My mom was on extended project in New Orleans a few years ago so I would visit her on the long weekends. We would explore the best things in New Orleans and eat amazing food. A few years later on Black Friday, my boyfriend (now husband!) woke up with a wild hair. He said “Pack your bags. We’re going. You don’t need a lot, we’re only going two days.” Off we went to New Orleans. (8 hours. 8 long hours in a car. HELLO 1 hour flight, I love you.) The next year, we did it again! Sadly, we haven’t done it since. (It needs to be resurrected for sure.)
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Where to Eat in New Orleans
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen – It’s at the VERY end of the French Market but it is totally worth the trek. I know what you’re thinking. Pizza in New Orleans? Yes, pizza in New Orleans. The yummiest. My tummy is already rumbling.
Cafe du Monde – because benegiets. Duh. I’ve been to other benegiet cafes. No one compares to Cafe du Monde. Bonus points if you go in off-peak hours and people watch. Take your own water though; the ones they bring are too small for the number of benegiets you get.
Oceana Grill – Great open air restaurant and courtyard. Service was good. We tried the blackened alligator; it was pretty tasty. Crawfish etouffe and shrimp were both tasty. Crawfish pieces were a little small compared to other restaurants, but red beans were good. Solid choice with a vast menu.
Camellia Grill – This gem is near Tulane and the lines for brunch on the weekend are crazy!! Go early, don’t worry about the calories, and enjoy. It’s been around for a long time; that many people can’t be wrong! 😉
Acme Oyster House – I like this place better than Felix’s across the street. Everything seemed fresh. The portions are huge, the seafood is fresh, and it’s not super fancy. It’s a great option for lunch or dinner.
Pat O’Briens – for a hurricane and to see the magic fire in the courtyard. Beware: my dad says the drunkest he’s ever been involves Pat O’Briens and hurricanes while visiting my sister at Tulane. Proceed with caution.
My Favorite Restaurant in New Orleans
Emeril’s Nola – for a fancy meal! I’ll give you a full review of this one.
We were immediately introduced to our three waiters who doted on us from arrival to departure. We were shown the wine list, and the servers made recommendations based on our likes/dislikes. The house Riesling was pretty good. We ordered the pocket bread with garlic, basil and parmesan for an appetizer, but the bread basket offered cornbread and focaccia. The onion focaccia was fantastic! The bread server came around several times and it was always piping hot and fresh.
The pocket bread was very light for a bread appetizer and it was extremely tasty. The flavors complemented each other nicely. For entrees, we ordered the grilled pork porterhouse and the southern fried chicken. The pork porterhouse was absolutely incredible. The reduction sauce was perfect; the caramelized onions and pecans were a nice touch. Sweet potatoes were soft but not overcooked. Portion sizes were quite large. The chicken, which was served over a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, was also good, but it paled in comparison to the pork. The serving size for it was even larger than the pork tenderloin. Very tasty, but the pork was just incredible.
For dessert, I ordered the banana pudding layer cake, which was especially tasty. It tasted just like the dessert I enjoyed so much at my great grandmother’s house!! Everything was fresh and served cold – just like banana pudding should be.
I expected Nola to be more expensive, but the total for everything – a couple glasses of wine, appetizer, two entrees, desserts, and an after dinner drink – came up just short of $110. It’s an incredible value for the food, service, and ambiance. The décor reminded me of Chelsea Market in New York City. While not overly romantic, it seems to fit Emeril’s theme. Service was efficient, friendly, and we never felt rushed by our servers.
A Few Best Things to Do in New Orleans
Joe Dunn – my favorite gallery. He does landscape photography of beautiful cities. We bought one of his pieces for my sister. I secretly covet all of his work, but my family says that I can take pictures and frame my own. Hrmph. (Go to all the galleries on Royal Street – love gallery-hopping in NoLA)
French Quarter Walking Tour – We did the evening tour and it was SO good. Our guide was super knowledgeable about the city’s history. We learned so much that I even bought a book he recommended! It was a bit cold and wet the evening we went, so our group was really small. We didn’t have headsets, so I think they try to keep the tour size small. Side note – the reflections and colors in the rain are absolutely magical in New Orleans… don’t let the rain scare you!!
Louisiana State Museum – Katrina Exhibit – This was extremely difficult for me to experience, but I’m really glad we went. It really gave me a better perspective on where we failed, how resilient the city is, and what people went through during Hurricane Katrina. It left me quite contemplative and unsettled though. I don’t envy the people who had to make the tough decisions during Katrina. At all.
Audubon Park and Zoo – Take the St. Charles Street Car over here – the streetcar is a classic New Orleans experience… and Audubon Park is gorgeous!! It’s very peaceful. You can always wander around Tulane too! It looks totally different than I expected, but it’s gorgeous!
French Quarter / French Market – Just wander around. Best people watching ever. The architecture is amazing – I love all the balconies. There are stories about the balconies; really, take the tour. It’s fascinating! Side note: The French Market was CRAZY during Running of the Bulls, but it was a fun atmosphere!
Jackson Square – We loved the church and spent a lot of time enjoying the art inside. There’s a lot to see. People watching, particularly with the psychics in the evening, can be especially entertaining.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Courtyard French Quarter (St. Charles) – This is a great hotel because of the size of the room and the location. It’s classic Courtyard fare. The location is FANTASTIC – it’s far enough away so that noise isn’t an issue, but it’s close enough to be able to walk everywhere. There is a stop for the St. Charles street car within a block or two. Our room was very large, especially by New Orleans standards, and it had a balcony overlooking the street. We had easy access to the galleries on Royal Street and could be in Jackson Square within 10 minutes on foot or by taking the street car that stops in front of Harrah’s/Hilton. The staff was friendly. They did warn us to give valet plenty of time to pull our car around as they were sharing a garage with another property a few blocks away. No problem – we didn’t need/want our car until it was time to go anyway.
JW Marriott New Orleans – This room was more romantic than the Courtyard, so we definitely enjoyed the ambiance. They offered us complimentary water bottles at the valet stand and the bellhops had our bags up within minutes. (Enter on the Common Street rather than Canal.) Our standard room was a decent size, but the bathroom was pretty small. I wish they would put in a stand-up shower for efficiency but we managed. Everyone at the hotel was super friendly and they were extremely accommodating – from sending up extra towels to sending up spoons for our ice cream. No request was treated with disregard. I loved sinking into the cloud-like bed every night. Housekeeping never bothered us, even though we had a tendency to sleep in pretty late. The JW is two blocks from Bourbon Street, one block from Royal Street, and far enough away from the noise that the rooms are pretty quiet. We had no problem walking to Jackson Square in less than 15 minutes, and you could grab the St. Charles streetcar right outside the hotel.
Wyndham Riverfront Hotel (now an Omni) -The hotel is located directly across from the Convention Center, a few blocks from Harrah’s, and a few blocks from a street car stop. It’s not quite as charming as the French Quarter area; it backs up to a more industrial area. That being said, it’s a nice enough hotel. The staff at the front desk is friendly. (I love people in New Orleans!) It seems as if they have combined several buildings, so you may have to navigate up and down stairs within your hallway. Hallways are dark, but everything is clean. The beds are comfortable with LOTS of pillows. Bathrooms are average with decent water pressure. Maid service is prompt and friendly. We ran into the maid when we ran back to the room to drop some things off, and she gave us lots of hints and friendly advice on sightseeing! There are Bath and Body Works amenities in the room. The biggest disappointment was that the internet is not wireless and it’s expensive! I wouldn’t have minded as much if it had been wireless, I suppose. The air conditioning worked REALLY well, which was refreshing after the New Orleans humidity. As a whole, this is a solid hotel with standard rooms. Book it for the right rate.