In New Orleans, there isn’t another sweet better loved than a beignet, fresh fried square of dough served with a healthy dusting of confectioners’ sugar. Although many cultures adore fried dough – think churros in Mexico, fritters in the UK and zeppole in Italy – the French beignet is the treat of choice in New Orleans, a throwback to the city’s French roots.
Brought to New Orleans in the 18th century by either French Acadians or Ursuline nuns, depending on who you ask, beignets were adapted into the evolving Creole diet, sometimes spiked with bananas or plantains, both popular imports in this port city.
In the French Quarter, Café du Monde is the gold standard when it comes to beignets, fresh fried in the original French Market location since 1862. The Café’s menu is short and sweet: dark-roasted coffee with chicory, served black or au lait with steamed milk, beignets, white and chocolate milk, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. It’s a common sight to see folks sitting along the river walk, clouds of powdered sugar giving their breakfast choice away.
Beignets are adaptable, with fried dough working as well as a savory vehicle as a sugary treat. Creative New Orleans chefs are known to incorporate cheese, seafood and duck debris into the fried goodness.
Pull up a stool at stunning SoBou (south of Bourbon) in the W, from the Commander's family of restaurants. Here, a team of crackerjack bartenders create fab original cocktails and chef Juan Carlos Gonzales serves modern fare that is downright fetching. Don't miss his sweet potato beignets, an umami of sweet savory, rich and and creamy made with foie gras fondue, duck debris and chicory coffee ganache. Nibble your way through yellowfin tuna tartare with basil and avocado ice cream, foie gras topped with a yard egg and duck bacon on brioche, and pork ribs served with a swirl of sweet heat in the form of ghost pepper cotton candy.
Answer the siren call of the green and white signature awning to dine at Commander's Palace, the must-eat restaurant housed in a beautiful Victorian mansion in the Garden District. Chef Tory McPhail is always up to something startling, as his Crawfish Boil beignets demonstrate. Made with spicy wild crawfish tails and roasted chilies rolled into a savory sweet corn dough, these addictive bites are served with red pepper aioli and warm remoulade sauce. Lunch is less formal than dinner, but you still want to look a little uptown when you visit this iconic New Orleans restaurant. Jazz brunch is an event on Sundays.
La Petite Grocery leaves the sugary powdered beignets to the Cafe du Mondes of the world, taking its own approach to the beignet. La Petite stuffs their doughy morsels with blue crab and serves them with a tangy malt vinegar aioli. These are a must order appetizer when you visit this popular Magazine Street eatery for lunch, dinner or brunch. Chef/owner Justin Devillier, a California native who moved to New Orleans in 2003, is known for his creative approach to all kinds of local culinary customs, including a spin on bread pudding that pairs it with black truffle jus and the introduction of local turtle meat to an outstanding Bolognese.
The New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co., located in Uptown New Orleans and in the suburbs of Metairie, is a swell spot for breakfast, whether you're craving a beignet, yogurt parfait or egg white mini casserole. As long as the beignets are fresh out of the fryer - ask before you order if they are being made ala minute - you won't be disappointed. Besides the traditional XXX-sugar covered version of these sweet square doughnuts-without-the-hole, there is a mini version - great for guiltless snacking - and a chocolate version, which to some palates is an out of the park homerun.
Susan Spicer opened Bayona in the French Quarter in 1990 in a centuries-old cottage complete with a romantic courtyard. A doyenne of all things culinary in New Orleans since the 90s - and now an inductee into the James Beard Who's Who in Food - Spicer's creative take on beignets is chronicled in her Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans. Better yet, treats like her savory smoked salmon beignets with brandied tomato sauce or sweet cinnamon banana beignets show up on the menu as specials any old time, yet another incentive to dine at this French Quarter gem.
Chef John Harris opened Bouligny Tavern in 2010 in a century-old New Orleans cottage just next door to his wildly popular Lilette. Bouligny Tavern is a sleek and elegant space, a backdrop of mid-century modern with an eclectic menu of fine wine, cocktails and small plates. The Tavern is famous for its gouda filled beignet, an ethereal pillow of fried smoky goodness that manages to be surprisingly light. Served warm, and wonderfully salty and these fried treats work well as a starter or paired with a tall beer out of the tap. More good news - they're half price during happy hour!
Emeril created quite a splash when he took over this longstanding institution, poured millions into a sophisticated renovation and transformed a tired space into one of the city's swankiest eateries. Portions are mammoth - try the 20-ounce Delmonico, the sauteed rainbow trout with rock shrimp and ultra-rich crab meat imperial. For dessert, Cafe du Monde gets an upgrade with a serving of beignets with chicory coffee creme brulee, an inspired combination. Delmonico's white-table cloth elegance provides the perfect backdrop to the Creole-accented steakhouse menu. The restaurant offers a fantastic wine program and one of the best martinis in town. Ride the St. Charles Streetcar to dinner for an even more memorable experience. Once here, it is an easy walk to the French Quarter.
You don't have to go to the 'burbs to check out this popular 24/7 coffee and beignets spot now that there's a location in the heart of City Park. Morning Call actually got its start in the French Quarter on Decatur Street in 1870, a spot for authentic cafe au lait and the sugary French market donuts known as beignets. Theirs are hand rolled and cut before being plunged into hot oil. What emerges is a light, delicate treat topped with powdered sugar that is sure to leave both clothes and face a tasty mess. Some locals even whisper that the coffee and beignets are better than Cafe du Monde's. You can also get standards like red beans and rice and Yet one more reason to visit gorgeous City Park, an easy bike ride up Esplanade Avenue.
Cafe Beignet, with locations on Bourbon and Royal Streets in the French Quarter is the clear number two to Cafe du Monde as far as beignets go. A bit less hectic than Cafe du Monde, where a line of hungry folks hang out like vultures waiting for your table, Cafe Beignet serves tasty fried treats along with a full breakfast from 7 am every day of the week. The house made quiche is quite good, as is the crawfish omelet. If there's a line, don't worry too much - it goes fast. Sit in the outdoor courtyard if the weather is fine.
Cafe du Monde is beignet ground zero in New Orleans and a longtime favorite on this list. Situated in the heart of the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde is a must visit location for tourists but a regular stop for locals too who come by when there isn't a line. The cafe features a sprawling outdoor patio where diners are served cafe au lait and delicious squares of fried dough. People watching is fun here - you see all kinds - both wandering by and waiting in the line that usually forms when the city is busy. Cafe du Monde has locations across the lake and in the 'burbs, but this is the original and the best.