My first trip to New Orleans was over a long weekend nearly six years ago, and even though much of it was soggy, I completely fell in love with the city. (The nice thing about cities is that it’s totally acceptable and not at all problematic to be in love with more than one of them at a time.) We’ve been coming back as often as we can ever since, and whether we’re here for pleasure or business, we’ve made greater inroads in understanding the city with each subsequent return.
What I love so much about this city is the pride that the locals have in the food they make—you can literally ask anyone in hospitality where to go, and that place will be a solid spot at the absolute minimum. (It reminds me of San Sebastian in that spirit, if not in flavor profile.) And there are so many places to check out that the city practically demands you to return because there’s no way to cover all of the necessary ground in one trip.
We’re already starting to figure out our next trip there in the fall this year, and so here are some of our favorites that we’ve either recently discovered or ones we’ve returned to again and again.
No writeup of New Orleans would be complete without mentioning the Carousel Bar, located in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street. I’ve written about our experience here previously, but what I love about this place is that every time I come here I can always depend on a good cocktail here. They have their stalwart menu as well as one that reflects the time of year, and we’ve totally stolen their Dome Patrol cocktail and put it into our weekend cocktail rotation. The absolute best part of the place, though, is the bar itself—it rotates as promised, but you won’t get dizzy, and if you want your best shot of getting a spot at the bar, avoid peak times—try to go in the middle of the afternoon if earlier. Or do what we do and hover around people who may be paying their bill and grab their seats.
If I started this guide with Michael’s favorite NOLA bar, I have to follow it up with mine. I’ve also written about my love of this place previously (because of course, I would), but I have to sadly note that the amazing Chris Hannah has moved onto bigger and better things in the city (namely running his own ships now). I’ll still come here regardless, though, because his influence will be long felt; he brought back old-school cocktails because no one else was, and his drinks were among the most potent you could get so close to Bourbon Street. What’s also lovely here are the bar snacks, including gourgés, crispy wontons, spring rolls, and a mixed selection of nuts, caper berries, and potato chips. It’s the kind of food you didn’t know you absolutely needed until the moment you bite into it, but it’s the perfect fancy bar food. I’m going to see if the new bartenders still offer selections on a napkin like Mr. Hannah did.
Tujague’s (pronounced Two-Jacks) is one of the original Grande Dame restaurants still in operation, and of the six of them, might be the grittiest. Located across the street from the French Market and Café du Monde, Tujague’s has a bar room where you stand up against the bar to enjoy your well-crafted cocktail. If you hang out there after the tour groups go through, you can be privy to some interesting bartender conversation about how Airbnb and similar sites are negatively impacting the local housing market and you might meet a bartender with fingernails long enough to literally claw someone’s eyes out.
Antoine’s is the oldest still-operating restaurant in the country, and you can feel the history of the place as you walk through the doors. This is another of the Grande Dame restaurants in the city, and like most of the others they have since carved out a bar area from one of its fourteen(!) dining rooms. Hermes Bar offers a more casual atmosphere in which to sample some of Antoine’s famous dishes, including its Oysters Rockefeller. They also offer a Sunday Jazz brunch that I think I’m going to have to check out the next time we’re in the city because that sounds like so much fun.
Of the Grande Dames restaurants that we’ve been to, Galatoire’s may be my favorite, but that isn’t the fairest statement to make. It’s the only one where we’ve splurged on a full-fledged meal rather than content ourselves in the bar room, so it’s not the fairest of comparisons. That said, you can’t go wrong with having a meal here—yes, it’s expensive, but between the food and the service, the sum of the parts actually lives up to the hype. Get the sweetbreads if they are on the menu because I’ve never had them done so succulently. The only caution I would offer with Galatoire’s is that lunch on Fridays is a Big Deal, but it really only applies to the locals. If you’re not part of the local society, you’re not going to really be able to appreciate everything going on around you.
During our most recent visit to NOLA in 2018, Chris Hannah (then of French 75) wrote a list of places to go in the city to entertain some of Michael’s clients, and it included Beachbum Berry’s. We ended up here because they took reservations, and it was such a great call. I’m not big on the whole Tiki motif, but I was very happy with it here because both the food and drinks were fantastic and the décor was cheesy-festive but also tasteful. The sambal shrimp and grits I enjoyed was one of the best versions of the dish I’ve ever had (and I’m having it on any return visits).
When we asked the concierge at the Hotel Monteleone where to get po’boys, his immediate recommendation was to go to Johnny’s. While these are the famed Domilese’s po’boys featured in the post-Katrina episode of No Reservations, they are really good, and totally worth the wait it takes for them to come out. If the place is really hopping, you can eat upstairs—including sitting on a lovely balcony that has a great view—but downstairs in the midst of all the action is pretty great too. I tend to stick with the classic oyster version, but the roast beef is delicious, as is the crayfish when it’s available. Keep in mind that this place is cash-only, but they do have an ATM on site.
The original Drago’s is in Metarie and if you have a car, you should absolutely drive out there to check it out; for the rest of us who don’t want to pay for the cab/Uber/Lyft, there is the Drago’s in the Hilton right on the river. I’ve attempted to recreate their broiled oysters at home with limited success; you’re better off going to the Hilton to get the experience. While the décor feels like it is ‘90s-esque, the food is amazing. Not only are the char-grilled oysters delicious, but the shrimp and grits I enjoyed during one of the last times I was there was sublime. If only all hotel restaurants were this good.
There are tourist hot spots that are completely not worth the effort it takes to get served there, and then there are places like Café du Monde. Yes, this place will be packed during peak times—think 10 AM, especially on weekends—but if you’re willing to go at a more off time, like a little earlier or even for a late-night snack, it will be much easier to both get a table and get a heaping plate of beignets brought to you. (In fact, if you’re trying to make a night of it in the city, stopping at some point for sugar and chickory coffee is not the worst idea ever.) If you’re here for breakfast, a three-beignet serving is perfect for one person, especially if you’re going to dunk them in the large coffee or café au lait, and honestly, it’s not worth trying to split a serving between two people unless you truly, only just want a taste. Note that this place is cash-only, so come prepared.
This was another Hotel Monteleone concierge recommendation from our 2013 trip, and it remains one of our favorite places to pop in to get some oysters and a drink if we’re walking down Royal Street. This is a very no-frills place, but the oysters are shucked quickly and drinks are plentiful. This is a perfect place to sit down for a round or two of drinks, a dozen or so oysters, and then go along with your day in the Quarter.
Another selection from the Hannah napkin that I wrote about here, this place is cozy and quiet and you would hardly realize that it’s just steps off of Bourbon Street. (That’s the beauty about New Orleans—it doesn’t take much to find a quiet oasis amidst all of the chaos and sound.) A relative newcomer to the city, the food here is modern gastro-pub fare, with lots of small plates to share. The cocktails here are also excellent—we ended up having a bit of a cocktail-off with the two bartenders, with each of them “competing” to make a custom cocktail based on our likes. It was one of those situations where we were all winners, and it’s reason enough to also have this on our list of places to visit when we come back there this year.
Issac Toups competed on season 13 of Top Chef and was one of my personal favorite cheftestants for that season. (His sheer and utter glee at winning Restaurant Wars, which was a two-service slog, is one of my favorite parts of rewatching those two episodes.) We Uber-ed to Toups’ which is in the Mid-City part of town and right on the edge of City Park. The restaurant itself is a calm, relaxing space, at least for the lunch we had; sitting at the bar, we never felt rushed and the service was polite and hospitable. The menu here is obviously meat-focused and the meat here is really, really good. The pastrami (the cured meat of the day) was a favorite of ours, as was the boudin balls. Seeing the menu now makes me want to go back immediately to see what else Toups has in store for us.
Cochon was our first exposure to David Link’s restaurant empire, which we went to after going to the National WWII Museum a few blocks away. (Sidebar: this is an excellent museum to visit, and is the perfect way to spend a rainy day.) Cochon is lovely and a bit more formal—the fried alligator bites are fantastic—but the real jewel is Cochon Butcher which is right next door. Here the vibe is incredibly casual with the menu to match, but you can get things like the boudin (always a good ordering decision) but also things like really good sandwiches. As it is with all of the places we go to in this city, the cocktails are excellent, but the wine list here is also quite solid.
Erin Rose is, based on my research and my time there, an industry spot where you can hang with the chefs and bartenders and the like and drink copious Negronis. The best part about this bar is chatting with the staff on a quiet evening, as you will get lots of juicy insider gossip (and a few recommendations of their own, naturally) while sipping on drinks. Much like Longway, this place is just steps off of Bourbon and offers a welcome respite from the chaos outside.
Of the post-All Stars seasons of Top Chef, one of the most rewatchable is the NOLA-set eleventh because the producers did a wonderful job of really tying the city to the challenges. It also has one of the most frustrating finales because at the time, it felt that the wrong person took the title. Nina Compton dominated much of the competition throughout the season, and to see her lose to Nick Elmi was deeply disappointing. Since then, though, he’s proven to be an emerging influence in the Philadelphia food scene, and Compton ended up moving to New Orleans and has started a little restaurant empire of her own. Compère Lapin is the flagship, and offers a Caribbean/Euro twist on classic New Orleans dishes. Be sure to order her signature gnocchi—it isn’t always on the menu, but ask your bartender or server if it’s possible to get. They are as pillowy soft and decadent as the TC judges raved throughout that season.
If you ask a hotel concierge for a brunch recommendation anywhere in the French Quarter, they are going to recommend The Ruby Slipper. There are a few locations of this restaurant in the city, and I will say it’s a solid option—the food here is good, but the service can be kind of spotty depending on the location and how busy it is. But if you want a good Southern brunch, come here—the shrimp and grits are lovely, and the sweet offerings are just as good. There is a reason, after all, why this place gets so many recommendations.
On the other hand, if you want to go to a low-key place near Jackson Square instead, you might want to go to Stanley instead. We did a little investigating during one of our trips and ended up here, and we were rewarded with really delicious food and even better conversation with our bartender. The Eggs Stanley—think eggs Benedict with the addition of crispy fried oysters on top—is a fantastic way to start the day, and the portions here are a bit more manageable than that at The Ruby Slipper.
The thing about New Orleans is that the sheer density of places to check out in the French Quarter/Warehouse District/Downtown area means that during a short trip it may not always be feasible to break out to other neighborhoods such as Mid-City or the Garden District. This is a mistake, as you definitely miss out on gems like Toups’ Meatery in the former and Casamento’s Oysters in the latter. The ambiance inside this place reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen, in a way—lots of seafoam green and white tiles everywhere. There’s not much to this place, but that’s frankly the beauty—you will get plate after plate of quickly-shucked oysters served to you, and while the menu has other options, this is what I come here to eat. Tuck into a few dozen oysters and a beer or two and then walk your way through the Garden District back towards downtown. It will be the loveliest walk you ever take, and then you can refuel yourself at Cochon Butcher if the mood strikes. Just be prepared and have cash on you as they do not accept cards.
During our 2015 trip the to the city, we decided on having a fancy afternoon: we had lunch at Galatoire’s, and then we made our way over to the Roosevelt Hotel to check out their famed Sazerac Bar. First of all: take a moment to register the breathtaking gorgeousness that is this hotel’s lobby with its very extra chandeliers and décor. Then, get yourself to the Sazerac Bar which is beautiful in a much more muted way, with its wood paneling and its murals that depict very different versions of what it meant to live here in the past. Order one of the excellent drinks on the menu, and then gaze on those works as you do, and mull over what you, yourself, can do better in the world after you’ve had this well-crafted cocktail.