New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans holds within itself more than the tales of constant revelry that precedes it. The city reaches far beyond its still remaining decadent reputation. Instead, it seeks to capture its visitors in an air of beauty, hothouse sensuality and multi-faceted culture. Rightfully named the Crescent City, New Orleans sits at the southeastern tip of Louisiana with the Mighty Mississippi running along its southern edge.
From museums to gardens, aquariums to nightclubs, from exciting bars to exotic restaurants, and of course Mardi Gras, it’s hard not to fall in love with all that the place has to offer.
Where to Eat
I usually start my blog posts chronologically and discuss where to stay before anything. However, since NoLa has such an incredible food scene, I figured—why not start there? In a town synonymous with eating, it's always hard to know where to begin. So, here I present a meal-by-meal primer of the best restaurants in New Orleans where you can serve your tummy all the scrumptious food the Crescent City has to offer!
Restaurant August is an absolute gem. We ate here during a recent trip to New Orleans and were pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant is located outside of the French Quarter, where most of the notable restaurants are located. It was nice to be out of the hustle-and-bustle and enjoy a quiet, civilized meal. Our meal started off with an amuse bouche that was absolutely incredible. I had a customized three course menu where I took two dishes from the vegetarian prix fixe and then ended with the flounder as my main. The green garlic and duck egg pasta (from the vegetarian menu) was absolutely incredible. The flounder was perfectly cooked and sat in a sauce that was so good I would have drank it if I could. We ended with an amazing chocolate dessert, which was the perfect way to end a lovely evening. I will definitely be going back on my next trip to New Orleans.
I went to Trenasse during a recent trip to New Orleans after a friend of mine recommending the restaurant to me. Overall, it was a great start to my trip. While the cocktails were below average (my Pimm’s Cup was way too sweet and my partner’s scotch on the rocks was a meager pour at best), the food was awesome. We opted for more traditional fare and went with some of the waiter’s recommendations, which were Unca Duke’s BBQ Shrimp, Stinky’s Stew and the Crab Trio. The BBQ shrimp were a perfectly seasoned delight. While the stew was difficult and messy to eat, the flavor was amazing so it made up for the mess. And the crab trio (a more dainty dish compared to the stew) was tasty and well thought-out. I would definitely come back here, but the drinks and the atmosphere are why I can’t give it five stars.
The Palace Cafe
The Palace Cafe is an old school New Orleans staple, but a definite must-visit. You will really feel that Southern charm, right down to the friendly staff. We went for breakfast and had their crab "cheesecake" and the shrimp n grits. The food was amazing. Easily the best breakfast we had while in NoLa. I would definitely go back.
I went to Cochon for lunch during my trip to NoLa back in early May. While the food was good, I would say it was just average and nothing too revolutionary or spectacular. We had the pickled cucumbers, the alligator and did a large cheese and charcuterie plate. The pickled cucumbers were boring and the alligator was covered in so much sauce that you couldn't really even taste the meat. The charcuterie plate though was really good. You can tell that they pride themselves on their meats and I am pretty sure most, if not all of it, is made in-house. They had a good selection of craft beers and liquor, which was nice as well. I would certainly eat here again, but just wouldn't say it's one of my favorite restaurants in NoLa.
I went to Meril for lunch on my last trip to NoLa. It was good, but nothing spectacular. I do like that it's a much more modern restaurant for Emeril (both the decor and the food), and it's definitely more akin to what I am used to in California, but it just wasn't anything amazing. We ordered the deviled eggs, the caesar salad, the pork belly and the ahi tartare. The deviled eggs were my favorite and the caesar had good flavor, but the other two dishes (one of which came at the recommendation of our server) were just boring. They had a good selection of craft beers and liquor, which was nice as well. I would certainly eat here again, but just wouldn't say it's one of my favorite restaurants in NoLa.
Cafe du Monde
Cafe du Monde is a definite must-go while in NoLa. Their famous beignets are the best and their coffee is actually significantly better than expected. We got a plate of beignets and two coffees for just a few dollars. The service was fast and efficient, so we had our beignets and coffees within minutes. Tip: don't wait in that long line to get in. The entire restaurant is self-seating and despite the fact that there is a large sign on the wall indicating for people to seat themselves, there always seems to be a long line of people waiting to be told where to sit. Just walk in and sit at what you will likely find to be a dirty table, and then someone will come by and clean it for you.
I went to Domenica for lunch during my most recent trip to NoLa in early May. The food was excellent and the service was just as good. I had a very simple lunch (I just got the mushroom soup and a plate of burrata) but it was really quite good. My only regret is not coming back here for dinner. I will definitely be eating at Domenica on my next trip back to NoLa.
Great fine dining restaurant. With all the touristy restaurants in this area, it was nice to find an upscale restaurant that actually delivered good food. I must admit, we were a bit worried that the restaurant would be overhyped and touristy because of the fact that it's in the French Quarter and right off of Bourbon Street, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was excellent and the staff was top notch. I would rank this among the best restaurants in NoLa and will definitely be going back!
Like R'Evolution (see my other review), we were a bit worried by the location that GW Fins would be touristy and over-hyped. Having read great reviews from other travelers though, I figured it was worth giving a shot. We were pleasantly surprised. Though I certainly wouldn't say it's the best meal I've ever had, the food, the service and the cocktails were all excellent. I would definitely eat here again.
Only a few blocks away, on the edge of Central Business District, there lies the cafeteria-style restaurant named ‘Mother's’ to serve you a delectable breakfast that consists of dishes such as red-bean omelets with baked ham and biscuits to start your day. Moving on to lunch, head on to Casamento's for its renowned oyster loaf. Made by layering fried oysters in between two slices of house-made buttery white bread, this sandwich is a sure shot your tongue totally can't resist! And if dining under sparkling chandeliers in a four-story French-Creole Warehouse is your thing, hop on over to August which serves salad with heirloom beets, Cherrywood bacon, mustard greens, and quail eggs for a mouth-watering dinner. This meal is a sin I guarantee you wouldn't regret committing!
Where to stay?
Most of the finest hotels with luxury facilities bear proximity to the favorite attractions and are located in the areas bordered by N Rampart Street, Canal Street and Poydras Street in New Orleans. The area is particularly famous for venues and pubs that have hosted the best stars of traditional jazz and blues music.
My top picks for hotels in New Orleans are beautiful and the rustic Ace Hotel, the grand Hotel Monteleone, the ever-popular Cornstalk Hotel, unique Floating Villas and traditional Place d’Armes Hotel. If you’re looking for something slightly less expensive, Omni Royal is a great option to consider. It is lavish, not too expensive and offers facilities ranging from in-house dining to special packages for couples of all backgrounds and ages.
My personal favorite is the Q&C Hotel, an Autograph Collection hotel and Marriott Bonvoy property. The Q&C is close enough to the action (but not too close—I mean, you don’t want to be ON Bourbon Street), has a great bar downstairs and has a rad old Southern feel with exposed brick walls, yet modern touches.
One place not to stay though is the JW Marriott. Oh boy, where do I start? This hotel was such a let-down. Having seen photos of the newly updated rooms and reading great reviews from other travelers, I had high hopes for the JW Marriott. The rooms at this hotel are horrible. Good bones (they are fairly spacious) but outdated and dingy. Though the room felt big, the bathroom was tiny and so incredibly cramped. Put simply, it just didn't feel like a JW Marriott at all. Not even like a Marriott really. I was very disappointed.
As someone who stays at Marriott hotels all over the world (I have literally stayed at well over a hundred Marriott properties), I can confidently say that this property does not live up to Marriott standards and certainly shouldn't bear the JW Marriott brand (which is typically more upscale than a standard Marriott). I'm hoping when the renovations will be finished, that the property will be better. Until then, I will probably stay somewhere else. I hear the Ritz just down the street is amazing.
The restaurant/bar downstairs is also mediocre at best. The food just wasn't very good and their liquor selection was lacking (they had only two low-grade tequilas). The fitness center is decent, but the pool is very small and felt like it belonged at a motel in the middle of nowhere.
What to Do
We booked a tour with Bespoke during a recent trip to New Orleans and it ended up being the best decision of our whole trip. After submitting an inquiry on their website, Amber contacted me by email within minutes of my online request. After a brief conversation regarding what we were looking to do, whether or not we had been to New Orleans before, and how long we wanted to create a tour for, she created a custom experience in just a couple of days. My business partner and I were in New Orleans for a conference and neither of us had been there before, so we opted for a city tour the first full day we were there and then did a swamp tour after our conference was over on Thursday.
Our first day started off at 10 am when we were picked up at our hotel in a luxury vehicle. We ended up getting Jen (the owner) as our guide and she was absolutely incredible! Her knowledge of the city was super impressive. Getting to know more about the city, the architecture and the history made our trip so much more enjoyable. We learned things about the history of New Orleans that we never would have learned had we tried to navigate the city on our own. The “tour” started off in the French Quarter, where we got out of the car and walked around while Jen told us all about the history. This lasted a couple of hours and after we went to lunch at Emeril’s new restaurant, Meril, which was very good. After lunch we got back in the car and toured the Garden District, where Jen pointed out some of the more notable homes and discussed the difference between the architectural styles in the Garden District compared to the French Quarter.
Knowing that we had tickets to Jazz Fest on Thursday, our tour on Thursday was sort of molded around our existing time commitments. We really wanted to do a swamp tour, so they arranged to pick us up a bit earlier than before and head out to Des Allemandes, where the swamp tour company was located. The tour was with “Airboat Tours by Arthur” and was one of the highlights of our trip. We had a private airboat to ourselves and zipped around the swamp for a few hours, seeing several alligators and also learning things about the flora and fauna that we would have never figured out on our own—particularly that the pink things on the trees are incredibly poisonous! After the swamp tour, we had authentic Louisiana fare at a local’s spot nearby and then headed back to New Orleans, where we were dropped off right at Jazz Fest.
Overall, I cannot stress enough how much we enjoyed Bespoke Tours and the amazing job that Jen and her staff did to ensure that we had a great time. I will definitely be using Bespoke Tours in New Orleans and in their other locations in the future. Their knowledge of the area, professionalism, and kindness is unsurpassed—a truly great company. I will definitely be recommending Bespoke Tours to my friends and family.
Swamp Tours by Arthur
The swamp tour was one of the best days of our trip to NoLa. We had it arranged by Jen at Bespoke Tours (private, custom tailored tours around NoLa--a definite must do), as she has a good working relationship with these people and has used them for her tours before. When we arrived, it was still raining a little so we had to wait a bit to go out. As soon as the rain stopped though, we were on our way and were quickly zipping through the trees, gliding on the water and going places we certainly wouldn't have been able to access otherwise. We saw several alligators and a ton of other interesting birds and wildlife, all while learning things about the swamp that we would never have otherwise known. It was an amazing day and we had so much fun. I will definitely be doing Arthur's swamp tour again the next time I am in NoLa.
See a Movie
Okay, I know this is a strange recommendation and not something I would usually tell people to do when traveling. But if you find yourself hungover (maybe you spent too much time on Bourbon the night before?) or it's pouring rain (which happens a lot), then check out the movie theater downtown. This movie theater, located inside the mall (which is also very nice), was a pleasant find. The day we went it was raining fairly hard, so it really limited our ability to sightsee and do other things. We chose the movie based on the theater because we knew we wanted the one with food service and the reclining lounge chairs. We each ordered some truffle popcorn and a beer, which made for a really enjoyable movie. I just wish I had one of these theaters near my home in California.
Jazz Fest is such a fun event to attend if you are in NoLa in early May. The variety of the music (not just jazz), the food and the vendors selling clothes, gifts and jewelry make Jazz Fest an event that everyone can enjoy. They have the most amazing selection of traditional southern food--everything from boiled crawfish and cochon du lait to jambalaya and beignets. Do come prepared though--depending on the weather, you could have to wear a poncho, rain boots, and sunscreen all in the same day. We went Thursday and Friday of the second weekend and it had rained all day Wednesday with some scattered showers on Thursday, so the ground was a muddy mess. Thankfully I had read other reviews online about the rain boots and came prepared. My friend, however, did not and after hearing advice from the locals about needing rain boots, we had to go out and purchase some for him.
See the Mississippi
You can begin the exploration of New Orleans with a boat ride in the Mississippi. Make sure you choose a good tourist guide for the cruise so that as you take a tour, you can also get a lot of information about the venerable city. Many tourists will enjoy a break at the Chalmette Battlefield, a historic site. Of course, if you really want to "experience" New Orleans, you must go for a swamp tour. Being a city that’s actually situated in the middle of a swamp, the exploration offers an interesting experience.
Like me, if its history that interests you, take a trip to the Musee Conti Wax Museum. Here you will gain insight into the past 3 centuries of the city. The museum houses statues of Emperor Napoleon, Louis Armstrong and Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. It also has a dungeon of horrors that’s a must-visit.
Other interesting places:
New Orleans Mint is a museum which provides information and materials related to the allied invasion of Normandy, France.
Gardens like the Longue Vue House and Gardens and the New Orleans Botanical Garden are low-key attractions that offer natural beauty.
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art are great places to go if you’re an art connoisseur.
The French Quarter is perfect for hopping between various bars and nightclubs.
Have kids? Children can enjoy a tour of the Louisiana Children's Museum or the Audubon Zoo.
New Orleans truly offers something for everyone! Its unique history and atmosphere, along with a solid reputation for regularly serving travelers and tourists, makes it one of the premier vacation destinations in the United States.
Looking for your next travel destination? Why not head on over to New Orleans? The experience will leave you craving for more!
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