Where to eat in New Orleans

I love NoLa so much I visit about once every three years, mostly for the food. My visits are always planned around meals, with brief periods to walk off the calories before eating again. I like to try out a few new places to eat each visit, but always return to old favorites, as well.

The very first fine dining restaurant I ever visited in my life was Antoine's, when I was 16 years old and visiting N.O. on a school trip. I have always been a fearless gourmet eater, and it all started here - after consuming greedily a large bowl of magic known as "gumbo", I got to the bottom of the bowl only to discover that all the tasty things I had been gobbling down included a half a crab, guts spilling out into the bowl. I didn't care. It was awesome. I don't eat at Antonines every single time I am in NoLa, but about every other. After all, I have to give some other fine dining establishments a chance, too. I have never been disappointed.
                                         bread pudding at Antoine's during Restaurant Week

If you find yourself in New Orleans in August, when the weather is miserable and even the tourists stay home, you may be fortunate enough to have arrived at a time the locals call "Restaurant Week." This is a marketing ploy to lure in the unsuspecting - the heat and humidity are reminiscent of Rangoon in the rainy season- and it is well worth the serious gourmand's attention. Many of the pricier restaurants around town offer special deals, 3 course pris fix meals at a low low rate - both the Old Guarde Grande Dame establishments, as well as the trendier newcomers.
                                               Remoulades- good red beans and rice, jambalaya

I have never had a bad meal in NoLa. Never. It is because I read reviews online and carefully plan what and where I will eat. Make sure the calories are worth it. I generally don't like chain restaurants, and often find that the newer flashier places are over-priced and under-quality. It's not that I shun the newer establishments, I just vet them carefully before I spend my $$$. Also, I refuse to stand in a line for pretty much anything - except Preservation Hall - and always make reservations in advance. (I use Open Table and collect reward points.)

This most recent trip was my first to Galatoire's in a long time. Reservations got us a quiet table for dinner upstairs, at a window overlooking the clamor below. That's how you do it in NoLa. The downstairs room was for walk-ins and had a long line to get a table. Jackets are required for gentlemen- bring your own or wear theirs. I had : turtle soup (so -so), shrimp cocktail, (excellent), salad w blue cheese (excellent), fresh catch of the day fish (forget what kind) in a Meuniere Almondine sauce (excellent), a couple of Sazeracs (very strong) and could barely waddle out, so no dessert.
                                                                  Cafe du Monde

I have been eating beignets at Cafe du Monde for over 40 years now, and I never get tired of them. The only unpleasant aspect of dining there is the line, which can be two hours long or more. I recommend visiting in the middle of the night.

Brennan's is credited with inventing eggs benedict and bananas foster. For this reason, it is a popular breakfast or brunch choice for many, and again, reservations are your friend. We skipped a line down the block and walked right in. Fans were devastated a few years back when the family announced it was shutting the venerable institution down. Fortunately, they opened it back up awhile later, and you can eat the same wonderful dishes there just as if it never happened. Rest assured, it is still pretty damn good. For breakfast dessert this year I had fresh local strawberries, currently in season, with mascarpone cheese that were melt in your mouth delightful. And of course, mimosas.
                                                                Commander's Palace
Commander's Palace, or CP- I have to disclaim: I have never eaten here. Many rave about it, but my friends have always said they felt it was over-priced and not that good. Yet it is owned by a member of the Brennan's family. IDK. I list it here as a member of the NoLa Old Guarde Grande Dame restaurants.
Tujague's (pronounced "two jacks", like a hand of cards) is a place I have walked by 100's of times all these years, and never entered. I do not know why. This year I decided to try some of these places I had never been to, expand my repertoire as it were. Glad I did - I had the best gumbo of this trip, as well as a damn fine brisket poboy, and the best Sazerac of the trip (made correctly, with cognac, not whiskey). Also, the best French bread of the trip. All around, it was delightful, and I am glad I finally tried it out. Note: I loaded the dice by reading restaurant reviews online, and ordering food items that others had said were the best offerings. Just FYI: The poboy was huge, husband and I shared one, and were penty full when done.
                                                                  Court of Two Sisters
Court of Two Sisters- Many will decry some of these establishments in the French Quarter as being too touristy or too this or too that. My personal thought is that if a place has been around for a long long time, there must be a reason why. Court of Two Sisters is not your fine gourmet cuisine, upscale dining, or eclectic fusion experimental dishes. Court of Two Sisters is huge buffet of all the favorite Cajun comfort foods, in an all-you -can-eat format. It is a great place to take hungry teens, rowdy kids, family reunions, grandmas and grandpas, or folk who want to try a diverse array of foods for the first time, Their oysters rockefeller may not be the best in the world, but you can try them and see if it is something you might like to try again, later, in a more gourmet establishment. Good place for peel and eat shrimp, gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, etc.
                                                      Bread pudding at Bourbon House
Bourbon House- Pull in here for a brief respite when the crowds on Bourbon St start to drive you nutz. Dinner is pretty good, the oyster bar is great, and their bread pudding is the best in town.

                                                              Atchafalaya Restaurant
Atchafalaya - We ventured out of the Quarter on our previous visit, and discovered this little gem. Here I had the best shrimp and grits I have ever had in my life, before or since.
                                                      shrimp and grits at Atchafalaya

These are by no means the only or even the best restaurants in town. These are my faves, and what I know and do not know based on what I like. Stay posted- everytime I go, I try someplace new, and I will let you know what I think.

What to do in New Orleans

 There are art galleries
                                                Famous "Blue Dog" by artist Rodriguez
Historic sites
                                                     steamboat / paddleboat Natchez
                                                                Preservation Hall

Music of all sorts in a variety of places

Street buskers

Preservation Hall 

Roux the Day band at The Kerry

Shopping for anything you can imagine (I will keep my posts G rated)

                                        1000's of different hot sauces from around the world
Bars and pubs
                                          Tujagues bar- the second oldest building in the city
                                               Chihuly style art at Cresscent City Brewpub
A Hurricane ( drink) at Pat O'Brien's

Celebrity sightings
                                               Richard Simmons holds court at Remolaud's 

Saint Patrick's Day in New Orleans

We take saint patRICK'Sday very seriously in our family, because it is the national holiday of my husband. He is a Yankee, an American of Irish descent who often feels lonely and out of place in Texas every March 17 when it comes to hanging around in bars typical of those he grew up with in central Pennsylvania small towns. There is no one to sing with and those few who do don't know the songs. Few people wear green. Only the college kids are drunk, and they are on spring break. The whole day often passes barely noticed around here.
It was with incredible joy that my husband realized there would be lots of people celebrating the day on our recent trip to New Orleans, and even a parade.
 It was a small yet typical NoLa parade, ironically mocking, friendly and gay. Participants tossed out St pat's Day green beads and merch as they walked/rode the route. Observers stood on balconies and caught them. It was like Mardi Gras, just smaller and calmer, if you can believe that.

 Jax Brewery in the background.

 NoLa brew pub sampler at Crescent City Brewpub.
Band "Roux the Day" playing at NoLa Irish bar, The Kerry. Jameson whiskey promoters were on hand, handing out free shots of whiskey. It was a jolly evening. 

What to eat in New Orleans 2

Gumbo- a hearty sort of bouillabaisse stew, starts with a roux (flour cooked in hot oil, then added to stock), to which is added file and other spices, vegetables, meats (seafood, fish, game, etc) and always served with rice. Various versions are thicker or spicier but I have learned, the darker, the better.

I love Creole (upscale dishes, based on French cooking techniques with local ingredients) and Cajun (down home, comfort food) cuisine so much that I have to visit New Orleans about every 3 years just to get my fix. I have learned to cook some of the  items I enjoy, such as red beans and rice (mine are the best, I must say, after many years of trial and error), but while I keep trying to make gumbo, it remains elusive to me. I come close- and have watched dozens of youtube videos on how to properly make a roux, but mine still isn't just right.
Shrimp and grits - For some reason, the shrimp you get in NoLa is softer and fluffier, has a "melt in your mouth" texture and is tastier than what we can get in Dallas. Perhaps that's the difference between fresh and frozen. This version of shrimp n grits, above, has a sprinkling of thin crisp fried onions on top, as a garnish. It was an adequate version I got in a pub. (The best was on a previous visit, at a restaurant in the garden district named Atchafalaya. Still the one to beat.). Typically, the shrimp are served on top of the grits, which are infused with spices, often chopped veggies, cheese, and a remoulade sauce.

French bread- The French baguette ubiquitous (seriously, all the restaurants get them from the same bakery, which I tried to shop from, but they don't sell retail, just to the trade.) in NoLa is a bit crisper and flakier on the outside, and softer on the inside, than you typically get in Paris. It is still chewy but not so hard. I have spent a lot of time studying this; trust me. 
 Eggs Benedict - Breakfast or brunch at Brennans. With a mimosa. Perfect!
Brisket poboy at Tujagues, with a Sazerac (the empty glass.) Not your typical Texas style smoked BBQ brisket, this one is boiled, which sounds gross, but it is boiled with spicy Cajun seasonings, so it is mighty tasty.
Alligator sausage poboy, with potato salad
Fried shrimp poboy - my personal favorite
Oysters- Oyster shucker at Bourbon House in NoLa. I am always surprised these guys don't cut their own hands, the oysters can be slippery devils. Raw or in a gumbo, fried or however, they are delicious.
Bread pudding - Is not a pudding in the traditional sense (a custard made from eggs, milk, etc) but instead is a very French way to use up day old bread- by shredding it into small pieces, soaking it in liquor, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and other seasonings, sometimes adding (often brandied) fruit or chocolate, then mashing it all up and baking till done. Add a sauce of caramel, chocolate, or more liquor, and you have a very tasty sort of drunken cake.

Beignets - Made famous by the Cafe du Monde, I first tasted these on a high school trip in 1976 and fell in love. Just be careful not to inhale as you take a bite, or you will nearly choke to death on powdered sugar. Open 24 hours, you can eat them for breakfast, an afternoon pick-me-up, or a midnight snack. 

Favorite Cities: New Orleans in springtime

 NoLa garden in March- A recent visit (spring break in Texas, mid-march) to NoLa was restorative and fun. Spring is the best time to visit New Orleans if you don't enjoy hot humid weather and crowds. Summers are typically in the 90'sF with 100% humidity, autumn can be nice (but no flowers are blooming), winters are mild and sunny (but I'd avoid Mardi Gras season unless you specifically want to spend days in a nightmarish mosh pit of drunken revelry).
Jackson Square- New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in America, along with Boston, St Augustine, and San Antonio. Originally settled by French explorers and later reinforced by French Acadians from Canada, NoLa retains a hybrid French- American culture found no where else.
Back of the cathedral-This translates into liveable, walkable city blocks in the old French Quarter that feel like Paris, combined with southern American building materials and styles. Thick walls for a hot climate, colors derived from local materials, architectural elements harkening back to a remembered homeland.
Brennan's Restaurant - This lovely pinkish color comes from using native adobe/terra cotta, derived from local soils, and diluting it with white clay, to make paint.

Riverboat Natchez - A wonderful way to spend a lazy afternoon