One of America’s biggest, most infamous parties is about to hit the city of New Orleans. I finally had a chance to visit Nola for my first time a few months ago. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get there, but I already want to go back. But, not for Mardi Gras…just to eat more of the fabulous food! The craziness and crowds are not my thing, but trying local food is. New Orleans is so much more than Bourbon Street, beads, and parades. Here is my take on where to eat in New Orleans.
Where to Eat in New Orleans
Acclaimed chef Emeril Lagasse returned to his roots and opened Meril, his fourth restaurant in New Orleans. As you probably know, he’s been a bit busy for the last two decades. The last time he opened a place here was 1998. We dined there just a couple weeks after the opening and Emeril himself was there in the kitchen making sure every dish was spot on. And nary a “BAM!” was heard.
Named after his daughter, the restaurant’s international menu is sort of an amalgamation of his favorite foods around the world including flatbreads, pastas, smoked pork belly, and turkey necks. It’s his most affordable restaurant with no entrees exceeding $20. The celebrity chef, TV personality, and restaurateur is known worldwide, but his heart is always in New Orleans.
A rustic, industrial spot in the Warehouse district, Peche has been a local favorite since it opened a few years ago. It’s all about the sea here with whole fish made over open coals or local oysters served up at the raw bar. They focus on working with local fishermen and farmers who harvest sustainably. I came for lunch and devoured the savory shrimp toast and smoked tuna dip.
Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar
I received a lot of recommendations from friends, locals, and travelers on where to eat the best charbroiled oysters including Dragos, Felix’s, and Acme Oysters. I looked at a lot of online lists and these three were always mentioned. In my network, the most passionate votes went to Felix’s, a no-frills joint just off Bourbon Street, so that’s where I squeezed in an extra meal during my trip. Now, I can’t speak for the other places and I’m sure they are great (I’m more than happy to return and do a bigger, taste-test/oyster crawl). What I can say, is the charbroiled oysters at Felix’s were delicious! It’s sort of like eating the best garlic bread with an oyster inside — garlicky, herby, cheesy and just plain yummy. If you don’t think you will like oysters, try these. All I want to know is where can I get these in Chicago??
I’m not done with oysters yet! For something a bit more fresh (read: raw) and modern, Seaworthy is the spot. Right next door to the new, hipster-cool Ace Hotel, this raw bar is a great spot at which to hang out, have a fun cocktail and slurp some fine mollusks.
Now, Nola is much more that just oysters, jambalaya, and gumbo. In fact, I hardly scratched the surface (another excuse to return!). For example, I could not get enough of the newer Shaya, a modern Israeli spot in Uptown which won a James Beard award last year for best new restaurant. I love Mediterranean food and the hummus and wood-fired pita bread were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Our server told us they actually peel the skins off of each chick pea to create such a creamy hummus. That’s some tedious dedication.
Inside the newly refurbished Pontchartrain Hotel, the Caribbean Room is a throw back to another era when Sinatra and Tennessee Williams stayed and ate here. Complete with white tablecloths, rattan chairs, and palm tree adorned walls and carpeting, this is the place to come for a celebration or a special night out (jackets are required). The food is still top notch. Make sure to splurge on that Mile High Pie.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
I really wanted to go to Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar, but it was Sunday and they were closed. Suffice it to say, another local favorite, Parkway Bakery & Tavern, tasted great to me! I jumped in an Uber and rode up there. Got in the line and ordered a fried shrimp po’ boy. I snagged a chair at one of the many communal tables underneath dozens of framed, signed photos of all the celebs who’ve eaten here over the years (100+ years) including Barak Obama.
Cafe Du Monde
So I must confess – I went to Café Du Monde, the famous beignet spot serving up fried dough since 1862, but I did NOT eat here. No beignets for me! A travesty? Perhaps. But I’m not a big sugary, fried doughnut fan and yes, have been very good at watching my calories the last few years, so I skipped it since I was already eating so much other good stuff. Others love them, so I will just trust those reviews. I did walk through to take some pics of course.
No stop in New Orleans would be complete without a stop to Commander’s Palace, a huge place known for its refined creole cuisine and fabulous brunches. Situated in the leafy, charming garden district, this world-famous restaurant has been the launchpad to many renowned chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
New Orleans has a lot of great traditional and brand new boutique options. Here are a few of my picks:
Trendy, new and with a great rooftop scene. The Ace Hotel New Orleans has industrial, urban rooms, and great Stumptown coffee in the see and be seen lobby.
The classic Pontchartrain Hotel recently underwent a huge renovation bringing the old gem back to life. It has a rooftop views with unique views of the city plus the old-school Caribbean Room Restaurant on the first floor. Don’t miss the mural in the lobby. You’ll thank me later.
Disclosure: During my time in New Orleans, I was a guest of the Pontchartrain Hotel. As always, all opinions are my own.