New Orleans’ colorful, cultured culinary traditions pervade the city and offer food tourists a uniquely historical experience. With rich, often experimental sauces and a reverence for slow-cooked meat, even the most unassuming of restaurants in New Orleans can provide an exciting and gourmet twist on the ordinary. The best food in the city is less "hipster hybrid" innovative, and more a culturally rich fusion true to the city itself. Chicken, too often the remit of the less adventurous chefs, benefits from the theatrical New Orleans’ edge. Wings – the simple, traditional American favorite – get the New Orleans treatment at these five must-try wings restaurants in the city.
NOLA’s franchise in downtown New Orleans, with a menu designed by celebrity chef and proprietor Emeril Lagasse, sets high expectations. The menu is, at first glance, a somewhat bewildering fusion of Southern classics and Vietnamese delicacies. The fusion is perfectly represented, however, in the stuffed chicken wings with hoisin dipping sauce. They’re fried to perfection and absolutely bursting with a dumpling-like filling of noodles, green onions, Creole seasoning… The list goes on. Who knew so much could be stuffed into so tiny a delicacy as the humble wing?
The wings at Manchu Food Store are atypical, with only a light batter and no sauce. However, the batter is packed full of spices and flavors which make up for the lack of a saucy glaze. On North Claiborne drive, this is another off-the-beaten-track wings joint whose location might dissuade tourists – it’s generally recommended to call ahead and order, as parking is limited so this might be a fleeting trip – but the generous portions at reasonable prices (50 wings for $20) make it a worthwhile excursion.
The variety and breadth of the menu at Bayou Hot Wings on South Claiborne Avenue will have any chicken fan salivating before even the first crumble of fried chicken passes their lips. The specialty hot wings come fried and battered and drenched in your choice of numerous sauces helpfully ranked from hot to mild on the menu. The Bayou Sweet Heat sauce is a perfect mix of sweet and spicy and is offset beautifully by a side of blue cheese sauce. Mix and match your choice of glazes and dipping sauces for a truly decadent wings experience.
Satisfying portions of wings come absolutely steeped in one of 17 fantastic sauces at Wing Snack Express on Holiday Drive. From the more traditional Honey Mustard or BBQ to inventive sauces like Six Pepper or Pineapple, the distinctive menu here is a dream for adventurous wings fans. Your meal comes to-go in a handy carton, but the wings are messy so grab some napkins. Wing Snack Express is also renowned for its ‘Ghetto Punch’ drink, and some tasty traditional side orders include crab cakes and crawfish balls.
Slightly off the well-worn tourist track of downtown New Orleans, Willie Mae’s on St. Ann street is nonetheless guaranteed to be packed full of locals and tourists at lunch time (it doesn’t open for dinner). The wings come encased in a satisfying, hefty batter which is salty and well-seasoned without being spicy. While the crowds indicate that this restaurant is one of New Orleans’ worst kept foodie secrets, the recipe for the batter at this family run restaurant is a very well-guarded secret that has tourists from all over make the trip to sample the celebrated wings.