If nature abhors a vacuum, New Orleans food events seem compelled to fill one too.
Once upon a time (meaning a few years ago), March could feel like some well-earned downtime after the stretch of Saints season through Mardi Gras.
St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day are in the mix of course, but otherwise there was a pause before the great spring festival season arrived.
No more. There are now enough events taking advantage of this “downtime” that March can qualify as its own shoulder season. Here’s a look ahead to sync up your own calendar.
March 14, Woldenberg Park
Tacos get people's attention, and Top Taco has certainly proven to be a head turner.
Back for its third year, and again along the riverfront, this festival and competition draws local taquerias, modern Mexican restaurants and plenty of others looking to put their own stamp on the taco.
The event has brought big crowds in years past too, with its promise of unlimited taco eating and plenty of tequila-based drinks around the grounds. At last year's event, some stands were swamped with people as lines stretched on, while others resembled their own party patios with DJs and lights arrayed for the event.
This year, producer Shane Finkelstein of Nacho Mama's said Top Taco will spread the event across a larger swath of the riverfront park and also sell fewer tickets, while ensuring participating restaurants have enough tacos on hand for demand.
"The whole point is to get people to try new and different restaurants out there, so we’re hoping people will come and want to explore,” he said.
The festival is the headliner event for Agave Week, a series of related tastings and liquor brand promotions held this year at the Ace Hotel. Resembling a mini conference around tequila, mezcal and Mexican drinking culture, its five-day schedule of tasting rooms and seminars are aimed at industry pros and aficionados.
Agave Week also has a number of festive events leading up to Top Taco, including a burlesque show, a bar-hopping scavenger hunt and a lucha libre (or a bout of masked Mexican pro wrestling) scheduled for March 13.
Various ticket levels. See toptaconola.com.
March 20-April 8, various locations
Like March Madness of college basketball (its loose inspiration), Bean Madness isn’t a one-off event but a progressive tournament building toward a championship.
Neighborhood joints, upscale restaurants, independent chefs and food trucks all take part, competing in head-to-head tastings. New Orleans people themselves pick the winners for each round.
This uniquely democratic and interactive event was created a few years back by the Red Beans Parade and doubles as a fundraiser for local community organizations.
This year’s tournament starts with 32 competitors facing off one-on-one at pop-up style tastings at venues around town March 20-24.
From here, the competition takes more of a festival format, with 16 contenders at a Bywater block party dubbed the Sweet 6-Bean on March 30, outside Bud Rip's Bar, with local bands all day. The eight that survive move to a tasting in the Bell ArtSpace Campus in Treme on April 3. Then it’s down to the Final Fork on April 5 at the Crescent City Farmers Market in Bucktown. The championship round will be held at the Bywater restaurant and event space Capulet on April 8 — a Monday, fittingly, and also the date of the college basketball championship.
Get Bean Madness brackets and event details at redbeansnola.com.
March 20-23, various locations
Bourbon has been getting some serious attention in the drinks world, so Bourbon Festival was a natural.
This annual event draws professionals and aficionados for a festival-style lineup of grand tastings, seminars, dinners, a bourbon-spiked burlesque performance and a bourbon cocktail bartender contest at venues around downtown New Orleans. Ticket prices vary. See neworleansbourbonfestival.com.
March 21-24, Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center, Chalmette
Combine a country fair with the flavor of crawfish-loving Louisiana in springtime and you have this annual family favorite in Chalmette.
Amusement park rides and carnival game booths line the grounds, the main stage has country and Cajun bands, and the Miss Louisiana Crawfish Queen reigns over all.
The festival’s namesake, however, is the main draw for some. The crawfish boilers are kept busy all day and the vendors work mudbugs into everything from pizza and egg rolls to cheese dip and boudin balls. Admission is $5. See schedules at louisianacrawfishfestival.com.
March 29-30, UNO Lakefront Arena
With its impressive lineup of touring bands and local talent, Hogs for the Cause qualifies as a major music event. But it always comes down to the food, and in particular the smoked pork.
Hogs for the Cause presents a sprawling wonderland of barbecue-inspired goodness. It’s driven by the cause — raising money to support families dealing with pediatric brain cancer.
The cooking teams create the framework for the festival with creatively-designed campsites and vending booths, and the creativity of their dishes. It gives you something to delicious to discover at every turn.
Friday night has a bit more of an insider’s feel as teams rev up and put out different kinds of dishes (bacon is the uniting Friday theme). Saturday is the main event and goes all day. Tickets start at $30. See hogsforthecause.org.
March 31, 8300 block of Maple Street
The Sunday crawfish boils at the Maple Leaf Bar are legendary, but the party put on here annually in the memory of local musician and chef Jamie Galloway blows the doors off. In fact, it has to be held on the street. Tables line Maple Street for this crawfish boil block party. Some 8,000 pounds are set to be boiled up this time around by the crews from two of the best in the business, Seither’s Seafood and Clesi's Restaurant and Catering.
The Maple Leaf’s music lineup for the day includes George Porter Jr., Honey Island Swamp Band, John "Papa" Gros and others. Tickets start at $30 ($50 at the door), and proceeds benefit the nonprofit New Orleans Musicians Clinic.
April 3-7, various locations
Though this one is in April, it’s worth noting now because it’s also a significant date change for a well-known local event. NOWFE will be held almost two months earlier, departing its usual Memorial Day weekend slot for early April.
The wine festival has its familiar lineup, including the Royal Street Stroll (a self-guided, wine-tasting tour along Royal Street), seminars, dinners and grand tastings, now held at the Sugar Mill event venue.
New additions include a whole hog roast at Central City BBQ’s event space, a special rosé tasting (dubbed the Tournament of Rosés) in Fulton Street, and bloody mary and Champagne brunch with Tabasco-inspired dishes at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute, a NOWFE beneficiary this year.
Various ticket levels. See nowfe.com.
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