New Orleans, Louisiana: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Since our beloved Orange take on Tulane in New Orleans this Saturday I thought a guide to the city from your resident New Orleanian was in order. Should you be making the trek down South this guide will serve you well. I will address food, drink, music, attractions, etc. So join me on this journey as I let you in on the secrets of the Crescent City.
One quick note: Do not say "N’Awlins". Nobody says that. Also, don't say "New Orleans" as it is spelled out. If the city's name's proper pronunciation were spelled out it would look something like "New Arlins". Try that on for size and you won't sound so touristy.
(Editor's Note: Good to know...)
Before I dive in I will quickly explain my setup. I will break the guide into what I think are useful categories and within those categories I will highlight several specifics from the various New Orleans neighborhoods. The French Quarter is fantastic and you could easily spend your entire time there and I couldn't fault you for it. However, there are gems throughout the city, so I will include highlights from other neighborhoods in the hopes that you will venture beyond the Tourist Zone. Also, pretty much all my suggestions will be reasonably priced, but, at least where food is concerned, I will include a few pricier options (and note them as such) for the benefit of those that have the wherewithal to partake in upscale dining.
If you do decide to venture beyond the French Quarter, or if your hotel is not near the French Quarter, you will obviously need to know how to get around. If you rent a car, you can typically find somewhere to park wherever you go. I’m guessing most of you will not rent a car though, so I will briefly break down your options. Clearly you can just take a taxi anywhere you want, but if you want to save some dough use the public transportation. There are two options: streetcar (don’t call it a trolley) or bus. There are two streetcar lines, St Charles and Canal. There are buses that make their way through most other parts of the city, so between buses and streetcars you should be able to get out into the city if you so choose. For lines and info visit: http://www.norta.com/ .
OK, let’s explore this wonderland of booze and food.
In New Orleans food is king, so it is a natural starting point for this guide (it is also the longest of the three parts since I love food so damn much). There is lots and lots and lots of good food here, so it’s hard to make a bad choice when eating in this city. Bad choices can be made though, so I hope to make sure that doesn’t happen. Now, if you follow no other piece of advice, follow this one: do NOT eat at a place that has food or fake food on display outside the establishment on some form of table. In the same vein, do not patronize eateries with someone outside urging you to eat at their place. If their food was any good they wouldn’t need to convince you to go inside.
Let’s be clear: the French Quarter is full of unworthy food. But, thankfully, it also happens to be full of very worthy food. Here are the places where you should eat when stumbling around the Quarter:
Café Du Monde – This is the obvious place to start. Undoubtedly someone has already told you to go here or someone has said it’s for tourists, not locals, so don’t bother. As a local I will say: go there. Wait in line if there is one (or go back later), get yourself one (or two) orders of beignets and a café au lait. If you aren’t aware, beignets are a French style donut. They are puffed up squares of fluffy deliciousness topped with powdered sugar. This is the best place in the city to get them and locals do actually go here. Café au lait is coffee and chicory (a New Orleans standby) mixed halfway with steamed milk. It (or hot chocolate) is the perfect complement to some beignets. Helpful tip: don’t breathe out when eating a beignet or you will be covered in powdered sugar.
Coop’s Place – Rabbit and Sausage Jambalaya. That should be all I need to say to get you to try this place. Jambalaya is typically a family/leftovers type of dish so you actually won’t find many worthwhile examples of it on restaurant menus. Coop’s, though, has the best jambalaya in the city. My recommendation is to go here and get the Supreme version of the dish. Aside from the jambalaya I recommend the red beans and rice, the fried chicken, the Chicken Tchoupitoulas and any of their appetizers. Coop’s is a very hole in the wall looking place and mostly it’s priced accordingly.
Central Grocery – This place invented the Muffaletta. It’s a sandwich with Italian cold-cuts, Swiss cheese and loads of olive salad all on an enormous sesame-seed bun. One Muffaletta easily serves two people, maybe even three. You can order a whole, half or quarter of a sandwich. It’s not stereotypically New Orleans (from an outsider’s perspective), but it is historically New Orleans nonetheless. Since the sandwich is served cold it’s great as something to be packed away for later (like on the plane back home for example).
Bennachin/Green Goddess – I list these two restaurants together because they are both different than anything you will find in the Quarter. Bennachin is a very casual African place with excellent food. It’s interesting eating here because you can see where the African influence on New Orleans food comes from. I’ve loved everything I’ve had here, so order whatever looks good. (It’s BYOB by the way.) Green Goddess is almost indescribable. The two chefs pride themselves on experimenting and looking all over the map for influences. There is an undoubtedly Southern vibe to the menu, but there is Native-American influence, Latin influence, Cajun influence and more here. I couldn’t tell you how to order because I try something new every time. It’s very small but has outdoor seating in a nice pedestrian alley. Both of these places, incidentally, are great choices for the vegetarian among you.
Stanley/Eat Restaurant – These are my FQ brunch recommendations. Stanley is a laid-back, bright eatery right on Jackson Square. The food kicks ass here. It’s got typical brunch favorites, but done with skill. It also has some more locally inspired choices. I recommend Eggs Stanley, Eggs Stella, Breaux Bridge Benedict and the Eggs Benedict Po-Boy. Stanley also happens to be a pretty good Po-Boy place. Eat Restaurant is probably my favorite FQ brunch place. It’s BYOB and they have just a great selection of delicious New Orleans brunch choices. Their Grits and Grillades are killer, any of their named egg dishes are great, I would eat either of their cheese torte starters all by myself and their Fried Green Tomatoes are very good as well.
Felipe’s/Verti Marte – These two places are my two late-night FQ standbys. After/during a night of drinking in the Quarter either one of these places will hit the spot perfectly. Verti Marte recently reopened after burning down. I haven’t been since the reopening but I’m assured the food is just as good. This is basically a hole in the wall filled with New Orleans specialties and delicious drunk food. It’s a tiny market where you order your food and take it elsewhere (often times elsewhere being the sidewalk outside). Felipe’s (the original is actually in Boston I believe) is cafeteria-style Mexican and it’s really good. They have a solid assortment of Mexican meats for your order along with beans, rice, veggies, etc. Chips and Queso hit the spot late at night too. The bar there makes really good margaritas if that is your thing.
Yo Momma’s/Port of Call – Meat and Potatoes kind of person? These two places should suit you well. They both do a couple things worth caring about: hamburgers and baked potatoes. My personal favorite is Yo Momma’s, but Port of Call is the heralded burger place. (There is almost always a line at POC.) If you are in the mood for a burger and you are in the FQ, look no further than either of these places. Yo Momma’s, for what it’s worth, has more daring and interesting options while Port of Call has a fun, themed atmosphere. Also of note: Yo Momma’s is a tequila bar that has a TON of tequila variety.
Johnny’s Po-Boys – Po-Boys are the New Orleans sandwich everyone has heard of (and for good reason because they are fantastic). In the confines of the FQ Johnny’s is the best place to get a po-boy. All the classics are here and the place is set up exactly like a po-boy shop should be.
Acme/Felix’s – Acme is the more well-known oyster place of the two, but in truth Felix’s is just as good in my experience. If you are looking to hit up a raw bar and down dozens of bivalves, you can’t do any better than these joints.
This portion is for those with more currency at their disposable. Riff-raff may skip ahead.
Stella! – This is either the best restaurant in the city or the second best. I have never been, but I do not doubt for a second that you will have an incredible meal here. It serves Southern cuisine with a decidedly contemporary flare and technique and gets nothing but rave reviews. This is the flagship restaurant of the chef that runs Stanley. Imagine that.
Galatoires – Fine dining in New Orleans has a long and storied history; a history that Galatoires is at the center of. This restaurant serves up all the New Orleans classics and serves them up very, very well. The service is excellent, the atmosphere is lively and it is not uncommon for people to spend hours on a single meal here as Galatoires is known as a place where you go drink, talk, nibble, talk, drink, talk, eat, talk and so forth. A must for anyone with the means.
GW Fins – If you love seafood this is a great place to get it in the FQ. It’s actually not that expensive and there are lots of wonderful seafood preparations here including all the famous New Orleans preparations.
It is very likely that your hotel, if you are staying in one, will be in this area. The Superdome is in this area and the area is adjacent to the FQ. I would say the entirety of the area is accessible by streetcar as the St Charles line cuts right through its center. There is a lot of food in this area, but much of it is geared towards the business lunch crowd or the upscale dining crowd. That’s not to say it’s bad, just that it’s not all that different from any other city. I will highlight what I think are the standouts and the places that are unique, but if you find yourself in this area without a clue, most of the places to eat won’t treat you wrong.
Cochon/Butcher – These two places serve food from the same kitchen. Cochon is the sit down restaurant while Butcher is a butcher shop and lunch-food spot. I cannot recommend both highly enough. Donald Link runs both of these and he is a classically trained chef with rural Cajun roots. It shows through in the food coming out of these two places. Unique, forward thinking but insanely delicious food is the name of the game here. And if you play your cards right, neither place is terribly expensive (and when it is expensive it’s worth the money). Cochon, as the name implies, embraces all things pig; if you want to nurture the adventurous carnivore in you, this is the place to do it. But it isn’t just pig. Being a Cajun inspired restaurant you will find fried alligator and rabbit as well.
Domenica/American Sector/Lüke – These three places couldn’t be more different, but they are listed together for a good reason: they are all part of the John Besh empire. John Besh, if you haven’t heard of him, is a top-flight chef here in New Orleans. He has opened several restaurants and they are all fantastic. These three are all similar in that they have a reasonable price-point, decent portions and casual attire. Domenica is Italian, but not Italian-American if you understand me. The pizzas there are very much in the style of a pie from Italy, not the USA. They have lots of pasta dishes, all of which are excellent and all of which can be had in small or large plate size. Truth be told, you won’t need more than the small plate size if you have appetizers and dessert. American Sector is attached to the World War II Museum, so it has a 1940’s America vibe. The dishes are all gourmet or local takes on classic American food and because of the quality of preparation/ingredients dishes like hot dogs, meatloaf, etc have rarely been better. Lüke is a restaurant that plays on the Alsatian/German heritage in New Orleans. Definitely some good eats here. They also have great sandwiches including a great (but pricy) burger and a raw bar with really good oysters.
Restaurant August – For all intents and purposes this restaurant belongs in the NOLACuse Platinum section. It is my personal choice for best restaurant in the city and it is typically described as one of the two best (Stella! being the other). It is very, very expensive. However, if you find yourself in New Orleans during the week, August has the best kept secret in the city at lunchtime. For $20.11 (because it’s 2011) you get an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. The portions are not small at all (I’ve never left feeling hungry) and the food is amazing. Typically you choose from three of each to customize the lunch. This is the type of place that also serves an amuse buche (small pre-appetizer taste of food) and a thank you sweet bite with the check, so you really get 5 different things to eat for the price. Add a glass of wine or cocktail and you are looking at 25-30 bucks before tax/tip for as good a lunch as you can get.
August – If you go here any other time but lunch M-F, you will pay a lot. My fiancé brought me here last year for the 7-course tasting meal and it was the best meal of my life. The food here is outstanding and the décor is quite classy without being pretentious.
Herbsaint – This is the upscale restaurant of Cochon’s Donald Link. The food is a mixture of Creole, Cajun and French done in a refined way.
Rio Mar – Some say this is the best upscale seafood place in the city. As the name implies there is a lot of Spanish/Latin-American influence here. This is the type of place where the seafood itself shines through since you won’t find as much frying and heavy sauces.
Feast – I’m not sure I would actually call this upscale, but it is on the pricier side so I’ve listed it here. I haven’t been to this location, but the original in Houston is amazing and everything I’ve heard about this one indicates it too is amazing. This is a place that leans heavily on the traditions of the British Isles. Meat is the star here and the proprietors pride themselves on using only the best, healthy animals (they even list on their menus what farms and ranches provided the meat).
Emeril’s – Can I talk about New Orleans food and not mention Emeril? He has several restaurants in the city, but I’ve only been to two. I’ve been to Emeril’s and I’ve been to Delmonico. I enjoyed Emeril’s, but for the money I would prefer to go elsewhere. Still, if you want to experience an Emeril’s restaurant, this one shouldn’t disappoint.
This area is well-known for featuring big beautiful homes and greenery, obviously. There is more to the area than that, but in the nice parts the houses are admittedly pretty awesome.
Café Reconcile – I will mention this place first because of the great story behind it. It is a non-profit training facility for youth from at-risk neighborhoods and homes. This place puts out legitimately good food, so it’s not just a nice story. It is a lunch only spot that serves classic New Orleans and Southern dishes. If you are looking for comfort food, this is a great spot for it. Some of these kids go on to work in serious restaurants around the city, so the mission of Café Reconcile seems to be working. Word of warning though, this is not in the "nice" part of the Garden District, so the neighborhood will look dodgier than you might expect (and probably should be avoided at night).
Surrey’s – This is one of the best brunch places in the city, especially if you are looking for a healthier brunch. But don’t let the fact that it can be healthy scare you away as they serve up plenty flavor here. There isn’t necessarily a style here as Western, Southern, and Tex-Mex brunch favorites can all be had. The Juice Bar here is excellent, by the way.
Slice – You didn’t come to New Orleans to eat pizza, I know. But if you decide that’s what you want, go here. There are two locations and they are equally good. Now, it’s probably not gonna come close to touching good New York pizza, so order one of their more creative options if you go. I recommend Bacon, Basil and Garlic. It’s loaded with bacon and basil with cloves of roasted garlic spread around. Gorgonzola and prosciutto is another delicious choice. Anyway, there isn’t anything particularly New Orleans about it, but if you want some fun pizza it’s a great spot.
Juan’s Flying Burrito – This place reminds a lot of Alto Cinco, for those of you that frequented that Syracuse Tex-Mex spot, though I enjoy Juan’s more. They have all the Tex-Mex mainstays and I recommend anything with the jerk chicken or pork. Their seafood options are quite delicious as well.
Sucre – This place is strictly dessert. They have really good chocolates and pastries that are high-end style. If you are strolling along Magazine in this neighborhood I highly recommend popping in and trying something out here.
Commander’s Palace – This is a New Orleans institution. It’s been here since shortly after Louisiana became a state and it has a storied history. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagassi both got their starts cooking in Commander’s kitchen, for example. The best way to do this restaurant is to go for lunch/brunch and take advantage of their 25¢ martinis. The food is high-end New Orleans traditions done superbly.
Coquette – This is a newer restaurant serving up some really good American bistro food. Their menu changes pretty frequently so I can’t recommend anything in particular, but if you enjoy seasonal/locally-sourced American cuisine this is a great place for it.
Café Atchafalaya – Louisiana (not just New Orleans) food with modern touches in a cozy setting. The restaurant is unmistakable from the outside because there is a giant cast-iron skillet on the side of the building. The food here is really tasty and I’ve had great service here as well.
This is a pretty large area and really I’m lumping some neighborhoods together here, but that’s ok. Tulane University is in this area as is the zoo. There is plenty quality food to talk about and there will be a lot of places I don’t mention that are great options.
Ignatius – I will start with this because I think it’s what most of you will be interested in. It’s a small, hole in the wall type place serving good Creole and Cajun food. They have gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, etc. It’s all tasty and they have some of their own creations that are great too. If you are in this area looking to sample "New Orleans" food, this would be the place I tell you to go.
Franky and Johnny’s – Like Ignatius this is a place to come for all the New Orleans staples, but that’s not why you should go to Franky and Johhny’s. You should go here if you are looking for fried seafood. It’s not the only place in the city that does it, but in this area it’s the place for it and it’s got the vibe you want when eating this kind of food: classic picnic-style tablecloths, slightly sub-par lighting, sports on TVs in the corners. The ambiance here is how I remember New Orleans food places being when I was a kid.
Casamento’s – If you are looking for oysters while Uptown this is an excellent choice. Great oysters and a great oyster atmosphere (if that makes sense).
Domilise’s – This is a great place for po-boys. Oyster po-boys are what they do best, but just about every po-boy here is really good (except for their roast beef po-boy).
Boucherie – This is an awesome little "nice" restaurant that started out as a food truck. They do contemporary Southern and contemporary BBQ. Everything I have ever had here was really good and somehow, without having small portions, they are extremely affordable for what they serve. Their menu tends to change but their parmesan garlic fries, boudin balls, pulled pork cakes and Krispy Kreme bread pudding (yea, that’s right) are very good and all menu staples.
Creole Creamery/La Boulangerie – These are two excellent places for sweets, though totally different kinds of sweets. Creole Creamery is my favorite ice-cream place anywhere, not just New Orleans. They serve all the regular varieties, but they have a bunch of interesting ones too that are awesome. Creole Creamcheese is the off-beat flavor they are known for the most, but I they have a ton of fun flavors worth checking out. The ice-cream is very rich, so be careful when ordering as it’s easy to get too much. La Boulangerie is a fantastic French bakery. Their croissants are awesome, their pastries are awesome and their bread is awesome. You may not have any need to go to a bakery or want any pastries besides beignets, but if you do, go here.
Patois/La Crepe Nanou – Here we have two different French restaurants. Patois is the more acclaimed of the two and it certainly has a more contemporary take. The restaurant also makes a point of including excellent game dishes on its menu such as rabbit and pheasant. La Crepe Nanou is a much more traditional French Bistro. Obviously they have a great crepe selection, but they also feature great mussels, sweetbreads and other French favorites. It’s small, quirky and a great neighborhood eatery.
Dante’s Kitchen – This is solid restaurant right near the river with a great courtyard. They take French and Southern dishes and give them a local/Southeastern Louisiana treatment. The food is very good and when the weather is nice the courtyard makes for great outdoor dining. This is a popular brunch spot in this part of town by the way.
This is funky neighborhood with a mix of working class and low-maintenance professionals. It’s not necessarily pretty, but it’s a wonderful neighborhood to get to know.
Parkway Bakery – OK, I finally come to the po-boy place I will recommend without any hesitation. This is my personal favorite po-boy spot. Their roast beef po-boy is the best and I love their shrimp and oyster po-boys just as much. You can also try both roast beef and shrimp with the surf and turf if you are feeling particularly hungry. If you want to give yourself a heart-attack you can order the French fries and gravy po-boy. Anyway, if you are willing to take a taxi-ride or have a car and want to try what I think is the best po-boy shop in town, go here.
Mandina’s – Looking for fried seafood? This place serves up big plates of tasty fried seafood. They also do classics like gumbo and po-boys, but their red beans and rice is the thing I love here besides the fried seafood. They also serve New Orleans Italian-American food. It’s not too different from any other Italian-American, but you’ll notice the sauce (or gravy) is sweeter than most. Mandina’s is another one of these long-standing neighborhood favorites that are all over the city.
Dooky Chase – This is technically in the Treme neighborhood, but it’s close enough to Mid-City to include it. This is the classic black Creole restaurant in the city. It’s the kind of place where politicians or political candidates have to visit at some point. Good, upscale comfort food might be the best way to describe the fare here to someone unfamiliar with Creole cooking.
Taqueria Guerrero – This obviously isn’t New Orleans cuisine, but if you don’t get much opportunity to have authentic Mexican food where you are, you can stop here and get some really good Mexican food. There are more and more decent places like this around New Orleans following the influx of workers who came in post-Katrina.
Angelo Brocato’s – Mid-City is fairly well-known around town for its Italian-American roots. Several of the traditional Italian-American places in the city are in this neighborhood. Angelo Brocato’s is probably the best of the bunch. But this isn’t a restaurant. This is a place for dessert. Baked goods, cookies, gelato, spumoni, etc. Italian treats are the specialty here and they are awesome. I absolutely recommend making a trip to Mid-City just for this place. It may not seem like quintessential New Orleans to an outsider, but it is.
Café Degas – Awesome little French restaurant with an ever-shifting menu of excellent food. It’s got nice outdoor seating for when the weather is nice and it makes for a great date spot if you are in town with a significant other.
I covered the main neighborhoods I suspect the likes of you will find yourselves in while in New Orleans, but there are some additional thoughts I have before moving on to drinks and attractions. The following places/foods stand out enough to warrant a mention by me and a visit by you even though they may be out of the way.
Crabby Jack’s – This po-boy shop sits in Jefferson Parish just to the west of New Orleans on Claiborne Ave/ Jefferson Hwy. It is a fantastic po-boy place in general, but four things stand out here for me personally. They have a Roast Duck po-boy that is awesome and needs no explanation. They also do a killer job with their Fried-Green Tomatoes which can be had as a side or on a Fried-Green Tomato/Shrimp Remoulade po-boy (highly recommended). Finally, they do a great job with their Cochon de Lait po-boy. For the uninitiated out there Cochon de Lait is a pig-roast of a young pig done Cajun style. It is delicious stuff.
Elizabeth’s – This place serves up excellent hangover food for brunch. Just awesome stuff like Praline Bacon, Sweet Potato and Duck Hash over Waffles, Shrimp and Grits, Grits and Grillades, and Fried Grit Cakes. They also do a great job with cocktails, particularly Bloody Mary’s. (Quick aside here: if you like Bloody Mary’s you are in luck because everyone in New Orleans seemingly drinks them. I’m not a fan myself, but there are great Bloody Mary’s of all varieties to be had all over the city.) Dinner here is also very good, but brunch is why this place has made a name for itself. It’s located in the Bywater neighborhood which is east of the French Quarter, but not really walking distance.
Vietnamese Food – This isn’t one place, but rather simply calling out the fact that New Orleans is home to some really good Vietnamese food. Because of a similar climate and geography there is a sizable Vietnamese population here and as a result you can get awesome Vietnamese food. There are decent places within the neighborhoods I listed, but the best stuff is in New Orleans East and on the Westbank (other side of the river). I won’t go into all the places now, but if you email me or say something in the comments I can make recommendations if you are interested.
Fried Chicken – If you are a fan of fried chicken or looking to try it out, there are several good places for it here. Willie Mae’s Scotch House has the "official" best in the city accolades, so you can’t go wrong there. Coop’s, as mentioned before, has real good fried chicken. McKenzie’s Chicken in a Box is very good for fast fried chicken as is McHardy’s. Just below those places, honestly, are Popeye’s and Brother’s. They may both be chains, but I’ll take either place without complaint if I’m in a fried chicken mood. Popeye’s elsewhere has never tasted as delicious as it does here. Maybe that’s just homerism talking, but I like to think it is better in the city where it started.
Pralines – First things first, in New Orleans the word is pronounced with a short ‘a’ (as in ‘Syracuse’) not a long one. Just as ‘pecan’ is pronounced with a short ‘e’ and a short ‘a’. There are pralines all over the city and mostly they are similarly delicious. I have found, however, that Loretta’s Pralines or Leah’s Pralines (both in the French Quarter) are the best.
Café Negril – Should you find yourself on Frenchman Street late at night (a very likely possibility) I recommend pushing your way through any crowd at this reggae bar/club to the back corner. There you will find delicious tacos, burritos, etc. This taco place used to be a taco truck on Frenchman, but they had to move inside thanks to a city ordinance being enforced.
So that’s it for food. I have not even really scratched the surface of the good places to eat here, so if you have heard of (or been to) a place I didn’t mention and want to know more, let me know in the comments as I will likely be able to offer an opinion.
Next up: Drinks!