The Big Easy. Capital of Creole culture and cuisine. Host to iconic celebrations like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Synonymous with spirited revelry.
It’s a city with millions of admirers, but until recently, we hadn’t really hit it off. As a traveler who thrives on adventure and discovery, I had always considered New Orleans to be found, claimed—known. But after a recent weekend spent exploring this vibrant, culture-drenched city, I finally fell in love like I’d always wanted to. Here’s my quick guide for where to go, where to sip, and what to eat. As they say, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Walk into any restaurant, and you’re greeted by a symphony of sound—the hum of casual conversation and laughter, the occasional clatter of knives and forks against porcelain, and the up-tempo hisses and bangs of the kitchen. It’s the soundtrack of the shared meal, and nowhere is it more soothing than Domenica. Italian for “Sunday,” this bustling restaurant manages to be casual without being pedestrian, sophisticated without being pretentious. Chef Alon Shaya has crafted a menu showcasing rustic Italian flavors, which he layers and weaves together with precision and passion. Start with the Affettati Misti, a selection of cured artisanal meats and cheeses that arrives with a basket of impossibly flaky, pork-fat fried savory beignets, then move on to their handmade pizza or pastas. Just be sure to save room for dessert; Pastry Chef LisaMarie White (the 2014 Louisiana Cookin’ Chef to Watch who is responsible for those savory beignets) offers an ever-evolving menu of decadent creations that are worth every sweet bite.
Find it: 8123 Baronne Street
Pêche Seafood Grill
In a city known for white-tablecloth dining, this hot spot keeps things refreshingly fun and casual. Crystal chandeliers dangle against a backdrop of exposed brick and reclaimed timber beams, setting a gorgeously eclectic stage for an unforgettable dining experience. With its walk-up raw bar and open-hearth grill, Pêche pulls you in and makes you feel like you’re part of the culinary experience. It’s more than ambience—it’s an immersion in the passion and energy of the kitchen. Chef Ryan Prewitt is swimming in accolades, from being named a Chef to Watch by Louisiana Cookin’ magazine to winning a James Beard Award. After several meals here, I’m joining his fan club, too. His whole Gulf fish comes crackling off the flames, doused with lemon and soaking up the flavor of fresh herbs. His pan-fried Brussels sprouts with chili vinegar are some of the best I’ve had, but it’s the buttery, sea salt-encrusted bites of crispy bread that get me into real deep-fried trouble.
Find it: 800 Magazine Street
Uncovering this hidden gem made me feel like a culinary Indiana Jones. Here’s how to find it: Walk into the Erin Rose bar, and keep going until you see the skull and crossbones logo. (Don’t be scared—a closer look reveals that the “bones” are actually French bread loaves.) Trust me, these folks chose their name wisely because their po’boys are dangerously good. Their twists on the classic sandwich include rum-ginger glazed pork belly, coriander-lime grilled shrimp, and five-spice beef meatloaf. Be sure to hit the ATM before you go—Killer Po’boys is cash-only, and you’re going to want to eat more than one. We had three.
Find it: 811 Conti Street
The saffron-yellow walls of this French bakery are just a tease of the butter-rich pastries that beckon from the display cases. The croissants are a local favorite, but you’ve got to try the galette des rois, literally, the cake of kings. This is no Technicolor sprinkle-coated coffee cake—their version is made with buttery puff pastry and rich almond filling. They’ve even traded the standard plastic baby with a tiny porcelain doll and topped the cake with a gold fleur-de-lis crown. Don’t miss it during Mardi Gras season.
Find it:4600 Magazine Street
If you’ve hit all the spots I’ve recommended (and had as much fun as we did), chances are you’re going to need a strong cup of coffee to get you going in the morning. There are too many quaint local shops to list, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention CC’s Coffee House, owned and operated by the fourth-generation, family-owned Community Coffee company. With locations all over the city, it’s the perfect way to jump-start your day.
Find it: find locations at ccscoffee.com
New Orleans is brimming with casual, Mardis Gras bead-bedecked bars, but Cure is altogether different. More of a classy cocktail lounge than a watering hole, this swanky apothecary takes the art of the mixed drink to a seriously sophisticated level. Meticulous mixologists craft each adult beverage to order, choosing from a hoard of spirits, tinctures, and techniques to create a truly unique sipping experience. If you’re wandering around the heart of Uptown and you’re in the mood to feel fancy, this is definitely the place.
Find it: 4905 Freret Street
Indulge yourself with a little window-shopping at this emporium of culinary collectibles. The fine antiques are simply dazzling, from intricate silver and china patterns to 19th century French copper molds. Don’t be alarmed by the price tags—this is a carefully curated collection intended for connoisseurs. Luckily, it doesn’t cost a penny to look.
Find it: 610 Chartres Street
If you’ve never been to New Orleans, there are a few sights you have to cross off your list—otherwise your friends will never let you hear the end of it. Take a streetcar (just $1.25 for an adult fare) and you can hit just about all of these hot spots.
Dueling piano bar + Hurricanes
Audubon Zoo & Aquarium of the Americas
The only places wilder than Bourbon Street
Galleries + Boutiques + Antiques
Stunning Greek Revival and Gothic homes
St. Paul’s Cathedral + Café DuMonde +
The French Market (just a few steps away)