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Where Y'Eat: Dining Out when the Super Bowl Runneth Over

Ian McNulty

With some creativity and finely-honed Mardi Gras survival skills, the New Orleans dining obsession need not take a knee just because the NFL’s big show is in town.

Carnival season temporarily redraws the New Orleans map each year, and locals have grown adept at adjusting our plans accordingly. Yes, that even includes our dinner plans.

If your favorite restaurant is on the wrong side of the police barricades, you find another favorite restaurant on your side. Meal times are planned not by the clock but by parade progress. And even delicate souls who otherwise would not venture into that dodgy-looking corner joint advertising po-boys and egg rolls might find themselves becoming interim regulars if they happen to score a primo parade-watching spot nearby.

That adaptability and spirit of improvisation will be especially valuable this weekend as the NFL comes to town. The Super Bowl is much more than just the Sunday contest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The entire week leading up to the big game is like a giant convention, networking event and photo op, all rolled into one, for the sponsors, celebrities and high rollers who inhabit the NFL off the gridiron.

And, as local tourism officials will tell you — usually within 10 seconds of any conversation — New Orleans makes a great Super Bowl city because so many of the hotels, restaurants, event halls and attractions are within walking distance to the Superdome. That also means all of this action is clustered right down there too, and that’s adding up for some major league logistical considerations for the people who run downtown restaurants, and the people who might patronize them.

Some streets were preemptively closed long ago. The parking lots normally used by restaurant customers (and restaurant employees) are filling up with stages, event tents and trailers. And every limo available across the Deep South is here, angling for turning radius somewhere between Poydras Street and Carondelet.

Getting to dinner downtown is only one part of the issue. Those hot restaurants you’ve heard about in New Orleans? So have the VIPs arriving with a taste for the best, and the personal assistants to set it all up. Some reservation books were filling up long before we knew it was Baltimore and San Francisco coming to town, and in some cases entire restaurants have been bought out for corporate events. 

For people seeking a nice meal without much fuss, all of this essentially turns the downtown area into a “no fly zone.” Looking at things another way, however, this week also is an invitation to explore the deep and increasingly diverse range of eateries we have at our disposals.

Dig into areas that are short on glamour but long on ethnic flavors — like Williams Boulevard in Kenner and Fat City in Metairie — or neighborhoods off the tourist maps where you can find real-deal New Orleans cooking. Gentilly is especially good for that these days. Check out the Vietnamese enclave out in New Orleans east, the boiled crawfish joints around the West Bank, the hidden gems of Algiers or even just that place down the street you’ve always wondered about.

This is where those Mardi Gras dining skills will come in handy — step up, seize the moment, try the off-the-radar places, and you’ll see that the local dining obsession need not take a knee just because the NFL’s big show is in town.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.