What is there to say about New Orleans that hasn’t already been written, sung about or toasted to? If you’ve never been to the Crescent City, people who love her seem insane. If you’ve had the privilege of strolling lazily down her wide streets, you know what it means to miss New Orleans.
There is an undeniable magic to New Orleans. Beyond the clamering of feet trying to get white boy wasted on Bourbon Street—and unfortunately now on Frenchman as well—there is a city full of culture, dignity and soul. New Orleans is best explore off the beaten path and during a time when the city can truly feel like it’s just yours.
I fell in love with NOLA on October 15, 2011 (thank you Facebook). There was—and continues to be —this immediate feeling of home when my flight landed at Louis Armstrong International airport. The air was heavy with humidity and sweetly scented, like the smell of wet dirt right after it stops raining.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect during my first trip. But what I found, and only discover more every trip I make back home, is that New Orleans is the most interesting city in the world. From all the different cultures—French, Spanish, German, Native American, African and of course American—to its heavy jazz influence, New Orleans is one giant vat of gumbo where differences are celebrated and freak flags fly high. Of course this isn’t all New Orleans is but for the purposes of this guide we’re going to keep it light.
Now this list is a collection of my favorite on the beaten path spots right now. It will of course grow and change as I do and will get updated to reflect new discoveries.
Without further adieu laissez les bon temps rouler!
Where to Stay
The ACE Hotel is the place to stay if you want a hotel that’s super trendy and centrally located. I had the pleasure of staying here during a conference and I absolutely loved it. The lobby is sprawling with large windows and couches—plenty of space to work should you have the misfortune of needing to during your trip. There is a coffee shop that serves Stumptown coffee (my personal favorite) right new door. The hotel is also home to Josephine Estelle whose chef was recently nominated for a James Beard Award. While I can’t speak to the food here—I haven’t had it yet—the bar program is fantastic. Located under a ten minute walk from the edges of the Quarter, if you have a little money to spend this is the place to stay. The only downside is that I wasn’t over the moon with the rooms. They’re pretty dark and there is no bathroom privacy. But the spacious rooftop pool (and bar) has amazing views of the city that more than makes up for the moody rooms.
Bienville House is located right across from the Mississippi river and a few blocks from famed Cafe Du Monde. Honestly the biggest attraction here for me is their courtyard. It’s such a romantic space that the hotel itself is almost secondary. If you want to stay in the historic French Quarter with elegantly appointed rooms, this hotel should be at the top of your list.
The Moor hotel is black-owned by two Howard University alums. Full disclosure, I haven’t had the pleasure of staying here yet BUT it’s black-owned so I’m going to put it on my list.
If you want to go the Airbnb route I’ve got to say that I’ve had the worst luck. I got kicked out of one during Essence festival after alerting Airbnb that the house was dirty—I’m talking dark brown ring around the the tub and dog hair everywhere. Another time I tried staying in an Airbnb there were roaches. Needless to say at this point in my life I just prefer to reserve a hotel room but if you’re in town with a larger group or you just prefer to rent out a home (or room) my favorite neighborhoods are Treme, Bywater/Marigny, the Garden District and literally any community that Magazine Street runs through.
Where to Eat
Mother’s Restaurant is a non-negotiable for me. Something must have gone horribly wrong for me to not have headed to Mother’s at least once for breakfast. This is a no-fuss diner with straightforward New Orleans styled fare. I always order the debris with grits and it’s reliably good each and every damn time. Depending on what time of day you go there may or may not be a long line to get in. Don’t worry, it moves pretty quickly and on the other side of your wait is affordable well-seasoned food.
Dooky Chase Restaurant and Bar is not only culturally significant—it was the site of countless Civil Rights leader meetings—but also a true creole food experience. Under the knowledgeable hands of Leah Chase and her late husband Edgar Dooky Chase Jr., this restaurant has been turning out classics such as gumbo, shrimp clemenceau and fried chicken for over seven decades.
Parasol’s located in the Irish Channel (near famed competitor Tracey’s). While it’s better known for its roast beef po’boys, it’s my go-to spot for a shrimp po’boy. I completely understand that everyone has their favorite place, and no one in New Orleans agrees on who makes the best po’boy sandwich, but Parasol’s hits the spot for me. The shrimp is fresh, plump, sweet and expertly seasoned. The pickles are extra briney and the hot sauce selection is more than any reasonable human being could ask for. There is also a bar attached to the restaurant but don’t get any fancy ideas. At best it’s the sort of joint you’d order a rum and coke from. My advice? Stick to an Abita.
Wing Shack was recommended by one of my best friends one night while we were in New Orleans for Halloween. Honestly when she suggested we get wings for dinner I wasn’t really into it. Of all the good food NOLA has to offer you want me to get hot wings? Tuh. Thankfully I got overruled by the rest of the group. I had a full blown attitude until I bit into hot, crispy lemon-peppered yumminess. Don’t expect fancy here, after all you are just eating wings. My usual order? Lemon pepper wings (all flats), house fries which are loaded with seasoning salt and cup of ghetto punch —which is really just overly sweetened Kool-Aid that should be served with a side of insulin.
GW Fins is the place to have a fancy buttoned up dinner. You know, the kind where old Southern men with deep pockets order scotch drinks and ask for medium rare steak? Yes, that is GW’s in a nutshell but don’t let that turn you off. They have seriously delicious food and an attentive waitstaff. The menu truly shines with its seafood based dishes. My absolute favorite thing to order is the Parmesan crusted sheepshead which is an incredibly mild tasting flakey white fish that is served alongside asparagus, jumbo lump crab, crispy capers, satsuma gastrique and brown butter.
Restaurant Re’volution isn’t simply one of my favorite restaurants in the city because it’s where I had dinner after I got engaged. From the food, to the staff to the beverage program, everything here is well thought out, purposeful and perfectly executed. It sure isn’t cheap though. This is probably the most expensive restaurant on this list and should really be reserved if you have something to celebrate or if you want to make your night really special.
Atchafalaya is my favorite brunch spot in New Orleans (slash the whole entire world). The restaurant is located right off Louisiana Ave and a couple of steps from famed Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I actually stumbled upon this restaurant accidentally. My group of friends and I made a last minute reservation for Saturday morning and were treated to the absolute best brunch of my life. Under NO circumstances are you to miss the fried green tomatoes which are served with sweet lumped crab meat and rémoulade sauce, the bananas foster waffle which features freshly whipped cream and a rum-laced syrup (which is also served warm), shrimp and grits that is loaded with andouille sausage, smoked tomatoes and Papa Tom's cream cheese grits or the conecuh sausage if they happen to have any on hand that day. I haven’t even mentioned the cocktail situation. They have an extensive Bloody Mary bar if you’re a fan and a duck fat sazerac that I absolutely die for.
Acme Oyster House is just one of those places that will always have a long line to get in. There is good reason for this: their grilled oysters are seriously that good. Now to be fair I’ve tried other restaurants’ grilled oysters—Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster, Desire Oyster Bar (a close second), and Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House—But until further notice, I will gladly stand in line for a chance to feast on a dozen of these suckers.
Cochon Restaurant and its sister eatery Cochon Bakery turn out some of the best food in New Orleans. I always try to make my way here for a solo lunch. When I visited the restaurant in February I ordered a fried alligator appetizer. It arrived tableside with a chili garlic mayonnaise and I damn near lost my mind. If you’ve never had alligator the texture would remind you of a really meaty fish—think halibut. It was served piping hot in bite-sized nuggets. I considered ordering another helping when my mom gently reminded me we had a full entree coming. While there are some mainstays on the menu, the restaurant is also a fan of seasonal availability meaning that things change here pretty frequently.
Pêche Seafood Grill is a beautifully appointed seafood restaurant that blessedly lacks any hint of pretense. It just good food, strong cocktails and knowledgeable servers. This is the restaurant that first introduced me to my beloved El Dorado 12 year rum. Foodwise you really can’t miss. Pro-tip: when available please order the crab claws with pickled chilies—sweet, vinegary with the perfect amount of salt. You’re probably not going to want to share.
Where to Drink
Pat O’Brien’s is my favorite bar in New Orleans. I don’t care that it’s full of drunk white tourists. I don’t care that there is often a wait to get a table or the fact that on any given day the patio is taken up by an almost laughable amount of bachelor or bachelorette parties. It doesn’t even bother me that they don’t actually serve the best or strongest hurricane in the Quarter (sorry but it’s true). Pat’s is a national treasure. I will concede that if it is your first time to this bar you should order a hurricane just for the sake of having one but once you’re ready for your second drink please do move on to a mint julep. A huge perk of Pat’s, besides the undeniable ambiance, is that you can turn in your glass when you’re done and receive cash back (around $3). If you stay late enough, inevitably a few of those loud drunks you encountered earlier have left and forgotten to turn in their glasses. You know what that means? Another round of drinks on them.
Fun fact: I got engaged here! You can check out the video at the end of this post if you’re interested.
Oceana Grill was an accidental discovery. It was super late at night and no other restaurant was open so I decided to grab a meal here. While dinner wasn’t particularly good or worth remembering the hurricane cocktail was. It’s served ice cold, full of passion fruit juice and strong as hell. Chances are if you decide you’re in the mood for one of these there will be a surprisingly long line to get into the restaurant. Good news is you don’t have to wait. Just tell the host/ess that you want to grab a hurricane to go and you’ll be directed straight to the bar. I like to order my drink without the dry ice they put in there for decoration—it gives my cocktail a fizzy taste that I think takes away from my alcohol. A word of caution: Be careful. Two of these and you’ll be on your ass.
21st Amendment is where you can head if you want a craft cocktail that is expertly made. I prefer to come here during the early afternoon when the crowds aren’t quite around yet. It’s located right across the street from Acme Oysters so you can grab a drink either before or after you’ve eaten.
Bacchanal Wines is without a doubt one of the coolest spaces in New Orleans. Since it’s located in Bywater you’re more likely to be surrounded by locals than drunk college students. This wine bar makes no bones of the fact that their niche is old world wines— think French, Italian and Spanish. If you’re looking for a new age oaky California chardonnay this isn’t where you’ll find it. But if you’re open to having your mind blown and your tastebuds teased by a new discovery, then buy a bottle at the onesite retail store and stay a while. There is live music every night too.
New Orleans Original Daiquiris located right off Chef Menteur Hwy (and across from a massive Walmart) is often my first stop if I’ve driven into the city. This drive-thru spot sets the tone for my trip and after a seven hour trek, it’s a treat I more than deserve. Drive-thru daiquiris are a legit thing in New Orleans but there are some rules of course. Drinking and driving is illegal in Louisiana which means your straw can’t be put into your drink until you get home. Because I’m a lush I always order a 32 oz hurricane with extra rum. You can check out all the flavors here but beware, different spots have different flavors and your favorite might not be available.
If you’re looking for a more extensive guide to drinking in New Orleans check out this list by Thrillist.
What to do
Take the St. Charles trolley literally anywhere. This historical street car has been in operation since 1835 and features old wooden creaky benches and authentic charm to to boot. If you’re anything like me (read people-phobic but also deeply in love with New Orleans) try and grab a seat by the window. That way you can stick your head out and take in all the sights. The trolley will take you from the Quarter all the way to the Garden District where you can spend a day walking around Tulane University if you’re so inclined.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar’s claim to fame is being the oldest operating bar in America. It has been slinging booze since 1722 and honestly looks like it’s straight out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I didn’t include it in my favorite places to drink because, well, its not. Don’t get me wrong, the staff here certainly knows how to give patrons a heavy pour, but it’s just not my scene. It’s located at the tail end of the Quarter. I’m recommending it as a to do because you honestly cannot miss it. It’s historical, piratey and on the way to one of my favorite places in all of New Orleans…
Which brings me to Frenchman Street. It use to be a locals only hangout spot where jazz poured out the the doors and windows of every bar in the area but in recent years the word has gotten out. It’s where you head if you’re a serious fan of music and need a break from the craziness that is Bourbon Street. There is a late night open air market where local artisans sell everything from art to bath and body products (shout out CoCo Nola). Literally just wonder down the street at night and walk in any bar that is playing music that pulls at your heart strings. Grab a drink, stay a while and get seduced by the city.
Spend the afternoon in Algiers. Located just a quick ferry ride away from New Orleans city, Algiers is a historical almost village that is quiet, small and home to the Jazz Walk of Fame. There are a handful of restaurants, shops and bars to visit here as well.
In any other city, taking time out of your day to tour a cemetery would be considered strange, but New Orleans is a strange place. Because of the city’s located below sea-level, bodies aren’t able to be buried in the ground—they’ll just rise up again. Instead residents are buried in above ground tombs that are hauntingly beautiful. If you’re into history and want to spend some time with the dead, take your pick of cemeteries here.
Southern Food and Beverage Museum & Museum of the American Cocktail is a must for anyone who is interested in the history of southern food. It costs $10.50 to enter and can be finished in 90 minutes or less. Once inside there is an almost overwhelming amount of exhibits—though the museum space itself is pretty small. Of course any museum that focuses on food in the South necessarily mentions race, sex and economic inequality and for that reason alone its worth your time. There is also an onsite restaurant that has some surprisingly delicious food and cocktails. After you’re done taking in the museum sights, head next door to Toups South for a snack and order the sourdough biscuits with crab fat butter (fun fact, the sourdough starter used in the biscuits has been in the chef’s family for decades), the pork cracklin and heritage pork boudin. Wash it all down with a Pork Chops and Applesauce cocktail which is a pork washed old fashioned with “fruity, umami and baking spice” notes.
Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this list? I’d love to try them out. Drop me a line and let me know where your favorite place/s to sleep, eat and drink in New Orleans are.