View of New Orleans skyline at sunset from Crescent Park as taken from my iPhone
New Orleans is known as one of the most fun cities. Of course, everyone knows it as a party city and for its music, jazz. Everyone has heard of the French Quarter and Mardi Gras. It is also a great place for foodies: beignets, muffulettas, andouille sausage, crawfish, po’boys, etc. On the other hand, it has a notorious reputation as a dangerous city. Canal Street is a main street in the French Quarter that has been known to be kind of sketchy. Although you need to stay alert, it is not an overly dangerous street. Nevertheless, you definitely do not want to wander onto side streets and neighborhoods that you do not know. If you take a few precautions, you should be fine in New Orleans: be aware, stay on the main streets, and always take cabs at night to and from wherever you go. It is advice that is applicable for other major cities.
Of course, the most famous street in the French Quarter is Bourbon Street. It is not my cup of tea but I am sure it is easy for you to find something to do on Bourbon Street. Decatur Street is another main street in the French Quarter. You will find a lot of restaurants on it. It will also bring you to the French Market where there is a flea market with plenty of food and goods. The Central Business District (CBD) is south of the Quarter. The stadiums for the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans are in the CBD. If you want to gamble, there is a Harrah’s in the east corner of the CBD. A couple of blocks north of the French Quarter, at the beginning of the neighborhood of Marigny, is Frenchmen Street. It is where the music is in New Orleans. To the east is the neighborhood of Bywater where there are plenty of great places to eat and drink that are well-kept secrets. From my perspective, the general area above, which is north of the expressway, is the city.
South of the CBD is the Garden District. It is like a whole other world once you leave the Quarter/ CBD and go under and pass the expressway. The Garden District is residential and features a lot of beautiful, Victorian Period houses and historic mansions. Naturally, the atmosphere is completely different. It is much more peaceful than the French Quarter and you feel a lot safer. St. Charles Avenue is the main street that cuts through the Garden District. The St. Charles Avenue streetcar line follows the avenue. Technically, the Garden District is one of many neighborhoods that the St. Charles Avenue line runs through. However, I personally refer to everything south of the expressway and St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park as the Garden District because it has a similar, residential feel. Interestingly, a lot of runners and joggers run right in between the tracks and the trolleys ring the bell to alert them to allow the trolleys to pass. You will also find a lot of restaurants along the street. Even if you do not want to stop and eat, it is worth a streetcar ride to see the neighborhood. Magazine Street is another street in the Garden District that has plenty of food. I also enjoyed walking down Magazine Street from the east side of the Garden District all the way to Audubon Park on the west side. Personally, I quickly fell in love with the Garden District. It is my favorite part of New Orleans and I ventured down there on the trolley every day during my trip.
If you visit New Orleans, I would advise against renting a car. It is the perfect city to use Uber. I had refused to use Uber before I visited New Orleans. However, it is very convenient when you need a car to pick you and do not want to wait for a car service. For anyone who has never used Uber and have reservations, I downloaded the app and added my payment method very quickly and conveniently. The app hailed a car that picked me up immediately the couple of times I used Uber. It is extremely easy to set up and use. The streetcars are convenient and easy to use if you are not in a rush. In particular, it is great for going into the Garden District on the St. Charles Avenue line. It is also very easy to set up and use. You download the RTA app and add a payment method. You can buy a 24 hour pass, Jazzy pass, for $3 or a three day pass for $9. You activate the pass on the app when you are ready to ride and show the driver the pass on your phone which will have a timer of when it will expire. Either pass will also give you access to the public buses.
I went to New Orleans for a wedding during the weekend of Thanksgiving. Of course, that Friday was Black Friday. As a result, there were long lines for popular restaurants in the morning. In addition, it is the weekend of the Bayou Classic, the big football game between two historically black colleges, Southern University and Grambling State University. By Friday night, the French Quarter is in lock down due to the crowds. No vehicles can enter the French Quarter. According to one of my Uber drivers, there is usually violence associated with the event. He noted that he used to work on Bourbon Street and they would close shop for the night after the second stampede. Unfortunately, an individual was killed the Friday I was there. Allegedly, the victim worked as a bouncer on Bourbon Street and was just trying to enjoy his night off. He apparently bumped into someone by accident. The individual took exception so he and his friends beat the bouncer before he shot him to death. While it was not an incident that occurs all the time, it was enough for me not to venture around the French Quarter at night during that weekend. To be fair, my Uber driver could not drop me off at my hotel after the wedding I attended and dropped me off on Canal Street 5 blocks from my destination. I stood out like a sore thumb in my suit but no one bothered me or looked at me the wrong way as I walked back to my hotel. Nevertheless, I would recommend visiting New Orleans any other weekend if you are planning a trip. There is just too much going on in the French Quarter with the combination of Black Friday shoppers on Friday morning and the Bayou Classic partyers Friday and Saturday night of that weekend. I went back to visit New Orleans in March 2017 and had a great time.
Below are food recommendations by neighborhood. I wanted to try a couple of fine dining restaurants, Restaurant August in the French Quarter and Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. I did not get a chance so they are reasons to go back at some point. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other food options in the city and I enjoyed a number of them. I also have some coffee recommendations for coffee fanatics. Another popular thing to do in New Orleans are tours: haunted house ghost tours, plantations, swamps, and cemeteries. I went on a swamp tour and a cemetery tour so I have recommendations for them. Moreover, New Orleans has great parks in the city. I also have some lodging recommendations and advice for getting to and from the airport. I was in New Orleans for 4 days for a wedding. It is definitely a good amount of days to spend in the city.
1. French Quarter/ Central Business District
1.Restaurant August (301 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
I had one of my most incredible meals anywhere at John Besh’s Restaurant August. The restaurant is absolutely beautiful. Not surprisingly, it has a dress code. You can probably get away with business casual. Nevertheless, I wore my suit, without a tie, to comfortably fit in with the rest of the diners. The food was absolutely perfect. All the ingredients were fresh and cooked perfectly. The amazing sauces and flavors were the most significant differentiators of Restaurant August with any other restaurant. My meal was started with a complimentary amuse bouche. It was a hallowed out egg shell with a popcorn parmesan garlic mousse bottom, sweet corn custard center, and hominy crispy topping. I have never eaten anything like it. It was amazing and dinner was started with a bang. For my appetizer, I ordered the potato gnocchi which included blue crab, black truffle and parmesan. The gnocchi was the best I have ever tasted. The softness and texture were flawless. I actually do not like crab. Nevertheless, I could not get enough of the blue crab. The crab in the dish looked and the texture felt like pulled pork but obviously with a crab taste. Of course, truffle was a high end ingredient. It complemented the other ingredients to complete an immaculate set of flavors.
For my entrée, I leaned toward ordering the signature dish, the “breaded” flounder. Since it has shrimp and I do not like it, I ordered the grilled dorado au poivre. It was like a tuna steak. It included charred lemon and parsley root. It was cooked very well and the sauce was great. On the other hand, I got a taste of the breaded flounder and immediately regretted my decision to not order it because of a couple of small shrimp on the dish. A thin piece of bread was seared and put on top of the fish. It looked like fish skin and tasted amazing. On top of it, there were wild mushrooms, shrimp, and crab fat. Although the sauce on my dorado was excellent, the sauce for the flounder was definitely the superior sauce. If I was forced to eat shrimp to enjoy a full order of flounder, I would do so next time. I finished my meal with the “Dirt Cake” cocoa nib panna cotta as my dessert. It included caramel milk chocolate ganache, passionfruit, and coconut. After the tasting the fish dishes, I did not expect to be blown away again but that was exactly what happened. The panna cotta was as good as it gets. In addition, we were given complimentary pralines and vanilla eclairs. They were also excellent. Everything I ate at Restaurant August was phenomenal and I could not find a noticeable flaw.
It also offers a lunch menu on Friday, which includes a $26 prix fixed option. Restaurant August is a must try regardless but the prix fixed lunch at that price is a no brainer if you can make it there on Friday.
2. Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116)
It is an iconic café in the French Quarter. I have been to it twice. It is known for its beignets, pronounced “ben” “yay”. They are French doughnuts. You will find Café Du Monde’s beignets on lists for one of the best doughnuts in the country. I do not necessarily agree. From my perspective, they are funnel cakes in the shape of doughnuts. Even though they may be very excellent funnel cakes, they do not measure up to the best artisan doughnuts I have tried. However, it may be fairer to keep artisan doughnuts as a separate category because they are like gourmet cakes compacted into a shape of a doughnut. Nevertheless, I think beignets are very good but I am not blown away. In addition, they can be very messy because the powder gets everywhere when you bite into them and it explodes. Definitely eat them over your plate or to go bag. Café Du Monde is also known for its café au lait. I drink a lot of specialty coffee. In terms of quality, the café au lait just does not come close to the elite coffee shops. I was not too impressed. However, the sugar on top of the beignets was great. When I bit into one and the sugar exploded all over me with a big clump on my hand, I decided to improvise and dump it into my coffee. The drink was infinitely improved but I was basically drinking the sugar.
I went to Café Du Monde the morning of Black Friday. The line was ridiculous. However, there is a takeout window on the side of the restaurant where you can get the beignets and coffee to go. If there is a long line, I highly recommend that window and finding another place to eat your beignets. Jackson Square is across the street. You can also walk to the Riverwalk and eat the beignets with a view of the Mississippi River. The café is also cash only so bring cash. On my second time, it was a Saturday and there was also a line. However, it moved very quickly. Unfortunately, it was very chaotic. The dishes were not cleared off the table and we had to wait a bit for the servers to take them away. Sitting at the café is part of the full experience. However, I recommend going there during a weekday unless you are only in New Orleans during the weekend.
Even though I did not find it to be amazing, it is a spot tourists should definitely stop by and try while in New Orleans. Just like the saying “when in Rome”, go to Café Du Monde and have some beignets when in New Orleans.
3. Central Grocery (923 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116)
It is the “Home of the Original Muffuletta”, which is an incredible sandwich. The Muffuletta starts with a large, round sesame bread. The contents include cured meats, cheese, and an olive salad. At Central Grocery, everything in the Muffuletta is fresh. The bread is excellent and soft. The cured meats and olive salad are the aspects of the sandwich that separate it from any other sandwich I have eaten. The cured meats are one, if not the best, I have had. On the other hand, I actually do not like eating olives. I was hesitant to try the Muffuletta because it has them. Nevertheless, even I thought the olive salad was delicious. The Muffuletta is huge. Half of a sandwich is more than enough for one person. Central Grocery is definitely another must try in New Orleans.
4. Cochon Butcher (930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
Cochon Butcher is the sandwich shop on the side of Cochon Restaurant. It is a great option if you want to try the brilliant food of Cochon without sitting down for a long meal. I also got a recommendation to go to Cochon Butcher instead of the restaurant because it is slightly cheaper so I can try more food. I extend the same advice. I ordered the pork belly sandwich and Brussel sprouts. I highly recommend both. The pork belly sandwich is out of this world good. It is my favorite item I ate during my trip to New Orleans. I have eaten a lot of different pork in my life. This sandwich might be the best pork dish I have ever had. The Brussel sprouts are also excellent. They are cooked so they are soft and have a nice char.
Technically, it is part of the Lower Garden District. However, it is north of the expressway so it is more CBD than Garden District to me.
5. Luke (333 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130)
Luke is a John Besh restaurant. It is known for their 75 cents oysters at Happy Hour, from 3PM-6PM every day. If you like oysters, this place is definitely for you. However, I tried Luke for breakfast. I ordered the chicken and biscuits. It was awesome. The challenge with fried chicken is that it is easy to dry out the meat. The best fried chicken is tender and juicy in the inside while maintaining the crispy skin on the outside. In this regard, Luke is on par with all the best fried chicken I have eaten. I have also been advised to use honey on fried chicken in the past. Until Luke, I refrained from doing so. However, Luke does not leave it up to you and it puts the honey on the chicken for you. I am glad it did because it was great. I also loved the biscuit. Like the chicken, it was soft in the inside and crunchy on the outside. The portion size is not huge. I was full but not stuffed. The dish also comes with grits. It is good but I am not a grits fan.
6. Stanley Restaurant (547 St Ann St, New Orleans, LA 70116)
It is a solid brunch spot on the top of Jackson Square and a couple of blocks from Café Du Monde. There was a line when I arrived but it was one of the most efficient processes I have experienced. Their online system texts you when your table is ready and allows you 5 minutes to return to the restaurant. Moreover, it links to a phone app, Nowait, so you can track how many parties are ahead of you in line. In total, it took less than 20 minutes for me to be seated with 7 parties ahead of me. The signature dish of Stanley is the Banana Fosters French Toast. The toast and foster sauce were fantastic. The toast was soft and the sauce was sweet and rich. It was topped off by sliced bananas, banana chips, and vanilla ice cream. The presentation of the dish was spectacular. In terms of the toast and Fosters sauce, I actually give an edge to Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar in the Garden District as discussed below. Nevertheless, the additional toppings and presentation were an equalizer that puts Stanley’s dish in the same class. In my opinion, the Bananas Fosters French Toast is a must try when you go to Stanley. My friend ordered the shrimp po boy. He noted it was good but not amazing. I also ordered an Italian soda, which are homemade. It is basically seltzer water with a hint of sweet flavor. It is not my thing but it is worth a try if it is your thing.
7. Mother’s (401 Poydras St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
It is a cafeteria style restaurant. You order first then find a table to sit and wait for your food to be delivered. During the weekend, I often saw a line out the door for prime breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Even when I went during an off hour, I waited on line for twenty minutes. I did not see nearly the same lines during the weekdays I passed by. On the other hand, the food arrives very quickly after you sit. You put your receipt on top of the table and the servers will find you. In my opinion, small number stands would make a little more sense so they could quickly see where to deliver the food but the servers found us. In terms of the food, I ordered the “World’s Best Baked Ham” and the jumbalaya. The ham is like regular ham. It is good but I would certainly not call it the World’s Best. The jumbalaya is awesome. The rice, chicken, and sausage work great together. Accordingly, I definitely recommend Mother’s if you are searching for jumbalaya.
8. Kingfish (337 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
It is a solid place to eat Southern dishes. The food is good. The décor is great. The inside of the restaurant looks great. I ordered a fish sandwich and gumbo. The fish was excellent. It was smooth and tender. I really enjoyed the gumbo. It was the first time I tried the dish. It reminds me of congee, which is a rice porridge dish and one of my favorite items at Chinese restaurants. Kingfish also features an alligator dish. I tried a piece and liked it. It is like a very tender, chewy pork.
9. Laura’s Candies (537 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
You will see a lot of bakeries/ candy shops in the French Quarter advertising pralines. They are basically cookies made out of nuts and caramelized sugar. Laura’s uses pecans. If I had to describe the pralines, they are in between a cookie and brittle. They are crunchy but soft enough to be considered a cookie. I tried samples at a couple of spots and Laura’s Candies definitely had the ones I favored. I loved the traditional and chocolate flavors. They are about $2 each and $24 for a dozen. I bought a box as a gift to bring home to my family. Of course, they are much better if you eat them within the first day or two.
10. Loretta’s Authentic Pralines (1100 N Peters St # 9, New Orleans, LA 70116)
It is a counter in the French Market, which is in the French Quarter and a couple blocks north of Café Du Monde. If you do not want to wait in line for Café Du Monde, Loretta’s is a great alternative. In fact, I like its beignets more. They are more expensive but Loretta’s injects praline filling inside its beignets. They are especially delicious when they are fresh and hot. Of course, it also sells pralines. It sells them in the size and shape of shoe soles. I sampled a piece. The pralines are good but Laura’s Candies are better in my opinion.
11. Hobnobber’s Variety Bar & Restaurant (139 Carondelet St, New Orleans, LA 7013)
It is literally a hole in the wall that I had a little difficulty finding because I did not spot the door that brings you to a small area near the back of the building. It is a great spot to grab some regular breakfast for $5-$6. It has eggs/ omelettes, sausages, hash browns, pancakes, grits, etc. I ordered a fried egg, sausage patty, hash browns [grilled potatoes version], and toast. Everything is very good. It also offers shrimp and catfish but those items are obviously more expensive.
2. Frenchman Street
A tour guide perfectly described the difference between Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street. Bourbon Street is for drunks, drag queens, and prostitutes. Frenchman Street is where the music is. I highly recommend Three Muses (536 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116), which is a gastropub on the street. The food is incredible. The mac and cheese is amazing. The cheese it uses is great and the dish comes out sizzling hot. Once I started eating it, I could not stop till I finished it. I have the dish ranked as good as any mac and cheese I have tried. It is in a tie with Beechers (locations in New York and Seattle). The pork belly and “Banh mi” Gulf Fish Tacos are excellent. The lamb sliders and sweet potato gnocchi with Louisiana crab are very good too.
Of course, Three Muses also has live jazz performances. The music is fantastic. I arrived at the gastropub ten minutes before it opened so I could get a seat at the bar immediately. It was a Sunday night and it still got busy for dinner in a hurry.
3. Garden District
1. Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130)
It is a legendary restaurant in the Garden District. It is the second best place I ate at in New Orleans after Restaurant August. At both restaurants, I ate one of the best meals I have ever had. Like Restaurant August, Commander’s Palace has a dress code. Like most of the other diners, I wore a suit without a tie. The property truly feels like a palace with its various dining rooms. I ate in the outside patio area in the middle of the complex. It is a great place to dine in good weather. I dined at Commander’s Palace for brunch. It is a prix-fixed three course meal with small surcharges for certain appetizers, entrees, and desserts. For my appetizer, I ordered the turtle soup. If you are wondering what turtle tastes like, it is similar to ground beef. Overall, the soup was delicious. My entrée, the Pecan Crusted Gulf fish, was incredible and the highlight of the meal. It included crushed corn cream, spiced pecans, petite herbs, and Prosecco poached Louisiana blue crab. The pecan crust was perfectly crunchy and crisp. The blue crab was great. The crushed corn cream added additional amazing taste to the dish. I cannot give enough superlatives to the dish. Finally, I ordered the signature dessert, the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. I appreciate that the serving of the dish requires precise timing. It is baked fresh so the soufflé stays risen. The waiter punctures a hole in the middle when he places it on the table to insert the warm whiskey sauce. The remainder of the sauce is left in the cup to use on the rest of the dish. The bread pudding is excellent. Nevertheless, I had a taste of the strawberry shortcake my friend ordered and I actually prefer that dessert. Commander’s Palace is an amazing spot for brunch. I am sure it is also phenomenal for dinner. It is a must try when you are in New Orleans.
2. Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar (1418 Magazine St. New Orleans, LA 70130)
This café is one of my favorite breakfast/ brunch spots anywhere. The Banana Foster’s French Toast is unbelievable. I loved everything about it. The toast is very soft and sweet. The banana cream inside and the Banana Foster sauce on top are incredible. They are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. I devoured the entire dish quickly. I rank the dish as one of four French Toast dishes that are above all others. I do not even want to rank them 1, 2, 3, 4. Instead, I will rank them 1, 1a, 1b, 1c:
Top 3 French Toasts:
- Blue Moon Café in Baltimore (1621 Aliceanna St, Baltimore, MD 21231): The Cap’N Crunch French Toast tops my list. Grinding cereal and using it to create a crunchy crust is genius. I also enjoy the fresh fruit on top.
- Blu Jam Café (7371 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046): The Crunchy French Toast features a cornflake crust. It also has berries on top. I slightly like the Cap’N Crunch French Toast better because I enjoy the Cap’N Crunch crust a little more.
- Surrey Café and Juice Bar: The Banana Foster’s French Toast is on par with both. I give the other two the thinnest of margins because I love the cereal crust. Nevertheless, the banana cream and Banana Foster sauce is an equalizer.
I also ordered a side of home fries. The potatoes had excellent seasoning and a nice crunchy skin. In addition, Surrey is a juice bar. I had a fresh squeezed orange juice. Is a large, 16 ounce juice really worth $6.50? Personally, I would not normally pay for it. However, I wanted to try a fresh juice since I saw great reviews for them. It was very good. Nevertheless, it is a lot more than I would want to pay for juice. I got to Surrey at 8 AM when it opens. The place is great so the seating will fill up quickly. On a Sunday, it was almost full by the time I left at 9 AM.
- Stanley Restaurant (mentioned earlier)
Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar have a slight edge with the toast and Fosters sauce. However, Stanley’s additional toppings (bananas, banana chips, and vanilla ice cream) and beautiful presentation is an equalizer.
3. The Creole Creamery (4924 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA)
I saw the Creole Creamery on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and knew I had to try it whenever I visited New Orleans. It did not disappoint. It is as good as any ice cream I have tasted. It features some unique flavors. There are a couple of samplers, 4 mini scoops for $4.50 or 6 mini scoops for $6, so that you can try a few flavors. Despite the name, the mini scoops are regular size scoops. I tried the cookie monster, café au lait, lavender honey, and black and gold crunch. The café au lait and black and gold crunch are my favorites. The black and gold crunch honors the colors of the New Orleans Saints. It is comprised of French vanilla & chicory root w/ Oreos & chocolate chips. It is as delicious as it looks and sounds. Moreover, I saw the “Skyscraper” featured on the Food Network. In a tall glass, it contains cookies & cream, chocolate and vanilla layered with caramel, hot fudge and crushed oreos served with whipped cream, sprinkles, a cherry, and a wafer. It is very good and $7.50. I tried it on my second visit to the Creamery. Nevertheless, I recommend getting one of the mini scoop samplers and trying multiple unique flavors instead.
4. Lilly’s Café (1813 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
The best Pho I have had was in Ottawa, the capitol of Canada. The only Pho spot I love in New York burned down and I am waiting for it to re-open. As such, I was happy to hear there is a large Vietnamese population in New Orleans. Lilly’s Café is one of the top places I saw on a list. I ordered the Pho Rare Flank and Brisket (Tai & Nam). In my opinion, the most important element of a great Pho is the broth. It gives everything in the bowl its flavor. Lilly’s Café has as good of a broth that I have tasted. The noodles and beef were very good. On the other hand, the bowl was more expensive than other bowls of Pho I have had. In addition, it is smaller than the ones I have ordered in Ottawa and my favorite one in New York. The raw bean sprouts were also sparse. I am accustomed to much more bean sprouts to boil in my soup. Despite these criticisms, Lilly’s Café definitely had the best Pho I have eaten since I was in Ottawa.
The Joint (701 Mazant St New Orleans, LA 70117)
Apparently, the barbecue scene in New Orleans is not great. Nevertheless, the Joint is a gem in New Orleans. I have not been to Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas so I cannot compare it to the best barbecue joints in the country. However, it is on par with the best barbecue I have had which is Dinosaur BBQ, specifically the original locations in western New York. I ordered the three meat combo and chose ribs, chicken, and pulled pork. The ribs fall right off the bone. My test for great barbecue chicken is whether it is tender enough for me to eat it just with a fork without a knife. It passes my test. Both the ribs and chicken also had great flavor. The pulled pork is solid but could have been slightly more, tender. In addition, I read great things about their sides and desserts. I had the potato salad which is good but not amazing. I was too full after the meat combo to try any other sides or the desserts.
If you want to walk there from the French Quarter, I recommend cutting through Crescent Park and walking to the end of it. It provides a great view of the river and will put you right by the Joint.
5. Other Amazing Eats
1. Willie Mae’s Scotch House (2401 St Ann St, New Orleans, LA 70119)
It is in the middle of nowhere next to a school. It was a 10-15 minute UBER ride from the French Quarter. The wait for Willie Mae’s was no joke. My friend and I arrived 20 minutes before it opened at 10 AM on a Monday morning. We were the second party on line. A healthy line formed up behind us about 10 minutes before opening. There are three rooms in the restaurant so there were still diners who could sit right away even though they did not get there before 10. I can imagine the lines being more intense on Saturdays [it is closed on Sunday]. Once you miss the initial seating, you will be waiting for a while. Even when you are seated, it is a 30-50 minute wait for your food. It takes some time for the servers to make it to every table and all the food is cooked fresh. It may not be the best spot if you are in a rush. However, it is great if you have time and willing to wait for better quality.
Is it worth the wait? I would say yes. The name of the fried chicken is “America’s Best Fried Chicken”. I am not sure if it is definitively the best fried chicken in the country. I love the Screen Door (2337 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214) and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (1600 Lenox Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139 and The Grand Canal Shoppes, 3355 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109). Those spots are a little fancier. Willie Mae’s is more casual. Nevertheless, Willie Mae’s certainly has a claim for the title. The skin is very crunchy. In addition, the inside side of the skin is flaky like a croissant. I have never eaten any fried chicken like it. Another critical test of great fried chicken is whether the meat is dried out inside. Willie Mae’s passed this test as the meat is moist. The fried chicken comes with a side. I ordered the mac and cheese and additional sides of fried okra and cornbread. They were all solid. My friend ordered the mashed potatoes. I grabbed a bite and it was the best side I tasted. I also had a sweet tea. It was good and very sugary. Without a doubt, Willie Mae’s is one of the most memorable spots in New Orleans.
2. LUCA Eats (7329 Cohn St, New Orleans, LA 70118)
It is in the neighborhood of Central Carrolton Association near the end of the St. Charles Avenue trolley line. If you are looking at the crescent shape of New Orleans, the Garden District is the southeast corner and LUCA Eats is at the northwest corner. I used UBER because it is an hour trolley ride from the French Quarter. I went to LUCA Eats for their famous oreo beignets. It is basically fried oreos with a beignet twist. In the past, I have not enjoyed fried oreos because they are mushy. However, LUCA Eats make them fresh to order. As a result, the oreo is soft and tasty instead of soggy. The dough and sugar complement the oreos perfectly. They are my personal favorite beignets in New Orleans. I definitely like them more than Café Du Monde. The brunch sandwiches also look great. If I had not just eaten at Willie Mae’s and just went to LUCA Eats to try the oreo beignets, I definitely would have ordered one. My friend ordered the white chocolate bread budding. I had a bite. It was good but nothing spectacular. Oreo beignets are totally the way to go.
If you are a coffee aficionado, New Orleans has some great coffee shops. Below is my ranking of the ones I tried with some comments.
1. Solo Espresso (1301 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117)
Solo Espresso definitely has the best coffee in New Orleans. It has the richest drinks and the best latte art. It is in Bywater and not really close to anything else. The shop is in the basement of a house in a residential neighborhood across from a school. It is almost 3 miles from the French Quarter. It took me 40 minutes to walk there and I had to cross the 4 lane St Claude Avenue. If you go, I recommend driving or using an Uber. Even though it is great coffee, I do not know if it is worth a round trip Uber ride just for a cup of coffee unless you really love coffee. Keep in mind that it closes at 3 PM and is not open on Sunday.
2. Hivolt Coffee (1829 Sophie Wright Pl, New Orleans, LA 70130)
Hivolt is an awesome coffee shop in the Garden District. The coffee is excellent. I also love the Cacao Smoothie, which includes a double shot espresso, banana, agave, raw cacao, and almond milk. It is a delicious smoothie that will also give you caffeine. Although I did not eat the food, it looked delicious. It is a coffee shop but is the size of a restaurant.
3. Cherry Coffee (2207 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130)
Cherry Coffee is a kiosk inside Stein’s deli. The coffee is on par with Hivolt. It is also only a 5 minute walk to Hivolt. You can easily try coffee at both places to compare and contrast.
4. Spitfire Coffee (627 St Peter St, New Orleans, LA 70116)
If you are looking for excellent coffee in the French Quarter, look no further than Spitfire Coffee which is just west of Jackson Square.
7. Honey Island Swamp Tour
If you have time, I highly recommend taking a boat swamp tour to see some alligators. The best time to see them is when it is warm so I would say May up to September. The biggest alligators are the first to hibernate in the fall and the last ones to return in the spring. I went on the tour at the end of November so only the smaller ones were around. I also got lucky because it was warmer later in the year than normal or even the smaller ones would not have been out. Surprisingly, alligators love marshmallows. The tour guides will extend them out to persuade the alligators to come near the boat and jump out of the water. Unfortunately, they are too lazy to do so when it gets colder.
There are many different swamps and companies to choose from in New Orleans. I really enjoyed Cajun Encounters (http://www.cajunencounters.com/) and the Honey Island Swamp. I paid a little extra for the option for them to pick me up in their bus from my hotel downtown ($56 versus $29 if you drive). It was definitely worth it. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and passionate. The alligators are obviously the highlight of the tour. The boat ride is a lot of fun too. There is also plenty of other wildlife to see from birds, crabs, turtles, to wild hogs. On my tour, there was a whole family of hogs which included some very cute babies. Like the gators, they also love the marshmallows but pigs will eat anything because they are pigs. In the swamp, you will also see plenty of Spanish Moss which grows on the trees and gives the swamp its dreary feel.
8. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (425 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112)
If you feel a little weird about taking a tour of a cemetery, you are not alone. I felt the same way. I would not have gone if another wedding guest did not suggest it. Ironically, I definitely recommend it. The tour guides are stationed at the gate. However, they need to take you across the street to collect the $20 fee because of a city ordinance. The burial process is unique in New Orleans because the city is below sea level. As a result, the tombs are buried above ground and then sink. Since it gets extremely hot in New Orleans, the bodies will basically be cremated naturally. The tour guides give a thorough explanation of the burial process.
The most famous of the cemeteries is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. There are a lot of famous New Orleans residents buried in it. The tour guides do an excellent job pointing out the famous and historic figures buried there. Some of the most noteworthy are Homer Plessy who was the plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case Plessy v Ferguson and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. There is an interesting urban legend about the tomb of Marie Laveau. If someone wants Laveau to grant them a wish, he should draw an X on the tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and yell out his wish. If it is granted, he needs to return to the tomb, circle his X, and leave Laveau an offering. Our tour guide gave us a funny warning not to do so. Since there has been issues with cemetery desecration; she noted that if you draw an X on the tomb, your wish is a $10,000 fine and jail time. She also did a great job explaining the history of the city. I love learning about history so the tour was very enjoyable.
You can reach St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 by taking a cable car or walking down Canal Street before turning north on Basin St. Definitely stay on those two main roads though. The side streets can be sketchy. We wandered down a side street going to the cemetery. We kept quiet and remained at a steady pace before we got back on Basin St.
1. City Park (1052 N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119)
City Park is the Central Park of New Orleans. It is massive. From the French Quarter, you can take a trolley to it on the street car line on Canal Street. Make sure you are on the trolley that is going to City Park. It will note it on the sign on the front of the trolley at the top. It is about a 40 minute ride. You can get off at and walk into the park on Dreyfus Avenue. I went to the park for a wedding at the Peristyle, which is a Greek/ Roman inspired columned porch. It provided a beautiful venue for the ceremony with a lake in the background. Of course, there are plenty of trails to run and bike. There are also other attractions such as golf, an amusement park, a Museum of Art, etc. (http://neworleanscitypark.com/in-the-park).
2. Audubon Park (6500 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70118)
Audoban Park is in the Garden District and across from Loyola University. It is another great park for running and biking. It has a 1.8 mile jogging trail with beautiful views of lakes and trees. I enjoyed a lap jogging around the trail. There are plenty of spots to sit, relax, and watch the birds. From the French Quarter, it is a 40 minute ride on the St. Charles Avenue trolley.
3. Crescent Park (N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70117)
Crescent Park is just east of the French Market in the French Quarter. The promenade runs along the Mississippi River for 1.4 miles. It is similar to the Riverwalk in the French Quarter. Crescent Park also has arches that allow you to enter and exit the park since they arch over railroad tracks. The top of the arches provide great views of the New Orleans skyline. However, they are obstructed by the buildings in front of it. At the arch on the west side closest to the French Quarter, you need to stick your phone and hands past the bars to get a better photo. If you do it, obviously hold on tight to your phone or it will fall onto the railroad tracks below. The best unobstructed views of the city skyline are at the pier on the west side of the park and Piety Wharf in the middle.
If it is not cloudy, it is a beautiful spot to look at the city. In the morning, there is a fog that covers the surface of the water. The sunset is also very pretty.
I stayed at the Courtyard New Orleans Downtown Near the French Quarter (124 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130). It was the hotel that was reserved for the wedding I was attending. It is modern and bright. My room was spacious and comfortable. My flight landed early and I arrived at the hotel much earlier than I expected. I appreciated the front desk finding me an open room so I could check in and put down my stuff immediately. Of course, the best aspect of this hotel is location, location, location. It is in a prime spot in the French Quarter with Canal Street at the end of the block and Bourbon Street a block away. Moreover, the St. Charles trolley line, to the Garden District, has a stop right outside of the hotel.
On my second trip to New Orleans, I stayed at Harrah’s. The hotel is across the street from the casino, with a connecting tunnel below the street level. The casino is very modern. I have been to the Harrah’s in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The one in New Orleans is definitely the superior one of the three. The hotel rooms also very modern and clean.
Obviously, there are plenty of hotels to choose from in the French Quarter. If I was using AirBnB, I would probably chose to stay in the Garden District.
10. Airport shuttle
There is an airport shuttle from Louis Armstrong Airport that is $44 round trip to the downtown hotels. I did not wait long for the shuttle to depart from the airport to my hotel. It will pick you up approximately three hours before your flight. The shuttle only makes sense if you are travelling solo. A cab is $36 fixed price and UBER is approximately the same price.