When Carnival heats up in New Orleans, the carnival vendors come to town, slinging the same fare you can find on any midway.
Across the Uptown parade route, however, the local eateries that are here every day shift into Carnival mode too, serving distinctive and vastly better food to the parade crowds.
Here’s a round-up of recommended spots near (or even on) the route, including a few marking their first Mardi Gras. Each is a good call for a bite between parades or perhaps after, if you want let some traffic filter out before heading home. Most of these are family-friendly, and a few are bars with good food.
Like the parades, we start Uptown and work our way down river.
4800 Magazine St., 504-301-2367
Good barbecue can be ideal parade route food -- hearty, satisfying and, since that brisket or pulled pork was slow-cooked long before you ordered, it’s usually served swiftly. McClure’s is right in the middle of the Magazine Street part of the parade route. While it has a shorter menu for parade days (sandwiches, smoked meat jambalaya, hot dogs for the kids), the full flavor of the smoker is still in effect.
4930 Prytania St., 504-897-5551
A bakery, a deli, a coffee shop – this modern, multifaceted eatery answers a lot of needs, a few blocks from Napoleon Avenue. It closes early (6 p.m.) but for a king cake donut, a breakfast sandwich en route to the route or a meatball parm sub to take the edge off mid-day, it’s a good call. Gluten-free cookies are new, and the chocolate chip compare very well with the house standard.
4607 Dryades St., 504-895-2620
This cottage-sized Italian café is a hidden gem on normal days. With parades raging a few blocks away, it can feel like an oasis. Generously stuffed panini, soulful soups and lush salads are the main acts, and there’s wine by the glass, beer and great coffee drinks. This year, Il Posto will assemble parade packs (half sandwich, bag of Zapps, slice of king cake). Note: closing early, 5 p.m., on Thursday, Feb. 4.
3917 Baronne St., 504-227-3830
Two blocks off St. Charles Avenue, this whole-animal butcher shop changes up its inventory for more grab-and-go parade snacks. This year, Cleaver and Co. and the Mandeville restaurant the Lakehouse are together serving a menu of boudin links, cracklin’, jerky, chili and red beans with boudin rice for take-away eats.
1732 St. Charles Ave., 504-586-9243
A beer lover’s heaven year round, the Avenue Pub is a beer-and-parade lover’s paradise during Carnival. While floats roll just outside, the city’s best beer selection flows from the taps. Nathanial Zimet, chef of Boucherie, recently revamped the tavern menu, with handmade sausaages and meats for the sandwiches and loaded fries.
1432 St. Charles Ave., 504-595-6755
This place has the feel of a pub, but it remains both family-friendly and food-focused. And it knows how to handle a party. The parades pass just outside its windows – as well as its large, fenced-in parking lot that’s turned into something of a festival grounds. On Sunday, Irish House is planning a big Super Bowl party to coincide with Bacchus.
3000 Dryades St., 504- 875-2876
New this year, Black Label is an unexpected find in this stretch of Central City, three blocks from the route. It’s all about barbecue, beer and bands, with small stage just past the bar. For parade days, Black Label serves a trimmed down menu of sandwiches, wings and snacks and has an outdoor bar for walk-up service. Look for some specialty cocktails, like a “black” hurricane and Long Island iced tea batched up and ready for the route. On Thursday and Friday, beginning at 8 p.m., Black Label Icehouse hosts Blockus, an annual post-parade series of shows with four bands each night (21+).
1201 Magazine St., 504-299-1888
This Lower Garden District whiskey bar (21+) is also home to Little Bird, the walk-up tavern window from the chefs Kristin Essig (of Meauxbar) and Michael Stoltzfus (of Coquette). Think of it as a modern, casual bar menu with a Southern bent, to the tune of fried chicken sandwiches, country ham, fries, hand pies and such.
634 Julia St., 504-218-8043
Just off Lee Circle, this tiny Mexican restaurant sets up spectator grandstands on the route and converts its bar and dining room into a walk-up, counter service cantina. The small menu has large, well-composed tacos (try the brisket under a cap of broiled cheese) and parade snacks like nachos with pork and queso.
411 O’Keefe Ave., 504-309-9422
Quick but a world apart from fast food, Company Burger has been a good pick after the parades, provided you made your way to Freret Street from the route. The new downtown location has the same menu, adds its own bar and puts a truly crave-inducing burger within three blocks of the parades’ downtown run.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.