I just returned from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which is a great food city -- that is, if you like seafood and sausage. New Orleans gets a bad rap for not being vegetarian-friendly, but I disagree.
As noted on the Travel Tips page, New Orleans has numerous first-class restaurants, most of which do not include any vegetarian items on their menus. But because their chefs are so well trained, most of them are more than happy to accommodate special diets, especially if you call ahead. Although the downside to this approach is that you may not get to choose what you want from an array of options, the upside is that you almost always will end up with a unique and delicious well-balanced meal, prepared especially for your palate and based on whatever fresh ingredients the chef has in the kitchen.
At both Emeril's (in the Warehouse District) and Bayona (in the French Quarter), for example, I described my dietary restrictions to the waiter and discussed what foods I like (mushrooms!) and dislike (eggplant!). Then, it was up to the chef to invent something that would satisfy me -- and that's exactly what happened. Pictured below are my meals at both places.
|At Emeril's, the chef prepared this vegetarian trio: grilled bread topped with grilled mushrooms and other veggies, baked beans topped with a tomato-corn salsa and fried onions, and bok choy served with cauliflower, roasted red pepper, and rice.|
|My vegetarian meal at Emeril's was accompanied by freshly baked focaccia, corn muffin, and roll.|
|My meal at Bayona began with these tasty black bean cakes.|
|This is one of two different vegetarian entrees that my dining partner and I shared at Bayona. This one is made with rice, greens, onions, baby carrots, and roasted peppers, and was deliciously seasoned.|
|Bayona's second vegetarian entree consisted of polenta, portobello mushrooms, broccolli, cauliflower, cabbage, and a tapenade relish. This dish had a totally distinct flavor than the first one.|
On Fat Tuesday I had lunch at Luke (located right on St. Charles Avenue in the Central Business District). They were also very accommodating, although because it was a busy day for them and I did not call ahead, I was limited to meat-free versions of existing menu items, which were still delicious.
|At Luke, I was served this pasta dish with seasoned mushrooms and veggies.|
|I also was able to get a meat-free option of Luke's onion tart, served on paper-thin flatbread with cheese.|
But my favorite meal, by far, was at the Gumbo Shop (in the French Quarter), which serves authentic New Orleans cuisine AND offers both a vegetarian gumbo and a daily vegetarian creole-style rice and beans dish. Unfortunately, the restaurant does not accept reservations, but I had no problem getting a table even during the busy carnival season by showing up a little early, before the dinner rush.
|The Gumbo Shop's vegetarian gumbo contains mushrooms, greens, and kidney beans, and is topped with white rice and scallions.|
|The Gumbo Shop's daily vegetarian rice-and-beans dish on the day I dined there was made with creole-seasoned black beans and came with a homemade corn and tomato salsa.|
For more casual dining, I definitely recommend Carmo (in the Warehouse District) and Bennachin (in the French Quarter). Almost everything Carmo serves is or can be made vegetarian or vegan. And Bennachin, which is a family-owned African restaurant, has several vegetarian options on its menu. Carmo, with its tropical theme, also serves delicious cocktails. Bennachin, on the other hand, is BYOB. My meals at both places (pictured below) were delicious.
|Carmo's broken noodle salad is made with rice noodles, tofu, peanuts, bean sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms, cilantro, peppers, and scallions, and tossed with a citrus-ginger-chili vinaigrette.|
|Carmo's daily special on the day I dined there was a curry dish made with potatoes, black-eyed peas, green beans, and scallions, served over price and with a side of greens.|
|At Bennachin, I had this hearty dish of black-eyed peas served in a tomato-onion stew with coconut rice, fried plantains, and a freshly baked roll.|
Finally, vegetarians and carnivores alike cannot go to New Orleans during carnival season without trying the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake, which tastes great with Community or Orleans brand coffee.
|This slice of traditional Mardi Gras King Cake is about to be devoured!|
TIP: As previously advised here and here, always be careful when traveling in the South to make sure that dishes that appear vegetarian are not, in fact, prepared with animal products (like lard).