Full disclosure: even though Tony and I are foodies, we are not seafood people (I’ll do some here or there, but T won’t even touch the stuff). That being said I know NOLA is known for it’s seafood but we can’t help you there (sorry!) I can however tell you where to find the best fried chicken, because that is my jamn and I took it upon myself to test out a couple highly rated fried chicken establishments. More on that as we get to the restaurant section!
I love to travel, it’s one of my favorite things to do, but I don’t usually like being a “tourist”. Typically, I’ll create a Pinterest board of where I want to go and pin cool articles such as this one to loosely plan an itinerary. I say loosely because it’s important to not have too much pressure on yourself. What if the weather is bad on the day you planned on doing a walking tour outside or it’s freezing? You have to be able to roll with the punches and change things up pretty quickly if need be which we did end up having to do… and the 5 pairs of shorts I packed stayed in my bag since it was too cold!!
Ok so let’s dive in to what we did on our tour of New Orleans and what I recommend you check out!
The World War II museum is a must.
Ranked by TripAdvisor as the #1 Attraction in New Orleans, named by USA Today as the #1 Best Place to Learn U.S. Military History, and designated by Congress as America’s official museum about World War II, The National WWII Museum features a rich collection of artifacts that bring history to life. (yes, I just shamelessly stole that from their website) …. But seriously if you enjoy history at all this is a must do. Our grandfathers fought in the war. I had one grandfather in the pacific fleet and another in the Atlantic fleet. Tony’s grandfather who was born in Italy was awarded two purple hearts for bravery during the battle of Bastogne and Battle of the Bulge in the European theater. They did an amazing job of bringing stories to life and would recommend you plan on spending at least 1 whole day there. We were told not to bother doing the U-boat exhibit so we didn’t check that out but you definitely do not want to miss the movie narrated by Tom Hanks… DO THAT BEFORE YOU GO INTO THE MUSEUM. I would recommend picking a day that it’s either raining or colder than normal since you’ll be inside.
The French Quarter
We did a ton of walking around and I know people say there is some crime but we didn’t have any issues. I felt safe walking around the quarter, but you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you. There are a couple of clubs in the quarter known for music and as much as I really, really wanted to check out Preservation Hall, nothing was going at the time of day we were there and they had a cover which was fine, but it was the fact that someone told me they don’t have bathrooms. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but for someone with the bladder the size of a pea that wasn’t going to fly so we opted to skip it.
The other club is Fritzels Jazz which was really cool, but also really small so a lot of the time it’s standing room only. It’s good if you have a spot to sit, but if not just pop in, listen to a song or two and hit up the next place!
Meh….ok it’s not bad but at night it’s legit like a dirty frat party meets the Vegas strip. If you’re into that scene by all means go check it out, but if you’re like me and can do without the walk down college memory lane go check it out during the day and you won’t feel like you missed out!
One street up is Royal Street and that is definitely worth checking out for all the cool antique shops, galleries, gift stores etc. One of the shops we fell in love with was Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights. Tony and I became obsessed with gas lanterns when we visited Charleston South Carolina last year so when we stumbled upon this beautiful gallery of lights we were totally smitten! It’s worth walking around and watching the guys work with the copper in the shop or just talking with the designers.
It’s just pretty and you should go see it, if nothing else just get the photo op!
This we were told is where the locals go for music, and I’ll tell you the best advice we got while we were in New Orleans was from our host Karen who is a professional chef by trade. When I asked where we should go for dinner one night she said; “just follow your ears and your nose, you can’t go wrong”. She was totally right… there’s music everywhere you turn so just keep walking until you find something that gets you tapping your feet! We popped into The Maison on Frenchmen Street one afternoon to listen to “Sidewalk Swing”. They were phenomenal and we ended up coming home with one of their CD’s. We also checked out Bamboulas for a set and even heard some amazing jazz just being played in the street. The Spotted Cat is also a top recommendation on all the lists too. Some nights they even have a pop-up art/craft show right next door where you can get some great deals on locally made jewelry, lamps, photography etc.
The Garden District
We picked a warmer day to go walk around the garden district and ride the street cars which was very cool. Just make sure that you have the correct change as they will not make change for you. It’s $1.25 per ride or $3.00 for the day. We ended up being on the street car for a good 45-60 minutes since we were meeting up with a friend of mine who had moved there a few years earlier to hit up Jacques-Imo’s for dinner. Be prepared that you’ll be going through the Tulane campus as well as The Loyola campus so there will be a lot of people on the street car and a lot of stops.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
While you’re in the Garden district you definitely have to check out one of the cemeteries. We went to Lafayette Cemetery #1. You can sign up for tours and there were quite a few in there when we went but honestly, it’s not necessary unless you care about where certain people are buried, or want a little more back story. Because I’m a photographer I just wanted to meander about and try to get some shots without anyone in my line of sight and because it was overcast that day my shots look appropriately moody.
Magazine street is cool to check out too for it’s shops and restaurants and isn’t too far from the Lafayette Cemetery and Commander’s Palace, which is one of the popular restaurants on all the lists. We didn’t eat there but we were told they do $.25 martinis at lunch… which would have been dangerous for me so we stayed away! While you’re up that way check out Sucre for the sweet tooth!
Ok so now onto my favorite topic…. FOOD & COCKTAILS!
Café Du Monde Vs. Café Beignet
Let’s start with the Beignets! EVERYONE and their brother talks about Café Du Monde. Save yourself the aggravation of standing it a long line and just go to Café Beignet. They taste the same, but you can’t go to New Orleans and not have a Beignet… you just can’t. Also, don’t wear dark colors when you plan on eating one… trust me.
EAT New Orleans
You have to check this next place out! EAT New Orleans has kind of a hipster farm-to-table vibe with it’s modern furniture and fun cheeky waiters (I just used the word cheeky… apparently now I’m British)! Anyway, the food was amazing and their Chicken Fried Chicken was to die for. Their Mac & Cheese is also a must! Be aware that it’s a small space so I would recommend having a reservation or you could be cool like us and be there when they open at 5:00pm like old people. Also, they do not serve alcohol but it is a BYOB restaurant so if you want to bring something, by all means go for it!
Antoines is another restaurant that must be on your list! This restaurant is over 175 years old and is still run by the 5th generation family of its founder Antoine Alciatore (who was pretty much responsible for bringing French food to New Orleans). The restaurant has 14 dining rooms and can serve up to 700 people at once. Do you know how hard that is??!! The food was wonderful, the staff even better! We chatted with a couple of our servers and found out that they apprentice for 5 years before they can become a full-fledged waiter. They also tend to stick around for a very long time… kind of unheard of in that industry and I was pleasantly surprised! If you ask them too they’ll give you a tour of the different dining rooms which all have their own themes!
Ok so Brennan’s… We hit this place up not only because it has great reviews but also because it is apparently where the Banana Fosters dessert originated. Backstory: my first job up here in New Hampshire was as the Caesar salad and Bananas Foster cart girl at the now long closed down Pond View Restaurant. That’s right, at 16 years old I was almost lighting the ceiling on fire making Bananas Foster desserts at the high-end steak house….so you know I HAD to try it out at the site of its invention!!
Before our table was ready we went to the Roost Bar at Brennan’s and I had a French 75 for the first time. MIND BLOWN! I’m not a pine-needly gin girl, but I do have a special place in my heart for Hendricks so I had the bartender make it with that, and it quickly became my “when in NOLA drink”!
Nothing disappointed at this place…. Nothing. The Eggs Benedict was to die for, and there are no words for the coffee cured Canadian Bacon. We shared the Bananas Foster for dessert. It was amazing and just how I remembered it! If you do order it make sure you ask the waiter for the story of how the dessert was invented!
The Carousel Bar
You HAVE to check out the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. It is just super cool and retro hip… besides the bar moves… so duh! Just don’t drink too much and sit down, it doesn’t go fast my any means but if you’ve had a few it will mess with your head!
Napoleon House was a friends’ recommendation to stop for a cocktail. It did not disappoint and we stopped in here before our reservation for dinner at Antoines. I continued with my French 75 tour, and Tony tried the Sazerac, another New Orleans staple consisting of rye whiskey, bitters, and Herbsaint. The Muffuletta is super popular here as well and pays homage to the Italian grocery story that used to be there before the restaurant!
Fiorella’s Café on Decatur Street
Fiorella’s Café was the name we kept hearing when we asked about good places to get friend Chicken. Now I read about Willie Mae’s Scotch house but I have it on good authority that they boil their chicken first… essentially boiling a lot of the flavor out of it. Full disclosure that I have not tried their chicken so I can’t attest to that, but I can tell you that Fiorella’s was definitely worth checking out! They recently revamped their restaurant and it has a more wine bar feel to it, so the friend chicken seems a little out of place but trust me… worth it!
French Market in the French Quarter
When you’re done eating at Fiorella’s go check out the French Market which is just across the street! I actually got some great deals on jewelry there and a few awesome drawings of New Orleans scenes to take back home with me!
On our last night in the city, we met up with my friend Val who had moved to NOLA a few years prior and enjoyed dinner at Jacques-Imo’s. We got a tour of her newly renovated double shotgun house (which was gorgeous) … a design which I really want to bring up to New England but I don’t think people would go for it. Who knows, maybe if I “build it they will come”, we shall see! Anyways we walked around that area for awhile and sat at the bar for dinner chatting away with the locals and some guys from the Midwest. They sure did like talking about their guns a lot and my husband kept complaining about getting spit in his face as they talked but I just kept telling Tony to deal with it because they were hilarious and practically had us peeing our pants!
The fried Grits and the Fried Chicken were amazing there as well. The place is really popular especially with the locals so you’ll want to either have a reservation, sit at the bar, or come in early to get a seat!
When we got home later that night our hosts were just getting ready to head to the local pub in Algiers so we tagged along with them, even waiving hello to Linda Hamilton (of the Terminator movies) on the way down. We had a great last night with them, a lot of laughs, and were so thankful for their warm, Southern hospitality!
On our final morning with our wonderful hosts; Karen and Kelly they treated us to the best Eggs Benedict I literally have EVER had! This woman is an award-winning, accomplished chef and it’s just so cool to watch her work. She loves what she does and it shows. They have a wonderful, quaint home in Algiers Point on Pelican Ave and are available on Airbnb (Casa Pelican B&B). You can’t do Airbnb in the city, but we didn’t mind the walking or having to take the short ferry ride. It was nice to be a little off the beaten path and to explore a little more of the area than I think we otherwise would have. If you enjoy cooking, Karen holds a cooking class a couple times a week and is definitely worth checking out, you can also snuggle with their little pup, Pork.