Whenever I make an airport run these days, my eyes are peeled for good places to eat.
This is a hot topic. Sometimes you want a meal before a trip, or you need to kill time before picking someone up, or perhaps you or your visitors urgently need a meal upon arrival — all the better if it gives local flavor.
The axis of options for this changed greatly when the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport opened its new terminal late in 2019. Then came the pandemic. Now that things feel more normal, and with the holiday travel season here, it’s time to assess what’s available and what’s good.
First off though, the food inside the airport today is vastly better. You can get the same gumbo they serve at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant at the related Leah’s Kitchen in the concourse, or revisit Mondo, chef Susan Spicer’s one-time Lakeview restaurant reincarnated at the airport. You can get beef debris and grits from the Munch Factory and even Emeril Lagasse has a restaurant here. However, these restaurants are all behind security for passengers.
What follows are options immediately around the airport.
Because the flyover exit ramp from the interstate is still slowly taking shape (now slated for completion next summer, perhaps), Loyola Drive with its succession of stop lights is airport entrance route for now.
For food, it presents a rogues’ gallery of national brands visible from the interstate, like McDonald’s, Rally’s and Taco Bell (which, believe me, is nowhere near beneath my own cravings).
There’s also a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (3016 Loyola Drive, 10 am to 11 pm daily), which is global now but will always be of local interest and very often is precisely what people want on an airport run. Just across the street, there’s also a location of Brothers Food Mart (3049 Loyola Drive, open 24/7), the local gas station/convenience store chain rightfully renowned for its own deli counter fried chicken.
In between, there are a handful of local operations that you should know about. I’m also adding a few more of my favorites from the surrounding radius that are still on my mind for travel time eating.
Loyola Drive cluster
3000 Loyola Drive, (504) 470-2989, open daily 10:30 am to 9:30 pm (10:30 pm Fri., Sat.)
Just next to the traffic signal coming off the highway, this looks like another strip mall takeout Chinese restaurant. In fact, it’s a destination for dim sum, with a long roster of dumplings and other small dishes.
You can get American-Chinese standards here, but ask for the full menu for the more elaborate dishes, all the way up to Cantonese lobster.
3140 Loyola Drive, (504) 466-4701, open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Though it’s a little hard to spot from the street, walking into this longtime local gem is like taking a time machine back to the New Orleans seafood joints of the past.
It gives you a deep dive into Louisiana flavor, with seasonal boiled seafood and fried seafood as the dueling main acts and raw oysters to slurp as you sip a beer after that trip out of town. There’s a seafood market up front too, and they ship.
3130 Loyola Drive, (504) 466-2136, open 24/7
The Tastee name is familiar from its locations across town, but they are not all the same. This one is a 24/7 operation that runs a kitchen serving a surprisingly extensive array of po-boys, plate lunches and some good, deep-running Creole soul specialties (hat tip to reader Victor Hastings for putting this find on my radar).
The gumbo, stewed shrimp, and stuffed bell pepper plates all give a taste of home, next to the glazed donuts and big puffy cinnamon rolls, and there are breakfast plates (like chicken-fried steak with eggs) for morning meals.
Loy-n-Vet Food Store
2801 Loyola Drive, (504) 466-2883, Mon.-Sat., 10 am to 7:30 pm
The curious name always catches my eye when I’m stopped at that last light before the airport entrance.
What looks like a convenience store turns out to be a po-boy shop with fried seafood platters and a few other specialties, including, significantly, yakamein, with a thin peppery broth loaded with noodles and green onions. It’s a good representation of the style at the last stop before departure.
Around the radius
These are some of my favorite stops farther out but still en route:
2317 Veterans Blvd., (504) 346-6903, open daily 7 am to 9 pm (Fri., Sat. till 10 pm)
Honduran food is getting its due around New Orleans, with more restaurants serving different iterations of this soulful cooking.
This one has been around for a long time, showing the way with heavenly platters of pollo con tajadas (fried chicken heaped with thin, fried plantains), sizzling fajita platters and soulful soups. It’s also a handy breakfast stop, with baleadas filled with beans and crema and avocado serving the same role as breakfast burritos.
Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar
3201 Williams Blvd., (504) 443-6454, open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
A bloody mary and a dozen oysters have been a first taste of home here many times, and the long menu is all Louisiana. Back after a fire and greatly expanded, Harbor Seafood now has an outdoor patio, and as always there’s the seafood market next door, which also ships.
819 W. Esplanade Ave., (504) 332-3044, open daily 10 am to 9 pm
Finding something reasonably healthy and also quick can take a little more digging, and that’s the case with this smoothie bar chain (there’s another location on Freret Street). It’s a little further off the trail from the airport, but the payoff is acai bowls, smoothies and juices when you need that fix.
Gendusa’s Italian Market
325 Williams Blvd., (504) 305-5305, open Tue.-Sun. 11 am to 9 pm (Fri., Sat. till 10 pm)
One of the best Italian restaurants around is in this Rivertown cottage, and it’s always on my mind if I’m near the airport. This is not a quick stop, but rather a place to settle in for a big feed. The meatballs are of momentous size and correspondingly delicious, and the pizza and pastas are hearty and flavorful.
2529 Williams Blvd., (504) 469-2339, open Tue.-Thu. 11 am to 4 pm, Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
As noted, there is a Taco Bell very close to the airport; but given the choice, I am bringing my crunchy taco craving to Taco Tico, the last local outpost of a once more numerous chain.
This one is only open for drive-thru service now, which is just fine on an airport run. If there’s such a thing as Kenner-Mex (not even Tex-Mex) this is it.
2424 Williams Blvd., (504) 305-1797, Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
This is not fast food but it is speedy and very fresh. Given the name, you have to start with the falafel, which is strung with herbs and lashed with toum, the heavenly white garlic sauce. Chicken shawarma is also good here, and there is usually an array of house-made desserts.
In that jittery time before kickoff, there were so many questions in the intermediary area between the kitchen and the TV.
All gas station fried chicken is quick and inexpensive. But it is not all created equal. In fact, you can eat a lot of bad gas station chicken…
Holiday grocery shopping is serious business, and New Orleans have their own game plans well established.