New Orleans was immediately intoxicating, both literally and figuratively. The warm humid air is mellow and musky like an aged bottle of red wine, while the buzz of the city resonates like sultry jazz. It’s ghostly beauty is unlike any place I’ve been before but breathes an air of spirited familiarity. New Orleans has this decaying, colorful, old world charm that you don’t often find in the U.S. The city itself haunts like a scarlet beauty of a bygone era, who; despite her age, insists on getting all dolled up to put on a show. She paints a thick layer of blush over the cracks in her Greek Revival facade, adorns herself with French inspired fleur-de-lis and coyly bats her intricate wrought iron filigree from behind historic Spanish Moss draped Live Oaks. You know she’s going to be trouble, but you fall for her, big and easy.
My first trip to NOLA was just a few of weeks ago for our cousin Blake’s wedding, but I had a hidden agenda of scoping all of the best New Orleans Eats. He was marrying the love of his life and we were lucky enough to be invited to the party. The wedding itself took place in the Garden District at Eiffel Society, a casually chic slice of Paris right in NOLA. It was hands down the most creative hoot and hollerin’ good time wedding I’ve ever attended. Blake and Leah threw a party of the ages that will live on in all of our memories for years to come. Not only was the wedding memorable but they went above and beyond to make sure all of us guests lived it up and did NOLA right when we were in town.
Our trip began with an Uber ride with a Part-time Uber driver/Full time US Marshall who replaced the windshield just days before because it was shot out while he was detaining a suspect. Totally normal. We dropped our things at Hotel Indigo, centrally located in the Garden District, and immediately headed out to the French Quarter to meet our party. We arrived, well after midnight, hangry and stone cold sober to a bumbling group of drunken party people Robo-tripping on purple voodoo slushies at Lafitte’s, famously known as the oldest bar in the country (not sure how true that is). Quickly the hanger took over, so we meandered down towards Bourbon Street in search of food. This plan failed miserably and I could only take just the tip of Bourbon Street before I had to punch out and head back to the hotel.
To my surprise, the sis and bro in law were able to join us for a morning stroll over to Willa Jean for breakfast. We missed out on the full sit down brunch but we were able to load up on pastries to enjoy outside just as popcorn storm rolled over. Thankfully, we were able to protect our pastries enough from the heavy rains while we huffed it across the street to take shelter. Thankfully the only things lost was a single flip flop.
About halfway between Willa Jean and Hotel Indigo, sits the The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which obviously we couldn’t resist. To get our heads in the game, we went to the adjacent restaurant, Toupes South, offering a refined take on many Southern classics. Here I had 1.5 of the best Mint Juleps of life and a beyond refreshing Pimms Cup with tequila. All that drinking got us hungry again so we ordered a few snacks, Cracklins and a cheese plate for the table and a couple of Andouille Sausage Poboy to split. Everything exploded with southern flavor which, almost, balanced out all of that booze. The best part is, you can take your cocktails from Toups into the museum, in fact it’s encouraged! Here you’ll find all kinds of nostalgic kitsch. From two tables of assorted vintage kitchen gadgets to original signage from hundreds of famous foodie destinations. If you’re into food and drink, you need to come here.
That night was a big pre-wedding party at Rock n Bowl, a bowling alley/life music club/bar/helluva good time all under one roof. We bowled, we danced, we drank, but mostly we drank. After all that rockin’ and bowlin’, we were somehow hungry again so we had our Uber drive flip a quick uey when the Tacos & Beer sign flashed before our hungry eyes. We crushed a dozen tacos four ways and ate every last ounce of chips and guac in the place. After a night of more G&Ts than I care to remember, I can earnestly say that night a taco (or 3) saved my life.
Sunday morning we rallied together with the fam and beelined for the world famous Beignets at Cafe du Monde, knowing full well we’d be waiting. We skipped the longer line in favor of the slightly shorter To-G0 line and spent the wait catching up and building our appetites. The long wait did not disappoint, we took our warm bags of powdered sugar coated fried pastries and icy cool Cafe au Laits for a stroll down by the river. The puffy little pillows were everything I’d made them up to be in my mind, and beyond. Despite being deep fried in fat, they aren’t weighed down with grease but light and fluffy with sugary sweet powder perfection. Afterward, we headed to French Market for a stroll but first grabbed a Bloody Mary to-go to handle the crush of drunk tourists. Once the booze kicked in, I was able to handle the crowds and take an extended walking tour of the the historic French Quarter to admire architecture and the peeling painted ladies.
We rallied back near the hotel at a local watering hole in the LGD called The Blind Pelican for 25¢ oysters, served daily from 4 – 8 p.m. Plus a crawfish feed up, fried green tomatoes and a Muffuletta sammie, all shared family style. Cheap eats, cold drinks and a big ol’ patio, you can’t argue with that. I even ate an oyster and I don’t do seafood.
That night at the wedding, the bride and groom opted for a tiered donut tower instead of a wedding cake and I had to honor of setting it up! The crazy delicious donuts came from local donut hot spot District Donuts and they’re as tasty as they are big.
The next morning I learned if you have a hangover, then you’re doing New Orleans right. So, we set out to find some greasy spoon New Orleans Eats to beat that pesky hangover into submission. The Huevos Rancheros from Coulis in the Touro neighborhood cured any all all ailments and I was ready to explore some more. So we wandered our way up to Magazine Street, and I decided I want to move there immediately. It’s bustling in a subtle way with darling shops, incredible food and friendly faces. The kind of street you could spend all day leisurely exploring, which we did. Sucré is a darling little sweet spot in New Orleans with some of the best tasting and most vibrant Macarons I’ve ever had. The Brown Butter Pecan Ice Cream was a special treat to be hand too!
We had some time to kill before our dinner reservations so we popped into neighborhood gem, Coquette for a couple of cocktails and a snack. The drinks are carefully crafted by a friendly mixologist who goes out of his way to make you feel at home. The space is intimate and inviting and smells of wood smoke and whiskey. I highly recommend a date at this romantic corner restaurant.
My most unforgettable, “oh my god is this what food tastes like in heaven?” meal was at Shaya, a bright and inviting modern Israeli inspired hot spot on Magazine street. Q: Who seeks out Israeli food in New Orleans? A: Anyone who wants the smoothest, perfectly balanced hummus and fluffy, smoked infused, charred up pita bread on any side of the Mississippi. Every dish we tried was more flavorful and vibrant than the last. Biting into the crispy falafel to reveal a light and herby center is almost an out of body experience. The shakshuka had me wanting to instantly skip ahead to the next morning to have it again for a proper Israeli breakfast. Skip the crawfish and cajun spice and sneak over to Shaya for an unforgettable neo NOLA meal.
On our final day of exploring the city and the top New Orleans Eats, we headed back to Willa Jean for the full meal deal. In the sun filled dining room we shared the technicolor Avocado Toast topped on a hearty slab of rustic bread, a side of grits and a southern style Sausage and Pimento Cheese Biscuit Sandwich. Normally I don’t want to see how the sausage is made but this was some damn tasty sausage. Willa Jean is a living, breathing operation with a sweet staff that genuinely seems happy to be there. I spotted the owner, Kelly Fields, a couple of tables over enjoying a meal with friends. She was rocking a Wu Tang/Willa Jean shirt that made her seem even more chill and approachable. From it’s biscuit situation to the Frosé on tap, Willa Jeans is at the top of my New Orleans Eats.
Finally we headed to the St. Roch Market, originally a neighborhood market built in 1875, refurbished into a modern food hall. The gleaming bright white interiors invite you in down the long, open corridor of massive columns and inventive micro-restaurants. I had an insanely powerful cold brew and a cookie as we took in the breathtaking space and watched the place fill up with a hungry lunch crowd. Towards the back is a gorgeous wrap-around oyster bar and even a spot with a Build Your Own Shandy bar. Lots of modern New Orleans Eats goodness to be had in this historic building.
Before heading to the airport, we took a leisurely walk from the St. Roch Market to the French Quarter and my heart was instantly aflutter. The Marigny neighborhood is alive with palpable vibrance, it’s livable and welcoming homes are shining with endearing charm. The houses are obviously cherished and lovingly cared for by the proud owners. Blocks and blocks of colorful eye candy prove that the houses are obviously cherished and lovingly cared for by the proud owners. I could have wandered this neighborhood all afternoon, drooling all over myself as I tried to peep in the floor to ceiling windows and get a peek inside.
From a debaucherous all-nighter on Bourbon Street to quiet stroll the historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans has something for everyone. But for me, it was all about the food. I realize I have just scratched the surface of New Orleans Eats but hopefully my list is enough to get you inspired to take a trip down to the Big Easy.
NEW ORLEANS EATS
BAKERIES & BREKKIES
Willa Jean: Pastries, crazy delicious chocolate chip cookies, Sausage & Pimento Cheese Egg Brekkie sandwich, Frosé, and all of the cookies you can fit in your carry on back home. Pro tip: make reservations or there is a 2 hour wait on the weekends.
Cafe du Monde: Pillowy, mind blowing beignets, tossed in mounds of powdered sugar, as they were intended. Iced Cafe Au Laits. *Tip: There is a long wait, get over it. Or wait in the slightly less long To-Go line and bring your goods along for a stroll down by the river.
Sucre: Pretty little macarons in every flavor and color. The seasonal carrot cake, pistachio and classic vanilla were my faves. *Pro-Tip: if you plan to take some macarons home be sure to pay the extra couple of bucks for the darling little box otherwise those delicate little sweeties will be crushed to crumbles in your bag.
District Donuts: Giant, made from scratch donuts from simple glazed to fancy wedding cake flavors.
Coulis: Down home, no frills breakfast sure to cure your hangover. The Huevos Rancheros gets the job done or go all in with the Eggs Benecio.
Shaya: Hands down my favorite meal in all of New Orleans. James Beard award winning chef, Alon Shaya, combines Israli dishes with subtle southern flavors in an inviting modern space. This was our last meal and we went meatless with dips, falafel, shakshouka and halloumi. Not to mention perfect wood fired pita that comes straight from a fancy pizza oven. I already want to go back, who wants to join me?
Coquette: Triple threat on the romance scale: ambiance, cocktails and the food. An intimate, dimly lit corner spot right on Magazine Street.
Toups South: Refined southern favorites in a beautiful, open space. Best Mint Julep of my life, made with persimmon. The Andouille Po’Boy and Cracklins bring it. Plus, it’s connected to The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which is a great time.
St. Roch Market: A modern food hall in an historic space. A diverse range of eats and drinks in this bright, white space. Everything from coffee, to oysters, to BBQ to a build your own Shandy bar!
BARS & DIVES
Hot Tin Rooftop Bar: Great views, crafty cocktails and a pretty space up on top of the 11 story of the historic Pontchartrain Hotel. *Pro-Tip: go in the afternoon before it fills up with fratty types.
Lafittes Blacksmith Shop: Claims to be the oldest and most haunted bar in the US. I was mostly haunted by all of the drunken fools robo-tripping on a purple voodoo slushy situation. *Pro-Tip: don’t go here if you’re sober and/or hangry, otherwise it looks like a good time.
Tacos & Beer: The name says it all After day drinking all day and night drinking all night, a few tacos (and a beer) will save your life. 1 dozen tacos, 4 ways is just the right amount.
The Blind Pelican: 25¢ raw oysters during happy hour. Need I say more? Also, crawfish, muffaletta sammies, patio and beer. *Pro-Tip: 25¢ raw oysters and 75¢ chargrilled oysters from 4-8 PM, everyday.
The Bulldog Uptown: All of the beers ever and a nice outdoor patio. Great spot to hang with a group of buds on Magazine Street.
The Bulldog Uptown: All the beers and great big patio to share a pitcher with your pals.
SIGHTS TO SEE
Garden District: Either wander aimlessly or find a self-guided walking tour online. Either way, it’s a beautiful walk.
Layfette Cemetery No. 1: While you’re wandering the Garden District, stroll through the cemetery. I highly recommend breaking away from your group and exploring silently on your own. It’s a special and intimate experience.
Magazine Street: Off the charts charm, jam packed with incredible restaurants, boutiques and shops. A great spot for a meandering afternoon stroll.
The French Quarter: Duh, you already knew that. I liked skirting around the edges of the French Quarter where the streets were quieter.
The French Market: As cheesy as it is, you just kind of have to do it. Grab yourself a Bloody Mary to bring with you and the crush of tourists will be less annoying.
Marigny Neighborhood: A stroll through the Marigny neighborhood serves as a colorful reminder that the de-beiging of American homes needs to be a thing. These well loved, vibrant homes are off the charts charming with block after block of candy coated beauties. *Pro Tip: After lunch at the St. Roch Market make your way back to the French Quarter by leisurely meandering and admiring this endearing neighborhood.
St. Charles Street Car & Mansions: Hop on the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world and ride towards Tulane University & Loyola Universities for lovely views of Live Oak and Antebellum Mansion lined streets. It’s an especially magical tour after sunset.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: Recommendations from friends that I wasn’t able to check out but you probably should!
Brennan’s: With sophisticated creole cuisine and a lush patio, apparently this is the place for brunch in New Orleans.
Atchafalaya: Highly recommended as a neighborhood gem for brunch. Sad we didn’t make it over there because the Bloody Mary Bar looks legit.
Bacchanal Wine: Another spot I am sad to have missed, a casual backyard style wine bar with cheese plates and live music.
Commander’s Palace: I did’t plan ahead and make reservations so we didn’t get to try those 25¢ martinis. But, I did get to admire the exterior and that classic sign.