What is it about New Orleans that keeps you coming back time after time?
Hands down it is one of the most exciting cities in the US. There is really something for everyone there whether you travel for the love of food, history, culture or a just a good time. The fact that the city has survived fires, flooding and hurricanes and still thrives is a testament to the people and the prevailing tenacity of a city that refuses to be put to down to rest, even while still be the pure definition of its loving nickname, “The Big Easy.”
Greg and I recently took a trip post Mardi Gras to our beloved city, not quite knowing what to really expect in this weird in between time of things opening back up, yet not quite really being open. We were expecting to find several things closed, as our arrival was only shortly following the city shutdown enforced for Mardi Gras this season. Fortunately, we were truly lucky in our timing. The city had just announced the Tuesday prior to our weekend arrival that all bars could return to max capacity and regular hours. Not only was New Orleans fully opened, the city was revived and going off, much to our surprise and delight!
If you’ve not been to this incredible place and are looking to break your post pandemic blues, I’d highly recommend bumping this destination up on your bucket list.
So here are some things we love about the city and would like to share with you.
As I said, there are literally SO MANY things to do in NOLA. Our favorite thing is eating. It’s the one place we go to where we eat, just to try things, and not necessarily because we are hungry. It’s not a practice I’d recommend, as it’s certainly not friendly to the waistline, which is why I could never live there either, much to the gratitude of my health and heart. But I digress…Truly, the list of good places to choose from are far too many to list here, so I’m only going to suggest two places, one of which is a must stop for us every time we visit and another of which we tried for the first time this past trip. If you are looking for more suggestions for your upcoming trip, please contact me, as I’d love to be of help, and consider this an area of some expertise (Jaime@DreamscapeTraveler.com).
Arnaud’s: This is our MUST! I’ve never once been let down at this restaurant. They are family owned and currently managed by the fourth generation of Casbarians. The original founder in 1918 was a French Wine salesman. This generation of owners, Katie and Archie, stay committed to bringing the best quality Creole cuisine to the city. The service is impeccable, and the food devastatingly good.
My favorite is the Filet Almandine, which I believe has to be the BEST in all of New Orleans. I’ve tried in at least 6 different other well-known restaurants, where it is a featured item, but no one does it quite like Arnaud’s, who loads the filet with perfectly roasted almonds, just enough hint of lemon, and the NOLA standard of butter. My husband had the veal for the first time this past visit, and it melted in your mouth, full of flavor and richness. We’d also recommend a signature dish to start, the Shrimp Arnaud, and another classic, Crab Claws Provencale.
If you decide not to eat here, at least check out Richelieu Bar, which is adjacent and inhabits one of the oldest structures in the city, as well as maintains a very cool vibe, with a curated menu, from the more extensive offerings in the main restaurant. I have one final note here for all of you French 75 lovers (yes I’m thinking of you Miranda and Ellen ;)). They also have a special French 75 Bar (previously rated as Top 5 bars in America) dedicated to this classic cocktail, where you can try variations of the 75, along with other hand crafted beverages.
Palace Café: This was a new one for us to try on this last trip, and it exceeded expectations, especially given its rather gaudy gold marquee on Canal Street. The restaurant is owned by Dickie Brennan, a member of one of the best known and locally famous restaurateur families of NOLA.
We ate in the elegantly appointed main dining room on ground level, beneath the grand, spiral staircase for brunch. Not only did we enjoy the food, but our waitress was an absolute hoot! She was joining right in on the playful banter we were throwing around the table amongst my husband, mom, aunt, and I. She alone, made the experience for us, as she strongly encouraged us to order the crab cheesecake (yes, I know, and had the same reaction).
Holy smokes! It blew my mind… I immediately asked for the recipe, which they will give you with the purchase of a cookbook, but all the while, really knowing that I’d have to return to this restaurant for what I can only describe as a decadently divine, culinary experience. Not everyone at the table (mom and aunt) were as convinced, but Greg and I gobbled up that dish with the gusto of Shakira’s hips in, “These Hips Don’t Lie.”
The other mind-bendingly good item I’d recommend is the Bananas Foster cocktail. Don’t save your calories for the actual dessert, rather save your calories for one of these adult milkshakes. I promise you won’t be sorry. Were they not so filling, I would have happily made this my cocktail of choice for the rest of the weekend.
Take a FUN tour!
Over the course of our many trips to NOLA, we’ve taken a wide breadth of tours, from the Ghost and Vampire genre, to a NOLA cocktail tour, to food tasting, carriage rides, cemetery and Garden District architectural tours. However, if you only have time or tolerance for one tour, make it the Saints and Sinners Tour. The name kind of says it all.
Phantom Tours does an excellent job of distilling down a handful of entertaining, if not funny, truly disturbing, stories of the hundreds of characters that have defined and shaped the city’s history.
This two hour walking tour will take you through the heart of the French Quarter and deliver some laughs, as well as, some genuine surprises, at the many people that have called the city home. And, if nothing else, this tour really helps to put into context the culture of the city, even in its present day, though most of the stories occur several decades, if not centuries ago.
Indulge in a favorite cocktail and check out some local music!
Alas, we’d be remiss not to mention the drinking culture of the city. It is an open carry, open your wallet, and open your inhibitions kind of town. The latter, some people can take too far… If you’ve been to Mardi Gras folks, you hear me. Anyhow, have as classy or as rowdy of a time as you desire in the place that claims to be where the modern cocktail was invented. Whether or not that claim to fame can be disputed, what is undeniable, is that both the Hurricane and Sazerac originated here, and for those of you that have had the luck or misfortune, to imbibe one of these proud NOLA creations, you understand the city’s commitment to bacchanalian behaviors.
Some of our favorite hangouts include The Carousel Bar and Bombay Club, both of which are classier joints, but as the night commences, Pat O’Brien’s is a rowdy good time, and we love to hit up Frenchman Street for great music and a less rachet crowd than what Bourbon serves up.
Where to stay?
There are lots of great options, but one cardinal rule, don’t stay anywhere actually inside the French Quarter, unless you don’t plan to sleep. We made the mistake of staying at a cozy historic hotel near Jackson Square once, and between the revelry that died down around 4:00 am and the garbage truck that started at 5:00 am, we didn’t catch many Zzz’s.
This last time, we stayed at the International House, which was a lovely boutique experience. We had a beautiful room, were within walking distance of the quarter, without the all night hoopla, enjoyed the famous artwork displayed in the hotel (a full sized Banksy in the lobby!) and the friendly service.
We will be back to stay there for sure. You can check out more on the hotel below.
Want more information?
If I can help you plan your trip to The Big Easy, I would be delighted! Please contact me at Jaime@DreamscapeTraveler.com