New Orleans is an incredible education in eating for out-of-state college students. Upscale yet approachable restaurants school guileless youths in fine dining, but this is ultimately a casual eating town where oysters on the half shell and crawfish are washed down with a cold Abita beer.
There's constant exposure to Louisiana specialties like boiled crab, boudin, and even alligator. Surviving multiple Mardi Gras celebrations will give you the skills to handle absolutely any type of future partying situation.
That said, I still maintain that college neighborhoods offer worse than average eating options even in a food mecca like New Orleans. Students without cars are limited to restaurants within walking distance of campus or located near the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. Maple Street offers a constantly rotating selection of mediocre eateries, but thankfully the best restaurants stick around permanently. The Freret Street area has recently become a bright spot in the Tulane dining scene; there's an explosion of unique restaurants opening there.
Open until 2 a.m., Camellia Grill is also a great late-night option. This New Orleans landmark located right on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line is more about the ambiance than the food, but the friendly staff dishes out respectable omelets, burgers, cheese fries, and pecan pie. My 19-year-old self enjoyed a pecan waffle paired with a famous chocolate freeze. This diner has counter-only service, so it's not a great spot for large groups, and you might wait in line on a weekend morning.
Good coffee is easy to get near Tulane. PJ's Coffee has two shops right on campus, and there's another outpost nearby on Maple Street. This local chain's smooth cold-drip iced coffee remains my gold standard for caffeine, and some friends haul back pecan flavored coffee beans home from trips to New Orleans. Their moist blueberry or chocolate chip muffins aren't bad either.
Babylon Cafe sustained me through the final month of freshman year when I could no longer tolerate eating at Bruff, the dining hall. My friends and I walked to this cheap Mediterranean restaurant on Maple Street to feast on the smoothest hummus in the world served alongside chewy homemade bread warm from the oven. Babylon taught me that real falafel is crispy brown on the outside and green on the inside, speckled with fresh herbs. They ruined me for falafel forever, as I've only had better in Paris.
It's not acceptable to go there before 3 a.m., making it difficult to accurately describe Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge. This unassuming shack's cavernous interior is decorated with Christmas lights and garlands. You'll sip your can of Schlitz among equal parts Tulane students, drunk yuppies, and neighborhood characters lounging on bar stools or sagging old couches.
Cooter Brown's specialized in obscure brands of beer before it was trendy. This tavern also has an extensive menu of po-boys, burgers, onion rings, french fries, and seafood platters. Perhaps most well-known for their oysters on the half shell, Cooter Brown's is one of the best places in town to watch a sporting event.
Late Night Pizza
New Orleans isn't the best pizza town, but The Dough Bowl certainly manages to get the job done. This pizza stand turns out slices to hungry drunk students walking back to campus from the Broadway frat strip. Their New York style thin crust pizza tastes surprisingly good while sober if you can tolerate the stale beer smell wafting out of the Boot next door.
If You Have a Car
Did you know that New Orleans is home to a large Vietnamese community? Get out of the Uptown bubble and venture across the Mississippi River to eat at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant ever, Pho Tau Bay. Don't be scared as you pull into the pothole ridden parking lot next to the elevated expressway. Housed in a somewhat abandoned strip mall, the interior of Pho Tau Bay is clean and inviting; a true family owned business with the same friendly faces greeting you year after year.
Order a bánh mì or a vermicelli salad bowl topped with beef, pork, shrimp, or the best fried tofu in the world. The more adventurous can order authentic pho enriched with a grab bag of cow parts like tripe and tendon. Pair it all with a refreshing jasmine iced tea or homemade yogurt for dessert.
Where to Take the Parents
The prices at Boucherie are steep for a poor college student, but parents visiting from out of town will find the bill more than reasonable. This restaurant is an outgrowth of a purple food truck that started making late-night appearances outside of bars across New Orleans post-Katrina. Instead of pulled pork, this brick-and-mortar restaurant serves sophisticated yet rustic cuisine with a Louisiana influence. The highlights of the meat-heavy menu includes boudin balls, Wagyu beef brisket, and Saint Louis Style pork ribs, but the rotating vegetarian options rarely disappoint.
Recommendations from Locals
Several local friends recommend checking out these recent additions to the Tulane neighborhood: Satsuma Cafe, the Bywater spot that emphasizes seasonal breakfast fare, sandwiches, and salads, just opened a branch on Maple Street. On Freret Street, check out Company Burger for outstanding burgers made with hormone-free beef and housemade buns and pickles; Cure serves craft cocktails and small plates in a sophisticated setting; and Dat Dog sells specialty sausages like duck, alligator, crawfish, or bratwurst with a quirky selection of toppings.