by Cinnamon Cooper & Andrew Huff
Please note: Our last trip to NOLA was in June 2018, but there still may have been some changes in the scene since then. It’s a good idea to call ahead or check with locals to make sure all’s still in order.
Just because we thought it might be more helpful, Cinnamon created a Google map you can look at, too. Not all of this info is on the map, but each of these places has a pin. With color-coding. And one of the colors is specifically for good and veggie/vegan-friendly restaurants. Eating veggie isn’t as hard as it used to be, and there are far more options than what is listed, but these are some of the better options. Most of them are cross-listed and appear under food.
Crawfish season is beginning of January through late-May to early June. If that's your thing, ask some busboys or servers or a cab driver who has the best at the moment. It's likely to require a cab ride, but it'll be worth it if you can get them. Ideally you grab a bag (or paper boat) of crawfish, a couple of frosty sodas and then sit on the riverfront and eat them. Get wet naps.
Here are a few places we’ve been that are standouts.
Cafe du Monde's cafe au lait and beignets are a must-have. It's across from Jackson Square on Decatur sort of ground zero for the non-Bourbon Street tourist crowd. We suggest standing at the to-go window and then taking them across the street to Jackson Square where you're likely to have a quieter time and fewer pigeons harassing you. Or you can go to the other side of the wall behind the restaurant and sit along the riverbank to watch barges and tugboats.
For lunch and an afternoon sit-down with some of the city's best cocktails, try Napoleon House. Their muffaletta is good (see below for the best), but their soups are good, their salads and apps are great. They invented the Pimm's Cup and you can get a phenomenal Mint Julep or Sazerac. They’re back to being open in the evening but may close occasionally, so check their website for hours and days closed. It's the oldest continually operating bar in the city and is mostly unchanged.
Near Cafe du Monde on Decatur is the Central Grocery, home to the best muffaletta -- they invented it. Order a half sandwich to split (trust us) and some Zapp's potato chips, and either eat at the counter or take it outside. We usually walk over to the riverfront with ours.
Green Goddess is tucked on a pedestrian-only side street in the French Quarter, its very small interior is supplemented by sidewalk cafe tables. The menu changes frequently, and features a fusion of local and global flavors. Be sure to check the daily specials list.
For the best burger and stronger than Hurricane drinks, try Port of Call on Esplanade near Bourbon. Burgers are frigging huge and come with a gigantic baked potato. But you'll be glad you ate them both if you can finish more than one of their Hurricane-like drinks. Caveat: there's often a long wait, and the clientele can be a bit douchey due to its reputation and listing in lots of tourist guides.
For some good (formerly cheap) food in a place that looks like a dive, check out Coop's Place on Decatur. Shockingly good jambalaya, and great fried chicken. However, it’s not worth waiting in line to get in; that’s a new phenomenon, thanks to some recent travel media coverage.
For a cheap, high-quality meal, pop into Verti Marte on Royale Street. It's a convenience store with a counter in the back for excellent take-out. Good wine selection and also handy for snacks and essentials. Be aware, it’s cash only.
Emeril Lagasse may be cheesy, but his restaurants and commitment to quality are top-notch and the prices (when compared to Chicago) are lower than you'd expect. NOLA is in the French Quarter and is especially great at lunchtime. Emeril's (his original) and Delmonico are in the Warehouse District, just past the commercial/uber-touristy district from the Quarter. Delmonico is a steakhouse (we've not been but have heard great things), Emeril's has a great mix of entree types, and NOLA is similar but a bit more casual. At Emeril's and NOLA, see if you can eat at the bar which looks directly into the kitchen and if you like you'll end up chatting with the staff. NOLA is great for larger groups, but get a reservation first.
For old-school, traditional romanticness in the Quarter try Antoine's. They're pricey, and everything is cooked in butter, but they're very good.
Cochon is a snout-to-tail kinda pork restaurant. It is Cajun, not Creole. There is a difference. We can ‘splain ya if you desire. If you dig the pig, this is a must. I literally cried over their ribs with watermelon pickle appetizer. And the cocktails are phenomenal. It was the only time I've ever paid $8 for a moonshine cocktail and I still think about it. Their short-ribs are phenomenal. If you like macaroni-and-cheese, you’ll love theirs. Around the corner is Cochon Butcher, which is a butcher shop that serves sandwiches and cocktails. Very casual and much more affordable -- and consequently also quite often packed, especially at lunch. You can get some andouille and other stuff to take home (they’ll even vacuum pack it for you), and it might even be nice to get a small sampling of a few different things, pick up some beers and some cheese elsewhere and hang out on the riverfront to have lunch.
Compère Lapin, the restaurant owned by “Top Chef” winner Nina Compton, is on Tchoupatoulas (pronounced “CHOP-uh-TOO-liss”) in the Old 77 Hotel. It’s contemporary Caribbean with Creole influences, which means a lot of great seafood and beautiful vegetable dishes — plus tasty cocktails and a good wine list.
Speaking of seafood, Pêche is a sister restaurant to Cochon, in chef Donald Link’s restaurant group. The marinated blue crab claws, a common appetizer around town, are simple yet delicious, and you can’t go wrong with the fish dishes here.
Lüke and Domenica are both top-notch, but now carry the taint of having been owned by John Besh, a celebrity chef who fostered a culture of sexual harassment in his restaurants. Besh has been banished and he’s no longer involved in his former restaurant group, but they haven’t handled their break-up with chef Alon Shaya very well; whether you choose to support them now is up to you.
Dooky Chase is a definite cab ride, but so totally worth it for the neighborhood soul food. I've heard that Leah Chase (who is getting older) isn't cooking as much, but she's on site still making sure everything is up to snuff. Just about everything is fried, but they do vegetables really well. I’d suggest reservations for sure. Also, if you’re here the Thursday after Mardi Gras, try to get a reservation and get the Gumbo Z’Herbes. It’s only made this day and is supposed to bring good luck. A friend who lives in NOLA says that their fried chicken is better than Willie Mae’s, we disagreed, so tell us what you think.
Thanks to watching "Treme," Vaughan's Lounge has become popular. Kermit Ruffins no longer does BBQ there, but there should be a good band.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House is another (used to be a hole-in-the-wall) smalltime operation that is BIG on flavor. If you like fried chicken, this is quite possibly the best fried chicken. Their hours are few and get there danged early or be prepared for a long wait, especially if you’re dining with more than two people. But it is VERY worth the wait. The butter beans side and fried okra will make your meal a gut-buster, but you’ll walk it off.
Parkway is a classic po’boy shop with a family-friendly vibe. They claim to have invented the sandwich, but they’re not the only ones. Cinnamon got their original, which is french fries on a bun dipped in debris gravy. Quite tasty.
Faubourg Marigny & Bywater:
Rampart Food Store is the official name of what most people know as “the orange store,” just north of Esplanade on Rampart Street. Excellent fried oyster & shrimp po’boys and also a great place for Chinese, in the back of a sketchy looking convenience store. If you’re nursing a bit of a hangover, Cinnamon highly suggests the Yaka-Mein. A BIG quart of ramen noodles with hard boiled egg, some veggies, and bits of meat (which may vary). The cheapest hangover cure you can encounter.
St. Roch Market isn’t quite as much of a market as we would have liked. They have a small selection of produce and packaged goods, but it's mostly a great place for small food businesses to get space to sell without as much overhead as having their own location. Eat the oysters here!!!! Seriously, they are the best NOLA oysters we’ve had, and we’ve had a ton. Flirt a little with the shucker and he may even throw you an extra.
We had a lovely and filling brunch at Elizabeth’s; make sure to get some praline bacon.
We have not yet been to The Three Muses on Frenchmen Street, but it comes highly recommended. Hopefully we’ll check it out one of these times.
Garden District, Uptown & Irish Channel:
If you're in the Garden District, and want real white glove, try Commander's Palace. It’s a classic, well worth its reputation, and brunch is lovely. Be aware that proper attire is required.
Pascal’s Manale is another classic New Orleans place that tends not to get mentioned on touristy lists. It’s very old-school Italian, with a legendary oyster bar, and barbecue shrimp was invented there.
On a trip with friends, we had brunch at Slim Goodie’s Diner on Magazine Street. Funky decor and a pretty straightforward menu with a few quirkier options, it’s a solid option for breakfast and they have a great backyard patio.
For sweets, it’s hard to beat Sucré, which specializes in macarons and chocolates, and also has a gelato and sorbet bar, cakes and all manner of treats. It’s the perfect pit stop on a hot day. We’ve also been lucky enough to eat a couple of their King Cakes, which were delicious!
Guy’s Po Boys makes some of the best po’boys we’ve had, with a super-friendly staff. The roast beef was the very best of those we’ve tried.
Saba is chef Alon Shaya’s new restaurant after being forced out of his namesake place. Freshly made (never-ending) pita, served still inflated by steam, fresh hummus and other Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes. We had an amazing lunch there on our latest trip, instantly earning a spot on our future visits.
If it’s summer, you must go to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. It’s one of the oldest “snowball” stands in the city, open since 1939. The second generation of Hansens now run it, and have added some unusual “gourmet” flavors to the shop’s collection of all-housemade syrups. Andrew got half cardamom, half ginger one summer, while Cinnamon got rootbeer. Totally worth the wait in line.
A short walk from the St. Charles streetcar line is Freret, named after the main street running through it between Napoleon and Jefferson. It’s off the tourist path almost entirely, with some great restaurants and bars. The Company Burger is a popular spot for fancy burgers, and Midway Pizza is really solid. Chicagoans who miss Hot Doug’s will enjoy Dat Dog, which also has locations on Magazine and in the French Quarter.
If you like fancy cocktails, then you'll also like Cure NOLA. It's very Violet Hour-esque without the velvet curtains. They have great light bar food that is worth eating -- if they have the El-Vez sandwich on the menu, you gotta try it. Phenomenal!
Mona's is a Lebanese/Middle-Eastern mini chain in the city; if you like falafel and doulmas and the like, you'll love it. Lots of vegetarian options, too. Cinnamon still thinks about their sweet cinnamon tea.
Juan’s Flying Burrito is another local chain that’s reliable, with many vegetarian options.
We tend to drink cocktails rather than beer or wine when we’re in New Orleans, although there are certainly plenty of places for those. (Some local beers below.) Here are some of our favorites, starting in the French Quarter and moving out from there.
In general, the closer you get to Canal Street in the Quarter and Warehouse District, the more touristy the places are. The closer you get to Esplanade in the Quarter, the less touristy it is. It's also true that the farther from Bourbon Street you are, the less touristy it is. Bourbon Street is hard to avoid, though, so it's worth walking down it with a hurricane or hand grenade in your hand just once. That will likely be more than enough. Your reward at the far end, away from Canal, is Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, one of the city's oldest buildings and longest-running bars. It's dark and cozy, and many nights you'll find live piano or some other music. If you do feel the need to have a non-sugary cocktail on Bourbon Street, we suggest you try out Bourbon O. They had very good drinks, the bartenders know their stuff, and the women on stage are belting out classic Jazz tunes. It’s also connected to a hotel, so the bathrooms are comparatively clean and nice.
Beach Bum Barry’s Latitude 29 is a tidy little tiki bar in a semi-deserted stretch of the Quarter across from a bunch of parking lots. Despite having neighbors like Coyote Ugly, it’s worth making a stop for some of the best tiki drinks in the country. Cinnamon ended up shepherding colleagues there three nights in a row on a recent business trip. It’s good enough to have inspired a copycat next door.
Tujague’s is one of the oldest restaurants and bars in the city, one block away from Jackson Square on Decatur. If there’s an older gentleman with a long goatee behind the stand-up bar, order a sazerac: that’s Paul Gustings, a local legend in the bartending world.
A little further up Decatur, right next to Coop’s Place, is Cane & Table. They make some tasty small plates, but their cocktails are the highlight. “Proto-tiki” or “rustic colonial” are good words to describe their style. Decatur tends to be more where the locals drink in the quarter, and there are quite a few spots worth checking out as you head toward Esplanade.
On Chartres on the other side of Jackson Square, Sylvain is a dark little bar with excellent food to go with its excellent cocktails — although we’ve usually just gotten the “southern antipasti” of pickles and charcuterie.
We've also stopped in at Cosimo's Bar on Dauphine — it's a quiet, friendly locals' place. Bar Tonique on Rampart Street is good for cocktails and late-night talks — it’s far enough from Bourbon Street that it doesn’t seem to get crazy, though it’s not immune to crowds.
Decatur ends at Esplanade and becomes Frenchman Street — you’ll know the switch when the road goes off on an angle.
The bar dba has a great scotch and bourbon selection, plus a good wine and beer list and live music many nights.
R Bar is a rock’n’roll bar in a boutique hotel that offers cheap haircuts on Monday nights and free shrimp boils (tip the cook) for patrons on Fridays during the summer.
Chances are you have Abita wherever you happen to live -- they’re one of the few Louisian beers with national distribution, and their Purple Haze and Amber are fairly easy to come by. You won’t get much closer to the source, though, and they also put out a lot of seasonal stuff that doesn’t make it nationwide.
Bayou Teche is probably not in your local bar, but their brews are worth seeking out -- or at least trying if you see them on tap. We’ve also enjoyed beer from NOLA Brewing, Tin Roof, Mudbug and Lazy Magnolia.
There's music all over the place, but it might be hard to find something that's not just a run-of-the-mill trio in a bar. Pick up The Gambit, New Orleans' independent weekly, for a good list of what's happening while you're there. If you happen to see a listing for Ingrid Lucia, go. She's one of our favorites. WWOZ’s Live Wire music calendar is another amazing resource for seeing live music; the on-air version at the top of “every odd hour” lists shows by start time.
Frenchman Street features some great music venues and bars, especially if you like jazz and local music. In addition to dba, Snug Harbor and The Spotted Cat are venues with music nearly every night. Some of the other places are far more beerhall kinds of places. We recently saw Rebirth Brass Band play at Symphony Center. These guys are totally used to playing cramped crowded spaces so I'm sure the stage was intimidating. But they still managed to get Chicagoans on their feet clapping and dancing. They have a standing Tuesday night gig at the Maple Leaf Bar in Carrollton.
If you want to see a more free-form, younger, and less established group of brass band, head to the corner of Canal and Bourbon on a weekend night, where you might hear the To Be Continued Brass Band or a few others who rotate through. Buy a CD, make a donation to the group and you might be lucky enough to see the police on mounted horses dancing along with the crowd.
If you can, see a show at Preservation Hall. It's tight quarters and really hot in summer, but there's virtually no better place to see New Orleans style jazz. There’s no flash photography allowed.
We fully expected Mardi Gras World to be a tourist trap, and it sure looks like one when you walk in, and even when you start the tour with a cheesy video -- but wait till you get into the very active workshops and are left to your own devices in the float warehouse, free to wander among the floats. Definitely worth the trip -- and they provide free transportation to and from several of the major hotels.
If you go outside the Quarter you're more likely to be harassed near Canal than near Esplanade. A couple blocks outside of the Quarter, just northwest of Esplanade, is St. Augustine Church. It's the oldest African-American church in the country built by freed blacks in the 1840s. If you're lucky, you might be able to catch a Second Line Parade on Sunday after services. We’re not at all religious, but we got to photograph and march in one last time and were so moved by the spirit of the members that we coulda joined up right there. Except we had to catch a plane.
The Algiers Ferry is free, but unless you want to wander Algiers Point, there's not much point to it. Interesting to get out on the river. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is a worthy rival to the Shedd, and it's a great way to get out of the heat for a couple hours. It's on the riverwalk just at the edge of the Quarter.
You may enjoy the National World War II Museum, which is in the Warehouse District. There are audio-guided interactive exhibits on both the European and Pacific, told through multiple first-person accounts. (Its restaurant, The American Sector, is highly regarded. We've never been, but Andrew enjoyed a nice cup of coffee at the museum's cafe.)
If you want to catch some great local shopping, we highly recommend catching the Magazine Street bus at Canal Street and taking that up. It's cheap or free depending on when you ride and there are great boutiques. Trashy Diva is the first place Cinnamon found where everything fit curvy gals. Totally '40s/'50's retro-ish, but fantastic handmade clothes. They have a second store in the French Quarter, and a lingerie store lurks next door to each location. There's a place near the Magazine Street boutique called Aiden Gill for Men; it's a barber shop that most guys will love. It's $40 for a hot towel shave, which includes a beer or whiskey afterwards. Totally a spa-for-guys. The woman who worked Andrew over helped him pick out some oils and shave cream that have eliminated his razor rash since then.
In the Quarter, there are a couple shops we like to visit, which may or may not be your cup of tea: Lucullus Antiques and Louisiana Loom Works, which makes rag rugs. The latter we stop in at mostly because the owners are wonderfully chatty and gracious, and we commissioned a rug from them, so we like to say hi. You may or may not want to walk into Bourbon French Perfumes, but if you do, get a whiff of their magnolia perfume — Cinnamon loves it.
Kitchen Witch, a cookbook shop that used to be in the French Quarter, is now out on a side street off Esplanade in the Seventh Ward. If you like to cook, or just like looking through recipes for inspiration, this is the shop for you.
We used to rent bikes from A Musing Bicycles, but they unfortunately closed in May 2018. Bicycle Michael’s in the Marigny is an option, but in our experience their bikes aren’t always well maintained. On our most recent trip we rented from Arts District Bike Rental, which had bikes in decent condition at good prices. No matter where you get it, if you’re there for more than two or three days, you need to rent a bike. You'll get a much better sense of what is around you and you'll be able to get out of the French Quarter pretty easily. City Park is likely going to be beautiful while you're there and Audubon Park near the zoo is definitely worth a toodle on a bike. And Bourbon Street is pedestrian only. Any bikes locked there will be cut and confiscated.
Have fun. Can't wait to hear how it goes.
Cinnamon & Andrew
Got a suggestion for us? Email Andrew.