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GoNOLA Lagniappe Edition: Budget-Friendly Grub in New Orleans

By following these five tips for eating in New Orleans on a budget, you can eat very well without spending much, or anything at all.

Call it the student mentality, call it the thrifty mentality, or just call me a thrifty student, any way you call it, I am all about the free. I’m the girl who keeps Tupperware ready to whip out, and who carries a separate coin purse for coupons I clip. After all, we live in New Orleans. We’re all about the emergency preparedness. Luckily for folks like me, we’re also all about the lagniappe, the lil somethin’-somethin’ we’re gonna give you on top, just because we’re friendly like that and we believe in sharin’ the love.

Is your budget making you feel like you have an emergency situation on your hands? In no particular order, here’s some places to help you stave off a dire situation.

Il Posto Café – Every hour is a happy hour in New Orleans, but happy hour gets even better on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at this cozy Italian café lakeside of St. Charles Ave., right off Napoleon. Grab some work or invite a friend and feast on free gourmet snacks and desserts, including cheeses and spreads, olives, bruchetta, roasted Brussel sprouts – my favorite! – while enjoying cheap happy hour drinks ($2 Abita, anyone?).  TIP: Like their Facebook page and keep up with happy hour specials!

Finn McCool’s Irish PubThe only thing this town likes better than cheering on local teams is cheering on local teams while chowing down on free, homemade, thematic food accompanied by pitcher specials. Free is generally your friend on game day (hot dogs and chili at Pal’s Lounge, barbeque at Henry’s Uptown Bar, Indian food at Rendezvous Tavern, etc.) but no one does it like Finn’s. Where else do neighbors cook up food for the masses and turn the bar into a massive homemade potluck?  TIP: Bring a dish of your own, and if patrons vote yours the best, you win a free bar tab!  Free + free = victory.

Eat Local, Eat Well – Even when my budget has turned that cherry red that indicates an aneurism waiting to happen, I make a point of heading out to our amazing local farmers’ markets. From free samples and free recipes to free classes (with free samples!), places like the Crescent City Farmer’s Market and Hollygrove Market let you find out what’s happening on local farms. Purchase produce right off the vine that often comes in right under supermarket prices, and get inspired with ideas and recipes to boot.  TIP: Check out the “reduced produce” at Hollygrove, where flavor-busting food from tomatoes to peppers to eggplant sit marked down to $1/pound because of slight cosmetic damage.

Red Beans ‘n’ Rice – This gets its very own category because it checks every  budgetary aid box possible: filling, local, delicious, and plentiful. Red beans ‘n’ rice has been New Orleans’ staple Monday night dinner since before there were trees on St. Charles to fling beads into, and it’s now a Monday, a bar, and a budget-lovers staple. Free red beans crop up across the city, from Pal’s Lounge, Banks Street Bar, Marie’s and Mick’s Irish Pub on Mondays (and just $1 at Hi-Ho Lounge), to Vaughn’s on Thursdays during Kermit Ruffins, or Candlelight Lounge on Wednesdays when Tremé Brass Band plays.  TIP: Not only is Banks Street Bar in one of my favorite neighborhoods (Mid-City!), but it also offers free music and free oysters on Thursday nights.

Hare Krishna – Are you tired, poor, or yearning to breathe free of your own cooking? This gourmet, vegetarian, gut-busting buffet has saved my budget and my grumbling stomach more times than I can count. For the last thirty years, Hare Krishna has offered its “Love Fest:” a feast of Indian food for followers, neighbors, Indian food lovers, and the budget conscious (ahem, broke) among us every Sunday night. Join the masses as they file down the buffet line past the half-dozen homemade options every week, naan, and dessert, then make another trip before you leave – this time with the Tupperware all regulars know to bring. Make friends, eat food, and share the love as you start your week with smiles and a positive bottom line. TIP: Tupperware is your friend, and Indian food is your dinner for at least two more days if you remember it.

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