The Big Easy: Where to Eat, Explore, and Enjoy in New Orleans
New Orleans is one of my favorite American cities. Every time that I visit I find there is something new to fall in love with. From the people, to the history, the music and culture, and the food, there is definitely something for everyone. If you have been wanting to plan a visit, do it, flights are relatively inexpensive and you can get a direct flight from all three major New York City airports. Like they say in New Orleans, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler, Let the Good Times Roll!
1. Eat! Eat everything that you possible can whilst in New Orleans. The Cajun and Creole styles of cooking are some of the best American cuisine. There are African and French influences in many of the dishes that you encounter, like gumbo and beignets. And because New Orleans is a coastal city, there is an abundance of local and fresh seafood like shrimp, oysters, and crab.
Charbroiled Oysters. Oysters can be enjoyed anywhere, but there is one famous place known for its charbroiled oysters and that is Acme. Now Acme gets all the hype and their oysters are great, my one complaint is that their raw oysters were not well shucked, but their charbroiled oysters, with just the right amount of reggiano cheese are divine. The downside of Acme - there is almost always a long line outside the door just for a seat. However, just across the street is Felix's Restaurant & Oysters and they have a shorter line and better oysters. Felix's claims that they are the first Oyster bar and since the early 1940s they started the craze. Their oysters are cleaner and less gritty than Acme's and the quite honestly, as a restaurant, Felix's is much cleaner.
Beignets. These French-style deep-fried choux pastries are synonymous with New Orleans. They are served covered in powdered sugar and served piping hot, they are best enjoyed with a cafe au lait or a cold glass of milk.
Cafe du Monde - established in 1862, this coffee stand has been a staple in the French Quarter. Open 24 hours and famous in the French Quarter, the green and white awnings and show lights beckons visitors with scents of freshly made beignets and chicory coffee. Seat yourself - avoid waiting in that long line - and check out the menu on the napkin dispense. Beignets come in orders of three and are served piled with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde is cash only.
Brunch. As long as there is a restaurant serving shrimp and grits it is brunch in my book. Almost every restaurant offers some version of a Jazz Brunch. There are two French Quarter brunches that I would recommend. First, The Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters runs everyday and offers a selection of hot and cold selections, which includes shrimp and crawfish. This place has a very Old South feel to it, with its white wrought iron chairs and tables and pastel colored accents, the ambiance does not disappoint. Call ahead or go online to make a reservation. Second, is yet another jazz brunch, this time at Mr. B's Bistro. More intimate than the Court of Two Sister's, Mr. B's Bistro caters to your every indulgence with decadent starters, like duck confit springrolls and a rich seafood gumbo with Gulf shrimp. For my entree, I had the fresh fish of the day and it was divine. The BBQ shrimp and grits are also delicious, savory, and served with a hunk of French baguette. For dessert, try the pecan pie and bread pudding. Check out their menu. Don't be surprise if a procession of New Orleans locals start to join the band and dance around the restaurant.
2. Treat Yo' Self. Plan a special evening for you and your travel partner or friends. There are so many five star restaurants in NOLA, and I was fortunate enough to experience two top tier restaurants, serving local, fresh, and curated items from their chef designed menus. The first restaurant is Arnaud's, located in the heart of the French Quarter, this is a top-tier dining experience, complete with a waitstaff in full tuxedos. Serving authentic Creole Cuisine, Arnaud's has been in operation for over 100 years. Their take on charbroiled oysters are not to be missed, here they call them Oysters Arnaud and they are *kisses fingers to the sky* perfect! If you order the Banana Foster's, which you should, you will get dessert and a show, table side. Reservations are suggested and there is a dress code, collared shirts for gentlemen but a suit jacket is preferred and shorts t-shirts, or flip-flops are not permitted.
Established in 1893, the Commander's Palace was the 2018 New Orleans Restaurant of the Year and winner of several James Beard Foundation Awards for culinary excellence, this restaurant serves only the finest Creole cuisine. World renowned chef, Emeril Laggasie has contributed his expertise in the past. The Commander's Palace requires reservations and has a strict dress code.
3. Explore. New Orleans is full of culture and history and there is something for every visitor.
Of course you are going to visit Bourbon Street, at least once, and if you are anything like me and my travel companions, once is enough. They don't call it Bourbon Street for nothing. But the French Quarter is not to be missed, with its beautiful architecture, charming stores and restaurants your senses will be dazzled. There is of course more to NOLA than just Bourbon Street, head down to the Frenchmen Street for some live music or to Magazine Street to get some vintage designer shopping in at Century Girl Vintage Boutique. Take in the Mississippi River at the New Orleans Riverfront with a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez.
4. Culture & History.
Lest we forget the geographical location of NOLA, it remains in the Deep South. America's sordid past and proliferation of slavery should not be forgotten. I strongly recommend that everyone visit the Whitney Plantation. The plantation museum focuses exclusively on the lives and experiences of enslaved people. This guided and interactive tour is appropriate (and recommended) for all ages. You can arrange transportation and tickets through Cajun Encounters. To learn more about the lives of enslaved and free Blacks pop over to Louis Armstrong Park's, Congo Square, a Sunday meeting place during the 19th century.
If you are interested in purchasing local art, drop by the Palace Market Frenchmen. There is also a high probability that you will encounter some live music as well, which is always a plus. Do not miss the New Orleans Museum of Art or NOMA for a collection of local, national, and international fine art. There are also audio-visual exhibits and a sculpture garden.
And what is New Orleans without a little voodoo? Check out the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to pique your interests and learn about the famous voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. The museum can also point you in the direction of cemetery tours.
Swamp Tour. For some good old Cajun fun try an airboat swamp tour. Imagine playing table-top air hockey, that is what this boat ride is like, except you’re in a swamp with alligators. Check out Airboat Adventures, which is located in Lafitte, LA. It is family friendly and they provide transportation from your New Orleans location.
The Country Club. Located in the Bywater, the Country Club is a restaurant and bar with the most delightful pool to cool you off from the muggy New Orleans weather. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with hand-painted murals of local flowers and the art work throughout is not to be missed. The pool is located at the back of the restaurant and there is a $15 fee and $2 towel charge but you can lay out on the many lounge chairs and enjoy the afternoon. The food is not to be missed, with dishes like truffle mac and cheese and crab beignets, you are sure to catch a poolside nap.
Ghost of the French Quarter Tour from New Orleans Secrets is led by knowledgable local tour guides and meet everyday at 7:30pm. New Orleans is believed to be one of the most haunted cities in America and on this tour you get to learn about some of these hauntings on a nighttime walking tour. Tours are small and limited to a maximum of 10 people, tickets are $25 and a private tour for 4 in $200 with an additional cost for extra guests.