The first time I visited New Orleans was in the year 2001. My husband and I were on an epic road trip, driving from Miami to what ultimately wound up being San Francisco. We drove across the south, stopping in major cities along the way. Our first stop and our last stop before Miami, was New Orleans. Both times we didn’t spend more than one night, and that one night was spent on Bourbon Street because we were college students and that’s all we knew to do.
The second time was for the Essence Music Festival last year, which I blogged about here. It was an amazing experience but ultimately I got caught up in the event and the jam-packed schedule, and didn’t get to truly explore and experience New Orleans. I did the typical tourist things, ate beignets at Café Du Monde and sipped supersized Hurricanes while stumbling around the French Quarter with friends. But I didn’t truly drink in the ambiance, because everywhere was so overwhelmingly crowded. I said to myself that I had to come back. I just didn’t know when.
This past weekend, I was brought to New Orleans by the amazing people of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Association to experience and explore the city. Even BETTER, my husband got to come too, making this our first trip there together in 12 years! I shared my experience via social media, so click here to check out my Instagram and Twitter and Facebook for my #FollowYourNola shares. Right here, I’ll break down the amazing experiences we had, just for you! This first post will be all about where to eat and drink in New Orleans!
New Orleans is a foodie’s paradise. The indigenous cuisine is next level delicious and decadent. You could probably eat out every night for a year and still not eat in every restaurant in downtown New Orleans. There is literally something for everyone, from classic Nawlins cuisine, to high end, fine dining with a twist. We enjoyed the gamut on this last trip. Let me share my favorite culinary experiences with you.
Deanie’s Seafood came highly recommended to us by several New Orleans locals, so that was the first place we headed to. The BBQ shrimp did NOT disappoint. Juicy, saucy, spicy, DELICIOUS. The crab lunch platter is HUGE – Deanie’s definitely is known for generous portions and I struggled to finish my crab balls (SO yum) and crab au gratin. My husband’s fish was a touch overcooked so I’d say stick to shellfish at Deanie’s. And the cocktails are ON POINT.
SoBou features a menu of eclectic and cool new American cuisine, but it’s part of the long-time restaurant owning Brennan family of New Orleans – so what’s classic is new again here and the legacy of great expectations is firmly in place. At SoBou we found fun twists and unique flavor combinations. We tried the yellowfin tuna cones – tuna tartare, pineapple ceviche, toasted coconut sprinkled over basil and avocado ice cream served in little waffle cones. Weird but delicious – if you’re into a gourmet experience and edgy décor, you’ll enjoy it here. The foie gras burger was delicious, and the alligator sausage appetizer was off the chain.
La Petite Grocery came highly recommended, especially since Chef Justin Devilleur is about to be on Top Chef New Orleans. So while it was easy for us to stroll in off the street and get a table for lunch now, it may not be so easy once the Chef is a reality TV celebrity. I recommend reservations. It’s hard to rank other things in order, but for sure this was the number one BEST meal I had in New Orleans. First of all, the blue crab beignets. Oh my YUM. So perfectly crisp and delicate and melt in your mouth creamy spicy delicious mmmmmmmmm. I want one in my hand right NOW as I type. They are SO. FREAKING. GOOD. The shrimp and grits with shitake mushrooms was exceptional, the best I had on the trip. And my husband had the hangar steak with duck fat fries – delectable and cooked to perfection. Our amazing waitress Andrea brought us her favorite desserts to try – butterscotch pudding with pecan palmiers fresh out of the oven, and a coconut dessert with grape sorbet on top…everything was incredible. You MUST go. I can’t wait to go back!
Side note – this is far off the beaten tourist path, quite a ways up Magazine Street. My best advice is to take a bus or streetcar from the French Quarter. Cabs can be hard to come by out this way, from our experience.
Commander’s Palace is among the most historic and beloved restaurants in New Orleans, and with good reason. This landmark New Orleans restaurant has been in operation since 1880. Drink THAT in. The restaurant has hosted more notables and celebrities than you can count, and it is also the cornerstone of the Brennan family’s restaurants. I love a place with history and you can feel it here. It’s an amazing restaurant for a special occasion – on the night we ate there were birthday parties and even an engagement happening at the table beside us (congratulations, happy couple)!
I ordered some items that the restaurant is famous for, including the turtle soup (made with snapping turtle. I had to ask. I also didn’t like it as much as I thought I would to be absolutely honest – a tad too much sherry for my taste). My entrée, the pecan crusted black drum fish, was absolutely INCREDIBLE. And the desserts are infamous for a reason. The bread pudding soufflé is so light and fluffy and delicious. And the peach shortcake was to die for. Amazing.
Antoine’s has been in operation since 1840. We had one of the coolest, most unique, most memorable dining experiences here and I will forever want to return to Antoine’s because of it. First of all – this is a restaurant that’s world renowned and game changing. It is where the dish Oysters Rockefeller was invented, in 1889. They still serve the same original recipe, they are salty and bready and uniquely delicious. Their soufflé potatoes have been a signature since the 1800’s and they are light as air. After eating your meal at Antoine’s, I recommend asking your waiter for a tour. Let them know you’re into history and want to learn more. And then prepare for a stroll into the past. Popes and Presidents have eaten at Antoine’s. General Patton once ordered three dozen Oysters Rockefeller in one sitting.
There are opulent rooms dedicated to Carnival kings and queens, private rooms where instantly recognizable celebrities go to eat undisturbed, and areas where slaves were once kept – all maintained to continually display the history of this amazing restaurant. My waiter, Brandon was awesome. And I didn’t get the bartender’s name but she is mad cool. More on this bar later in this very post!
There are a few well known breakfast spots around the French Quarter. You can identify them by the long lines snaking around the corners. Mother’s is chronically known for this, which is why I’ve never eaten there. Someday I will endure the line at Mother’s for breakfast. On this trip, after quite a bit of research, we settled on The Ruby Slipper for breakfast on our last day. Absolutely no regrets! This place is AWESOME. I LOVED my shrimp and grits and double mimosa. My husband had the brandy milk punch (WOW) and the eggs cochon, which was basically poached eggs over all of this pulled pork. I mean. Wowza.
Next to us, people were ordering the French toast and going crazy over it. Prices were great and our waiter Jonathan was very convivial (he’s an up and coming author, his book Mardi Gras Virgin will be out soon! Go Jonathan)!
New Orleans is one of those American cities known for being steeped in liquor. It’s where adults go to act like children. It’s where Spring Break never ends and you can live in your own perpetual Mardi Gras. The cocktails are strong and abundant. When it comes to bars in New Orleans, a Louis Armstrong quote about music comes to mind. Louis said, “there is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.”
There are two kinds of bars in New Orleans. Good bars, and bad bars. I only drank at the good kind. And I discovered the history of some amazing cocktails. Let me tell you about them.
Napoleon House – one of the most historic bars in America is located on a prominent corner of Chartres Street. We stumbled in on a rainy Friday afternoon, not expecting to find seats at such a legendary place. But there were available seats and tables, and we settled in for a beverage and a lesson on the evolution of New Orleans. Napoleon House was literally supposed to be Napoleon’s HOUSE, and the story of how that idea came to be and didn’t work out is fascinating in and of itself. The place is maintained with a kind of intentional decay, so it feels like you’ve been drinking in a museum exhibit.
And the drinks are excellent. I had my first ever bourbon milk punch here, and fell in LOVE.
Jim Beam, sugar vanilla milk, nutmeg. I’m gonna be making these at home from here on out!
Hermes Bar – One of the coolest things we did on this trip to NOLA was take the Scandalous Cocktail Hour Walking Tour with David, best tour guide EVER. More on this amazing experience in part 2 of this post. We went to the French Quarter’s most historic bars and learned about where many cocktails originated from. And one of my favorite stops was this bar, which is part of the aforementioned Antoine’s restaurant. I had my first ever Pimm’s Cup at Hermes Bar, and I loved it! My husband had the famous gin fizz. We had a great time trying new drinks we’d only heard about before, and the ambiance is adult and respectable but not stuffy. Very cool bar.
Pat O’ Brien’s in New Orleans has been a landmark since 1933, and yes – it’s a tourist haven and a piano bar, but it’s a must for anyone interested in cocktail history. This is where the Hurricane was invented back in WWII. It is as potent and delicious and popular as ever, and no trip to New Orleans is complete without one. At night, you can sip your cocktail and gaze at the flaming fountain out back.
Rib Room is a classy, old fashioned steakhouse in New Orleans – but we wound up here just for the drinks. The Rib Room is where I first sipped a Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. It’s made with rye whiskey, a spritz of absinthe to flavor the glass, and Peychaud’s Bitters. Strong, sweet, uniquely New Orleans. Click here to read more about the Sazerac. And because of our amazing tour guide, we were able to sip our cocktails on the roof of the hotel and drink in one of the coolest views of the city. Awesome!
If you get sick of Bourbon Street and find yourself wondering – where do locals drink in the quarter? You need to check out Chart Room. It’s tiny (smallest ladies room EVER) but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in local charm, kick ass jukebox music, and strong cocktails. Worth stopping by for sure.
We did a lot more than just eat and drink in New Orleans, but this post was about to be SUPER long. So hope you enjoyed part 1 and for shopping and hotel and transport tips, stay tuned for part 2!