Last week I went to New Orleans with my mom, sister-in-law Cora and sister Anne with one goal: to eat tons of food. We not only achieved our goal, we did so with flying colors. Actually, too many flying colors. By the third night I felt strange. Physically strange. I think it was a food hangover. Listen, I’ve been known to put down a lot of food in my day, but New Orleans just about did me in. And it was totally worth it. Man, the food is awesome. And beyond food, the city is beautiful, the people are friendly and the music is the BEST. New Orleans has captured my heart. (As well as my stomach!)
Cabildo Alley. Photo credit: Cora Wallin
As we prepared for the trip, Anne made us all do research and put it in a Google doc so that when we were on the ground we’d be ready to go! Of course we didn’t get to half of what was in the doc, but we did a TON in our 3 1/2 days in NOLA and I honestly can’t believe how much food we ate.
If you follow my very enthusiastic advice and visit New Orleans (you better!!!), here are all the delicious/wonderful/interesting/fun places you should visit!
Ruby Slipper Cafe (Days 1 & 4…we started and ended our time in New Orleans here!)
My friend Kalli visited NOLA just one week ahead of us and recommended the Ruby Slipper Cafe, stating that the biscuits were the BEST THING EVER and that she wished she had just ordered biscuits and bacon as her meal. I do agree that those items were delectable, but I am SO glad we ordered other items, too. Honestly, Ruby Slipper really stands out for all four of us as a favorite from the weekend. Here are some of our Ruby Slipper top picks! (Click here for full menu and descriptions.)
- Chicken St. Charles: I could eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s UNREAL. The fried chicken is divine, the egg was poached to perfection, and the tasso sauce finished it all off beautifully. (Side note: Tasso ham is a southern Louisiana specialty.)
- Eggs Blackstone: This was my first meal in New Orleans and, let’s just say, it set a very high bar.
- One word: BISCUITS. Best biscuits we had all weekend.
- Bananas Foster Pain Perdu: This French toast was one of my mom’s favorite foods from the whole weekend. Delish!
- We didn’t imbibe at Ruby Slipper, BUT their alcoholic breakfast drink menu was extensive and delicious sounding. It’s always 5:00 somewhere, right?
Elizabeth’s Restaurant (Day 2)
Elizabeth’s provided a delicious breakfast, albeit the least favorite of our trip. That said, it was still great and I loved the decor. I had some sort of egg dish piled on top of crab cakes that I am so grateful to have eaten. Cora grew up in the south, so she was our “So, is this good Southern food?” go-to person. She wasn’t a fan of the biscuits and gravy, which were flavored with green chiles, but Anne ate every bite. I really liked the breakfast potatoes, which looked like they would be too crispy but were, in fact, perfectly textured. And the praline bacon, a.k.a. pig candy, was THE BEST EVER AND I AM SO GLAD I ATE HERE JUST TO EAT THAT DARN PRALINE BACON. We also tried calas here, a traditional Creole dumpling made with rice. Calas was different than anything I’ve had and I liked them! We didn’t have lunch or dinner here, but I think it would definitely be worth a try…it’s a great place to get authentic Louisiana food.
Surrey’s Cafe and Juice Bar (Day 3)
The Surrey’s restaurant we visited is located near Tulane in the beautiful Garden District and was a lovely spot to visit. Even if it was located in a ditch on the side of the road, however, the food would have made up for it. Oh man, New Orleans, another home run! If I had to choose between Surrey’s and Ruby Slipper, it would be tough…Ruby Slipper has better biscuits, but beyond that, both restaurants are just so good for breakfast. A few highlights:
- Everyone who ordered juice loved it.
- Cora got the corned beef hash, which none of us were interested in until it arrived at the table and then we all wished we had ordered it, too!
- Stuffed French Toast: There is a Bananas Foster Pain Perdu that is always on the menu, and the day we were there there was also a cinnamon apple pain perdu on special. I don’t have words to describe how good their stuffed French toast is, no matter the flavor. Unreal.
- I ordered a Creole baked egg special that was equally satisfying.
PASTRIES AND GOODIES:
Cafe du Monde
You can’t visit New Orleans without stopping at Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee. We chose to enjoy our beignets at 5 o’clock in the afternoon as an appetizer to dinner. This was a good choice, my friends. I will say this: visit Cafe du Monde during off hours, preferably on a weekday. We went at 5 pm on a Thursday and there was no line at all. They are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so there are many off hours to choose from. If you go during a busy time, you will wait in a line. I also took home 8 boxes of beignet mix as thank you gifts for everyone who helped with my kids while I was gone. It’s a fun taste of New Orleans at home, plus the packaging hasn’t changed in decades, which makes it even cooler. (Side note: my carry-on bag was VERY HEAVY.)
Le Croissant D’Or
We stopped here for some croissants, coffee and hot chocolate one day mid-morning and it was wonderful. Cora ordered an eclair, which was filled with chocolate pastry cream. At first we were like, “Oh, darn, chocolate pastry cream” and then we took a bite and were like, “Oh, YES, chocolate pastry cream.” Le Croissant D’Or is a great spot and you can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu.
Right after eating our weight in croissants at Le Croissant D’Or, we stopped in at Winks for their famous buttermilk drops, which are essentially giant old fashioned donut holes. I’m not gonna say you should fly to New Orleans just for these buttermilk drops, but I’m also not gonna say I didn’t enjoy them. They were super yum!
LUNCH AND DINNER:
Deja Vu is a bar and grill in the French Quarter that is another spot that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I wanted to eat here, but Cora and my mom got into town a little earlier than Anne and I did and they ate here without us. The nerve! We thought we would get there again but ran out of time (and stomach space). They said it was good and Cora said they make the best red beans and rice she had the whole weekend. My friend Kallie also ate at Deja Vu and they loved it as well.
This is where you need to go to try the New Orleans Italian classic sandwich, the muffuletta. The Central Grocery muffuletta is made with a traditional muffuletta loaf, a round Sicilian sesame bread, and it is AWESOME. We all loved it. Be forewarned: a whole sandwich is bigger than your head. 1/4 or 1/2 is plenty for one person and they do sell the sandwich in quarters.
The bartender yells out crazy stuff all night. You sit by strangers. You eat New Orleans classic dishes. It’s a good time. The fried chicken was AWESOME. The rabbit and sausage jambalaya was great and the seafood gumbo was really good, too. Skip the red beans and rice (not so good). I wouldn’t say this was one of our top meals, but it was solid food and a fun place with a line out the door.
Acme Oyster House
Eating lunch at Acme was a last minute decision and one we are so glad we made. Anne and I split an order of the char grilled oysters and HOLY HANNAH they were good. The boom boom shrimp was also delicious! If you don’t eat seafood, there are not many options here, but if you do eat seafood, you will be very happy. The service was great here, too.
Pat O’s is a Bourbon Street staple. The whole reason we went to Pat O’s was because they have a dueling piano bar, but then we ended up sitting on the opposite end of this giant restaurant. It definitely had a touristy vibe, so I was a little worried that the food wouldn’t be that great, but we were all happy with what we got. The Cajun shepherd’s pie was my favorite dish of the evening, but my blackened salmon was also very good. Pat O’s serves the Hurricane cocktail, a popular New Orleans drink made with rum, fruit juice and syrup. It’s basically fruit punch with a major kick. Other restaurants use Pat O’s mix to make their Hurricanes, so if you’re gonna get a Hurricane, get it here!
While we were in New Orleans, we ventured out to a tiny town in St. Bernard Parish for Blues In da Parish. There were several food vendors at this small but wonderful blues festival, including Mia’s Eatery. Mia’s Eatery is a casual restaurant in Kenner, LA, just half a mile from the airport, which means ANYONE who flies into New Orleans can easily try Mia’s out! Mia serves wonderful, flavorful Creole food at an affordable price. (Click here and read the review from Dec. 24, 2014 – it’s paints a picture.) Mia’s red beans and rice were awesome and the peach cobbler was to die for. Mia herself was serving the food alongside her charming, college-student daughter Maigan. (Teaser: I interviewed Mia for my new podcast, which will be launching in a few weeks. I can’t wait to share more of Mia with you, but you’ll have to wait!)
When we asked Mia how long it takes to make so many mini sweet potato pies, she thought for a moment and then said, “A LONG time.”
Natural Born Grillers
We also had pulled pork sandwiches at the blues fest that were SO good. The vendor was called Natural Born Grillers and, according to their signs, they’ve won several awards for their BBQ. I’m having a hard time tracking them down online. Once I get their info, I will update the post and link to them!
Our last dinner in New Orleans was at Mulate’s, a Cajun restaurant that has live Zydeco music and dancing. The place was hoppin’ and lots of fun, and the food was great, too! I’ll be honest, this was the point where my food hangover really kicked in, so I was kind of forcing the food down. We were seriously NOT hungry, so we all simply ordered appetizers for dinner. The dinner entrees were HUGE and we knew we wouldn’t be able to eat even a fraction of the food. I really liked the Zydeco meat pies, which Cora ordered, and, despite my full belly, I was able to eat all of my barbecue shrimp, which came in the most wonderful sauce that was especially yummy drizzled on the twice baked potatoes. If I had gone there on an empty stomach I would have totally tried alligator…next time!
Our cemetery tour guide was a New Orleans native (her family heritage was French, Native American and African American…it doesn’t get more New Orleans than that!) and told us that she considers Mandina’s the best restaurant in New Orleans. Sadly we ran out of time and never made it, but next time I go to NOLA that will be the first place I stop, after breakfast at the Ruby Slipper Cafe next door, of course! Our tour guide said that Mandina’s serves the best gumbo in town.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
This is another spot that we didn’t make it to, a fact that made us very sad. Willie Mae’s was another recommendation from our cemetery tour guide. She told us they have the best red beans and rice and fried chicken in the city. I have to go back to NOLA just to eat Willie Mae’s fried chicken.
NON-FOOD STUFF WE DID THAT WAS AWESOME
In addition to all of the eating, we did a lot of sightseeing, too! We were New Orleans touring machines.
MUSIC, Including Preservation Hall and the Spotted Cat
I think even above the food what I loved most about New Orleans was the music.
Photo credit: Cora Wallin
Inside Preservation Hall. It’s tiny! They pack 100 people in, half standing, for one hour shows.
The Spotted Cat. The trombone player in the green shirt was the best trombonist we heard all week.
Preservation Hall is absolutely 100% a MUST when you go to New Orleans. The Spotted Cat Music Club is another music must do, but if you have to choose, go with Preservation Hall. That said, I loved the Spotted Cat and could have stayed all night. Be sure to give yourself the gift of TIME when walking around the French Quarter so you can stop and enjoy the many street performers. The music is top notch and each group is unique. Some of our favorites were the Slick Skillet Serenaders (bluegrass), Doreen Ketchens (jazz), and the Hundreds Brass Band, a group of young musicians who were beyond impressive. Be sure to have cash on hand so you can tip the talented musicians.
New Orleans City Park
City Park is lovely, especially the southern end of the park. We walked through the Museum of Art’s sculpture garden, the botanical garden and Cora found the train garden, which she said was amazing. And there is so much Spanish moss in the trees you feel like you are in a Southern fairyland.
Photo credit: Cora Wallin
Oak Alley Plantation
We drove about an hour out of New Orelans to visit Oak Alley Plantation. We took the tour of the main home and walked the grounds. The plantation is named after a row of 300-year old oak tress lined up in front of the main house that are stunning. This visit was worth the drive.
Photo credit: Cora Wallin
Photo credit: Cora Wallin
French Quarter Tours
Anne and I did a haunted ghost tour in the French Quarter one night and it was awesome, filled with all kinds of creepy serial killer stories. Our tour guide for the cemetery (more on that in a moment) said that Frank from Witches Brew tours is the absolute best ghost tour guide. We ended up with a different guide, and she was still great, but she even quoted a Frank story, so, try to get Frank! The French Market offers FREE walking tours of the French Quarter every Monday at 10 am (first come first served, 16 people max). There are tons of tour companies and I think going on at least one walking tour is totally worth it, whether the tour is haunted or not!
St. Louis #1 Cemetery Tour
New Orleans has a host of amazing cemeteries with above-ground tombs. St. Louis #1 is the oldest and most famous and offers many different tour options. It is totally worth the $15-20 to get a tour of this cemetery! Click here for information on cemetery tours.
We took a ride on the St. Charles streetcar, doing the entire loop. It was nice to just sit for a while. We didn’t have time to hop out and explore, but if we had, we would have gotten out and walked around the Garden District as well as visited the Audobon Park and Zoo.
St. Bernard Parish
St. Bernard Parish lies east and south of New Orleans and is made up of many islands and rivers. In fact, of the 2,158 square miles that make up the parish, only 358 square miles are land! When I looked at the map, I was completely intrigued and wanted to explore this area. Luckily my travel mates were up for it! While we were researching the parish, we discovered the blues fest in Violet that I mentioned earlier. We are SO glad we went to Blues In Da Parish, and I’m quite sure that we were the only tourists there, which made it even better. Since we didn’t have much time, we just did one scenic drive out to Delacroix, LA, literally to land’s end. It was beautiful to see this place where land and water are one and the same. Next time I visit New Orleans I want to drive the 75 miles from New Orleans to the end of the Mississippi River and venture out to Pillottown. I am completely intrigued by this place!
Photo credit: Cora Wallin
Bevolo is a gas and electric light company with a workshop in the French Quarter where you can watch the craftsmen make the copper lanterns that are now iconic in the French Quarter. We just happened upon this place while walking around and it was awesome. I highly recommend popping in! (And one day when I’m rich I’m putting gas lights on the front of my house, custom ordered from Bevolo!)
Phew! Seriously, I can’t believe how much we did in 3 days! I have wanted to go to New Orleans since I was a young child. My parents went to Mardi Gras many years ago and ever since I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans myself. New Orleans not only lived up to what I hoped it would be, it exceeded my expectations.
As we walked and drove around New Orleans, it was nearly impossible to comprehend what Katrina must have been like. Signs of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation are everywhere, especially in the lower income neighborhoods. But the signs of rebuilding and a deep pride in the city are just as apparent. This city is unique, shaped by a history that no other region shares. What New Orleans is cannot be replicated. I am grateful that so many have taken the time, energy and money to rebuild this great place. And I am grateful that so many are still working to rebuild. It is inspiring. (Click here to learn about organizations still on the ground working to help the people of New Orleans recover from Katrina, even 10 years later.)
New Orleans, you win. You win at food. You win at music. You win at fun. We love NOLA!
Sidenote: Anne wants to become a New Orleans Saints fan just for this awesome chant, and I can’t blame her: “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” Sidenote to the sidenote: The phrase “Who dat?” was “a common dialogue element between the performers and crowd at traveling minstrel shows in the [New Orleans] region” back in the day, and the band at Preservation Hall did just that with the crowd. So cool. (Quote from Wikipedia.)
Last but not least, if you have your own New Orleans recommendations that I haven’t included here (because we definitely did not see and eat everything!), please share them in the comments! Let’s make this the best New Orleans eating guide ever!