King cake, the official—and ubiquitous—Carnival confection (a baked dough ring with a plastic baby hidden inside), is near impossible to escape during Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. And why try? Give in and dig in to the sweet taste of tradition found on bakery and grocery shelves—and restaurant menus—citywide.
Among the most popular and prolific makers of Carnival season pastry rounds is Haydel’s in the nearby town of Jefferson. Beloved for its traditional flavors, Haydel’s forgoes the standard plastic babies in favor of collectible ceramic favors.
Get there: 4037 Jefferson Hwy., 504.837.0190
New Orleans Cake Café
Legendary for his brioche rounds decorated in bold lashes of purple, green and gold icing, chef Steve Himelfarb’s specialty flavor, apple-and-goat cheese, is in high demand during Carnival season. But then so is the boudin king cake with bacon-cane syrup icing. There is no wrong; all of Himelfarb's king cakes rule. Call the café beforehand to make sure they’re available.
Get there: 2240 Chartres St., 504.943.0010
Chef Tariq Hanna’s beautiful, opalescent hand-iced king cake is a statement-maker and especially delicious with it's tender, buttery brioche dough, cinnamon and light cream cheese filling. Not in the mood for a whole cake? Sucré offers a slice and a cup of coffee that's perfect for an afternoon snack.
Get there: 3025 Magazine St., 504.520.8311; 622 Conti St., 504.267.7098
Pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt thinks outside the traditional king cake box at this modern-minded Israeli eatery with a braided ring of chocolate-cinnamon babka (a flakey, swirly, layered yeast cake) crowned with an anise-scented, candied crumb topping.
Get there: 4213 Magazine St., 504.891.4213
Breaking tradition, this local grocer starts putting out king cakes right after Christmas, and with reason: The masses simply love them! Several sizes, party packages and 20-plus flavors are offered, including Heavenly Hash (holy yum!).
Get there: 701 Royal St., 504.523.1353; 701 Baronne St., 504.227.3838
The food here is great, for sure, but come Carnival season the bar busts out its boozy, creamy, cinnamon-almond-orange-and-vanilla King Cake cocktail, which perfectly imitates the flavor of the actual confection. In addition to the adult bevy, the kitchen whips up Mardi Gras-inspired desserts, such as single-serving sweet dough king cakes and cheese cakes.
Get there: 144 Bourbon St., 504.522.0111
King Cake Festival
Which king cake is best? Judge for yourself during this annual showdown at Champions Square, adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The free event takes place Jan. 28, from 10 am to 4 pm, and serves up live entertainment along with sweet samples by more than a dozen bakeries and vendors from around the region.
Get there: 1500 Poydras St.