At this point, it’s almost a cliché that it’s hard to find a bad meal in New Orleans. Sometimes, it can seem like every hole-in-the-wall neighborhood restaurant, dive bar, or corner store can serve food on par with high-end establishments in other cities, inevitably for a fraction of the cost.
But even within New Orleans, there are some unexpected places to get a great bite to eat: the kind of places where you’re not only surprised how good your meal is, you’re surprised to find food being served there at all. We’ve put together a list of some of the most surprising places to find delicious food in the city, from off-the-beaten-path bookstores to a yoga studio in a former library.
At the Drugstore
Catty-corner from the Orleans Parish criminal court, Best Life Pharmacy & Restaurant (2657 Tulane Ave.) can seem intimidating to the uninitiated, consisting of just a food window, a prescription window, and a handful of tables. But the hearty portions of entrees like beef and tilapia, along with rich sides like white beans and macaroni and cheese, make it a worthwhile stop for take-out or a quick workday lunch.
At the Yoga Studio
In a former public library and within Swan River Yoga (2940 Canal St.), Good Karma Prasad Café offers a wide assortment of vegetarian cuisine—think curry, not fake burgers—in a relaxing atmosphere. Coffee, tea, and pastries make the café a decent treat even for the occasional carnivore.
Tucked Away on the Canal
On the navigational canal just off Lake Pontchartrain sits a marina and RV park called Pontchartrain Landing (6001 France Rd.). And while the site is difficult to find or to access without a vehicle, the onsite Lighthouse Bar and Grill has a great selection of local food and barbecue, along with a waterfront view unlike any other in the city.
At the Party Supply Store
It’s not technically inaccurate to call Mardi Gras Zone (2706 Royal St.) a party supply store, with beads and decorations for nearly every possible occasion. But the store is also a 24-hour supermarket with a deli counter and its own line of farm-fresh fare. It’s also a more-than-credible pizzeria, featuring a wood-fired brick oven churning out classic hand-tossed pies. Honestly, you should probably just go and see it for yourself.
At the Museum
Museum restaurants aren’t exactly unique to New Orleans, and the New Orleans Museum of Art’s (1 Collins Diboll Cir.) Café NOMA does offer the classic museum dining experience, but the city also boasts a few other, distinct New Orleans alternatives.
The French Quarter’s Irish Cultural Museum (933 Conti St.) is the home of St. Patrick’s Coffee House, which serves cappuccinos and lattes that visitors can enjoy in the shop or in the museum’s relaxing courtyard. Naturally, the coffee house also offers a selection of Irish beers and whiskeys, plus wine and specialty cocktails.
The National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.) includes two restaurants. The American Sector serves regional classics like oyster dishes and shrimp and grits, as well as a “victory garden-to-table” menu with locally grown vegetables. And Jeri Nims Soda Shop offers sandwiches, pastries, and old-fashioned milkshakes, served in a classic diner-style environment.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) is home to its own restaurant, Toups South, with Southern-style cuisine served up by former Top Chef contestant Isaac Toups. The museum also features regular cooking demonstrations, naturally focusing on regional cuisine.
At Jackson Brewery
Many New Orleans residents have never even set foot in the former Jackson Brewery (600 Decatur St.), other than perhaps to use the bathroom during French Quarter Fest. But on the second floor, amid the numerous souvenir shops, sits Jazz Sushi Bar. Despite the unpromising name, it offers friendly service and good, reasonably priced sushi, complete with lunch specials, along with other Japanese fare like dumplings and miso soup.
At the Bookstore
In Algiers, BlackStar Books and Caffe (800 Belleville St.) offers a selection of books from the African diaspora, as well as a menu that’s a welcome alternative to the Point’s burger-and-beer-heavy dining options. Options include Jamaican sodas, jerk chicken, salmon sandwiches, and salads.
And Uptown, Sisters in Christ (5206 Magazine St.) combines records with offbeat and left-leaning literature. But the store also hosts a weekly Sunday pop-up vegan brunch from Chef Pony, featuring a changing selection of items like vegan scones and smoky carrot lox sandwiches.
At a Concert
In most of the country, eating dinner at a music venue can mean wolfing down a pack of bar nuts or waiting in line at a taco truck. But in New Orleans, finding good meals at a bar with quality music isn’t hard, even outside of tourist-heavy spots on Frenchmen and Decatur Streets. Many places also let diners grabbing take-out during shows skip any cover, so don’t be shy about asking.
In Mid-City, Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St.) is home to music almost nightly. It’s also home to Cochon King BBQ, featuring everything from cochon de lait to chicken wings and smoked boudin. And nearby, Banks Street Bar and Grill (4401 Banks St.) presents daily local music, plus a take-out window into Clesi’s Restaurant (4413 Banks St.), with seasonal crawfish boils, fried catfish, and deliciously unhealthy jambalaya cheese fries. Also around the corner, DMac’s Bar and Grill (542 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.) hosts nightly music, often late into the night, alongside staples like burgers and fries. Beverages are served 24/7.
And in the Marigny, punk- and metal-heavy venue Siberia (2227 St. Claude Ave.) is home to Kukhnya, offering hearty Eastern European staples like pierogies and blinis, as well as burgers, sandwiches, and sides such as grilled asparagus. Just down the street, the courtyard at the Hi-Ho Lounge (2239 St. Claude Ave.) hosts Fry and Pie, with poutine-style loaded fries and a variety of dessert pies.