I've heard some wild stories about New Orleans. Who hasn't? But if I'm being perfectly honest, I was guilty of letting those tales mold my overall thoughts toward the city (which I had never visited) to be ones that I turned my nose up to a bit. In my mind, New Orleans was a dirty place in a perpetual state of Mardis Gras and debauchery.
But I also heard wonderful things about it: that it was rich in history, brimming with beautiful architecture, and home to some of the best restaurants around. These attributes intrigued me, and I decided it was time I experience it myself. So I set out with my friend Danica for a weekend getaway to explore all the great things I had heard so much about.
I left Nashville with dozens of unanswered emails and missed deadlines hanging over my shoulders that I was sure would haunt me all weekend. And while I didn't doubt we would have fun, I never anticipated to have as much fun as we did. But living up to it's proverbial title of "The Big Easy", it's like there's something in the water that transforms you into a more easy-going way of life the moment you arrive. I didn't think about any of those emails for a second.
From it's delicious food, to it's bluesy jazz music, to the stunning architecture at every turn, New Orleans romanced me all weekend long. I fell in love with so much about it that I legitimately had trouble shaving down my recommendation list below (and I know wasn't able to hit all the great places it has to offer in my short time). But I hope that whatever you choose to do during your time in New Orleans, you'll find it to be just as wonderful as I did.
I love all kinds of hotels, but there's something about discovering a great boutique hotel that makes my heart pitter-patter, and The Catahoula Hotel was no exception. Their philosophy is simple: to keep it casual, cozy, and above all, human. The style of hospitality isn't flashy or exclusive, nor is it predictable or contrived. The building was once a home, and that's what drives their ethos – to welcome guests as they would someone into their own home, to care for them and do whatever it takes to ensure their time with us is as memorable as possible.
If you're looking for a place to stay that's conveniently located downtown (we walked everywhere), competitively priced, and more unique than your standard hotel, then you'll love staying at Catahoula (I also swooned over their open-air showers- straight outta someone's Pinterest board).
If you're looking for a chic, design-forward hotel where every detail feels like a luxury (like fresh lemon infused water and delicious illy coffee available in the lobby) then be sure to look into International House Hotel. Also conveniently located downtown, IHH reflects a contemporary New Orleans style that I loved. The staff was incredibly hospitable, provided us with great recommendations, and did everything in their power to ensure we had a great stay. And the bed was one of the most comfortable I've slept in that I can remember (slept like a baby).
Galatoire's was our very first stop when we arrived in town, and it set the bar high. This New Orleans staple was founded in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, who brought recipes and traditions from Pardies, France to create their menu and ambiance of the internationally-renowned restaurant.
Start with a French 75 and some appetizers: the Galatoire Goute (crabmeat maison and shrimp remoulade) and Oysters Rockefeller (the best oysters I've ever had) are a delicious assortment of seafood with a New Orleans touch. If you're feeling adventurous (which I have been a lot these days) try a cup of the Turtle Soup au Sherry. For your main course, I recommend the Shrimp Etouffée (when in NOLA), but be sure to save room for dessert. Order the Caramel Cup Custard, but then be sure to ask for the "coffee special" (not on the menu). I'll save the surprise so you still get a wow factor, but if you dislike fire or alcohol then I'd stick with Starbucks for your post-meal caffeine.
Top Chef Nina Compton started Compère Lapin in the Warehouse Arts District in New Orleans, and we can all be glad she did. The inspiration for the menu comes from the traditional Caribbean folktales featuring a mischievous rabbit named Compère Lapin that Compton read during her childhood in St. Lucia (and you'll find the brilliantly-marketed rabbit all over the restaurant and menu). Drawing on the story's themes of exploration and play, she mixes the indigenous ingredients and rich culinary heritage of New Orleans with those of her Caribbean roots.
Start with the Crispy Dirty RIce Arancini (with chicken livers, house made sausage + fontina). Then move on to the Marinated Shrimp / Roasted Jalapeno Jus with bell peppers, red onions + cilantro (insanely delicious) and the Cold Smoked Tuna Tartare with Avocado, Crispy Bananas + Caviar (even more insanely delicious). For the main course, try the Duo of Beef / Pan Seared Sirloin + Braised Short Rib withEnglish Peas, Carrots and shaved Foie Gras (did I mention I'm definitely not a vegetarian anymore?) Finish your meal with the Roasted Banana Zeppole with Rum Caramel or Lime Cheesecake with Mango Granita and Cashe Krokant. Oh, and then get a Miami Vice to go (because you can do that in New Orleans... #BestCityEver).
Compère Lapin was easily one of my favorite meals in New Orleans, our wait staff was incredibly knowledgable and warm, and the atmosphere was perfect. Be sure to make a reservation during your trip so you can experience it for yourself.
Willa Jean is a contemporary bakery in the Central Business District in downtown New Orleans, and served me one of the most indulgent brunches I've ever had in my life. The bakery adds a modern and elegant touch to iconic southern food that anyone with a savory-loving pulse will adore. And they specialize in my favorite vice: carbohydrates. Biscuits. Banana bread. Corn bread. Desserts. Pastries. It's all incredible. And if you're one of those terribly annoying people who's trying to be healthy, they even have a delicious avocado toast option for you. Or, you can be like me, and try everything on the dessert menu. I know which option is more fun.
Inside the new Ace Hotel, Josephine Estelle combines the philosophy of Italian cuisine with the flavors of the American South. Embracing it's Italian background, I recommend starting with Guanciale Meatballs. And representing the American South? Those Brussels Sprouts, though...
They also offer a wide variety of delicious cocktails and wines, and seal the experience with killer ambiance. Whether you visit for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or Brunch on the weekend- you won't be disappointed.
Head a little outside of the downtown chaos over to Magazine Street, and you'll find Kenton's- an American whiskey bar and restaurant. Their menu is filled with smoked, grilled, and charred flavors that have an affinity for bourbon. To capitalize on all those delicious flavors, I opted to forgo the traditional set lunch menu and instead, try a chef's tasting instead (which I highly recommend). Everything was delicious and I loved taking our time because the restaurant's aesthetic was incredible.
DRINK + DO
Head to the roof of Ace Hotel and you'll find yourself at ALTO, their rooftop garden featuring poolside dining, cocktails, and panoramic city views. We met Josh, the manager, for drinks and opted to let him order for us. Naturally, he gave us a taste of their take on a New Orleans staple: frozen drinks. Both options were delicious (although I preferred their play on a bramble with blackberries and gin- called Purple Rain). No matter what you order, you're sure to love your drink and dig the vibes.
All the cocktails I tried at Cane & Table were fantastic. I opted for the Boss Colada (which was obvi the most Instagram worthy- duh). I was slightly nervous it would be too sweet for my palate, but they did an incredible job of blending and complimenting ingredients so that everything was delicious. If you can, sit outside because the patio is all kinds of dreamy.
After a long day of shooting content, exploring, and drinking (all before 2pm) we stopped in Salon by Sucré in the heart of the French Quarter... to drink some more. But I fell in love with their picture-perfect ambiance, delicious desserts and courtyard views. Take a load off and enjoy a treat for your eyes and your tastebuds.
I couldn't leave New Orleans without trying beignets (carbs are my love language- remember?) Everyone raves about Cafe Du Monde- which while delicious in taste, I (personally) find somewhat lacking in atmosphere. I opted to indulge at Café Beignet instead. The beignets were outrageously delicious, the ambiance was cozy and quaint, and there weren't nearly as many tourists. You do you- I'll be over here indulging in the cutest little cafe I've ever laid eyes on.
SHOP ON MAGAZINE STREET
Magazine Street is a six-mile long stretch from the Garden District to Uptown New Orleans, and features some of the best antique stores, art galleries, craft shops, and boutiques to be found anywhere in the city. My favorite? Azby's (across from Whole Foods). This one-stop shop has everything from evening wear to casual wear (all my outfits featured in this post came from there).
Every vice I indulged in during my time in New Orleans was absolutely worth it. But I did start to feel pretty terrible toward the end of our trip. So in attempt to make up for the immense damage we had done, we went to City Surf for a sweat session- and I'm so glad we did. I grew up spending summers surfing (as best as a Nashvillian could) in San Diego, and it was so fun to be back on a board (even if it was on bosu balls instead of in the actual water).
City Surf offers a wide-variety of classes, pulling inspiration from barre, yoga, spin, bootcamp and more. We took Becky's Beach Body Bootcamp and loved it. It takes a little getting used to at first to balance, but is fun the entire time. And when you're done? Total validation to reward yourself with some more vices.
Ending up at Tipitina's wasn't on my original travel itinerary (hence my extremely professional photoshoot aka saved Snapchat) but I'm sure glad it happened. At the time, I wasn't as concerned about note taking and providing well informed travel feedback for all of you, as I was dancing to awesome jazz music and enjoying my buzz (sorry about that). But it was one of the most fun nights I've had in a while, so I won't let the lack of stellar content keep anyone else from experiencing the same. Check it out and thank me later.
Overall, I was blown away by not only how beautiful New Orleans is, but how fun (no matter what fun looks like to you). The city has so much to do that I didn't even touch on, and you're sure to have a great trip no matter what's on your itinerary. If you have any questions about planning a trip of your own, talk to my friends at Visit New Orleans or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.