.

But one of my favorite spots to eat in New Orleans was the kind of place you wouldn’t find in any guidebook or even on the Internet. Alberta’s Soul Food Restaurant Number Two was one of those places. It was in a house near the corner of Second and Danneel Street. It had one table that sat about eight people and another that sat two.

A large jukebox was wedged into the room and included more than 40 gospel tunes that Alberta had recorded herself. You had to call ahead to tell Alberta you were coming, and what you got when you arrived was a prix fixe menu: pork chops, fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and red beans. All of that for $3.50. And sometimes fish was included, if her husband John caught any that day.

I’ll never forget that place, and I’ll always be grateful to my friend Derek, who took me there a few times. Always listen to the locals — that lesson applies to almost anything when you travel. But when it comes to food and the city of New Orleans, it rings even more true.

Tom Mahnken is the Vice President of Creative Services at Local Voice Media and has written and produced more than 10,000 ads since he joined the company in 1996. When he’s not working in radio, Mahnken plays bass guitar all over New England with his band Trailer Park and tours the world playing saxophone with the Young@Heart Chorus.

During the Mardi Gras carnival season, there will be more than 70 parades in and around New Orleans, from small affairs to large shindigs that rival Super Bowl halftime shows for their pageantry and music. (Photo courtesy Tom Mahnken)
During the Mardi Gras carnival season, there will be more than 70 parades in and around New Orleans, from small affairs to large shindigs that rival Super Bowl halftime shows for their pageantry and music. (Photo courtesy Tom Mahnken)

For more information or to have your recent trip highlighted in our travel section, email travel editor Aaron Gray at aaron@localvoicemedia.com

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Local Voice Media’s travel editor Aaron Gray is an award-winning journalist and published author. He grew up in Herndon, Virginia and graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Specialized Media Arts & Design. He has won several Associated Press Sports Editors awards for breaking news and production design during his 13 years in the media industry. He has worked in Baltimore, Maryland; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). He has visited more than 20 countries around the world and hopes to use his experience as a travel junkie to inspire, educate and entertain the loyal readers of Local Voice Media.