Soul Food You Have to Eat When Visiting New Orleans

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Man eating a piece of fried chicken

Cajun and Creole flavors usually get top billing, but New Orleans soul food is in a class of its own. These are the kind of rib-sticking, lip-smacking flavors that many of the city’s natives serve up with pride. Follow us down to Louisiana for the unforgettable tastes of this enduring style of authentic down-home cooking.

Are you ready to sample soul food in New Orleans? Let’s go!

What Is Soul Food? 

Soul food is a form of country cooking that celebrates African-American culture. Food historians trace its origins as far back as the days of slavery when cooks learned to make the most of somewhat meager ingredients. They used less desirable cuts of meat, for instance, and harvested crops they raised themselves. 

Some of the flavors and cooking techniques likely came from Africa, along with the cooks. Others evolved to merge with food traditions from other ethnic groups that make up America’s melting pot. Though many people associate soul food with the South, you can find it throughout the United States. You just have to know where to look.

Man eating soul food in New Orleans

Is New Orleans Known for Soul Food? 

New Orleans is truly a food lover’s paradise with its incredible array of unique local flavors. You’ll find many spicy seafood dishes with rich and complex sauces. The French influence comes out strongly here, too, down to the freshly baked bread that characterizes the famous po-boy sandwiches.

But soul food has always occupied its own tasty corner in the Crescent City and probably always will. Creative and resourceful cooks have proudly served it up for generations, often in modest mom-and-pop eateries in various neighborhoods.

Traveler’s Tip: After exploring New Orleans, check out these 7 Best Small Towns in Louisiana.

What Is the Difference Between Southern Food and Soul Food? 

Soul food is closely associated with Black culture, and it’s also defined largely by the ingredients used. Pork is a mainstay, and so are corn meal and vegetables that have roots in Africa, such as okra and sweet potatoes.

The lines of distinction are blurry, maybe because many generations of Americans have enjoyed meals prepared by Black cooks for decades.

Little girl eating fried chicken in New Orleans

Best Places for Soul Food in New Orleans

We avoided many of the more popular tourist destinations in exchange for these more home-spun Big Easy flavors. We’ll visit both sides of the river to find show-stopping meals full of soul. As a bonus, many restaurants also feature a few classic Louisiana favorites like gumbo and jambalaya.

M & J Soul Food Restaurtant

Address: 9301 Lake Forest Blvd Suite 107, New Orleans, LA 70127

About: Did you say you’re looking for soul food in New Orleans? Just so there’s no confusion, sometimes it’s right in the restaurant’s name. Looking at reviews of this West Lake eatery, you’ll see the word “homey” a lot. And that’s a good trick to pull off when located in a shopping strip in New Orleans East.

The interior is fairly plain, almost utilitarian, but warmed up with fun and lively local art. The local flavors give the most comfort, of course, and you’ll also appreciate the quick, friendly service.

What to Order: Besides traditional New Orleans dishes like red beans and rice, you can enjoy Southern favorites like fried chicken with mac and cheese or hamburger steak served with mashed potatoes. Or try the candied yams, the specialty side dish that hits the sweet spot for many of M&J’s faithful.

Sweet Soulfood

Address: 1025 N Broad St, New Orleans, LA 70119

About: Sweet Soulfood has a modern take that will appeal to those who crave a flavorful plant-based diet. Some of their vegan offerings truly seem magical. There’s no fatty pork on the menu here, and the only thing fried is the cauliflower. 

It may seem like an oxymoron, but Sweet Soulfood has managed a mouthwatering all-vegan menu that inspires frequent double-takes. Their inventive but respectful approach includes many gluten-free items. The best part is that it’s cafeteria-style so you can enjoy up to four dishes.

What to Order: They also have barbecued cauliflower and a “sweet heat” version enhanced by chili peppers. The eggplant lasagna never disappoints. Neither do more traditional soul food staples like fresh greens, mac and cheese, and bread pudding with rum sauce.

Person eating soul food in New Orleans

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

Address: 2401 St Ann St., New Orleans, LA 70119

About: Just a few blocks from Sweet Soulfood, this Sixth Ward fixture served only drinks for years before evolving into a beloved restaurant. The demand came from customers who knew the owner, Willie Mae Seaton, was an exceptional cook. For a long time, mainly neighborhood residents knew how good the food was at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. 

However, the word gradually got around to the point that the restaurant’s namesake won a James Beard Award in 2005. Since then, countless TV shows have showcased Willie Mae Seaton and her restaurant. Savvy tourists flock there to taste the “real deal” traditions carried forward by Seaton’s great-granddaughter.

What to Order: The fried chicken is often singled out as America’s best, so start there. The baked chicken is another winner, and the delicious sides include green beans and butter beans. Don’t leave without devouring a cornbread muffin or two.

Two Sistas ‘N Da East

Address: 9901 Chef Menteur Hwy New Orleans, LA 70127

About: This is one of those places where it’s a guarantee you won’t leave hungry, and it won’t break the bank. Being so affordable and having quick service are just two of the many reasons it’s such a popular spot. 

Before you go, it might help to know what “smothered” means. It’s simmering meats in a covered pot, in some liquid, to make them amazingly tender. The meat then gets covered in sauce or gravy. 

Two Sistas has perfected this technique, so their savory creations have already been slow-cooking when you arrive. Besides the classic smothered pork chops or smothered chicken, sometimes you may find rabbit or oxtails waiting in the pot.

What to Order: To accompany the delicious stewed meats, stack your plate with trusty side dishes like cabbage and potato salad. Others rave about the hot sausage with a side of buttered cornbread.

Chef making gumbo in New Orleans

Open Hands

Address: 3328 Lasalle St, New Orleans, LA 70115

About: While many soul food restaurants follow a basic pattern, Open Hands leans heavily toward flavors more specific to New Orleans. You could call it the best of both worlds. 

Chef Katherine Hutton calls her fare Creole-inspired soul food, and she has a devoted following. Repeated customers rave about her little business’ welcoming hospitality almost as much as her satisfying cuisine. New Orleans is full of places that could exist nowhere else in the world, and this is certainly one of them.

What to Order: Their Beef Yakamein, slow-cooked beef over Chinese-style noodles, is a wonderful example of a soulful New Orleans fusion dish. Other popular choices include stuffed bell peppers, crawfish pies, and crab-stuffed catfish. As a side, try the sumptuous medley of squash, zucchini, and onions.

Riteway Soul Foods

Address: 3044 Gentilly Blvd New Orleans, LA 70122

About: You could easily drive past this corner store just off Elysian Fields Avenue. Stop in and find memorable versions of many New Orleans favorites. Riteway Soul Foods has a lot going against it, like limited parking and little space for dining. Nonetheless, you’ll find a steady stream of diners. 

Many of them are on the go and stop to grab a New Orleans-style po-boy sandwich. Try some decadent options, like the fried pork chop po-boy or another filled with French fries. Your cardiologist may suggest otherwise, but we do recommend a stop if you want to indulge in a unique take on New Orleans soul food.

What to Order: We’re unsure how you can pass up an opportunity to try a porkchop po-boy. Others say the gumbo is some of the best around, especially with a grilled cheese sandwich to go with it. 

Plate of soul food in New Orleans

Gentilly Spicy Kitchen

Address: 4060 Old Gentilly Rd, New Orleans, LA 70126

About: This neighborhood go-to is known for its welcoming attitude and delectable dishes. When everyone inside is smiling, you know you’ve come to the right place. Don’t expect any frills — just Southern-style flavors and friendliness from the family that runs it. There is a small dining area, but many people order from the take-out window and happily trudge off with to-go boxes.

What to Order: If you’re lucky, spare ribs will be on the menu when you visit. Customers also love the smothered turkey wings, white beans and rice, and chicken and waffles. 

Wags Food and Culture

Address: 1601 Plaza Dr, Marrero, LA 70072, United States

About: Across the river to the south of the city is an area called the West Bank. That’s where you’ll find the suburb of Marrero, which is home to Wags. This small family-run restaurant is known for its service and quality menu that changes daily. 

They’re not reinventing the wheel here but keeping it greased. Wags offers a few healthier options, unlike most soul food joints, including grilled chicken or fish with salad and veggies.

What to Order: Stewed chicken over rice is one of the most popular dishes. It usually comes served with baked macaroni, peas, and potato salad. Meatloaf and mustard greens are satisfying, too. This is the place if you haven’t tried any sweet potato pie so far on your tour.

Traveler’s Tip: All this soul food making your mouth water? Make sure to try these 8 Foods You Have To Eat When Visiting The South.

Is Soul Food in New Orleans Worth It?

New Orleans is so food-centric that it’s not unusual to plan your next meal while you eat. It’s the only place we know of where that happens. And the choices seem endless, especially when you add New Orleans soul food to the mix.

These stellar restaurants that focus on soul food aren’t super touristy and are often off the beaten path. Seeking out these flavors means discovering parts of the city that you may not otherwise encounter.

You’ll also meet wonderful people with a passion for cooking who want their guests to return again and again.

What are your favorite places for soul food in New Orleans? Tell us in the comments below.

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