What does it take for a city to be named one of the best destinations, if not THE best destination in the world? We’re sure that attractions, history, culture, and entertainment all play a big role, but we’d venture to go out on a limb and say that food may outweigh them all. Good food is one of life’s best gifts, and New Orleans is a city where great food is found in abundance. It’s the thread that weaves the culture of the city together. No wonder The New York Times voted it the number one destination in the world in 2018!
Grab your go-cup (yes, it’s legal to take your spirited beverage on a walk), hit the streets, grab a bite and then make like a New Orleanian and discuss your game plan for your next meal before you’re even done eating that po-boy.
This list is an insider’s guide to some of our favorite New Orleans spots. Some are popular and deservedly so, and others are a bit more off that beaten path for your unique New Orleans experience.
This is your time to fuel up for the day. You have a lot of eating ahead of you, so go get your coffee. New Orleans is known for its chicory coffee. Chicory is a root of a blue flowered perennial plant, and has a long history of being used, first by the French and later by New Orleanians, as an inexpensive way to stretch coffee. It’s now part of the tradition and Café Du Monde is a great option for your café au lait and beignets (New Orleans’ fried doughnut with powdered sugar). You can get your beignets and coffee to go and sit on the bank of the Mississippi River and watch the ships float by.
Speaking of coffee, the Port of New Orleans is the number one coffee port in the country, importing nearly 250,000 tons of green coffee a year. It makes sense that the third wave coffee shop trend is thriving in New Orleans. If a pour over is more your speed, Spitfire on St. Peter street has your number. Amazing artisan coffee in a very small footprint, so be prepared to take it to go.
You may have missed breakfast because your evening activities in New Orleans required you to get a little extra sleep. Lucky you because it’s time for brunch, one of New Orleans most favorite meals! It used to be that brunch was only a weekend event, but now a few restaurants are offering it on weekdays. Our favorite is Tableau. Not only is the restaurant located in the heart of the French Quarter, but it sits literally on Jackson Square. You have sights, you have sounds from the brass bands that play their hearts out on the Square and you have delicious food. Oh, and bottomless mimosas. Weather permitting, the balcony provides one of the best views in the city and the courtyard provides a uniquely New Orleans setting.
Just down the street on Canal, you’ll find the historic Werlein Music building, which for the last 27 years has housed an institution in its own right – Palace Café. This building has seen Louis Armstrong buy his trumpet and Jimmy Buffet strum the strings of what would be his first guitar. Now, every Saturday and Sunday the Jazz Band roams the multiple stories and plays New Orleans music to guests while they munch on favorites like crabmeat cheesecake and café eggs benedict. If you’re not visiting on the weekend, lunch and dinner are good bets as well and the second floor Black Duck Bar has one of the best rum collections in the United States. Their cocktail version of the famed (and flaming) Bananas Foster – The Frozen Bananas Froster – is not to be missed. But of course, this Dickie Brennan restaurant serves the classic dessert tableside.
Po-Boys and Muffalettas are two of New Orleans signature sandwiches. Po-boys range from fried seafood creations to 12 hour, fall-apart roast beef that require at least 10 napkins. You can’t get much more classic than Domilise’s Po-Boys. Under the same family ownership for over 100 years, this piece of classic New Orleans is housed in a yellow house uptown with a handpainted sign. Order the fried shrimp po-boy and wash it down with a Barq’s root beer in a glass bottle. The combination is one that has been enjoyed for generations.
If you want to try a modern take on a po-boy, Avery’s Po Boys on Tulane has a bunch of options, all delicious. From the Buffalo Shrimp Po-Boy to the Fried Oyster Po-boy with Bacon and Gravy, they serve up some of the best in town.
New Orleans has been a melting pot (Gumbo pot if you will) of cultures and the Vietnamese community in the city is vibrant, along with their version of the po-boy – a banh mi. The meats vary, but a good banh mi comes on a rice flour version of French bread with pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeño. The Don Phong Bakery in New Orleans East turns out a great banh mi at an unbelievably reasonable price. They also are famous for their Vietnamese king cake – which people will wait in line for hours to get during Carnival season.
Now, onto the muffaletta. This sandwich gets it popularity from the combination of the salty crunch of pickled olive salad layered with Italian cold cuts on bread that can hold up to a good soaking of olive oil. There is a little bit of debate over who created it with Franks and Central Grocery both claiming the title, but our favorite version goes to Central Grocery. When you walk in the door you know you’ve chosen correctly, trust us!
At this point in the article you may have thought we would progress to dinner recommendations, but no! We’ll focus on one of New Orleans greatest resources – seafood. Oysters, shrimp, crawfish, redfish, crab, black drum, tuna, we could write a love song to the Gulf.
Let’s start with oysters – New Orleans chefs serve them raw, fried, chargrilled, poached, you name it. For raw or chargrilled visit Bourbon House. The location on Bourbon Street is perfect for catching a bit of street theatre and not only do they serve Gulf oysters on the half shell, they also serve a variety of specialty oysters that are hand raised in the Gulf. And, Bourbon House isn’t named after the street, but rather after the brown liquor that is America’s native spirit. The Bourbon list here is one of the best in the world with more than 200 selections. Going beyond oysters, they’re a seafood house and feature the best that the Gulf has to offer. The simple, yet perfect Redfish on the Halfshell or the New Orleans style BBQ Shrimp with sauce that begs to be sopped up by an entire loaf of French bread are both good bets.
Moving on to crawfish – you’ll find these mudbugs boiled (in highly seasoned water), which you’ll then pull apart, suck the head (we dare you!) and peel the tail. You’ll also find them in dishes, tails only, as the centerpiece or one of the supporting actors. For boiled we suggest Bevi Seafood in Mid City. The seasoning levels are just right and judging by the popularity of this place during crawfish season (that’s right, they’re not available year-round), others agree.
This is another important piece of New Orleans culinary puzzle, and definitely deserving of its own category. Uptown craft cocktail bar, CURE was one of the early adopters of the carefully curated and created cocktail in the city and subsequently spurred a revitalization of an entire corridor on Freret street following Hurricane Katrina.
In the French Quarter, French 75 is a delightful petite size option. Its namesake cocktail is a must order. The lead bartender here recently opened his own place, Manolito, and this Cuban bar does not disappoint, order one of their many perfectly balanced daiquiris.
We mentioned Bourbon House for their seafood and bourbon collection, but their cocktail list is also something to talk about. They have a selection of barrel-aged concoctions that are superb, and their frozen bourbon milk punch has been named one of the best cocktails in the south by Garden and Gun Magazine.
Cruising back around to Palace Café, they offer a version of the Hurricane that closely resembles the original classic but is cheekily named after a beloved New Orleans meteorologist, Nash Roberts.
You’ve been exploring the city and now it’s time for you to get dressed up and get a helping of grand hospitality. The type of hospitality New Orleans is known for and most especially the Brennan’s gained their fame from. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse is the perfect choice. It’s the rare steakhouse that perfectly marries prime beef with Gulf seafood. The culinary team’s exacting precision with the well-orchestrated service staff has earned this steakhouse many national accolades over the years – from Travel + Leisure’s “Best Steakhouses” to USA Today’s “Best Steakhouses” Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse is exceptional. Try the house filet with creamed spinach, Pontalba potatoes, flash fried oysters and béarnaise. It’s decadent, with every bite providing that over-the-top experience you expect in New Orleans.
For another New Orleans institution that is quite deserving of its fame, travel to the Garden District for Commander’s Palace. This is the birthplace of Jazz Brunch, a place of eternal celebration, steeped in history and serving outstanding Creole cuisine. No matter the meal; brunch, lunch or dinner, you’ll feel like you’re not just dining, but rather part of something bigger. Try the shrimp & tasso henican and the bread pudding soufflé, both are classics!
Now that we’ve gave our suggestions it’s time for you to stop reading and get eating! Laissez bon temps rouler!
If you’re looking for exclusive offers at some of the hot spots mentioned above, such as Bourbon House or Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, check out Hilton’s Taste of New Orleans. This package offers for your 50% off parking, free cocktail upon check-in* and exclusive offers at New Orleans’ finest restaurants.