Guess who has two thumbs and finally made their way to New Orleans? This girl! Back in the day, my aunt would take me to Disneyland every weekend where we would head to their version of the French Quarter, visit the Haunted Mansion and Tom Sawyer island. Little did I know that the real New Orleans would be just like Disneyland—just with way more beignets and cocktails involved. Here’s my take on where to eat, drink and see in New Orleans, all from yours truly.
Where to Eat in New Orleans
Are you also on the hunt to eat the best fried chicken, all the time always? Just me? Cool. Do yourself a favor, call a car the minute you land and hightail it to Willie Mae’s Scotch House (not to be confused with any other Willie’s located throughout the city). You’ll be driven ~10 minutes outside of the French Quarter (FQ), dropped off in the Treme neighborhood and in front of a house that’s been Willie Mae’s since 1957. Their chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and so, so juicy on the inside. Get messy, order the housemade lemonade and sit back and enjoy.
I couldn’t quite shake the San Francisco off of me, so we made our way to Willa Jean’s for a very chic brunch in this James Beard award-winning bakery, café and restaurant all-in-one. Head here for breakfast or brunch (maybe before a visit to the Garden District), and look out for The Biscuit Situation on the menu, their BBQ shrimp toast, crawfish and grits, freshly baked bread, new takes on lattes and, are you hungry yet?
Cochon – Central Business District
You’d be crazy to not eat some Cajun food in Louisiana. Even if it’s a little steamy outside, order the rabbit stew with dumplings, their take on charbroiled oysters (with chili-garlic butter) and drinks mixed with moonshine and crawfish boil (but not together).
You know I love a converted warehouse. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, now you do. With no less than 5 different food stalls, a stunning marble bar in the center and waiters yelling out your name to come pick up your order, Auction House Market is worth a visit just for the change of pace from your normal sit-down restaurant experience.
Where to Drink in New Orleans
Lately, I’ve been a big fan of cocktails and outstanding experiences at bars. Nowadays, this does not consist of talking to QT’s but really chatting it up with bartenders who know their stuff and having some unforgettable drinks throughout the night. I ended up spending 3 consecutive nights at French 75, headed up by Chris Hannah, the award-winning head bartender at this spot right off of Bourbon (and literally the star of every publication that has written about NOLA). He’s mixing up newer takes on old, old classics, while somehow keeping once well-loved drinks, well, still loved. The best souvenir I brought home? A list of NOLA favorites hand-written from Hannah himself.
Famous for its flamingo pink exterior and flamingo-decked mirrors, it’s obvious to see how I was convinced to head inside. Otherwise known for their Creole fare, Brennan’s is also notably famous for their Caribbean Milk Punch mixed with rum, bourbon, cream and plenty of vanilla. So sit back, relax and order one as a quick escape from the heat of the South.
Compère Lapin (or brother rabbit) was another recommendation from our friend Chris (who is probably besties with the head bartendress, Abigail Gullo). We only stayed for one
drink slushie each, and they were good. Think refreshing, not tropical and perfectly Southern—someway, somehow. Order one, sit at the bar and chat it up with Abigail (which we didn’t get to do), but I bet she’s really cool.
To be honest, we didn’t get to stop by the brewery, but rest assured, I did have their beers. Their pale ale might just be the best I’ve ever had and word on the street is that this brewery rocks. Apparently, it comes complete with an outside patio, string lights and if you’re lucky, live music just alongside the river. Sounds so #dreamy.
What to Do in New Orleans
Do yourself a huge favor and go check out some live music at Preservation Hall. It’s $20 at the door, cash-only and the best part is that there are no phones or cameras allowed during the show. It’s just you, all the other guests and a very good band at the front of the house. Be sure to get there on the earlier side of the next show time (they’re every hour, on the hour from 5-10 p.m., except for 7 p.m.), I would say 30 minutes beforehand is your safest bet.
Even if you’re not into “touring,” the Garden District is worth the trolley ride out from Canal Street. Visit the above-ground cemetery that inspired Anne Rice, see her old house, Sandra Bullock’s mansion, the spot that Nicolas Cage bought and even the Manning family house. Now that I think about it, it was more a celebrity real estate tour with many beautiful mansions along the way. Still worth it.
Maybe when I’m older and grayer, I will move myself out to a swamp and feed marshmallows to alligators. Visiting Honey Island swamp was definitely a highlight of the trip. It wasn’t an airboat tour, but the flatboat was able to get us into narrow bayous, up and down the river at what felt like, high speeds and a lot of animal spottings like swamp raccoons, egrets, herons, gators, turtles and even a wild bachelorette party.
Are you a woo girl? If not, skip Bourbon Street entirely and head out to the locals-favorite Frenchman Street instead. We stopped by The Spotted Cat (yes, the exact place where CNN does NYE!) and listened to a bluegrass band and had a whiskey shot. We were totally fine that night (we were not).
Mardi Gras World
Want to see some Mardi Gras floats without actually experiencing the crowds? Head to Mardi Gras World (there’s even a free shuttle from major hotels!) where you can see how the props are built from giant pieces of styrofoam, paper-mâchéd over, then painted over every year by the same family that started making them in the 19th century.
Just like Disneyland! Every street in the FQ is like walking back in time, with old French-style houses in pastel colors, porches that are just made for perching and a live band that might dot a street corner. Rent a bike at dusk to see the neighborhood, try a ghost tour or an architecture tour if you’re more refined and just soak up the sights. Royal Street is known for all of it’s shops (mostly antique), Bourbon just might be the Vegas of the South and all the other sidestreets have something up their sleeves too.
Still have questions about New Orleans? Just ask!