Dear Food Diary,
Tomorrow is the big day. Road trip to New Orleans for my best friend's daughter's 21st birthday celebration. I am not sure what to expect in New Orleans. I mean, I've never been to NOLA before. Crazy, right? How did that happen. Here I am, 40(ish) years old and about to embark on my maiden voyage to the Big Easy. Sure, I've heard a lot of stories about what happens there. Lots of beads, booze and boobs. I "think" my boob-flashing days are behind me, so not really sure what else there is to do. Besides eat. I've asked my friends on Facebook for their favorite New Orleans restaurants and got a huge response. Too many places. TBH, I am feeling overwhelmed. I guess I'll just wing it.
So really, yall...how did I make it the first 40 plus years of my life without visiting New Orleans? I've got a lot of catching up to do, and trip #2 is already in the works.
I have traveled to a lot of places in my life...New York. Los Angeles. Dothan, Alabama. But never have I been more overwhelmed by a city than I was in New Orleans. The smells, the sounds. More than that really. The city is this happy-sad place. Hard to describe unless you have been there, then you know what I'm talking about.
Regarding the food scene of the area, I honestly didn't know a whole lot of about it. Sure, I mean I "knew" about it. All my life I have read and heard of the glorious Creole food. The blend of cultures and cuisines from all over the world jumbled in one crazy place.
Until this trip, I just didn't "KNOW". This post is not even scratching the surface of the wonderful restaurants of New Orleans. There are over 1,200 places to eat in New Orleans. That's...over a THOUSAND. How does a NOLA Newbie pick and choose?
She wings it. In the city of just wingin' it.
NOTE: I am not a food critic. I'm a food lover. Generally, I have a positive outlook on everything, so don't read this post if you are wanting me to rip a restaurant to shreds, because it ain't gonna happen. .
Day 1 - Which New Orleans Restaurant do we go to first?
The Gumbo Shop
630 St. Peter Street // 504.525.1486 // www.gumboshop.com
After many long hours of driving from Tennessee, we were starving. We purposely did not eat much on the trip down because we were saving ourselves for the food of New Orleans.
Of course when you are traveling with more than one female, deciding WHERE to eat is always an issue. Especially in our crew. We've got one gal browsing through Yelp, one checking out the Facebook feed, one pouting in the corner and the other two are crying about being Hangry.
So we picked a place that sounded "New Orleans" that was within walking distance to our hotel.
The Gumbo Shop is a great choice if you are looking for a well-rounded restaurant to get all the local favorites. It was pretty crowded and we had to wait thirty minutes for a table, but it seems that's pretty common in the French Quarter. First order of business was getting cold adult beverages. We had a round of pina coladas and margaritas to toast our trip.
What I Ate: Crawfish + Tasso Penne Pasta
You'd think I'd grab the gumbo, but I opted for this YUMMY Crawfish + Tasso Penne Pasta in cream sauce. So freaking good and one of the best meals of the entire trip. I've never been a huge fan of crawfish because of the whole head + tail thing, but in this dish only the tender meat was used.
Tasso is almost like bacon, and is typically made from cured pork shoulder. It gave this pasta dish a smoky flavor that was so good. After a day of driving it really hit the spot.
I did get a chance to sample this New Orleans restaurant's namesake, the gumbo. The gumbo was a classic brown roux and loaded with ingredients. My friend opted for the seafood version and my daughter ordered the chicken and sausage. If I had to pick, I'd go with the chicken and sausage.
And do yourself a favor, order a triple order of the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp. It was so good and savory and buttery and you could literally drink the sauce with a straw. True story. One of our road trip crew did it.
718 St. Peter Street // 800.597.4823 // www.patobriens.com
By evening, our crew had grown from 5 people to 9 people. My daughter and I headed down to Pat O'Brien's early to try to get a table for the group. My mother recommended we check this place out because she didn't get a chance to on her last trip. Plus we had a lot of good reviews. Pat O'Brien's is the home of the famous Hurricane.
Personally I loved the whole atmosphere, as it offered indoor and outdoor dining. I will definitely be going back to check out more of their menu, because my meal was fantastic!
What I Ate: Shrimp and Grits
This was not your usual "shrimp and grits" dish. Check out the menu description above. It is hard for me to describe the deliciousness that was those grits, but I'm going to try. The grits were perfectly cooked and tender and blended with a creamy heavenly cheese. They were then pressed into a triangle mold, likely refrigerated to set up and then deep fried.
Yes, Deep Fried Grits! The two wedges of grits were served on top of a shrimp and vegetable stew mixture that was so good, I wanted to slap your mama. I'm still having dreams about this meal, ya'll. So good.
Day 2 - There aren't enough days in this trip to eat at all the NOLA restaurants.
Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur Street // 504.525.4544 // www.cafedumonde.com
Almost all of her life, my daughter Rachel has been dying to go to New Orleans and have real-deal beignets. And apparently, according to the locals and tourists worldwide, Cafe du Monde is THE place to do it.
They are open 24 hours a day, closing only for Christmas and the occasional hurricane. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes. The cafe is crowded, seat yourself and is open-air. That part sucked because it was so hot outside, but it was totally worth it.
What I Ate: Uh...Beignets.
This place is seriously cranking out some sugary sweet treats. These delicious fried dough delights come out loaded with powdered sugar and wait until you take a bite. So worth it. You can't make a trip to New Orleans without getting a pile of beignets.
The crisp outside of these French-style donuts is chewy on the inside and the way the sugar clings to the lightly greasy edges is the thing poems are written about.
We grabbed some chicory coffee to take home with us, because it was entirely too hot to be drinking coffee that day.
1122 Decatur Street // 504.566.6003 // www.bellesdinerneworleans.com
Belle's Diner was a pleasant surprise on our trip. One day my daughter and I were exploring the French Quarter on our own, and had walked over 4 miles. We were parched and in desparate need of some sweet AC.
We had made it down to the end of the French Quarter and ducked into this little diner tucked in the side of Decatur Street. The air was so cold and the drinks were sweet. We sat and cooled off, enjoying some adult beverages.
The longer we sat and watched the HUGE plates of food come out, the hungrier we got. We asked for a menu and the rest is history.
Belle's is walking into a 50's inspired soda shop. The staff was SUPER nice and friendly and bent over backwards for us. And the food...so good. Although Belle's was not on the list of New Orleans restaurants my friends had recommended, it was one of my favorite stops on the trip. I will be coming back and highly recommend it. It is a harder to find than some places, but worth a look.
What I Ate: Roast Beef Debris Fries
Ladies and gents, THIS is a plate of loaded french fries. This is the kind of meal you want either before a night of drinking or after a night of drinking.
The roast beef gravy was full of tender beef. Topped with lots of melty cheese and green onions, this is comfort divine. My daugher had a huge salad and it was also delicious. Great portions here and affordable prices. Plus everything tasted great.
Landry's Seafood House
620 Decatur Street // 504.581.9825 // www.landrysseafood.com
The evening of Day 2 was our last meal as a group. Many of our crew had to head home the next morning, and we all agreed after a day of swamp tours we wanted a nice evening meal near the river.
After a few searches we decided to catch an Uber down to Landry's Seafood House. Yes, it is within walking distance, but after a hard day of walking and alligator viewing in the heat, we all were down for a ride.
We picked a seat outdoors and were surprised by fireworks. It was the weekend before Independence Day, and the city of New Orleans tested their fireworks show just for us.
What I Ate: Housemade Blue Crab Cakes + Pimento Cheese Grits
They had me at pimento cheese. Seriously. I was waffling on several different items on the menu. I kept leaning toward pimento cheese grits because ...pimento cheese is my thing. One I found out the crab cakes were housemade, that sealed the deal.
This was a great meal. I am going to be recreating the pimento cheese grits soon on the blog and give it my own spin.
Oh, and the crab cakes were some of the best I've ever had. Shout out to the bar staff DOWNSTAIRS for that killer mojito, too.
Day 3 - Do we have to leave?
Court of Two Sisters
613 Royal Street // 504.522.7261 // www.courtoftwosisters.com
The Court of Two Sisters came VERY highly recommended by two of our well-traveled friends. This place is the epitome of New Orleans, to me. The light and bright dining area was full of laughter and music. Plus, they had the nicest staff ever. Our waiter was the best.
We did not order off of the menu, as they were having Sunday Jazz Brunch all you can eat buffet. Jazz and all the New Orleans cuisine you can eat? Yes, please.
The place was full of locals, too, which is always a great sign. I also spotted a quasi-famous person, but I could never place who it was. He is in the first part of the video at another table if you can help me out. White guy, dark hair, sitting next to a pretty blonde.
What I Ate: Literally Everything.
My meal started with a pleasant visit to the bar where we learned a lot about the local drink tradition. Our bartender, Zac, served us a variety of Two Sisters specialties, including one called "Gone With the Wind".
I insisted Zac serve my drink with a cherry, because I was sure that the concotion about to come out was a sweet drink that Scarlett O'Hara herself would have ordered.
Wrong. This drink was certainly a Rhett drink, cherry not-necessary and the name is very fitting. Strong stuff for the morning hour. (See image in top right corner above.)
I had two.
Now let's talk FOOD. Guys, this meal was so beyond brunch. Every Creole and Cajun signature dish was available, plus more I had never heard of. The plate below was my first trip and features sweet barbecue ribs on a bed of jambalaya, creamed spinach, mauque choux corn, and catfish stuffed with crab.
All that AND a biscuit.
Every. Single. Item that I tasted was so good. True Southern style cooking just like you would expect to enjoy in one of the South's most celebrated and storied cities.
When I come back to NOLA, this popular New Orleans restaurant is at the top of my list. Next time, I want to check out the actual menu.
The Gazebo Cafe
1016 Decatur Street // 504.727.5000 // www.gazebocafenola.com
Our last day in New Orleans was spent driving around the area, souvenir shopping, and making notes about what we wanted to do on our next trip. We received some pointers that the best time of year to visit is April. The weather is nice, Mardi Gras is over and it isn't as hectic as conference season in November.
One of the nicest resting places we found on the trip is The Gazebo Cafe. The cafe is located very close to the French Market and is a great watering hole to come to after walking around. Plus there is live music and sweet, sweet shade.
The Gazebo Cafe is the official home of the ice cream daiquri.
Ate Drank : Ice Cold Salty Margaritas
At this point in my New Orleans restaurant journey, I was hot and tired and couldn't even think about food. Seriously, all I needed was to chill and replenish my body's lost salt content. Therefore, the classic margarita.
However, The Gazebo Cafe offered great food items, and I'll check them out next time.
My BFF indulged in a cherry-chocolate ice cream daiquiri (shown above) and she said it was delish. Maybe next time,we will drink our way through the daiquiri menu.
Overall, this is a nice pit stop and the staff was super-friendly.
930 Poydras Street // 504.304.6615 // www.johnnysanchezrestaurant.com
All good things must come to an end, including our whirlwind crash course on New Orleans restaurants. Our road crew had dwindled down to just 3 of us on this last night and we all agreed we wanted Mexican food.
That's right. We are in New Orleans and we were in the mood for Mexican. After a few reviews and a wing-it attitude later, we decided to give Johnny Sanchez a try.
Freaking great call. Nothing "standard" about this place. If you are in the mood for "regular Mexican food", forget it. If you want original and creative Mexican food, then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.
What I Ate: Crispy Shrimp Fajitas + Jicama Slaw with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
I could eat at Johnny Sanchez every day. I should have known as soon as I figured out this restaurant is the brain child of celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez that it would be an adventure of flavor.
I went with shrimp to keep with my authentic New Orleans restaurant experience, but after that, nothing about this meal was to be expected. They even served fried crickets with the fresh guacamole.
My drink? An Oaxacan Sunrise cocktail made with Cazadores, passionfruit and hibiscus with a toasted coconut salted rim. (Insert happy face emoji here.) The main course was just as amazing, with the perfect crispy-fried shrimp served with a tangy, crunchy slaw. I was in foodie heaven.
I highly recommend this place and the items I ordered. However, the menu is rotated and always has inventive new Mexican creations.
To recap my trip: I did not have a bad meal the entire trip. Everything was fabulous, and the only thing I regret is that I didn't have more time to explore New Orleans restaurants even more.
More New Orleans travel tips from me to you. Keep in mind I've only been once, but I've got big plans to hit it up again.
- Stay in the French Quarter. It is worth the money to be downtown in all the action and close to the places you want to go.
- Whatever you have budgeted for food, just go ahead and DOUBLE it. It isn't that the food is terribly expensive, it is just that you will want to eat out every single meal.
- Eat something authentic at every restaurant. Skip the burgers. You an eat that when you get home.
- Tip well. Most of the servers are busting their butts for a living in that hot ass weather.
- Get off of Bourbon Street.
- Park your car and leave it parked. You don't want to drive. Walk, ride in a carriage, or Uber.
- Go during the middle of the week.
- Visit Cafe du Monde at night when it isn't as busy.
- Ask the locals for pointers on what to do and where to go.
- Check out Frenchmen Street. We tried to but then came a monsoon.
We would love to hear about your favorite New Orleans Restaurants so we can add them to our list. Leave us your recommendations in the comments below.