Beignets: History & Where to Enjoy Them in New Orleans

Humans have enjoyed fried dough for thousands of years, and today we see it enjoyed in a variety of forms across cultures worldwide. From funnel cakes to churros, donuts to samosas, each culture has put its unique spin on this beloved culinary delight.

But one fried dough treat that sticks out is the beignet, quintessential to New Orleans streets.

Let’s take a look at how this pillowy pastry has come to be and I’ll also review some of the places we’ve tried in New Orleans that have served up memorable beignets.

What are beignets?

Beignets are square shaped pieces of dough that are deep fried and generously dusted with powdered sugar. They’re often served hot and in groups of three, with many people preferring to pair them with a cup of café au lait (coffee and milk w/chicory).

In New Orleans beignets are an iconic culinary delight closely tied to the city’s vibrant culture. Originating from French Acadian roots, beignets gained popularity in the bustling streets of New Orleans, notably at the legendary Café du Monde, established in 1862.

They are must-try experience for locals and visitors alike in the heart of the Big Easy.

The history of the beignet

The precise origin of the beignet is somewhat unclear.

With recipes dating back to at least the sixteenth century in France, the beignet shares similarities with various pastries from different cultures.

Some historians propose a connection between the beignet and ancient Roman culinary traditions, citing the Romans‘ preparation of “scriblita” – a dessert crafted from high-moisture dough cooked in boiling animal fat, akin to the beignet.

Additionally, the pastry might have been influenced by Andalusian traditions that journeyed from the southern region of Spain into France.

It is commonly stated that “beignet” is the French term for “fritter,” but the etymology of the word is believed to have roots in the Celtic language, specifically linked to the term “bigne,” which means “to raise.”

As for how the beignet found its way into New Orleans, some credit French colonists from Acadia, who, in the eighteenth century, were expelled from Canada and played a pivotal role in shaping the Cajun culture we recognize today. But other French colonists may have played a role as well.

The most historic and famous place to enjoy beignets in New Orleans is Café du Monde found on the French Quarter’s Decatur Street.

The old French Market building which now houses Cafe Du Monde dates back to 1813, though it had originally been erected by the Spanish in 1771 before being destroyed by a hurricane in 1812. Cafe Du Monde’s doors have been open since 1862, making it an iconic destination for over 150 years!

It’s intriguing to note that the beignet wasn’t always known as the “beignet.”

In the early twentieth century, they were commonly referred to as just “donuts” or “French Market donuts,” leading to confusion among some tourists. Where was the hole?

However, in the late 1950s, the term “French Market donut” was rebranded, and since then, these delightful pastries have been universally recognized as beignets.

Also, in an acknowledgment of its cultural importance, the beignet was designated Louisiana’s official donut in 1986, elevating it to a status on par with the Boston Cream Donut of Massachusetts as one of the only officially recognized “state donuts.”

Beignets can be enjoyed by themselves but they are often paired with Cafe Au Lait, which is a coffee drink made of dark roast coffee, chicory, and warm milk. (Au Lait means that it is mixed half and half with hot milk.)

Café du Monde outside

Where to try beignets in New Orleans

Throughout New Orleans, an abundance of spots await where you can relish the delightful experience of savoring beignets.

Our journey led us to countless establishments, each offering a unique take on this beloved treat. From filled beignets to mini-bites, it was fascinating to explore the diverse array of beignets, each presenting its own distinct characteristics.

While virtually all of them proved irresistible, embarking on this culinary adventure allowed us to discern subtle nuances such as texture and their harmonious pairing with café au lait.

Let’s dive into the different places you can try begneits.

Café du Monde

Café du Monde undoubtedly tops the list, especially at its traditional location in the heart of the French Quarter.

Here, locals and tourists flock to the iconic green and white awning to enjoy beignets and coffee at all hours. It’s worth the trip to grab a seat (or to-go order) at this original location for the sake of history but brace yourself for potentially long lines, even on weekdays.

Café du Monde is known for the mountains of powdered sugar they top their beignets with. It’s quite the sight to behold, especially the first time you’re getting ready to dig in.

Café du Monde beignets

Besides the iconic spot in the French Quarter, you can also savor Café du Monde’s renowned beignets at various locations throughout the city, including City Park, Veterans Blvd, Williams Blvd, Lakeside Mall, and even the airport.

Personally, I love the vibe at City Park where you can find a spot on a bench and enjoy the outdoors for a little while. It’s right next to the dueling oaks, so you can soak in a bit of history as you munch on these.

Café du Monde city park

Pro tip: Some beignet hot spots may only take cash, so come prepared (although there’s usually a nearby ATM).

Morning Call

Morning Call, is a well-known coffee haven celebrated for its delectable beignets which are rolled, cut, and fried by hand.

Originally established in 1870 in the French Quarter by Joseph Jurisich, it’s now found at the end of the streetcar line, at the intersection of Canal Street and City Park Avenue.

At Morning Call, you have the opportunity to sprinkle your own powdered sugar, allowing you to add just the right amount to your naked beignets.

I tended to lean towards the generous heaps, taking a cue from Café du Monde’s tradition, because, let’s face it, you can never go wrong with an abundance of powdered sugar.

The coffee and hot chocolate at this spot was irresistible, and I found the vintage interior to be uniquely charming, especially during an evening desert visit.

Morning Call Coffee beignets

Café Beignet

Back in the French Quarter, Café Beignet is definitely worth a stop. It was established by a group of close friends in 1990 at its original location at 334 Royal Street. Here, you can enjoy your coffee and beignets amid a small court yard, though they have a few other locations in close proximity as well.

The beignets came out hot and fresh but they also were among the largest and most dense — finishing three of them was a challenge and had me slighlty regretting life. Consider splitting an order.

Café Beignet

Loretta’s Authentic Pralines

For the praline lovers you can’t go wrong with Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. In addition to pralines and cookies they serve up sweet beignets with praline filling.

These have a consistency somewhat close to a croissant and offer a sweeter indulgence than a traditional beignet. You can visit their main shop off North Rampart or find their station at the French Market, which offers more limited options. Just make sure you check their hours because they run weird schedules!

The Vintage

At The Vintage, a trendy wine and bubbly bar + eatery located on famed Magazine Street, indulge in traditional beignets and explore unique variations, like their “Fancy Beignet Flight” featuring seasonal fillings.

During our visit, we savored Raspberry S’mores, and Matcha flavors. These indulgent treats, with their rich fillings, carry a weightier profile reminiscent of donuts. It’s a delightful experience, offering a twist on the classic beignet with an array of flavorful fillings to explore.

The Vintage Fancy Beignet Flight
bar area the vintage

Antiones Bakery

You can find Antiones Bakery in Metaire or in Gretna, across the Mississippi river just outside of New Orleans.

While they boast an array of delectable baked goods, including the iconic king and queen cakes that the region is famous for, it’s their glazed beignets that truly steal the show. These pillowy treats are generously coated in a luscious, decadent glaze, promising an irresistibly indulgent experience with every bite.

Prepare to treat your taste buds to a trio of sheer bliss as you savor the heavenly combination of crunchy and fluffy dough along with rich, sweet glaze at Antiones Bakery.

Antiones Bakery glazed beignets

Uptown Coffee

One of the hidden gems among our culinary adventures is Uptown Coffee.

Here, they craft delectable beignets, served piping hot and fresh. I was particularly impressed by their consistency and texture, which rival some of the finest I’ve tasted.

While some beignets were delightfully hollow, others were more substantial, adding an element of surprise to each bite. Served on powdered sugar-coated plates (perfect for “dipping”), these treats truly won me over.

If you happen to visit around a holiday, you might even enjoy an extra sweet touch with a sprinkle of colorful toppings, enhancing the experience even further. Uptown Coffee also gets some bonus points for having ample parking.

Roosevelt New Orleans | Waldorf Astoria

If you find yourself in the Central Business District or perhaps staying at the luxurious Roosevelt New Orleans Waldorf Astoria, you can indulge in some beignets at its various cafes, whether that be the Fountain Lounge or Teddy’s Cafe.

These petite beignets boast a delicate, flaky texture that may not immediately stand out as favorites on their own. However, their true magic lies in their pairing with a delectable chocolate sauce. Imagine dipping these golden treats into a luxurious Nutella-based concoction, and you’ll find yourself transported to chocolate lover’s paradise.

Roosevelt New Orleans | Waldorf Astoria begneits

Shipley Donuts

Shipley Donuts is a renown Texas-based donut chain known for its kolaches and amazing glazed and filled donuts. In Metaire, they also serve up boudin kolaches along with beignets.

They make them hot and fresh and you can order them in pairs or in a group of four. Shipley regulars will notice the similarity in the dough to their favorite donuts but they do have a distinctive “beignet-ness.” I thoroughly enjoyed these hollow pockets of powdery goodness.

Shipleys beignet

Final word

Exploring the diverse world of beignets in New Orleans is undoubtedly a delightful experience. Try to venture beyond Café du Monde to see what other types of options await you, as it’s interesting to see the different variations people have made of this historic treat.

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