Those who have visited New Orleans know of its magic. The city vibrates with excitement and creativity, and the current booming food scene is reason enough to book a trip. The city has many more restaurants than it did prior to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation 11 years ago, and a wide variety of cuisines—even a James Beard-award winning Israeli spot—have joined the ranks in a city best known for its Cajun and Creole flavors. It’s entirely possible to plan a trip where the goal is to do nothing but eat, and with so many choices, you’ll need to plan your meals wisely. Whether you are visiting during Mardi Gras next month or on a random weekend (NOLA is a quick flight from Atlanta or a 7-hour drive), there’s just something about New Orleans—the music, the food, the resilient soul—that feels like a constant celebration.
WHERE TO EAT
If you want a taste of old (and new) New Orleans: Many will direct you to historic Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon Street, 504-525-2021), founded in 1905, for a classic French-Creole meal. It’s a beautiful space that’s central to most hotels and offers lunch. When it’s time for dinner, hop in an Uber and head to Clancy’s (6100 Annunciation Street, 504-895-1111), which opened in the 1980s. Walking into this restaurant is like stepping into a secret, white-tableclothed club, where the waiters have accents that sound like a cross between New York and New Orleans. In addition to the excellent brie-covered oysters, turtle soup, or vinegar-based shrimp remoulade, you’ll also find pitch-perfect sweetbreads and veal cutlets fried in clarified butter and placed on top of creamy fettuccine Alfredo. This indulgent dish is the kind the makes your eyes roll into the back of your head, but don’t feel guilty.—the later salad penance is worth every bite.
For Cajun-inspired food, head to chef Donald Link’s Cochon, (930 Tchoupitoulas Street, 504-588-2123). Standout dishes include boudin balls, fried alligator, sizzling oysters, rabbit stew, and ham hock. Link also has a sandwich shop, wine bar, and butcher shop next door called Cochon Butcher, where meat reigns supreme. Don’t miss “Le Pig Mac,” a monstrous burger made with pork instead of beef. Newcomers Toup’s Meatery (845 North Carrollton Avenue, 504-252-4999) and Compere Lapin (The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, 535 Tchoupitoulas Street, 504-599-2119) are also turning heads with their mix of Creole and Caribbean cuisines.
If you want beignets: Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544) and Morning Call (56 Dreyfous Drive, 504-300-1157) are the places to go. Truth be told, if you’re staying in a hotel with a nice restaurant, and the thought of Cafe du Monde’s lines makes you wince, you can probably get pretty good beignet right in the building. But waiting in that line (and getting in covered in powdered sugar after you chow down on a freshly fried beignet) is a NOLA rite of passage.
If you want a sandwich: Fans have praised Parkway (538 Hagan Avenue, 504-482-3047) for its po’boys since 1911. Relative newcomer Bevi (236 Carrollton Avenue, 504-488-7503) has an easy-to-eat fried oyster po’boy on sesame encrusted bread, “dressed” with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayonnaise. The dark and complex gumbo and local beers are also worth ordering. Turkey and the Wolf (739 Jackson Avenue, 504-218-7428) is a new favorite with a short menu of sandwiches, including the noteworthy collard green melt.
If you want seafood: For the old school New Orleans classic of sizzling, char-broiled oysters, you must visit Drago’s (2 Poydras Street, 504-584-3911). For new school NOLA seafood, there is no more exciting restaurant than Donald Link’s Peche (800 Magazine Street, 504-522-1744). The restaurant offers a nice mix of traditional and innovative seafood dishes in a chill environment. The service is extremely organized and friendly. Favorite dishes include chilled local oysters, a fiery ground shrimp sauce poured over spicy noodles (think Sichuan Dan Dan), and a cool red snapper crudo (sliced raw fish) with coconut, lime, and thinly sliced jicama.
If you want Israeli food: Visit James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya’s eponymous restaurant, Shaya, (4213 Magazine Street, 504-891-4213) located in the Garden District. Shaya has captured the vibrant essence of Israeli and Middle-Eastern cooking with unrivaled hummus bowls, topped with ingredients like harissa, a soft-cooked egg, sliced pickles, and raw red onions. Devour this dish with loaf after loaf of thick, fluffy pita bread, brought straight from the oven.
If you want Italian food: Visit Domenica (123 Baronne Street, 504-648-6020), Alon Shaya and John Besh’s restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel. The restaurant was inspired by Shaya’s time living in Italy, where he fell in love with the cuisine. The restaurant serves regional Italian cuisine using Louisiana ingredients. They have a wood oven for firing up Neapolitan-style pizzas, including one made with briny clams and loads of fresh garlic. Pastas are made by hand daily. The city’s historically large Italian community means there’s a wealth of Italian-American food all across the city, so keep your eyes peeled for everything from spumoni shops to red sauce joints as you explore.
If you want a burger: Chef Adam Biederman, formerly of Holeman and Finch, moved back home to Louisiana and started the superior Company Burger, which currently has two locations. Order the namesake burger, made with two thin patties, bread and butter pickles, red onions, and American cheese. The fries are homemade, but the crispy onion rings are better, made with a batter that doesn’t slip off of the onion with a single bite. They also serve ridiculously thick milkshakes, along with cocktails and beer. 4600 Freret Street, 504-267-0320 and 611 O’Keefe Avenue C7, 504-309-9422.
If you want to listen to music: Head to Frenchmen Street, specifically the Spotted Cat Jazz Club (623 Frenchmen Street, 504-943-3887) in the heart of the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, where you can listen to all varieties of jazz well into the wee hours. (Keep in mind, this is a cash only spot.) If you want to chill with wine geeks and take in nightly live tunes, the backyard Boho cool of Bacchanal (600 Poland Avenue, 504-948-9111), in the Bywater is the current hot spot.
For a taste of iconic New Orleans cocktails: Try Arnaud’s French 75 (813 Bienville Street, 504-523-5433), which has been open since 1918. Sazerac Bar (The Roosevelt New Orleans, 130 Roosevelt Way, 504-648-1200), located in the historic Roosevelt hotel, serves, you guessed it, Sazeracs—New Orleans’s official cocktail.
THINGS TO DO
If you want to explore unique, historic cemeteries: At Lafayette Cemetery (1416-1498 Washington Avenue, 504-658-3781) and St. Louis Cemetery (300 North Claiborne Avenue, 504-482-5065), you can tour New Orleans’s famous and hauntingly beautiful above ground tombs. You can sign up for walking tours through many hotel concierges or online. If you visit Lafayette, don’t miss legendary restaurant Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Avenue, 504-899-8221), located across the street.
If you want to go to a museum: Even if you aren’t a war history buff, the impressive and expansive National World War II Museum (945 Magazine Street, 504-528-1944) is a must-visit. Make sure you book tickets to the 4-D movie right away—they sell out fast. For art, check out the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St, New Orleans, 504-539-9650) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (1 Collins Diboll Circle, 504-658-4100).
WHERE TO STAY
The Roosevelt (130 Roosevelt Way, 504-648-1200), The Ritz-Carlton (921 Canal St, 504-524-1331), The Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet Street, 504-900-1180), Le Pavillon (833 Poydras Street, 504-581-3111), and Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal Street, 504-523-3341).