New Orleans is chock-full of incredible eateries, and each packed with plenty of character and charm. However, with so many dining options out there — and so many different foods to try (think staples like chicken and waffles, fried po’ boy sandwiches, gumbo, and hearty jambalaya) — first-time travelers may find it challenging to narrow down the best dining spots in The Big Easy.
What’s on your New Orleans culinary bucket list? Are you on the hunt for the best under-the-radar spots or off-the-beaten-path craft cocktail bars? Alternatively, are you looking to dine at every single one of the Crescent City’s Instagram-worthy establishments? Or, are you looking for a mix of mom-and-pop eateries, locals-only jaunts, and splurge-worthy formal dining options? Whatever you’re looking for, New Orleans offers something for every kind of foodie.
From grab-and-go beignets and coffee at Café du Monde (spoiler alert: It’s definitely worth the hype) to fine dining at the James Beard Award-winning Shaya, here are my top picks on where to eat and drink in NOLA (plus, what to order at each place).
1. Beignets at Café du Monde
No trip to NOLA would be complete without a visit to Café du Monde, which is French for “Café of the World.” The iconic establishment, which is best known for its beignets (square-shaped pieces of fried dough doused in powdered sugar), dates back to 1862. While there are now eleven locations around the city, the main one is located on Decatur Street in the iconic French Quarter. Here, you can sit outside on their patio, people-watch, and enjoy live jazz music. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, arrive early in the morning or late at night — it’s open 24 hours. Just be sure to take cash: Café du Monde does not accept credit cards. You can also bring home a box or two of the beignet mix, which you can find in the gift shop (or, if you can’t make it to New Orleans, you can always browse the gift shop online).
2. French 75 at Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro
This delicate, fizzy, and refreshing cocktail features a blend of gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. It dates back to 1915 when it was invented at a hotel bar in Paris. Today, however, the drink has become a New Orleans staple — and Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro, which is often touted as one of the best bars in America, is the best place to enjoy one (or two). Pair yours with a tasty bite like oysters, savory black-eyed pea and tasso beignets, or one of the many other Creole classics. Whatever you choose to order, you simply can’t go wrong. PS: If you’re not in New Orleans, you can always make your own French 75 at home by following Arnaud’s French 75 recipe.
3. Gin Fizz at Bourbon O Bar
This French quarter craft cocktail bar (which is located right on Bourbon Street) makes the original gin fizz. It also happens to be the only bar that can claim a custom-made shaking machine to replace the drinks’ original shaker boys, which was made famous by Henry Ramos, the inventor of the classic cocktail. The unique concoction (which includes flower water, egg whites, and powdered sugar) is shaken for six minutes yielding that most unusual “fizz.” Bonus: Bourbon O Bar offers live music from Wednesday through Saturday, so plan accordingly. And, even if Gin Fizz isn’t your drink of choice, there are plenty of options to choose from, including Hurricanes, Sazeracs, and original specials like Irish Milk, Truth Serum, and so much more.
4. Pho at MoPho
This award-winning restaurant, which is located in Mid City, New Orleans (which feels worlds away from the hustle-and-bustle of the tourist-heavy French Quarter), combines the best of Asian cuisine with Southern Louisiana cuisine. MoPho was named “Restaurant of the Year” by New Orleans Magazine and was a nominee for Bon Appétit’s “Best New Restaurant.” Here, diners can enjoy several different Pho varieties, including Smoky Pork Pho (seasonal), Veggie Pho, Beef Pho, and Chicken Pho. The menu also offers unique combinations like Fried Louisiana Shrimp’ Po Mi, Burmese Pork Curry, queso (yes, queso!), and Blue Crab Salad with Mississippi peaches.
5. Hummus at Shaya
Chef Alon Shaya won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, while the stylish eatery itself won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. At Shaya (which is located along the bustling Magazine Street), diners can choose from a unique menu that serves a mix of authentic yet modern Israeli cuisine and hearty American dishes (think roasted cauliflower, baba ghanoush, tahini, grilled fish, and shakshouka, plus fried chicken, lamb ragu, and even chicken nuggets for the little ones). To start, split an order of hummus, which comes in four different varieties. If you’re feeling adventurous, opt for the fried chicken hummus or lamb ragu flavored hummus (you won’t regret it).
6. Fresh Seafood at Vessel
The menu at Vessel features savory Southern comfort cuisine. Highlights include Crawfish Croquettes, Smoked Fish Dipp, Fried Soft Shell Blue Crab, and, of course, Shrimp and Grits (all of which are popular among locals and travelers alike). And, while the cuisine may be noteworthy, the restaurant’s most outstanding presentation is the space itself. Vessel is housed in a 1914-era church, which even boasts original stained glass windows. The restaurant’s interior — the original church — resembles an upside-down ship vessel (most Lutheran churches built during this time did, too). You’ll also find industrial-inspired decor and dark-wood furnishings. The eatery is conveniently located in the heart of Mid City, just steps from the Canal Streetcar stop — and yes, it’s definitely worth the trek from the ever-popular French Quarter.
7. Cocktails at Ponchartrain Hotel
New Orleans’ iconic Pontchartrain Hotel is located on a quaint street corner in the Garden District, surrounded by centuries-old stunning oak trees. (Fun fact: American playwright Tennessee Williams lived at the hotel when he wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire.”) The on-site rooftop bar, Hot Tin, was once a penthouse that has since been converted into a lively and sleek space modeled after a 1940s-era artist’s loft. Today, the space is full of knick-knacks, plush couches, and more. Hot Tin also offers breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and Downtown New Orleans; the secluded terrace provides an incredible view of Saint Charles Avenue. Come here to sip on eclectic cocktails like frosé and mules as you nosh on fries, Caesar salad, cauliflower tempura, and more.