Sure, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (or Jazz Fest, for short), is first and foremost a music festival. But everyone knows that Jazz Fest wouldn’t be Jazz Fest without the killer menu of local and state food vendors selling one-of-a-kind, mouthwatering dishes–many of which you can only get during the 10-day festival that happens once a year. And one thing that seems to shock newbies the most is that this isn’t your typical fest fare–sure you’ll find casual grub that’s easy to snack on as you move from stage to stage, but other offerings feel like they’d fit in just as well at a white-table-cloth establishment, and yet somehow, they’re perfectly executed in the great outdoors on disposable plates.
So for those of us with food FOMO (guilty), a plan of attack is absolutely crucial to fit in all of the delicacies before the festival gates shut on the final Sunday. A lot of this food isn’t exactly light (we’re talking po-boys and crawfish-and-cream-sauce-stuffed puff pastry), so it’s often best to team up with a group of friends who are as food-driven as you are and make a pact to share bites to ensure you get to try as much as possible.
And while this list contains the classics, it’s always best to save room for new kids on the fest block, as there will always be something else delicious that catches your eye.
Hot Sausage Po-Boy
If you’re a fan of spice, definitely try out this spicy sausage po-boy from Vaucresson’s. It’s bright red, so you know it brings the heat.
Cochon de Lait Po-Boy
Love at First Bite
For those who love meat, the cochon de lait po-boy can’t be missed. It’s perfectly spiced and tender smoked pork shoulder on French bread with a mustardy, crunchy slaw.
Pecan Catfish Meuniere
This dish is a prime example of a fairly surprising find at an outdoor music festival. Catfish is perfectly cooked, then topped with a decadent meuniere sauce dotted with pecans. You can also grab a crab cake to go alongside your fish at this same vendor.
This excellent fish dish features a buttery heap of delicious Lousiana crabmeat atop a panfried piece of trout. Again, unexpectedly fancy for a festival. But certainly worth a taste.
Di Martino’s Famous Muffulettas
Jazz Fest is as much about the only-at-Jazz-Fest delights as it is about the classics. And when it comes to classic New Orleans sandwiches, you can’t go wrong with a muffuletta. In contrast to the ones you’ll usually find in restaurants around town, this one is better portioned for a single serving, giving you just enough cured-meat-olive-salad deliciousness to allow enough room in your stomach to continue your food journey throughout the festival grounds.
Fried Pork Chop Sandwich
Ms. Linda’s Catering
Here you’ll find bone-in, thin chops perfectly seasoned and fried served with a slathering of mayo between two slices of white bread. Don’t let the bone scare you off–this sandwich is pure heaven.
Crawfish Enchiladas and Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo
It may seem like we’re on to a theme here with the crawfish tails and melted cheese, but this Louisiana spin on a Mexican classic is spicy, rich, and filling. Also from Prejean’s, this hearty stew is an excellent pick for anyone who loves dark roux and a seriously spicy gumbo.
Soft-Shell Crab Po-Boy
Galley Seafood Restaurant
Another top pick is the fried soft-shell crab po-boy from Galley Seafood Restaurant. If you’ve never had soft-shell crab before, don’t be alarmed to find a full, crispy-fried crab waiting for you between french bread and served with pickle slices.
Spinach, Crawfish and Zucchini Bisque
So bisque at a festival might seem like a bold choice, but this creamy soup from local Tunisian restaurant Jamila’s is just so good. It’s perfectly spiced without being spicy, and makes for a very worthwhile addition to your Jazz Fest food journey.
Kajun Kettle Foods
This fan-favorite pasta dish is a classic for good reason. Rotini pasta is coated in a rich, buttery sauce full of crawfish tails, garlic, and Cajun spices. If mac’n’cheese had a South Louisiana cousin, this would be her.
Creole Stuffed Bread
Creole’s Lunch House
I was a latecomer to this treat, but I can’t imagine my Jazz Fests without it now. It’s a mixture of spicy ground Creole sausage inside a soft, almost-sweet roll. The combination is perfection.
Jama Jama and Plaintains
For all the vegetarians out there, this one is for you. Here you’ll find spicy sauteed spinach piled high with a side of perfectly pan-fried plantains.
Crawfish Sack, Oyster Patties, and Crawfish Beignets
While each item from Patton’s can be purchased individually, true fest food fans know that the combo plate is the ideal Jazz Fest trifecta. The sack is a fried beggar’s purse with crawfish filling, while the oyster patty is a tower of puff pastry filled with oyster cream sauce. Finally, the crawfish beignet is a savory take on the New Orleans classic dessert–this time with spicy crawfish in the batter, which is then fried and topped with a crawfish cream sauce. *chef’s kiss*
Continuing in the tradition of decadent crawfish dishes we crave all year long, the crawfish strudel from Cottage Catering is absolutely divine. House-made, perfectly golden phyllo dough surrounds crawfish tails coated in a creamy, lightly cheesy sauce.
Fried chicken might not be an exclusively New Orleans dish, but wow, do we know how to do it right. And when it comes to a fairly portable, easy-to-eat-at-a-fest food, fried chicken is always a good choice. If you want to make it more of a meal, opt for a combo of Cajun Jambalaya on the side.
Loretta’s Authentic Pralines
Beignets are a New Orleans must, and while you can (and should) get the traditional powdered sugar ones from Café du Monde at Jazz Fest, the stuffed versions at Loretta’s are absolutely not to be missed. You can opt for savory (lump crabmeat) or go sweet with the praline-stuffed beignet. In a word–divine.
Again, Jazz Fest foodies know that there are meals you want to find seating or standing room to consume, and others that are perfect for an on-the-go snack while you make your way to your next performance. Both are equally important to the full experience. The Cuban sandwich from Conseco’s falls in the second camp.
Alligator Pie, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Crab-Stuffed Shrimp
Cajun Nights Catering
If you’re new (or new-ish) to Louisiana cuisine, why not really go all in and try something that you’ll likely not find on menus in other parts of the country: an alligator hand pie. It’s puff pastry stuffed with spicy gator meat, and like many of the other Jazz Fest superstars, you can opt to get it as part of a trio–this one containing the savory pie, some fried green tomatoes, and crabmeat stuffed shrimp.
Goi Cuon (Spring Rolls)
Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine
Sometimes you need something crisp and refreshing at Jazz Fest, and when that craving strikes, Vietnamese spring rolls are just what the doctor ordered. They’re fresh and bright, with shrimp, crunchy veggies, and a delicious peanut sauce for dipping. You can also find a few other traditional Vietnamese dishes at this stop, including bánh mì, bun, and cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls).
And to wash it all down… (The Best Jazz Fest Beverages)
Rosemint Iced Tea
Perhaps one of the most refreshing beverages on the planet, there’s truly nothing that compares to a giant glass of rosemint iced tea on a warm day at the fairgrounds. It’s lightly sweetened, with hints of hibiscus and a minty punch.
Another ultra-refreshing beverage, the strawberry lemonade is tart yet sweet and oh, so sippable
And finally, the ultimate Jazz Fest cooldown treat has to be the mango freeze. While it’s technically a dessert, it works very well as a palate cleanser between sets. Rumor has it that it also transforms into a delightful frozen-ish cocktail when combined with the canned sparkling wine sold throughout the festival.