Best places to eat and to drink in New Orleans
New Orleans! The Crescent City, NOLA, the Vieux Carre… she is known by so many names and all of them packed with history, flavor and complexity. Few cities in America have embraced so much diversity and devastation into such a compact area. My first plane ride into New Orleans had me so anxious. I heard rumors of the drunken lewd behavior on Bourbon Street, and the “Girls Gone Wild” baring all just for a few beads. I wondered what I just committed to for my weekend excursion. What I found left me humbled and exhilarated and anxious to come back for more. And I did!
My first stay in the Crescent City had me based on Canal Street at The Saint Hotel. For a first timer in Vieux Carre, this was perfect. I was able to step out of the excitement of Bourbon street, and fall into a comfortable well appointed hotel with just enough of a naughty side to make me blush. I discovered very quickly that even with The Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria or Hotel Monteleone within a few blocks of everywhere I ventured, New Orleans was a comfortable and casual city that didn’t judge. Even though I packed fabulous outfits that I envisioned my nights at gitzy lounges with live jazz, I found myself feeling perfectly dressed in shorts and my walking boots to enjoy a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar or a Gin Martini at the Ritz.
New Orleans vibrant music and art scene
This city flourishes with talent on every corner. Simply strolling up Royal Street was an absolute joy. Musicians would spontaneously set up on a street corner and indulge passers by with music that adds to the ambiance surrounding you. In the evening, most venues offer live music. How amazing it was to hop from bar to bar just enjoying the energy of a 5 piece band or the haunting beauty of a passionate jazz singer. I had never experienced anything like this! There was no dress code, no stuffiness… just a pure appreciation of life and living it! What New Orleans commits to, she exceeds at.
Where to eat
What I fell in love with even more was the ability to follow your nose around the city. The food in this town is so flavor packed, I found myself stocking up on several cook books just to re learn how to really flavor food and pack in the heat. Up and down every street there are restaurants of all kinds. Being a southern gal, I was excited to dive into the cornucopia of culinary revisions of my favorites. Shrimp and Grits, Oysters (raw, baked or grilled) and Crawfish Mac N Cheese is on almost every menu (had I died and gone to heaven!?).
I almost never consume three full meals a day, but the food was so incredible with so many options, I had to enlist my reserve stomach and make space for three meals each with the justification that “I had to find my favorite” amidst all the options.
Here’s my top 6 favorite places to eat in New Orleans:
- My first evening there I had to have oysters. Every tour book told me to go to Acme… but the line! Trusted friends and fellow travelers assured me Acme has amazing food. It’s an iconic location in New Orleans and worth the wait. But I’m not very patient. Directly across the street is a spot called Felix’s Oyster Bar. So.Glad.I Went. The oysters abound! Casual comfortable environment and a never ending supply of oysters every way!
- In respect of iconic locations of New Orleans, I of course indulged in the beignets at Café Du Monde. Little tip: order from the “To Go” window and take your beignets to Jackson square to eat, you’ll still hear the live music and your setting will be the talented artists that set up booths around the square.
- A friend who lived in New Orleans insisted I try Ruby Slipper. There are several locations. I learned in later adventures the location on Burgandy street is always packed with a line, but I was able to get seated quickly at the location on Canal Street. And even at 7 in the morning, an amazing Bloody Mary would be available to start the day right!
- As a traveler, I have always had success with “go with the flow”. Sippin and Strollin has landed me in great locations at great times. This is how I stumbled upon Café Soule. In a historic building, this beautiful location boasts not only charming décor, but truly delicious food. I have kids, I make Mac N Cheese for a living, I am proud of my own Mac N Cheese recipes, but Café Soule raised my bar for flavor packed. I know Mac N Cheese isn’t a dish native to New Orleans, but when you find great food in a unique spot, you just go with it!
- Continuing my historic adventure, I just had to try something at Muriel’s. The food and drinks here are good, but what I fell in love with was the history of the building and its owners, and the charming décor and secret lounge upstairs. I attempted to have a cocktail with the ghost of Mr Jourdan, but he was perhaps otherwise occupied and I enjoyed the cocktail sans haunting in his lavish lounge on the second floor.
- Now I’m about to tell on myself… I don’t usually revisit the same restaurant when I return to a city, but my last spot is perhaps some of my favorite spots in all my travels: The Court of Two Sisters. It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot, with a rustic impressive bar and a courtyard with live jazz to dine by. The food is offered buffet style so you can get your fix of all types of Southern Cuisine. This is a staple that I visit each time I come to New Orleans.
Where to drink and enjoy some live jazz
Pretty much every bar and club is free to get in, but they do request a 1 or 2 drink minimum… so easy to do!
My 5 favorites are:
- Carousel Bar is the first one I ventured to. The bar is beautiful, and actually rotates! The music is amazing and this is the place to try the Sazerac Cocktail.
- The Bourbon O Bar has set the standard for me for a Ramos Gin Fizz. I stop here every visit to enjoy at least one set of live jazz and have a cocktail.
- Right across the street is my other favorite spot for great music: Fritzel’s.
- Atop Fritzel’s is another secret spot, but you have to know what to say to the hostess at the front door. As you venture in and out of the ‘boutiques’ take time and chat with the locals, one of them will share with you what to say to the hostess so you can experience this lavish and dark secret spot.
- During my second visit to New Orleans I discovered the charm of Frenchman Street. One could literally bounce from bar to bar hearing great live jazz sets and sipping on cocktails. I always make it a point to stop by The Spotted Cat Music Club. True to most of New Orleans, this spot is casual, but the music comes from the future legends of the industry.
Important side note: most of the musicians play for tips only, when I do venture out each evening, I like to make sure I have cash so I am prepared to tip and support the arts.
Don’t miss out on the Garden District
The architecture in this town is dusted with influences from France, Spain and Italy. It is incredible to meander up and down the streets just enjoying the beauty of the rod iron balconies.
But there’s another area with wonderful houses: the Garden District. Street after street boast beautifully maintained homes with charming landscaping.
Over on this side of town is another amazing spot to eat: La Petite Grocery. Stop here for a memorably delicious meal, then grab your cocktail to go and sip and stroll while you enjoy the historic homes. Each time I visit New Orleans my time in the Garden District gets longer and longer.
Here you can visit the Lafayette Cemetery #1 for free during business hours. While you won’t see the tombs of Marie Laveau or the plot purchased by Nicholas Cage, however you will be able to get close to the above ground tombs and trace the integrated history of New Orleans’s past residents.
While in the neighborhood, I also enjoy visiting the Garden District Book Shop. This is where I have picked up my assortment of Cajun and New Orleans cook books, as well as books by the beloved author, Anne Rice.
If you are planning an adventure to New Orleans, please know she is so much more than a drunken bar crawl up Bourbon Street. This city will humble you with her tumultuous history and open your eyes to passion and expression through art. Bring an open mind, a hungry pallet and your most comfortable walking boots!
By Explore like a Girl Contributor Kristin
Photos by Kristin and Explore like a Girl Founder Laura Sironi
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