New Orleans is hands down my favorite city in the United States. Aside from its rich cultural heritage, stunning architecture, and delightfully lax liquor laws, it’s the birthplace of Cajun & Creole cuisine and boasts some world-class food. One of my best friends moved there a few years ago, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit three times now. Every time I visit NOLA they practically have to roll me onto my flight back home, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So far I’ve been able to explore the French Quarter and the nearby Garden District, but I still haven’t even scratched the surface of all the incredible restaurants in NOLA. New Orleans does food BIG. Think decadent three-course brunches, 25-cent cocktails (!!) and more butter than your arteries can handle. You basically can’t go wrong, but I’ve listed my favorites (so far) here.
STOP 1: Drive-Thru Daiquiris (!!) at New Orleans Original Daiquiri
Welcome to New Orleans, where handing a 32-oz liquor milkshake to a customer through their driver’s side window raises no red flags. Whenever my friend grabs me from the airport, I insist that we stop immediately at my favorite daiquiri stand, which is just off highway 10 as you’re heading towards the city. One of my favorite things about NOLA is that you can drink anywhere – in your friend’s car, on the street, wherever – so pretty much the second I get off the plane I feel the need to exercise this newfound freedom.
The piña colada is amazing, but it is also potent – like most touristy drinks in NOLA, it’s a comically oversized sugar bomb. Seriously, do not drink it until you are safely parked!! Not that you should drink anything while you’re driving, but especially don’t drink this. Unless you’re a passenger, in which case you can accidentally get trashed while your friend chauffeurs you around the city (thanks Alyssa <3).
STOP 2: Surrey’s Juice Bar & Cafe
Shrimp & grits ($13.75)
I’ve been to Surrey’s three times, and still only managed to order one thing on the menu – it’s that good. The shrimp are cooked beautifully in a decadent, buttery sauce, the grits are creamy and delicious, and the bacon is perfectly crispy. For assholes like me who care too much about their Instagram, I think this is the most gram-friendly shrimp & grits in town thanks to the unique plating and kitschy decor.
Surrey’s is always packed with people and there’s usually a wait, but the surrounding area is super cute. The restaurant is located in the adorable Garden District, so you can walk off all the calories later, or take a quaint streetcar ride through the streets to take in the scenery. The Garden District is full of huge old mansions and beautiful ironwork, so it’s perfect for exploring.
STOP 3: Willie Mae’s Scotch House
3-piece fried chicken + 1 side ($15)
My friend dislikes fried chicken, to the point that one of our only fights ever was over me desperately craving fried chicken, and her wanting something else for dinner lol. Needless to say, I hadn’t been able to sample any on my previous visits. I finally managed to get to Willie Mae’s this trip (while my friend was at work, lol) and it was 100% worth the wait!!
This is, for sure, the best fried chicken in the world. The breading is impossibly crispy and a beautiful golden brown, perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of heat. The chicken is flavorful, juicy, and the portions are generous. I would probably (okay, definitely) kill someone for this chicken. I’m not sure what they put in the breading (crack, tbh) but I’m literally salivating just thinking about it, so they are definitely doing something right.
STOP 4: Café Du Monde
Beignets (order of 3, $2.14) & café du lait ($2.14) – Cash only!
Yes, this place is touristy. But you still need to go. Café Du Monde is known for its beignets and café du lait, which in my opinion are the best in the city despite the big name. They run a smooth operation – you never have to wait more than a few minutes for your food. The beignets come fresh, piping hot, light as a cloud, and smothered in a literal mountain of powdered sugar. Try not to inhale while biting, or you will choke and cough a cloud of sugar all over your friends/stuff/table… I know from experience 😐
Café du Monde is open 24/7, so you have no excuse not to go. I love rolling in there sleepily at 7 am on my way to the airport, and visiting at off-hours means the vibe is a little less frenetic without the hordes of tourists. It seriously is the best spot for a quick, decadent, utterly satisfying breakfast. I consider any trip to New Orleans wasted without at least one stop here.
STOP 5: Antoine’s
3-Course Lunch ($20.17) + 25 CENT COCKTAILS (HOW IS THIS LEGAL?!!)
Antoine’s is the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and still features much of the original decor from its founding in 1840. It has 14 dining rooms and they are all airy, classic, and covered in photographs of the various celebrities and politicians who have visited. Antoine’s has a fantastic 3-course lunch special Monday through Friday, where they also offer 25-cent drinks (a limit of 3 per person)!!! The food is incredible, and you get a healthy buzz going for 75 cents… Not a bad deal.
I did think that the service here was lacking. My waiter basically threw my food onto the table, and he dropped my check on the table without a word. But the food made up for it, and honestly he could probably have thrown the food on me and I still would have stayed to finish my 25-cent cocktails.
STOP 6: Sucré
French Macarons ($17.50/box of 8)
My friend has been living in NOLA for three years now, so she’s basically a local. I had a day alone to explore while she was at work, and she recommended a stop at Sucré, which is apparently the best macaron spot in the city. All the flavors are amazing – the macarons are perfectly baked, pillowy, and melt-in-your-mouth smooth on the inside. Surprisingly, vanilla (the lame, awkward loser of dessert flavors) was the star of the box, but they were all totally delicious. I wished I had gotten two boxes.
The store itself is really cute, with charming patterned floors and endless rows of bon-bons, macarons, and other goodies! Sucré’s packaging is adorable and they sell ready-made boxes, so they’re the perfect spot to grab a gift to take home!
STOP 7: Brennan’s
Bananas foster ($10 per person)
Brennan’s is a NOLA legend famous for its Bananas Foster (the dish was invented here!). It’s a super simple dish – consisting of flambéed bananas, a caramel rum sauce (made of banana rum, brown sugar, and butter), and vanilla ice cream – but it’s decadent and absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, it also photographs like complete garbage (at least when you’re tipsy and forget to focus your camera), so you get a picture of the super cute exterior instead.
The showmanship here is what really gives you a taste of New Orleans. Waiters in adorable suits (literally so cute. They wear bubblegum pink ties. I die) flambé your bananas for you tableside while explaining the origins of the famous dessert. It’s fun, exciting, and slightly terrifying to have a huge column of fire crackling right next to your table – the dish is a real showstopper. We get Bananas Foster every time I visit and it never gets old.
STOP 8: SUNDAY BRUNCH (Anywhere!)
Pictured: SoBou. Also recommended: Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, Brennan’s ($35-$50)
Sunday brunch in NOLA is serious business. Boozy brunch was popularised by Ella Brennan of Brennan’s (I watched a documentary on her recently and it was fascinating! She’s a superstar), and everyone’s just sort of run with it. All the restaurants bust out live jazz music and extravagant prix-fixe menus. Most places will offer a three-course brunch! You get to pick an entree, a main, and a dessert from a set menu, and there’s always a solid selection of cocktails. It’s a great excuse to get dressed up, get tipsy, and stuff your face all before noon.
New Orleans is by far my favorite culinary destination anywhere in the world. If you love food and you haven’t been there yet, GO. You are missing out on a lot of calories, a lot of booze, and a lot of food that’s good for the soul!