Try the Best Jambalaya in the French Quarter
Just like with gumbo, when you ask a local where the best jambalaya comes from, they’ll likely respond, “My kitchen” (or “My mama’s kitchen”). That’s not very helpful, however, when you have no access to the said kitchen. Luckily, local restaurants serve up top-notch jambalaya if you know where to look. And look you must, because tasting great jambalaya could be a transcending experience. Precede it with a cup of gumbo laced with okra (in season in the fall), and you got bliss.
Jambalaya is a New Orleans staple that has absorbed French, Spanish, African, and Native American influences. Legend has it that it was the result of the Spanish settlers attempting to make paella, but with tomatoes and without the hard-to-find saffron. It’s a one-pot dish that traditionally incorporates stock, meat, seafood, long-grain rice, and vegetables (like the “holy trinity” also used in gumbo — bell pepper, onion and celery). The main distinction is that the Creole version has tomatoes and the Cajun recipe doesn’t. The frequent inclusion of Andouille sausage is the result of the French influence on this iconic dish.
Just like gumbo, good jambalaya is not that hard to find on the menus of French Quarter restaurants. Here are a few of our favorite picks.
1109 Decatur St.
We’ve already recommended this no-frills bar/restaurant for its dark-roux seafood gumbo, but it’s Coop’s Creole jambalaya that is truly outstanding. It’s packed with local seasonings and comes with boneless rabbit, smoked pork sausage, plus tomatoes and the trinity.
You can get a cup or a bowl, but we recommend the supreme version — with shrimp, crawfish and Coop’s own tasso (spicy cured pork used in Cajun cooking and often referred to simply as Cajun ham). You can also get a jambalaya and salad combo. Coop’s excellent Cajun fried chicken plate comes in a variety of pieces and is served with jambalaya and coleslaw. Pasta jambalaya also makes an appearance, with shrimp, smoked sausage and tasso.
Coop’s is popular with locals and tourists, so it can get busy and loud. Please also note that it’s 21 and older only, even the restaurant seating area, because of the video poker machines on premises.
630 St. Peter St.
Gumbo Shop’s award-winning gumbos take the spotlight, including the rarely-seen vegetarian version, but don’t overlook other Creole staples at this French Quarter mainstay. Gumbo Shop’s jambalaya is served as a side or appetizer, but also as part of the sweeping Creole dinner package. Pair it with one of the three gumbos, and you’re set.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
416 Chartres St.
Founded by the late celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen is an upscale Cajun/Creole eatery with an open kitchen, lush courtyard and a down-home vibe. K-Paul’s jambalaya is dark and smoky. The fried chicken with fried shrimp and Chartres Street jambalaya dish offers a battered and fried chicken breast. The jambalaya comes with tasso, chicken, Andouille sausage, and tomatoes. Serving sizes are very generous, so consider sharing.
401 Poydras St.
Although this legendary eatery is located outside of the French Quarter on Poydras Street in CBD, not including it would do a disservice. You might appreciate Mother’s casual, cafeteria-style approach, and the po-boys and jambalaya are a must. Mother’s had been around since 1938, becoming a famous hangout for the working crowd, and, during and after World War II, the U.S. Marines. For over 20 years, Mother’s also proudly employed a legendary cook, Miss Oda Mae Peters.
“Jerry’s Jambalaya” on the menu was named after one of the owners and chefs Jerry Amato, who had ruled Mother’s in the late 80s. It’s done Creole style, medium spicy, and you can try it in four size options, from cup to a heaping plate, or as part of the combo platter with seafood and sides.
500 Chartres St.
At Napoleon House, the jambalaya comes with a Pimm’s Cup and a bit of history. The restaurant is housed in a historic landmark on Chartres Street, dating back to 1700s, with the unique ambiance of the old-world New Orleans. The original owner, Nicholas Girod, who was Mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815, hoped to provide refuge for the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. The 2,300 sq. ft. worth of rooms on the second floor were designated to become Napoleon’s apartments. The unique interior is fit for the emperor indeed, and there’s a spacious courtyard for dining as well.
The spicy jambalaya at Napoleon House comes with chicken and sausage and can be ordered as an appetizer or as a side. Consider pairing with the restaurant’s famous muffuletta and washing it down with its signature drink, Pimm’s Cup.
New Orleans Creole Cookery
508 Toulouse St.
This dark and lovely restaurant, located on a quiet block of Toulouse Street, has exposed brick, a patio, an oyster bar, and live jazz. The menu is classic Cajun/Creole, with lots of boiled seafood and Creole and Cajun versions of gumbo. The charbroiled oysters are some of the best in the city, and the full bar features hurricanes (listed by strength category from 1 to 5) and other signature drinks like bacon Bloody Mary. The chicken and sausage jambalaya is Cajun style. There’s also a vegetarian version, not something many restaurants offer.
Red Fish Grill
115 Bourbon St.
Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill has been around for more than 20 years, offering a child-friendly respite in the middle of the Bourbon Street chaos. It’s known for its seafood-heavy menu and good happy hour deals on the drinks and the oysters. The Creole jambalaya risotto is a popular, well-reviewed item. It comes with Gulf shrimp, Andouille sausage, grilled chicken, and roasted tomatoes.