Vegetarian in New Orleans
Hi, first time poster here. My husband and I are heading to New Orleans next week for five nights and looking for great places to eat.
We're both vegetarians but don't necessarily want to end up in strictly vegetarian restaurants. Also, he's not a drinker and I'm pregnant, so cocktails, wine pairings and the like are irrelevant to us on this trip. We're staying in the Marigny but we will have a car. We're particularly interested in places with local flavor and atmosphere.
I've found the boards here really helpful so far and put together a list of top choices. I do wonder if we're missing a big classic, like Commander's Palace or Galatoire's. We had hoped to do the Saturday jazz brunch at Commander's (we won't be in town on Sunday) but they're booked. The woman answering the phone said there's no wait list but suggested calling first thing Sat. morning in case they have cancelations. Has anyone had success doing that?
Here are our top picks. We won't get to all of them, but I'd love some input on which shouldn't be missed and whether there are any we should add.
Breakfast (included in our room rate, but some other options...) -- Cafe du Monde, Camellia Grill, Cake Cafe and Bakery
Lunch -- Gumbo Shop, Napoleon House or Central Grocery, Mahoney's, maybe Commander's Palace
Dinner -- Gautreau's, Boucherie, R'evolution, Arnauds, Muriel's, Coquette
Saturday brunch -- EAT or Commander's Palace
Thanks everyone for the helpful suggestions. We're back from our trip and I thought I'd post a trip report for those of you who might be interested.
Our first night in town, Monday, we ate at Bennachin, an African place at the edge of the French Quarter. Plenty of vegetarian options. I had an okra stew and my husband had a bean dish with coconut rice and fried plantains. It was good, but nothing to rave about. The flavors were lively and the plantains, which I often find sort of floury tasting, were very nice. The texture of the rice was a little off, as though it had been precooked and had then become a little dried out. Overall, we both enjoyed our meal but I'm not sure I'd seek Bennachin out again on a return trip.
Tuesday we had lunch at the Gumbo Shop. They have a vegetarian gumbo and another vegetarian dish of the day, in our case white beans and rice. We tried both and preferred the white beans. Service here was friendly and prompt and it was a good, convenient spot for a quick lunch, but nothing to rave about.
That night we ate at Gautreau's. The restaurant lost our reservation, but the host was very gracious about it and quickly found us a table anyway, although I can't help but thinking we might have gotten a better table had our reservation not been lost. The menu had one vegetarian starter and one vegetarian main, so we both had identical meals, except for dessert. Our starter of house made fettuccine with parmesan and a poached egg was delicious. Really one of those instances where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. My dessert, a pear tart with fig-mascarpone ice cream was also very nice. But we both found the eggplant in our entrees to be a little tough, although the flavors in the dish were otherwise nice. On the whole, we enjoyed our food, but the service was terrible (Just one example: I sat for 30 minutes with an empty water glass and no other drink) and the room incredibly noisy for a place that bills itself as fine dining. I wouldn't go back.
The next day, Wednesday, we toured Laura Plantation and stopped for lunch at the nearby B&C Seafood, which turned out to be surprisingly good from a vegetarian's perspective. I had an eggplant parmesan po-boy and split an order of fried green tomatoes with my husband. Thoroughly enjoyed both, especially the tomatoes.
We had reservations that night at Boucherie, which we both preferred to Gautreau's. Although Gautreau's may have had slightly better food, the overall experience was much better at Boucherie (and half the price). Our server was helpful and friendly and the room wasn't quite as noisy as Gautreau's (The noise also didn't bother me so much at the more casual Boucherie. I guess I just expected a different ambiance at Gautreau's.) We did both think that our main dish, while a good enough concept, could have been better executed. It was a gratin of sorts with mirliton, which I realized later is the same as chayote, and it was unevenly baked -- some bites tender and others crunchy. The masa crumble on top had a sawdust quality that could maybe have been remedied with a little additional fat. However, my salad was wonderful and the Krispy Kreme bread pudding possibly the most sinful thing I have ever eaten and absolutely worth it.
I think we had lunch at Stanley, near Jackson square, on Thursday. It was fine but unremarkable and really not all that much for vegetarians on their sizable menu. We ended up there more than once though, because we always seemed to find ourselves in the vicinity when hunger/thirst struck. Service is efficient and the milkshakes are good.
We wandered into Mona's on Frenchman St. for dinner that night and were very impressed. It's a neighborhood Middle Eastern place and maybe not what most visitors to New Orleans have in mind when it comes to good food, but we were both were very happy we stopped there. The menu is pretty standard -- stuffed grape leaves, hummus, falafel, etc -- but everything we tried was fresh and delicious, with the possible exception of the baclava, which wasn't homemade.
Lunch at Napoleon House Friday where I enjoyed a veggie muffaletta. They're huge -- half is more than enough for one person. The veggie version wasn't on the menu, but someone on these boards recommended it so I knew what to ask for. Certainly worth a try for vegetarians looking for classic New Orleans flavors.
Our dinner that night at Coquette was possibly our best meal of the trip. Not a lot of veggie items on the menu but our server was very helpful and told us we could either make up our own meal from various sides on the menu or suggest a few ingredients and the kitchen would produce a vegetarian main. We both had the market salad -- a fresh and delightful mix of vegetables, lightly dressed. I followed that with a small but incredibly rich portion of pimento cheese ravioli, then had "strawberries and cream" for dessert, on the recommendation of our server. This was one of those desserts that you don't want to share even a bite of. It consisted of dehydrated strawberries, ground up and shaped into a hollow, creme-filled tube, like an intensely-flavord strawberry cannoli. This was paired with strawberry sorbet, strawberry foam and a "salad" of finely diced, macerated strawberries. I'm usually a fan of more classic desserts and not so into deconstructed dishes that aren't actually much like their menu descriptions. This worked so well, however, I think because it played with lots of different textures, but stuck to a single flavor. Not too busy. I have no complaints about our food that night although my husband found his entree -- a mushroom, quinoa dish -- a little uninspired. The atmosphere was nice and service friendly, although they used a team approach that didn't quite work as well as it could have (we had six different people tending to us, most of whom never knew which dish went where or who was drinking sparkling water and who still, etc.). Minor quibbles and I'd go back in a heartbeat.
We ate breakfast most mornings at our B&B, but did stop at Cafe Du Monde twice (of course). A friend mentioned that Morning Call has better beignets, but we never made it there.
We had hoped to make our last meal the Saturday Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace, but couldn't get a reservation early enough to suit us, since we had a long drive ahead. Instead, we ate at EAT and I'm not sorry in the slightest. Everything I've ever wanted in a breakfast: big, cat head biscuits; fried green tomatoes (fried green tomatoes are like crack to me), grits and eggs. The breakfast I ordered came with bacon and when I asked to have it without, the waiter offered to sub in fruit instead -- a small gesture that was nonetheless appreciated as I do get tired of either eating dishes with a key component left off or feeling like a complicated customer when I ask for substitutions instead of meat. The fried green tomatoes were not what I was used to -- instead of a cornmeal crust they almost seemed to have been batter fried, like onion rings. I prefer a cornmeal crust, but these were still wonderful. Good and tart with a tasty remoulade on the side. I can't imagine going back to New Orleans and not eating here again.
That's it for the places we tried. I did make a map ahead of our trip pinpointing various places recommended for vegetarians (on this board and elsewhere). We only tried a fraction of the places on the map, so I don't know if most of them are truly any good. Nonetheless, I thought it might be helpful to future travelers, so I'm posting the link here: http://tinyurl.com/cnkopye.
(The "top picks" on the map are places we most wanted to try, not necessarily where we ended up in the end.)
I hope this is helpful to some of you, and thanks again to everyone for all the tips and suggestions.
I know some people are recommending against Central Grocery, but they do have a veggie muff on the regular menu. If you never eat meat, you're not going to miss the meat on a veggie muff, so I'd keep it on the menu.
I don't know how New Orleans-focused you want your meals, but if you like Ethiopian, I really enjoy Nile, a place on Magazine in the Lower Garden District that I think deserves more publicity than it's getting. Also, Magasin, a Vietnamese restaurant on Magazine and Napoleon, has several vegetarian/vegan options. I've gotten the tofu banh mi there, and it's killer.
I came here too for vegetarian recommendations when I had a guest coming in -- this was about 5 yrs ago and the recommendations were fewer. Things are looking up for NOLA's vegetarians & vegans!
Mind some rambling thoughts?
First off, I have often heard and seen born out that you can go into most of the good/better places there and ask that they make you a vegetarian entree. Trust in these folks to know how to do it right! We often have vegetarians in our meals out there and I have never seen anyone be disappointed in asking the chef to do their thing (sometimes, they get the best meal of the table!)
I agree that you skip Central Grocery -- it really IS a small grocery, with people lined up forever to get a "genuine" muffaletta. You won't want that, so might as well use your time elsewhere.
When I first asked here for vegetarian places (pre-Storm), Gumbo Shop was apologetically recommended by a local and we went on a miserably rainy day --- it was great, no need for any apology there. :} When we when they had offered a daily vegetarian gumbo & daily vegetarian entree, and I think they always have Gumbo Z'herbe available.
Lebanon's Cafe is really good and has lots of vegetarian dishes. If Green Goddess is still around, it usually gets raves, but a friend & I went for lunch and were VERY disappointed -- blah and burned.
I highly recommend Boucherie; it's a great little place, obviously not vegetarian oriented, but they happily made a veggie dish for my vegetarian guest (who looked very happy with it!) If you're okay with winging it, it might be fun to give them a try. Gautreau's or Arnaud's -- kinda past their prime, I think; I don't know how they would do with an off the menu entree, but it the menu looks good, why not try? I loved Coquette the one time I tried it -- not sure about their menu offhand or how they might do with a request for a veggie main dish, but the meal I remember makes it seem as if they'd do it well.
Vega's Tapas are always good and many are meatless; Bennachin's is great. Restaurant August is all the rage and offers vegetarian dishes; lovely place and very, very good.
Enough rambling! Just go & enjoy!
re: Hungry Celeste
HC, I am so excited to try Cafe Reconcile, again, and my companion is "fairly" veggie so this is great advice for my upcoming trip - who would have thought of portobella poboy!
I love Domenia's Covey Green salad but it does have the prosciotto on it -- I guess that doesn't count! It is my "go to" healthy salad when in CBD/Quarter, so good to know about all their great sides, as per above.
OP - so glad you loved Boucherie, Coquette and EAT Nola, some of my favorites. It helps to prove that contemporary places that do food well, also do vegetarian options well.