There's no contest: the very best gumbo in New Orleans is...at the home of any given New Orleanian's Mama.
Most visitors to the city aren't lucky enough to get invited to Mama's house for Friday night gumbo, though. To sample this rich stew, thickened with okra, filé (ground sassafras), or a dark roux, seasoned liberally with Creole spices, and served over rice, look to the pros.
From the city's finest gourmet eateries to down-home neighborhood joints, the vast majority of New Orleans restaurants offer gumbo of one sort or another on their menus. And really, presuming you like the rich, smoky flavors of the dish, it's worth trying a cup anywhere in town (or in the Southern part of the state). If you're really in the mood to dig into a nice big bowl, though, seek out these 10 restaurants that serve the very best of the best.
Liuzza's by the Track in Mid-City offers one of NOLA's favorite interpretations of Creole gumbo, chockfull of okra, seafood, and locally-made sausage swimming in a broth made with an extra-dark roux and seasoned with 17 secret herbs and spices. For the amount of food that you get, it's one of the best seafood deals in town.
Creole and Italian specialties nestle side-by-side on the menu at Mandina's, which is a favorite neighborhood restaurant in Mid-City. Though Mandina's is actually best-known for having some of the finest Turtle Soup au Sherry in town, it also makes an outstanding seafood gumbo. It's thick and pleasantly fishy, a reminder that gumbo almost certainly shares a common ancestor with French bouillabaisse.
One of the best fine-dining options in the French Quarter, Mr. B's Bistro serves contemporary high-end New Orleans cuisine with an emphasis on regional products and classic Creole culinary technique.
Gumbo Ya-Ya, a house specialty, is actually a fairly straight-forward Cajun-style chicken and sausage gumbo, with a dark roux base, a big dose of the Cajun trinity (celery, bell pepper, and onion), and a heavy hand with Creole seasonings. It's simple and well-balanced, and the carefully-selected ingredients really shine.
The chicken and andouille sausage gumbo at the Gumbo Shop is regularly voted as the best in New Orleans by the annual Gambit Readers' Poll. The gumbo features a smoky brown broth and just enough spice.
Seafood and okra gumbo is also on the menu, and other preparations also occasionally make their way to the specials board—all of which are worth a sample. The restaurant's location in the French Quarter, just a stone's throw from Jackson Square, makes it an easy stop for most visitors to the city.
Finely-tuned Cajun and Creole bistro fare is the name of the game at Dick and Jenny's, an unassuming Uptown establishment that's packed to the gills with locals but seldom on the radar of tourists. A daily gumbo special changes seasonally and at the chef's whim, but it includes creative twists on classic themes, such as Bedtime in the Barnyard Gumbo, with chicken, andouille, ham, and duck.
Chef Frank Brigtsen made his bones in the kitchens at the legendary Commander's Palace and K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen under Paul Prudhomme. His restaurant in the Carrollton neighborhood, Brigtsen's, features his own gourmet spin on Cajun and Creole classics.
Try the rabbit and andouille filé gumbo, which is beloved among connoisseurs of traditional Creole haute cuisine. Rabbit is a tough, lean, flavorful meat that maintains both flavor and texture in a long-cooked dish such as gumbo, so this is a great way to eat it.
Once a year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival turns the Fair Grounds and Race Course into a microcosm of Louisiana culture, and the food there is second to none. You can find a pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo from Lafayette-based Cajun restaurant Prejean's among the 70-plus booths.
It's worth the (steep) price of admission—not to mention the absurdly long line—and JazzFest is the only place to get it. You could make the two-hour drive out to the restaurant any time, but although it has great gumbos on its regular menu, this one is a festival-only special.
The gumbo of the night is an ever-changing (but always astoundingly delicious) proposition here at Chef Donald Link's upscale Louisiana eatery in the Central Business District. It's always an elegant preparation of a timeless classic, regardless of that night's particular ingredients.
In the wintertime, warm your bones with a velvety chicken and andouille gumbo. During Lent, be ready for hearty seafood varieties featuring plump Louisiana oysters and sweet gulf shrimp. A simple New Orleans rule of thumb: if Chef Link has anything to do with a gumbo, order it.
This small neighborhood restaurant in the Tremé neighborhood serves old-fashioned Creole fare, and one of the many house specialties is the Creole gumbo. It's full of chicken, shrimp, sausage, crab, and is heavy with the flavor of filé and Creole spices. The recipe is an old family recipe from the venerable Baquet restaurant family, and it's worth the trip off the beaten path to give it a try.
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Chef Leah Chase has been serving up gumbos—alongside other Creole and soul food favorites—at her world-renowned Tremé restaurant since the 1950s. She's one of the only chefs in town, though, who regularly cooks up gumbo z'herbes (from the French gumbo aux herbes, meaning gumbo made with greens).
It's a popular meatless Lenten dish, but Chef Chase's version includes pork, and she traditionally serves it on Holy Thursday, as her mother and grandmother did before her. She also includes it on the menu now and again throughout the year, so if you happen upon the restaurant on a day that it's available, order it. It's a rare and deeply traditional treat, and a delicious way to get your veggies.