Tennessee Williams once said: “America has only 3 cities: NYC, San Fran, & New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” This is not completely inaccurate. I may be completely biased because I’ve lived here my entire life, but I have yet to find a city like Nola. Every time I go on vacation (except California and NYC), after a few days I’m like it’s been fun, but I’m ready to go home now. New Orleans has this ability to put a spell on you. Once you’re hooked, it can rarely be undone. If you think I’m lying ask a New Orleans transplant why they moved here and the majority will say, I came here for vacation and didn’t go back. Sure, the city has its negatives just like any other. Crime, bipolar weather, unbearable humidity, potholes, mosquitoes, and termite swarms during May. But everything else this city has to offer enables you to tolerate all of that. Food, open container laws, parades for everything, our passion for football, resilience, care free attitude, and laid back nature. The fact that it’s a city but doesn’t feel like a city. Rather, it’s like one giant neighborhood. If you’re not ready to pack up your shit and move here on a whim, you should probably avoid the places I’m about to recommend. Seriously, at best, this city will become your new favorite vacation spot you visit every year. And now, the best of New Orleans…
Best Dive Bars
New Orleans’ late night dive bars are truly one of a kind and filled with a variety of locals, degenerates, and other characters that I’m not sure how to describe. Check out these spots for a monumental night on the town:
- Chuck’s Sports Bar – Open “Damn near 24 hours”, this CBD dive-bar has cheap and strong drinks to get you through any sports game.
- Markey’s Bar – Cheap drinks, friendly vibes, Monday night trivia, and shuffleboard at this Bywater dive.
- Robert’s Bar – An under the radar dive that I didn’t know existed for the longest time. A total hole-in-the wall that offers solid drinks as well as ping-pong and pool FOR FREE.
- Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge – Once voted New Orleans’ Best Dive Bar, this legendary dive leaves its Christmas decor up year-round which lights up the bar, is open from 7pm-7am every night, and serves its patrons dirt-cheap Schlitz.
- The Saint – A Lower Garden District dive where you can go to tikioke (tiki-themed karaoke) on Tuesday nights or get blitzed on a dance floor until 6am.
- Avenue Pub – Consistently named one of the Top 100 beer bars in the country, the Avenue Pub serves hard-to-find beers from all over the world, and is open 24/7.
- Bayou Beer Garden – One of my favorite bars to stop by after Bayou Boogaloo or to watch a game on their large outdoor patio while eating crawfish and drinking one of their 180 beers.
- Bulldog Mid-city – Another one of my favorite bars that host trivia night on Tuesdays, pint night on Wednesdays, and is super dog friendly.
- Bulldog Uptown – A little smaller than the Mid-City location but has an awesome patio looking onto Magazine Street and has more than 50 beers on tap.
- Cooter Brown’s – One of THE places to go in the city to catch a sporting event. Tucked away in the Uptown Riverbend, this sports bar has TVs all over, over 400 brands of beer, and some damn good oysters and pub grub.
- Finn McCool’s – An Irish pub for the dedicated soccer fans that want to catch the 6am game on weekends. Start your morning off right with a Guinness & coffee.
- Tchoup Yard – Perfect spot to end the day if you’re brewery hopping on Tchoupitoulas Street (Urban South, Port Orleans, & Nola Brewery). An outdoor laid back bar that The Advocate described perfectly, “boozy combination of a beer garden, a beach bar and Celebration in the Oaks.” Serves some of the coldest beer I’ve ever had, bushwackers (official drink of the Gulf Coast), and its signature drink, the Zanzarita (frozen margarita with an upside down Corona and a shot of limoncello in the hollowed lime).
- Wrong Iron – Opened in December of 2018 and already my favorite bar. Located steps off of the Lafitte Greenway, this bar has EVERYTHING. Cornhole, bocce ball, food trucks, fire pits, plenty of TVs, and blankets to keep you warm on a cold night.
Best Cocktail Bars
- Barrel Proof – For the whiskey aficionado. This neighborhood bar & kitchen has 300+ whiskeys to try. The prices here aren’t crazy, and Barrel Proof sells most drinks as either 1 or 2 ounce pours, which gives you the option of trying a wider range of whiskies without having to buy heavy pours of each. And if you’re not an aficionado but looking for a new drink to try, don’t be afraid to ask the bartenders. They’re cool af and non-judgmental.
- Cane & Table – Great rum-based cocktails and small plates at this French Quarter bar located on Decatur St. Try the crispy rum ribs and a Rum Old Fashioned.
- Carousel Bar – Named Carousel Bar for a reason. It revolves like one. Don’t worry though, it’s slow moving and you barely feel it. Located in the Hotel Monteleone, it also has top notch drinks and bartenders, which is why tourists AND locals come here regularly. Order the Vieux Carre.
- Cure – Cure reminds me of the bar that Steve Carell & Ryan Gosling pick up chicks in in Crazy Stupid Love. It’s a dimly lit stylish cocktail lounge that serves up some awesome creative drinks. Perfect for a first date or if you’re tired of the dives and want something a bit more classy.
- French 75 – A James Beard award winner and named “One of the top 5 bars in the country” by Esquire, the bar’s mission is to handcraft the finest cocktails with locally sourced ingredients and home-made syrups. If you’re going to drink a French 75 in Nola, do it here.
- Loa – For the cocktail aficionado located inside the International House Hotel. Loa is a cozy bar with fun, sexy, intimate vibes. People rave about the atmosphere almost as much as the cocktails. Ask a bartender to craft something of their choosing or ask for the homemade lemoncello.
- Revel Café & Bar – Owned by Chris McMillian, one of the top mixologists in the country who has been written about by the New York Times and who doesn’t mind helping you pick the perfect drink. If you’re going to eat dinner here too try the crawfish grilled cheese or peanut butter burger.
- The Sazerac – A landmark bar located in the Roosevelt Hotel that honors America’s first cocktail, the Sazerac. If you’re in town for Christmas, stopping by the Hotel to see all of the Christmas trees lit up and grabbing a drink at The Sazerac after is a sure way to get you in the Griswold Christmas spirit.
Best Rooftop Bars
- Catahoula Rooftop Bar – Located at the Catahoula Hotel in the heart of the CBD, this rooftop terrace offers South American and Spanish wines, and a curated mezcal and tequila selection. While you’re at the hotel, you might as well stop by the Pisco Bar too. Thanks Anthony Bourdain for introducing me to this drink, the national spirit of Peru. As far as I know it’s the only Pisco bar in town.
- Pontchartrain Hotel’s Hot Tin – Hot Tin sits on top of The Pontchartrain Hotel and imo, boasts the sweetest rooftop view of Nola. The name is a nod to Tennessee Williams, who is rumored to have lived in the hotel during the 1940’s while writing a Streetcar Named Desire.
- The Monkey Board @ The Troubadour Hotel – Views of downtown Nola & the Superdome 17 floors up while you’re sipping on a craft beer or cocktail. Doesn’t get much better than that.
- Nola Brewery – New Orleans’ first craft brewery. They brew some solid beers and also some crazy ones you can only get at the brewery (Habanero Pineapple). Their tap room (2 floors) is the best in town. Stop by on Fridays from 2-3pm to get two free beers!
- Port Orleans – Founded by former Saint Zach Strief in 2017, it is Nola’s newest brewery and already becoming a favorite. It is the creator of the Gleason IPA and boasts some other solid brews, like the Storyville IPA and Riverfront Lager. Its taproom is one of the best in the city and boasts some great bar food.
- Second Line – This new Mid-City brewery doesn’t have a lot of different brews yet but the ones they make are fire. Their blond ale is the best I’ve ever had. And their Saison Named Desire (brewed with blood oranges) is one of my top 10 beers. Oh and Mondays are pint and slice night. Free slice of pizza with a beer. Perfect cure to the Mondays.
- Urban South – My favorite brewery, not just in the city but in the entire world. And it’s only been around since 2015! It usually does a new release every Friday (Can find out ahead of time on its Instagram) and some of its flagship beers are the Holy Roller IPA, Charming Wit, and Ca Phe, a Vietnamese coffee stout.
- Gnarly Barley – Ok so this brewery isn’t in Nola, it’s in Hammond, about an hour away from the city. There’s really not much to do in Hammond but if you’re a craft brew lover checking out this brewery is worth the drive. Their flagship beer is the Jucifer, the smoothest, most citrusy New England style IPA I’ve ever experienced. Their Catahoula Common ain’t too bad either.
Best Bloody Mary’s
Full disclosure, I hate Bloody Mary’s. But I know there are plenty of you that like them so I did my research. You’re welcome.
- Apolline (Deluxe one has pecan maple bacon. I think I’d even drink this.)
- Atchafalaya (Build your own)
- Brennan’s (One of the spiciest in the city. Order a bloody bull to add beef broth to it to add much needed protein and electrolytes to combat that Nola hangover)
- Daisy Dukes
- Erin Rose (Not so secret ingredient, Guinness Beer)
- Gazebo Café
- Ruby Slipper
- Wayfare (Build your own)
- Bonus – Shimmy Shack (Located in Harrahan and voted #1 by Nola.com)
Broke Traveler’s Favorite Restaurants
- Blue Oak – Best BBQ in New Orleans and it’s not even close. I go there for lunch religiously almost every week. Follow their IG for daily specials, like Spicy Chicken Sandwich Tuesdays and Brisket Philly Thursdays.
- Pizza Domenica – Some of the best thin crust pizza outside of Brooklyn. Their Garlic Knots are one of the “Best foods to try before you die” and their half off pizza and drinks happy hour is unbeatable.
- Emeril’s Delmonico – You can’t go wrong with an Emeril restaurant. One of the more elegant and upscale restaurants on this list but their lunch is very affordable. Some of the best creole food I’ve had and their Banana’s Foster is a “Best food to try before you die”.
- Parkway Tavern & Bakery – If you only eat one poboy during your trip, this is the place to do it. Trust me and order the surf & turf poboy (roast beef & shrimp).
- Ruby Slipper – One of the best brunch’s imo. Their Eggs Cochon is a game changer.
- Jacques-Imo’s – If this list was actually ranked this quirky restaurant (You’ll see when you get there) would be ranked near the top. I recently went there for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday and I left wondering why it took me thirty years to eat there. Their sign doesn’t lie about serving “Real N’awlins Food.” Shrimp & alligator cheesecake, Crab-zilla (entire fried softshell crab), deep fried roast beef poboy, and crabmeat stuffed shrimp. Oh me oh my. (During peak dining hours there almost always will be a wait)
- Commander’s Palace – Not only one of the best regarded upscale restaurants in the city, but also the country as well. Won’t break the bank if you go for lunch. And they serve 25 cent martinis! (There is a dress code and reservations should be made at least a month in advance)
- Ye Olde College Inn – A true farm to table restaurant that grows their produce next door on an urban farm. Also Drew Brees’ favorite Nola restaurant and now one of mine. Some of their award winning dishes include the Fried Bread Pudding Poboy, Crawfish Delacroix, Beaux Thai Duck, and BBQ Shrimp. Go next door to Rock n Bowl and make it a fun date night.
- Mais Arepas – An underrated Colombian restaurant tucked away in the Faubourg neighborhood Uptown that serves amazing sangria and Arepas (Order the Mechada). (Reservations required)
- Cowbell – This little gem on Oak Street has the “Locally World Famous Cowbell Burger” and they are not exaggerating. A natural, grass fed beef burger with homemade pickles, white cheddar, and onion & jam relish is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
- Josephine Estelle – A swanky Italian restaurant located in the Ace Hotel. Their pasta – Bucatini, Canestri, and Mafalde – is some of the best in the city, as is their Italian wine selection.
Best New Orleans Classic Restaurants
- Commander’s Palace
- Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
- Pascal’s Manale
- The Court of Two Sisters
Best Foods to Try Before You Die
Here are the most legendary meals in Nola, in no particular order. I dare you to check off all on one trip.
- Bananas foster at Emeril’s Delmonico
- BBQ shrimp at Pascal Manale’s
- Blue crab beignets at La Petite Grocery
- Cannoli’s & gelato from Angelo Brocato’s
- Chargrilled oysters from Drago’s
- Fried chicken from Willie Mae’s Scotch House
- Garlic Knots from Pizza Domenica
- Grilled cauliflower steak at Domenica
- Praline bacon at Elizabeth’s
- Shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake at Jacques-Imo’s
- Slice of pizza from Pizza Delicious
- Surf & Turf Poboy from Parkway Bakery & Tavern
- Turtle Soup from Commander’s Palace
- Bananas Foster @ Emeril’s Delmonico or Brennan’s
- Bread Pudding Soufflé @ Commander’s Palace
- Dobites & Doberge Cake @ Bakery Bar
- Donuts @ Blue Dot Donuts
- Donuts @ District Donuts & Sliders
- Donuts @ Honey Whip Donuts (Located on the Westbank but worth the trek)
- Ice cream @ Creole Creamery
- Lemon Ice & Cannolis @ Angelo Brocato
- Mile High Pie @ Jack Rose
- Milk & Cookies @ Willa Jean (Get the chocolate chip cookies with a side of cookie dough)
- Milk Shake @ Shake Therapy
- Oreo Cookie Waffles @ Waffles on Maple
- Pecan Pie @ Brigsten’s or Upperline
- Pralines @ Pralines by Jean
- Snow ball @ Hansens
Best Brunch Spots
There is no shortage of brunch options in Nola. You could go to a different one every Saturday and Sunday (encouraged btw) for years of trips here and you couldn’t run out. Start by going to the best ones listed below:
- Apolline – Bottomless Mimosas & Shrimp Bloody Marys. Do I need to say anymore? How about their pork enchiladas and cinnamon bacon.
- Atchafalaya – Set in a little creole cottage in the Irish Channel, this brunch spot is known for its Bloody Mary bar and live music and was named “one of America’s top ten urban brunch spots in America” in 2015 by Fodor’s Travel Guide.
- Brennan’s – A New Orleans staple that’s a little bit pricier than the other restaurants in this list but worth every penny.
- Elizabeth’s – They put a Southern twist on their breakfast like their Praline Bacon, Duck Waffles, and Redneck Benedict (over fried green tomatoes).
- Katie’s – A Mid-City neighborhood gem that’s been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives. Their Sunday brunch is from 9am-3pm and you’re gonna want to go back to bed and make it a Netflix Sunday after you eat their crawfish beignets and BBQ shrimp & grits.
- Paladar 511 – This Marigny hotspot offers creative dishes such as the Korean Steak & Eggs and Farm Egg Pizza and a build-your-own-mimosa bar.
- Red Dog Diner – A hidden gem on Magazine Street where you can get sweet potato pancakes, Crusted Crab & Eggs Sardou, and prime rib benedict.
- Ruby Slipper – The best breakfast in New Orleans is worth the wait in line. If you’re indecisive like me, order The Peacemaker, you can choose any 2 eggs benedict.
- Surrey’s Cafe and Juice Bar – My first New Orleans brunch was experienced here. Scrambled eggs with Salmon and a freshly squeezed juice is one way to start the day.
- The Court of Two Sisters – This legendary restaurant is known for their famous jazz buffet brunches in their courtyard.
- Tujague’s – Claiming to be one of the first places in the world to serve brunch, Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in the city, founded in 1856, and serves some unique dishes such as their Abita Amber BBQ Shrimp & Grits and their famous brisket.
Best Date Spots
As someone that’s been on hundreds of Tinder, Bumble, & now Hinge dates (I’m not kidding, unfortunately) I know where to go for a first date. Dating can be difficult, but finding the right spot to get to know the (hopefully) right someone doesn’t have to be.
- Bacchanal – Deemed “Nola’s backyard party”, Bacchanal is a tucked away wine store on the outskirts of Nola featuring legendary cheese plates & live music on their back patio 7 days a week. Buy a bottle (Retail price)and bring it outside into the courtyard.
- Bayou Wine Garden – A great date spot that doesn’t involve high priced meals and fancy attire. Bayou Wine Garden is a laid back wine bar where you can enjoy a beer or a frozen rosé in their courtyard.
- City Park Putt Putt
- Cure – Hidden on Freret Street (Seriously there’s no sign), Cure serves craft cocktails in a sexy, dimly lit atmosphere. Full disclosure, I’ve taken my first dates here the most.
- Delachaise – Casual wine bar on St. Charles Ave that features $5 glasses of wine daily, over 350 wines, fries that were voted the best in Louisiana for 5+ years, and a patio that looks out onto the St. Charles streetcar line.
- Fulton Alley – A charming bowling alley and cocktail lounge located in the Warehouse District where you and your date can go head to head on the lanes or at bocci.
- Hot Tin – Cocktails on a rooftop bar with the best view of the city. Romantic af.
- Lilette – Known for having the sexiest dining room in New Orleans, Lilette is great for a first date or an anniversary.
- Tandem kayak on Bayou St. John
- WINO / Barcadia – Play air hockey and share a fried PB&J @ Barcadia and then walk across the street to WINO, a self-service wine bar that features 120 wines .
Off the Beaten Path
Every neighborhood in Nola has hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered by non-locals. Maybe they like being off the beaten path but I feel like it is my duty to share these with you.
- Carrolton Market – Intimate, slightly upscale restaurant located in the Riverbend neighborhood that puts an innovative spin on Southern classics. Every meal there should start with the Oysters Goodenough.
- Liuzza’s – If you’re craving Italian while you’re here, head to this neighborhood Italian restaurant, a local’s spot that not only serves up great Italian dishes like stuffed artichokes, but also poboys and oyster Rockefeller soup.
- Willie Mae’s – Truly a hidden gem located smack dab in the middle of Treme. Their melt in your mouth fried chicken was deemed the “Best fried chicken in the country” by Food Network and the Travel Channel.
- Vessel – A charming church that’s been restored to a bar/restaurant. Other than the small sign on the outside, you’d walk in expecting communion, not cocktails. Atmosphere here is definitely A+. Great spot for brunch, grabbing a drink at happy hour, or small bites.
- Turkey and the Wolf – This place is different. But good different. It’s a lunch spot that puts quirky spins on sandwiches like the Collard Green Melt and Fried Bologna Sandwich.
- Country Club – Located in a historic cottage in the Bywater, it’s literally nothing like a country club and is a New Orleans secret. Known for its $15 bottomless mimosas at brunch, Saturday drag brunches, customers of all kinds, and saltwater pool, which used to be clothing optional.
Best Historical Places
- Faulkner House Books – The previous home of William Faulkner and where he wrote his first novel that appropriately has been converted into a book shop. It’s been described as America’s most charming book store that sells rare editions.
- Hotel Monteleone – This hotel and its Carousel Bar have hosted some great literary figures including William Faulkner, John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Rice, and Tennessee Williams.
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – A national historic landmark that is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was built by the privateer Jean Lafitte as a cover for his illegal privateer activities. The bar is rumored to be haunted by many residents who died in the French Quarter fires of 1788 and 1794 and Jean Lafitte himself.
- Madame John’s Legacy – One of the oldest houses in the French Quarter that was built in the older French colonial style (as opposed to the Spanish colonial style of that time). It survived the 1794 fire that destroyed most of the city and is now a museum.
- New Orleans Street Car – Pretty much our only public transportation (I kid, but not really). It’s been transporting locals, tourists, and drunks since 1893 and is currently the oldest continually operating street railway system in the world.
- Old Ursuline Convent – This is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley, even older than the St. Louis Cathedral. Now a museum, it was erected in 1745 and occupied by Ursuline nuns, serving as a convent, orphanage, and school for girls.
- St. Louis Cathedral – Built in 1794, it’s the oldest cathedral in the United States that is still in operation today. Stop by for a mass or just pop in to soak in the beauty and history.
- The Old U.S. Mint – a branch mint of the United States Mint from 1838 to 1861 and from 1879 to 1909 that holds the distinct title of being the only mint to produce American and Confederate coinage. During its years of operation, it produced over 427 million gold and silver coins and now serves as a jazz museum that has daily tours.
- WWII Museum – The National WWII Museum, also known as the D-Day Museum, is a military history museum located in the CBD (Central Business District). From the road to Berlin to Tokyo, it is the most in-depth WWII museum in the United States. If you nerd out on history like me, this is a must stop.
Best Haunted Places
New Orleans has to be the most haunted city in the country. From fires to slavery to the civil war, our city has enough history to warrant ghosts roaming around. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, these are the places to check out.
- Beauregard-Keyes House – Located at 1113 Chartres St., it was once the home of a first-class general. It’s been rumored that around 2 a.m. the ghosts of General P.T. Beauregard and his troops reenact battles in the hallway.
- Gardette-Lepretre Mansion – Located at 716 Dauphine St., it’s known as the haunted Sultan’s Palace. It was bought by a Turkish man in the 19th century who often threw lavish parties. One day, blood was found trickling from the door, down onto the street. The authorities found a massacre inside, butchered men, women, and children everywhere. They then went to the courtyard and found a grave with a hand protruding out of it. The buried man was the Sultan’s brother who escaped to New Orleans after stealing the Sultan’s women and possessions. Supposedly the Sultan hired assassins to kill his brother and everyone in the house.
- Hotel Monteleone – Reports of elevators stopping on the wrong floor and locked doors opening by themselves.
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – Jean Lafitte himself is said to keep an eye on the fireplace in the bar where it’s believed he hid his booty.
- LaLaurie Mansion – Located at 1140 Royal Street, it inspired American Horror Story: Coven. A fire in the home in 1834 attracted the attention of authorities who found live slaves horribly mutilated, some being suspended by the neck, with their limbs stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.
- Le Pavillion Hotel – Rumored to be a portal to the other side, it has claims of over 100 ghostly entities in the hotel. The room I stayed in had cross marks placed above the door so I can only assume what went on in that room.
Best Music Venues
From jazz to blues to funk to everything in between, Nola has you covered. Catch the best live music in town at the following venues:
- Chickie Wah Wah
- Davenport Lounge
- Frenchmen Street (d.b.a., Blue Nile, The Maison, The Spotted Cat, The Three Muses, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro)
- Gasa Gasa
- House of Blues
- Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse
- Maple Leaf Bar (Rebirth Brass Band on Tuesday nights)
- Preservation Hall
- Three Keys @ Ace Hotel
- Audubon Park
- Crescent Park
- Lafitte Greenway
- The Fly
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