Everything you need to know about where and what to eat in the Big Easy.
There is a famous story, recounted in the foreword of my regional Junior League cookbook, about the Louisiana Creole who died and went to Heaven. Once he realized that there was no jambalaya on the hallowed menu, he swiftly departed— "proving that a Louisianan will gladly go to Hell for a dish of jambalaya."
Fortunately, you don't have to go to hell to get your hands on some of the best food you'll ever eat. You just have to pay a visit to New Orleans!
Located in New Orleans' pretty Garden District, Commander's Palace is where locals go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and life's special occasions. The service is impeccable—we had so many waiters I felt like royalty—and the upscale, haute Creole food is often recognized as some of the best in the U.S. and certainly New Orleans. The menu is pricey, but put on your prettiest strand of pearls and order the gumbo, goat cheese grits, and bread pudding soufflé for a life-changing meal that won't break the bank.
Commander's Palace | 1403 Washington Ave.
Antoine's is to the French Quarter what Commander's Palace is to the Garden District. Beloved by locals, it has been serving delicious Creole food since 1840 and claims the honor of being the oldest family run restaurant in the U.S. (they're on the fifth generation of ownership). Many of the 14 rooms in the maze-like restaurant celebrate the history of Mardi Gras and are filled with wonderful photos and memorabilia. All of them ooze with old-world charm that make you feel like you're from one of New Orleans' finest families—even if just for one meal. If you don't feel like splurging on dinner here, try the lunch special (25 cent martinis!) or order the soft shell crab po' boy from the Hermes Bar.
Antoine's | 713 Saint Louis St.
Cafe Du Monde
I usually try and avoid places with more tourists than locals, but Cafe du Monde is too iconic to pass up. The historic cafe has been serving beignets, puffy French-style donuts covered liberally in powdered sugar, since 1862. Be sure to walk around to the back (the side closest to the river) to catch a glimpse of how these famous beignets get made. If you can handle eating the sugary treats more than once during your stay, switch things up and try Cafe Beignet too. Many locals say they have the best beignets in town.
Cafe du Monde | 800 Decatur St.
Mother's is a no-nonsense restaurant that first opened in 1938. Embracing its history as a favorite of longshoreman, laborers, and the Marines, it's one of those places that is too confident in their food to bother much with ambience. The people who take your order have that brusque manner unique to divey restaurants that have become embedded in a city's DNA, that attitude that makes you feel like ordering is some kind of initiation test where only a few lucky people are granted the prize of their food. It's totally worth it, though, because the food is out-of-this-world. There's a long list of delicious things to order, but their jambalaya and crawfish étouffée are my favorites and will have you dreaming about them long after you've finished.
Mother's Restaurant | 401 Poydras St.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
It'd be a sin to go to New Orleans without eating at least one po' boy and in my very scientific opinion (I did extensive research for you) this casually trendy place in Treme has the best ones, hands down. Get the fried shrimp, fried oyster, or roast beef version and order it "dressed" with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern | 538 Hagan Ave.
Pralines are sold everywhere you look in New Orleans, but most of them aren't made on-site and many of them aren't even made inside the states (clutch those pearls, girls!). So when a native of NOLA told me that Leah's Pralines are the only pralines he would eat, I got over there as fast as I could. The cute little store has been open since 1933 and has been run by the same family for three generations. The pralines are made right there in the back and are just about heaven on earth. And because I don't believe in indulging in moderation, go crazy and try the pecan brittle too!
Leah's Pralines | 714 Saint Louis St.
St. Roch Market
This trendy food hall is a personal favorite. Originally built as an open-air market in 1875, it barely survived the Depression and stood empty for a decade after Hurricane Katrina. Today, it's home to a charming patio, expertly crafted cocktails, and 13 vendors who serve everything from crepes to Creole-style comfort food. It feels like a world away from Bourbon Street, in the best way possible, and is the perfect spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat en route to dancing the night away at Frenchmen Street.
St. Roch Market | 2381 Saint Claude St.
This buzzy restaurant feels like eating at a friend's rowdy block party. It's an explosion of colors, noise, and flavor. Parties of four or less are seated on a first-come, first-served basis, but you can drink while you wait so it isn't all that bad. I've never heard anyone do anything but rave about every single item on the menu, so I don't think you can go wrong. My recommendation would be the shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake (trust me!) and blackened redfish.
Jacques-Imo's Cafe | 8324 Oak St.
The Court of Two Sisters
Jazz brunches are a New Orleans specialty and this spot—while admittedly a little touristy—has one of the prettiest courtyards in the French Quarter. The price is steep, but it's all-you-can-eat and you get to do it while being serenaded by a lovely jazz band. I loved trying things I normally wouldn't order, like the delicious turtle soup, and tasting yet another iteration of gumbo and jambalaya. I also liked that I didn't have to choose between bananas foster and bread pudding (and that the waitress didn't judge me when I had no problems whatsoever finishing them both). I'm not the only one who thinks this brunch buffet is a good idea, because it won second place in the Southern Living Reader's Choice Awards for Best Brunch Restaurant in the South.
The Court of Two Sisters | 613 Royal Street