Are your date nights feeling a bit uninspired? How about switching things up, literally! Here in New Orleans, the idea of bar hopping isn’t exactly a novel one, but how about applying that same idea to New Orleans dining? Sampling different small plates at various New Orleans restaurants throughout the course of an evening can make for a fun, adventurous, and enlightening dining experience, especially if they’re restaurants you’ve yet to try. Here are some local places with stellar starters fit for sharing. Take your dinner plans to the next level and discover New Orleans cuisine one appetizer at a time.
Appetizer Tour of New Orleans Restaurants
1. Basin Seafood and Spirits - Pop into this new eatery on Magazine Street for their Royal Reds, a certain type of deep water shrimp that have a lobster-like flavor. Peel back the thin shells and dip the succulent meat in drawn butter flavored with garlic.
2. Herbsaint - Put some New Orleans flavor in your mouth with Chef Donald Link’s Louisiana Shrimp and Grits with Tasso and Okra. Albeit a bit unconventional since the grits are actually a grit cake and okra makes an appearance, this appetizer portion packs more punch than most entree versions elsewhere.
3. Toups’ Meatery - This Mid-City eatery has a charcuterie plate that comes with an assortment of fresh, house-made cured meats, condiments and accoutrements. Lemongrass meatballs, rillons (cubed pieces of pork belly) and house-made pickles stand out on this excellent starter plate for the table.
4. Criollo - Located inside of the lovely Hotel Monteleone, Criollo has a Blue Crab, Avocado, and Gulf Shrimp tower that is certainly something worth seeing (and tasting). Layers of guacamole and blue crab are topped with a grilled Gulf Shrimp and served in a pool of spicy tomato coulis. Why begin with a salad when you can have this?
5. Sake Cafe - Sometimes a meal should be preceded by something very light with a hint of umami to get your taste buds going. Sake Cafe on Magazine Street has an appetizer of thin-sliced Yellowtail Sashimi topped with Cilantro-Jalapeño Salsa and a citrus ponzu sauce. It is spectacular.
6. Boucherie - Two words: Boudin Balls. This Cajun delicacy of pork, rice and spices is usually kept together with sausage casing, but Boucherie’s method eliminates the need for casing by coating and frying them. House made garlic aioli for dipping takes this hands-on appetizer all the way to flavor town.
7. Baru - With so many tapas to choose from, deciding could be difficult. A consistent crowd-pleaser is the Mazorca, a traditional Columbian dish that consists of roasted corn, scallions, and salty Salao cheese (similar to Cojita) then topped with a Columbian remoulade made from garlic, white wine, ketchup and lime juice accompanied by crispy potato sticks. Oh so addictive.
8. Lilette - Simplicity is a thing of beauty (and flavor) with this Magazine Street bistro’s famous Alaskan Crab Claws with Passionfruit Butter. The shells are removed, making it easy to scoop out all of that delectable crab meat. Despite your vigorous dipping of the meat in the pool of butter, some of the sauce will be left. Ask for bread. Trust me.
9. Ba Chi Canteen - New to Maple Street, this Vietnamese restaurant is making a name for itself with their inventive menu items like Kimchi Fries and “Bacos.” The fries are crispy and topped with spicy and sour kimchi, a typical Korean dish of fermented cabbage and other vegetables. The Bacos are rice flour and milk buns stuffed with everything from curry shrimp to pork belly to bulgogi beef.
10. El Gato Negro – Make your mouth dance with their super fresh and insanely delicious Cabo San Lucas-Style Ceviche. Watch as your server makes this appetizer table side by combining diced raw yellowfin tuna, fresh avocado, and Roma tomatoes with onion, cilantro, and fresh (hot!) jalapeños. Give the finished product a spritz of fresh lime juice, pile onto homemade chips and prepare to enter ceviche heaven.
Photos 1-6 and 8-10 by Emily Smith. Photo 7 courtesy of blackenedout.com.
Emily Smith is a native New Orleanian and writer of Fleurdelicious. She is enthusiastic about food here, there, everywhere!