When you live in New Orleans, you get used to being asked for recommendations on where to eat, what to do, and what to avoid. I’ve got my list of recommendations down cold, having shared it repeatedly and, most recently, with some friends visiting for the Superbowl. I figure if it’s good enough for my friends, it’s good enough for the Interwebs.
A note — this is not meant to be an all-inclusive tour guide to the city. This represents the opinions, and the life, of someone actually living here. It’s informed by the restaurants I return to on a regular basis, and in part, by geography. I live in Treme, just outside the French Quarter, and I tend to keep mainly to Mid-City, the Marigny, the Bywater, the Quarter, and the CBD. Therefore, the list below is pretty “downtown” specific. Nothing at all against Uptown, I just don’t get, um, up that way very often. I’m recommending only the places I truly frequent and love. You’ll also notice that there’s nary a Besh or Brennan restaurant on this list. Nothing against them, either. I just don’t eat at any of their restaurants with regularity, though they produce some fine food.
With all that behind us, here’s my top 15 recommendations for anyone visiting New Orleans (I’ve included hyperlinks when there are available websites):
1. Cochon is a must. It’s my favorite restaurant in the entire city. It’s Cajun, but with a twist. I’ve never had one bad bite of food there. Just ridiculously good. Get a reservation. It’s in the warehouse district, near the Quarter. If Cochon is too hard to get into, they have a more casual off-shoot just behind them called Cochon Butcher, which is every bit as good. (For more, and for specific suggestions on what to order, see my recent post about lunch at Cochon Butcher.)
2. I know most people don’t come to New Orleans thinking “barbeque” and yet we have an excellent BBQ place here called The Joint. It’s been written up all over the place and featured on TV shows, and is just damn good. Plus, it’s run by two of the nicest people ever, my friends Pete and Jenny. It’s in the Bywater neighborhood, which is past the Marigny, so a little bit aways from the Quarter. The cab ride will be worth it, though. Leave room for the key lime pie.
3. Other good restaurants I can recommend are Coquette and Lilette – two great spots Uptown on Magazine Street that just do delicious food. Lilette is a little bit fancier, but not crazily so. We’re a pretty casual town! They’re both fantastic.
4. If you’re looking for the best po-boy in town, go straight to Parkway. It’s in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, so if you’re staying in the Quarter, you’ll need a cab to get there, but it’ll be worth it. The shrimp po-boy is perfect, as is the oyster, but it’s only available on Mondays now. They also do great gumbo here. (Whatever you do, do not — I repeat — do not, go to Mother’s. Make the effort to go to Parkway.)
5. A real hidden spot you should try to make time for is a place called Bacchanal, on Poland Avenue, down in the Bywater neighborhood. It’s just magical. It started as a little wine bar, but has expanded with food now, so you can eat dinner there (and the food’s actually really delicious and inventive). The real draw for me, though, is their courtyard and the nightly music they have. The place looks like a run-down old house with a backyard that has lights strung up everywhere and a little stage. It’s just an experience. Only go there only if it’s not raining, though. The key is to be able to be outside in the courtyard, listening to jazz, and sipping on some wine. Magic!
6. For music lovers, Frenchmen Street is a must. Club after club after club with local jazz and other music all times of the day and night. It’s fun to just stroll down it and see what catches your fancy. Lots of times there aren’t covers, if you’re down there early. I particularly like The Spotted Cat, the Apple Barrel, and d.b.a.
7. On Frenchmen is a great little restaurant named The Three Muses. It’s tiny and fills up fast, and they don’t take reservations, but keep an eye out for it. The food’s fantastic there, and you might just get lucky and get a seat.
8. Another place on Frenchmen I love is a Japanese restaurant called Yuki Izakaya. They don’t do sushi there, but instead do Japanese bar food, things like noodle bowls and skewers. Get a bowl of the ramen with pork belly. They have great music here, too, usually some variation of gypsy swing/jazz early in the night, and then later, a DJ takes over and the whole place transforms into some bizarro club scene. Oh, and they display old Japanese movies without sound up on the walls, too. It’s one of my favorite places to eat and to go. A Japanese restaurant, in New Orleans, with a man singing in French and playing his accordion, while Japanese movies play silently up on the wall. Tell me how that gets better.
9. Bar Tonique on Rampart at the edge of the French Quarter is a great place to grab a cocktail. Amazing atmosphere, and a focus on classic cocktails along with a few tweaks to old favorites. It’s one of my favorite places to get a drink, and sure, maybe that’s partly because it’s within walking distance of my house, but it’s also because it’s awesome. Try a Frenchmen’s Dark and Stormy. Good Pimm’s Cups, too.
10. Ride the street car up St. Charles and see the big oak trees and gorgeous old houses. Audubon Park is up that way and is nice to walk around in, too. If it’s summertime, you can hop off the streetcar, buy a snoball, and walk around Audubon Park.
11. City Park is our other big park, and is also worth exploring. The New Orleans Museum of Art is there, too. There’s an abundance of gorgeous old moss-draped oak trees in both City Park and Audubon Park. I never tire of looking at them.
12. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is a great museum to check out. It’s always got cool exhibits, and on Thursdays, there’s live music from 6-8. And then, of course, The National WWII Museum is also amazing, and even has some tasty places to eat inside it.
13. Oh and yes, the beignets are Cafe Du Monde are actually really good and something even locals enjoy. I still get mine with chocolate milk, like I did when I was little.
14. And if you’re a raw oyster eater, head to either Felix’s or Bourbon House right across the street from Felix’s. You’ll see a giant line nearby for Acme. Go on and laugh at the people standing in that line. The oysters at Felix’s and Bourbon House are every bit as good and without the silly wait. Chat with the oyster shuckers, wherever you are. They’re always the nicest guys. Tip ‘em big.
15. Main piece of advice from me: Stay OFF Bourbon Street (except for Felix’s and Bourbon House for oysters). Obnoxious, lowest-common-denominator nonsense. Much better things happening elsewhere in this city.