I’ve been back to work for two full days now and yet I feel like I’m still digesting after a marvelous few days in New Orleans celebrating my birthday with the love of my life.
On Friday night, the night of my thirtieth, I kicked off our long weekend of French flair by going to dinner with a few of my nearest and dearest at Maison Pickle on the Upper West Side. Bookending my entree of sole meunière, we all shared a sinful pull-apart bread with honey butter, pickled crudites, and French fries and a huge slice of Oreo pie. It was a perfect birthday meal. Megan even said that these may have been the best fries of her life. Sorry, my love, but I came to find extraordinary ones on our last night in New Orleans that blew them out of the water!
I would recount in detail each and every one of our four days in beautiful NOLA, but if you know me, travel highlights mostly revolve around the food. This trip was no exception, even though we also had a terrific time walking about the music-filled city, taking an alligator spotting swamp tour, and going swing dancing. We had no itinerary but to walk around and eat whatever called out to us. A bit of a challenge, since Jon is vegetarian but we still did great. I obviously curbed my pescatarian Lent restrictions for the duration of our trip because, in my heart of hearts, it would be a greater sin to miss out on all the amazing regional cuisine.
Here are my personal top 10 favorite things I ate and places I recommend you visit if you ever find yourself in this food mecca! Some of these spots were recommended to us by friends (thank you to everyone who sent us suggestions!) and others we found ourselves or just stumbled upon to our delight. It’s an invigorating walkable European-feeling city with music and liveliness pouring out into the streets.
(Note: these are in the order we experienced them, not ranked in any way!)
Johnny Sánchez - Aarón Sánchez’s taqueria at 930 Poydras Street in the Central Business District
Jon had, without a doubt, the best and most velvety black bean soup I’ve ever tasted, a crispy cauliflower taco, and a big honking quesadilla. Of all the places we ate, this was definitely one of the most vegetarian-friendly!
I ordered a trio of soft tacos. From left to right: carne asada, pickled jalapeno, guacamole, and pico de gallo; crispy fried oyster, avocado, red pepper aioli, and chayote-jicama slaw; and albondigas, Aaron’s grandmother’s meatballs, chipotle, queso fresco, and pickled onions. I was instantly satiated after just one one bite of each of these, since I think I’d somehow gotten full on anticipation of this first meal alone! But they sure made a great leftover snack right before we crashed into bed exhausted later that night.
Who Dat Coffee Cafe - really cute little breakfast and coffee spot at 2401 Burgundy Street in Marigny
This was where we had our first breakfast and I remembered just how much I relish a good biscuit. I had the early bird special of eggs, sausage, grits, and a biscuit with housemade triple berry jam. I want to eat this again right now.
Willie’s Chicken Shack - This is a chain that’s all over, but the one I stopped in at was at 630 Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. (We weren’t on Bourbon Street for long, since it’s basically NOLA’s Times Square, but it was worth visiting to check off the experience.)
I had fried chicken with French fries, another killer biscuit, and Willie’s special sauce. Not the healthiest meal I had down there, but damn, do I want to relive it now. (Jon went next door for pizza.)
Cafe De Monde - the iconic cafe at 800 Decatur Street in the French Quarter
No trip to NOLA would be complete without visiting this institution! I enjoyed my frozen cafe au lait, and the beignets were...fine. I feel like it’s sacrilege even to write that, but they were really just okay. I’d still 101% recommend the visit to anyone, but I honestly enjoyed the beignet I had at Epcot France last summer way better. And you know why? It was filled with chocolate. Oui, chocolat.
Horn’s - a casual Cajun-style breakfast place at 800 Decatur Street in Marigny
This is probably the most classic local dish I had, which was stone ground yellow grits smothered in crawfish étouffée with, you guessed it, another damn good biscuit. As a lover of super savory breakfasts, I could eat this almost every day.
Neyow’s - Creole restaurant at 3332 Bienville Street in the Mid-City / Bayou St. John area
It’s hard to call out a favorite meal after recounting all this goodness, but if I had to pick one, this was the one I ate with the most gusto and would want most to have over and over again. A half dozen garlicky char-grilled oysters with plenty of good French bread to dip into their lemony liquor, then a simple but soul-satisfying plate of red beans, white rice, and Louisiana hot sausage. Have a lounge at the Bayou Beer Garden down the road when you’re done!
Dat Dog - a local hot dog chain with a fun artsy menu that reminded me a lot of Bareburger. We actually hit two different locations, one at 601 Frenchmen Street in Marigny and another at 3336 Magazine Street in Touro.
We dropped in here for a late night dinner in between dancing and live music viewing shenanigans with our friends Chris and Mary, who had just gotten into town for their wedding later in the week. I had a dog called the Vegan Werewolf, which was vegan bratwurst, sauerkraut, dill relish, grilled onions, tomatoes, and Creole mustard. The second time, we just popped in for beer and tater tots before going to a club to watch the Rebirth Brass Band.
The Sazerac Bar - the gorgeous hotel bar at the Roosevelt New Orleans. This is where we stopped in mid-day for our requisite Sazerac cocktail. Patronizing the bar at the local swanky hotel that’s way fancier than we could ever afford is my new traveler’s pro tip.
Tal’s Hummus - a veg-friendly casual Mediterranean eatery at 4800 Magazine Street in Touro
No pictures from here, because we were distracted by good company! Our friends Jess and Tom had also just gotten into town for Chris and Mary’s wedding so we met up here for dinner before going off to our respective music shows. This is where we had the amazing French fries. I also had an Israeli salad and beet soup and Jon had what looked like an excellent falafel sandwich. After four days of fairly heavy meals, this relatively light familiar dinner and refreshing lemon mint iced tea was just what I was craving.
Molly’s Rise and Shine - an adorable American retro kitsch themed breakfast joint at 2368 Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. Check out this stunning menu!
It was really hard to choose, but I had been in a mood for spring peas all week, so I went for the whirled peas on toast, but then ended up swapping for Jon’s bagel sandwich special which I’d convinced him to order before realizing it wasn’t vegetarian. Oops! Oh well; both were delicious! Coupled with another fine biscuit and jam, it was a great last breakfast to bid New Orleans au revoir.
There are still so many more Louisiana specialties I didn’t get a proper chance to enjoy this go around, like gumbo, jambalaya, and a good po’ boy. There are also dozens of places on all the lists people sent me to try that I can’t wait to experience on our next visit. We can tell this is one of those places that we’ll keep coming back to again and again. At this point, newly thirty and loving it, I can’t wait to see what life is like the next time we’re there.