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Food & Drink

Best Places for International Cuisine in New Orleans

Mais Arepas' Badeja Paisa (courtesy of Mais Arepas)
Mais Arepas' Badeja Paisa (Photo courtesy of Mais Arepas)

World-renowned for its talented chefs and savory local cuisine, New Orleans boasts probably hundreds of restaurants that showcase local Creole cooking, in addition to Cajun fixings imported from communities west of New Orleans. However, after countless bowls of gumbo, jambalaya, servings of beignets, plates of crawfish etouffee and red beans and rice, fried okra, cracklins, and hot sauce, there is nothing wrong with providing your taste buds with a much-deserved change of scenery.

New Orleans is an international city, filled with people and influences from around the world. As such, its sprawling restaurant scene offers countless opportunities to enjoy varied types of cuisine rooted in Latin American, Asian, African, Mediterranean, and many more influences. Discover just a handful of notably delicious establishments.

Enjoy Sangria and Colombian cuisine at Maïs Arepas (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Mais Arepas

Founded by Colombia native David Mantilla, Mais Arepas is a result of influences from his hometown, Cali, his grandma’s cooking, and his own creativity. Named after the humble arepa, a cornmeal pouch, of sorts, stuffed with flavors, the menu showcases about a dozen arepas (I order the cerda arepa—pulled pork, sweet plantains, pickled red onions, and cotija cheese—every time). Authentic Colombian dishes on the menu include tamal Valluno (steak, chicken, and pork tamal with potatoes, carrots, green peas, hogao, and white rice) and empanadas Caleñas (empanadas filled with shredded skirt steak, sofrito & papa criolla).

Que Rico! Cuban Cafe

Its name quite literally means “how delicious,” and this proclamation is no exaggeration. The menu is extensive, but for recommendations try the croquetas con mojo (an appetizer that looks a lot like mozzarella sticks on the outside but with a creamy interior that includes either ham or chicken), the lechon asada (slow-cooked pulled pork with mojo served with black beans, rice, and sweet plantains), and the pan con bistec (a pressed sandwich of palomilla steak topped with onions and potato sticks, or “papitas”). Make room for dessert—the tres leches cake should not be missed. This place has a stamp of approval from my spouse, who is a Cuban-American from Miami.

Gianna

New Orleans has long been home to Italian immigrants and their generations of decedents. As can be expected—especially since this community is widely recognized for its cuisine—there are a number of Italian restaurants dispersed throughout the city. Gianna, from Louisiana native Chef Donald Link, is but one of the more recent additions. James Beard Award-winning chef Rebecca Wilcomb prepares rustic Italian food, some of which is inspired by her grandmother. Enjoy an antipasti plate of house-made salami, tuna-stuffed peppers, and mozzarella with tomatoes and basil before moving on to the next course (such as the creamy polenta with lamb sausage gravy). For the main course, try a pasta dish, like Giannina’s tortellini in brodo (dumplings in chicken broth with parmesan) or go all out with the Veal Saltimbocca.

Mona’s Cafe

Mona’s Cafe has been one of the city’s longest serving Middle Eastern—specifically Lebanese—restaurant. With several locations scattered across town, diners can find a casual, affordable environment, with BYOB (no corkage fee). Mona’s menu offers an array of recognizable Middle Eastern food, such as falafel, stuffed grape leaves, Shawarma, and gyro. For a departure from hummus, order the foul, a mashed fava bean dish seasoned with garlic, hot pepper, lemon, and olive oil. The Frenchmen and Banks Street locations have full-service international markets where you can take home tasty Mediterranean treats like Turkish Delight among others.

Bennachin

One of just a few African restaurants in the city (though many local dishes have influences from what was previously the Senegambian region of Africa), Bennachin has an established presence in the city. Cuisine from Cameroon and The Gambia inspires the menu, though diners might recognize similarities between other familiar food. The menu includes Bennachin, an African jambalaya, a beef sausage and smoked turkey gumbo called Nsouki Lappa, and Kone ni Makondo, a stew with black-eyed peas, onion, and tomato over coconut rice dish. This place is vegetarian-friendly but has plenty of meat options too.

Dian Xin dumplings (Photo credit: Bonnie Ceng)

Dian Xin

You may be in for a bit of a wait, but rest assured—this place is worth it. A newer addition to the New Orleans restaurant scene, this Cantonese-style restaurant is located on the edge of the French Quarter. Try the refreshing but spicy cucumber salad or the steamed bao (fluffy pillows stuffed with a protein). The menu is extensive, and your eyes will probably be bigger than your stomach here, but prices are very reasonable for the quality. The hot and sour soup is also a must.

namese

While perhaps lesser known than New Orleans’ French and Spanish heritage, the city boasts a living, breathing, and thriving Vietnamese community. namese, one of many, many local Vietnamese restaurants, provides a cozy spot to imbibe bubble tea with tapioca pearls, warm your belly with phở (try one of the shaken phở), or cool down with bún—cool, vermicelli rice noodles paired with a protein like garlic shrimp, grilled pork, or tofu and mushrooms. One further suggestion? Order the crab rangoons with a chimichurri-esque dipping sauce.

Gianna restaurant (photo courtesy of Donald Link Restaurant Group)
Gianna restaurant (photo courtesy of Donald Link Restaurant Group)

Saffron

At first blush, Saffron is an Indian restaurant, but a closer look shows a mild infusion of other cuisines as well, such as European and American Southern. Before Saffron’s move to Magazine Street, it was a catering operation that only served Friday dinner. Now open for dinner every night except Sunday and Monday, it has a substantial local following. Try the Paneer Pudha, a zucchini-cheese-lentil pancake flavored with date-tamarind and mint chutneys, the goat Masala over basmati rice, or the Khyber lamb chops, which are rum-soaked. For some bread on the side, order the naan which comes in a few flavors: plain, garlic, and the inventive mint-paneer or truffle. Make sure to reserve a table in advance.

Saba

Alon Shaya’s restaurant Saba (which means “grandfather in Hebrew) builds on his Israeli heritage with a number of culinary influences—from Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and more. The menu largely features small plates and shareable bites (think tabouleh and lutenitsa—an eggplant, tomato, and red pepper spread) and changes regularly. Hummus is more than just chickpeas here so try out some of the inventive choices (currently, the menu offers a spicy Brussels sprouts hummus with chilies, caramelized onions, and black garlic). Eating the homemade pita bread is not optional.

Green Room Kukhnya

What began in the kitchen of local bar Siberia, Green Room Kukhnya has transitioned to its own spot on St. Bernard Avenue. Serving up Eastern European food, it is substantially more expansive than the bar menu. Of course, the pierogis are still on the menu as is the borsch soup (both veggie and beef options) and beef Stroganoff. Try the Ukrainian meatballs, beef and pork meatballs served with braised cabbage and mashed potatoes. The Slavic sampler also provides a well-rounded taste test. For dessert, order one of the sweet blini, a pancake of sorts. My favorite is the apple blini, which consists of spiced apples, toasted almonds, goat cheese, and honey.

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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