Editor's note: CNN Travel will focus on facets of a different American city each month in their Destination USA series. Next month they're looking at Miami, Florida.
Fat Tuesday is rolling up fast, so we asked for your recommendations for New Orleans' very best dishes.
"Excess is the new moderation," one iReporter proclaimed. Debatable, but not a bad mantra for a trip to diner's paradise. If you're not hungry now, you will be.
Destination U.S.A.: New Orleans
iReport is taking a closer look at what the United States' most vibrant cities have to offer, and we need your help! Over the next year we'll put the spotlight on a different city each month, collecting your insider recommendations for the best those hot spots have to offer. We want to get the nitty gritty of what you like and why. We'll have a few assignments each month asking for something specific about the featured destination.
First stop: New Orleans, Louisiana
Drew Robinson is the pitmaster at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. He previously wrote about serving up gratitude in trouble times and why barbecue matters and the the sacred ritual of the tailgate. We ran this piece in 2012, but it seemed worth surfacing again for the game this weekend. A good rivalry never dies.
There are old traditions and then there are old football traditions. I had the fortune of witnessing one resurrected in my lifetime two years ago when Alabama played Texas in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship. But there are new traditions too.
Alabama vs LSU is not a historic rivalry, it is only really a new tradition because they both have become superpowers in the same division of the same conference. So much so that they have beaten away all of college football for a rematch in the BCS game.
How important is this game to each fan base? My grandfather was born and raised in New Orleans. He loved LSU. He loved Alabama too because that became his adopted home, but he never put the Crimson Tide above the Bengal Tigers.
Emeril Lagasse knows the way to a consumer's heart is through food. With over 2,000 television episodes, 16 cookbooks, and 12 restaurants to his credit, the 52-year-old chef and restaurateur turned his name and culinary prowess into a financial empire that employs 1,700 people.
Long before he became a household name, and his catchphrase "BAM!" became popular, Lagasse was a young chef who worked his way up to the position of general manager at the legendary Commander's Palace in New Orleans. In 1989, he opened his first restaurant, Emeril's, and four years later, inked a lucrative television contract with The Food Network, resulting in a 17-year run.
The smoky aroma of chicken and sausage gumbo fills the air inside Café Reconcile. A moist, tender pot roast emerges from the oven while the timid hands of novice knife holders chop onions and peppers.
It’s two hours before lunch time inside Café Reconcile and Chef Joe Smith sounds like an old-gospel preacher filled with the Holy Spirit teaching a small group of young men and women how to bring New Orleans-style food to life.
“It’s called soul food because there was no measuring, they just knew how they felt,” Chef Joe tells his captivated audience as they prepare the day’s lunch menu. “I feel it!”
But this isn’t your ordinary New Orleans kitchen. Chef Joe isn’t just teaching the mechanics of cooking. This is the kitchen of life.
To hear Lakesha Reed describe her cooking talents she's not classically trained as a chef, "I'm just grandma trained."
Reed, a New Orleans native, moved to Houston, Texas, in 2005 as one of the city’s thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. We met her last month when CNN’s Defining America project hit the trail for Texas to find out how the Lone Star State has changed over the past decade.
When iReporter Patty and her husband Ed's travels took them to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, little did the adventurous couple know that they were in for the seafood feast of a lifetime. At a restaurant called The Fruit Stand, they met a cook named Anne, and she sized them right up.
Gail Simmons may be the busiest woman in the food world right now. Not only is she about to jet off to Los Angeles to film the next season of Top Chef Just Desserts - she's got a memoir in the works, sits on the board at City Harvest, and hosted last Friday's James Beard Broadcast, Books and Journalism Awards.
We chatted with Gail in the press room at last night's James Beard Restaurant Awards and asked her about her favorite food city and the issue that's sickening our nation.
New Orleans residents, and the millions of people who pour into the city each year for Mardi Gras, Saints games and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (a.k.a. "Jazz Fest") know that the city is fueled by a fierce passion for life, art, music and perhaps most of all - its food. In the face of almost unimaginable tragedy, the city's signature cuisine sustained the bodies, spirits and souls of its people and inspired them to fight ever-mounting odds to keep the culture they love alive for future generations.
Eatocracy gathered together some of Louisiana most vibrant, vocal and knowledgeable residents, fed them a multi-course meal crafted by celebrated chef John Besh, and asked them what they think makes New Orleans cuisine such a vital part of the culture.
And when people like CNN's James Carville and Mary Matalin, chef and civil rights activist Leah Chase, Mad Men star Bryan Batt, food scholar Poppy Tooker, Treme writer Lolis Eric Elie, CNN Hero Derick Tabb and fisherman Lance Nacio sit together at a table, they're going to talk with their mouths and their hearts full.
Watch the video and share your fondest New Orleans memories and your favorite restaurant tips in the comments below.