New Orleans recommendations (Updated for summer / fall 2015!)
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Tennessee “The Man” Williams
No one lives in New Orleans passively. People make an active choice to be here and they can tell you exactly why and when they made the decision. “I grew up here and knew I’d return with my wife one day” “I came one Jazz Fest and spent the next 20 years trying to get back.” “I went to Tulane and never left” “I came with Americorps after Katrina and fell in love. I moved that same year.” Or, in my case, “I grew up here and never thought I’d come back after moving to London but my husband visited, fell in love immediately, and five months later we bought this crazy old run down house that we spent the next several years and a not-so-small-fortune renovating”
Though it has always been rich in culture, the revitalization from the Katrina devastation and debacle has meant a tremendous influx of new inhabitants, businesses, renovations, building and schools. It’s a fascinating time to be here and watch the city reach new potential and keep itself firmly grounded in its culinary and historic roots.
The key to really getting New Orleans is getting out of the French Quarter and experiencing what the rest of us simply call “day to day life” Uptown, Mid City, The Best Bank, Esplanade, The Marigny, The Bywater, Old Metairie…. the restaurants, shops and parks. And, guess what? We also eat beignets and crawfish, go to Vaughan’s on Thursday nights and take our kids on riverboat cruises to the zoo.
So here is your list. An infallible list. A list that will keep you happy and keep you coming back for more. And when you need a new list – one with names of realtors and renovators – email me and I’ll send you that too.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Maison St. Charles
Conveniently located in the Lower Garden District and super convenient for getting just about anywhere in the city. Rooms are under $95 a night.
A really clean, really lovely mansion-turned-B&B also in the Lower Garden District. I promise, it really is a super convenient neighborhood.
The Monteleone is a rarity: A locally owned four-star hotel built in 1886 and renovated frequently.
Recently renovated and fully restored. Luxurious and affordable….and original home of The Sazarac.
The French Quarter W
A hip haven in the heart of the French Quarter.
The Windsor Court
The Opulent Grand Dame of New Orleans.
With the pressure of being a known destination for gastronomes there is a lot of competition among visitors to New Orleans to eat at the REAL New Orleans restaurants. This is where the locals eat….and where they take their real friends.
In the Lower Garden District, on the corner, with a long bar and a great wine list. Overlook this restaurant at your own peril. The menu is Chef-driven, the service is great and the atmosphere is perfect. Great for business lunch, ladies cocktails or date night.
Okay, I was on the fence about this one. It is an old-school steakhouse replete with white tile floors and mahogany banquettes in the diminutive bar and black and white photos of celebrities with mafioso names. It’s in a hotel. It’s on St. Charles. You’ll pull up and say “WHAT???” I can’t skip it though. You need red meat. It’s good for your blood. Save your allocation and have it here. The Chef, Robert Bruce, is a great New Orleanian. Tell him I said “hi”! And while you’re there, look around. All those dudes in suits? Those are the people who run New Orleans.
Real Cajun / creole / southern food by James Beard award-winning chef, Donald Link. This is the only place in the city you should order gumbo. Please. Listen to me. For the love of God.
Oustanding seafood restaurant by same chef, Donald Link. Great “loft-like” atmosphere and a great bloody mary.
If you’re going to have a blow out, this isn’t a bad choice of place to have it. Chef John Folse’s first NOLA eatery and the dining room is over the top. Wear a jacket. Sit in the kitchen. You’ll see what I mean.
The Italian Barrel
New Orleans has a lock on poorly named restaurants. This one is no exception. Tiny and exceedingly fresh. Outstanding Italian food with ingredients flown in from Italy daily. Grungy FQ location.
St James cheese
You can’t eat creole food every day.Go here for a gourmet ploughman’s platter.
Neighborhood restaurant in the Bywater. Great desserts too.
Do you think that just because we have some old houses and AH-mazing architecture the whole industrial-restaurant-decor wave has passed us over? No-o-o-o-o-o. The Franklin does it right. Great cocktails. Poured concrete stuff. Busy. Sexy. Perfect.
The Grand Dame of New Orleans Cuisine. Great for big groups or romantic dinners. Oh, go for Sunday Brunch and start drinking Brandy Milk Punches at 11am. NOW you understand New Orleans.
High end farm-to-table creole cuisine by local favorite, Chef John Besh, in a gorgeous setting. The best food in New Orleans and with a GREAT $20 lunch menu! But dress up. It’s worth it.
Great local seafood in a modern setting. Flat screen televisions at the bar makes it feel a little airport-y but are convenient when the Saints are playing. WHO DAT!?!?
Aaron Sanchez and Chef John Besh teamed up to create a create and sort of California-y mexican restaurant. It’s sooooo good! Make sure you have the tostadas and at least a bunch of margaritas. Great location for CBD-visitors, Saints games, Pelicans games, concerts or just Wednesdays.
New Orleans is awesome because it’s cool to visit from NYC and go out to dinner and see music in flip flops and cargo shorts but sometimes…SOMETIMES…you want to dress up and have really nice drinks in a hip atmosphere. Amen Bouligny! Super mid-century design inside a 100+ year old New Orleans residence. Chef John Harris, the owner, really does wear that 70s ‘tache. Oh, this goes under food because they do outstanding small plates.
Opt for the 9 to 15-course tasting menu for, I don’t know, $150 or something like that or go upstairs for cocktails and charcuterie. Either way this might just be the best experience you have in New Orleans.
My personal favorite for those nights when you don’t know where to go. Great Guiness on tap, excellent burgers, duck confit, salads…super cool atmosphere including 80s records on the wall and dark wood floors. Great cocktails, always busy. Great for mixed groups of people – boys, girls, olds, youngs, foodies and cheapies. Everyone loves it! Wear jeans, heels and t-shirt.
It’s hard to get locals to eat dinner in the French Quarter unless they already live there. Sylvain is good enough to do just that, though. Prime location and great food in a building built in 1796. Lots of visitors but it’s legit with the locals too.
Remember 5 restaurants ago when I told you Restaurant August had the best food in New Orleans? Wellllll, the executive chef, Mike Gulotta, left along with his brother, Jeff, who was the GM, and together they opened a super cool, super hip (staff in hipster-chic logo’d mechanics shirts) restaurant in Mid-City. It’s Southeast Asia meets New Orleans. Big outdoor patio, whole pig roast on Saturdays, alcoholic boba tea. It’s an industry hang-out and a cool place to grab lunch, dinner or a drink.
Breakfast, lunch and occasionally a pop-up dinner restaurant. Great juices, healthy sandwiches, coffee all in the Bywater.
Modern Vietnamese noodle and banh mi shop.
Another Vietnamese restaurant – better food than Magasin but not much atmosphere. Lily is great, though, and she also runs the spa next door. “Noodles and Nails!” she cheerfully proclaims!
The Company Burger
#1 Burger in NOLA according to people who know these things. Like me.
Yes, come to New Orleans and eat hot dogs.
AWESOME sandwich shop run by the Cochon people. The cookies??? HOLY SMOKES. Stop. Stop RIGHT there and go get one.
Best poboys in the French Quarter. Super busy. A little smelly. But there is a saying in New Orleans – the best food is at the places where you wouldn’t want to use the bathroom. That applies here. Ick.
The graffiti on the outside of the building includes important information, like opening hours. Get there early on Sundays.
Dong Phuong Bakery
I doubt you will ever get out to New Orleans East, but if you do you’ll witness a thriving Vietnamese community. Don Phuong Bakery provides some of the best French Bread in the city and they also run an oustanding restaurant as well. You have to REALLY love an adventure to head out there but yummmmm if you do.
Juan’s Flying Burritto
Super casual “Mexican” food with a long list of margaritas and a very tattooed staff. Kid friendly! And yes, that’s me you see sipping on a top-shelf frozen.
Booty’s Street Food
On a busy corner of the Bywater (or is it the Marigny? Who knows these days) neighborhood there lives a hip little joint with 8 menu items – each from a different part of the world. Sounds a bit nutty, right? Well it works. Menu changes all the time but expect friendly, if slightly rushed, service, great drinks and a New-York-Hipster vibe. The food is really great. If available try the Fish N Chips if you need a bit of The Queen in your life. The daily Asian influenced salad is great too.
Everything you need to know is in the name.
The motto of Stein’s is “If you want a po-boy, go somewhere else!” So…there’s that. New Orleans’s best (only?) proper Jewish & Italian deli where you can get an awesome Reuben, BLT or turkey on rye. Loads of beers by the bottle and fancy schmancy soft drinks.
District Donuts. Sliders. Brew.
Of all the cutsy food trends to hit the masses the resurrection of the doughnut as a hand crafted luxury item is TOTALLY the best. District Donuts is next door to Stein’s in the Lower Garden District and serves around 20 super creative doughnuts each day. But don’t worry, it’s not ALL sugar. They serve sliders too…cheeseburger, hamburger, tofu, friend chicken and 3 specials every day. Oh, and the “Brew” part is about coffee, not beer.
Round out your visit with Red Beans and Rice, fried catfish and Jambalaya. Brought to you by an ingenious group of men and women who use the restaurant as a teaching grounds for at risk (seriously at risk) youth. Do you conscience, your wallet and your tummy good!
Not just great coffee (Illy) and great menu…but also a great place for wine and beer after a hard day of work. Or sightseeing.
A gorgeous and totally New Orleans feeling specialty cocktail bar with small plates of food. Great way to start or end your evening.
Over 80 wines by the glass and a host of wine classes.
Classic cocktails, new cocktails, drink specials, great staff, exposed brick, hand written chalk signs — this would be totally a manufactured hipster thing if only it wasn’t New Orleans and totally legit.
Bohemian wine shop in the Bywater.
A proper cocktail lounge from the experts at Cure. In The Hotel Modern at Lee Circle.
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub
The Irish Pub sports bar where all the expats are at y’all.
Dive bar with darts, shuffleboard and the best Taco Truck in the city during Friday Happy Hour (Taco Loceaux) **note: I hear they might be renovating. Noooooooooo!
Great music for night owls.
Chickie Wah Wah
Outstanding life music venue.
The Sazarac Bar
Located in the Roosevelt Hotel, The Sazarac Bar has been lovingly restored and pays homage to the granddaddy of New Orleans cocktails: The Sazarac. For what it’s worth I think the actual best Sazarac in the city is made by a bartender named Dave (or Broke Knee Dave as we know him) who is currently working at Peche, but this is a good start. It’s also a really sophisticated lounge and a nice place to kick back after a long day of walking around the city.
Hi-Volt in the Lower Garden District
Merchant in the Central Business District
Coast Roast in St. Roch Market
Salon by Sucre in the French Quarter
Revelator Coffee Company in the Lower Garden District
Check out The Mississippi river from The Moonwalk
Take the ferry to Old Algiers
Go to NOMA and make time to see the sculpture garden
Take a walk through the French Quarter but, if you are over 21, stay on Royal Street instead of Bourbon Street.
Horse and Buggy ride through the French Quarter or the Garden District. Grab your camera first!
Stroll along Julia Street aka Gallery Row and check out some great contemporary art
Spend the day at City Park
Spend the morning at Audubon Park
Play Golf at some of the public golf courses around the city
Stay up super late and catch some music on Frenchman
Kermit Ruffins wherever you can find him.
Play the ponies at The Fair Grounds
Catch a movie at Canal Place (with food and booze)
Crescent City Farmers Market
Eat? Shop? Play? Not sure where this really belongs but it is worth checking out. They are all over the city but Saturday in the Warehouse District is a nice way to catch some locals without having to go far from the French Quarter.
Okay, don’t laugh, want to know what locals do on pretty days when they can blow off work? They get a frozen daiquri from here and hang on at The Fly. You’re in the circle of trust now. Don’t blow it.
Turn your dial to WWOZ 90.7 as SOON as you arrive in New Orleans. Don’t let anyone catch you rockin’ Miley Cyrus.
And go see these people / groups somewhere live while you are in town:
Rebirth Brass Band
The Storyville Stompers
Tyrone Foster & The Arc Singers (Gospel)
Dr. John (TOTALLY New Orleans)
Tab Benoit (Blues)
Honey Island Swamp Band (Roots Rock)
Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha-Chas (Zydeco)
The New Orleans Bingo! Show (Mixed Bag / Performance Art)
Meschiya Lake (Great female performer)
Billy Reid is making American style all about the most stylish and hip southern man and woman to roam the South. Visit their elegantly rustic shop on Magazine Street and plan to stay a while. Have a drink. Chat with the staff. Visit with customers coming and going. You want to belong here and they make it so easy.
Hit or miss but can be a place for fabulous finds like $200 jeans for $20 (did that!). It’s stuffed and in a small store but users swear by it!
Great ladies clothing from teens to moms.
Another great ladies clothing shop – also has an excellent high end shoe shop in the back called CeCe’s. See what they’ve done there?
Waldhorn & Adler
An antique store which is, itself, an antique. Founded in 1881. Focuses on furniture but also has jewelry.
Where else but New Orleans could you find an entire store dedicated to antiquities related to the art of food? No bargains here but some great souvenirs. For yourself.
For one-stop-shopping. All the usual chains for emergency shoes, and clothes. Saks, JCrew, Anthropologie, plus a few local shops too like Mignon Faget, Salon Paris Parker etc… Great place to come if it’s too hot, too cold or too rainy. Excellent movie theatre too!
New Orleanians love their self-referential t-shirts. Look just like one with a trip to Dirty Coast. Just make sure you understand what you are wearing.
Again, for the t-shirts.
Gentlemen, if you aren’t wearing a t-shirt and flip flops you should be dressed to the nines! A visit to George Bass can help you achieve that.English shoes, seersucker suits, bespoke tailoring.
Adorable and location appropriate clothes for girls and boys. Dresses, shoes, suits, toys.
Home furnishings from Brian Batt (Mad Men).
Local jeweler with gorgeous items from $20 to $5,000.
Maple Street Book Shop
Fight the stupids!
Fun and funky home furnishings on Magazine Street. From rustic and primitive to gilded and gaudy with some Kartell thrown in for good measure.
The Audubon Zoo
The Audubon Zoo is open 7-days a week and includes an award winning Louisiana Swamp Exhibit so you can get some cultural education about the area while having a great time with the kids. There is also a Splash fountain.
Take the Streetcar. Anywhere.
City Park (See the NOMA Sculpture Garden, Rent a paddle boat, Beignets near the carosel, Storyland …)
Pandora’s in Mid-City
Surprisingly fun with kids on Sundays. Music. Balloons. Brandy Milk Punch for the grown ups.
Cafe du Monde
A few years ago friends of ours went to Paris and returned bearing a box of macaroons from LaDuree. We, as a welcome home gift, bought them a box of macaroons from Sucre. We proceeded to have a side-by-side comparison and determined that Sucre’s macaroons were unbelievably good, very close to La Duree and definitely worth our absurd rate of consumption. They also have great gelato and some of the best coffee in town. Make this part of your Magazine Street stroll.
Cool modern building, great pilates and other sweaty stuff. Check out Romney Ride if you need a Soul Cycle-type fix.
Uptown, locals place. Carry on a little further up Magazine when you are done for great coffee and gelato at Sucre.
The Geurlain Spa at the Roosevelt New Orleans
Beautiful hotel, lovely spa. Begin your post vacation detox here. Then go have a drink at the bar. C’mon! You aren’t home YET.
Get your makeup done…and maybe don a wig for the night. Fifis does it all!
Hove Parfumeur, Ltd
Custom blended fragrances since 1931.
The only source you need for what is going on in NOLA. Music, politics and food. What else is there?
The New Orleans Advocate
Not super slick but a good compilation of recipes by local chefs and local cooks
Wall Street Journal from September 2010
Travel & Leisure from November 2010
36 Hours in New Orleans from February 2012
The Quintessential Cajun Bloody Mary - Martine and JessicaMarch 6, 2014 at 22:44
[…] see, where to go, what to do and who to hear in this crazy city. Sure, she could read the my travel guide to The Big Easy (which, by the way, was tweeted out by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau in advance of […]
Melissa WoodJuly 11, 2014 at 17:16
Cannot WAIT to sample & sketch this city, and thanks for this spiffy guide.
jessicaJuly 12, 2014 at 09:51
Melissa: I can’t wait to see what you come up with! Jx
NatalieDecember 11, 2014 at 12:40
This has made me so nostalgic for Nola. My husband and I moved to Baltimore from New Orleans for his job but we go back any chance we get (his parents are still there). Every time my in-laws come up we put in our requests from Rouses- savoies Andoliie, gulf shrimp, oysters, frozen crawfish from Langenstiens
jessicaDecember 11, 2014 at 13:03
That’s so great! When I lived in Colorado I used to order Gulf Shrimp because there was nothing even close up there. My mother also used to make sure I had King Cake wherever I was in the country and now when I am out of the country I make one. As you know it is an acquired taste so not everyone gets it 🙂