A few years ago we took the ultimate sampler tour of the United States, adding 9,000 miles to our new Jeep Wrangler in 30 days. Our coast-to-coast adventure included mostly sleepless nights in the great outdoors, with glorious hotel stays in the big cities in between. Since it was impossible to fight the ultimate collapse into the lush linens and fluffy pillows of a comfy hotel bed, fatigue often limited our sightseeing. In the end, we returned home with a mental list of all of the intriguing places we hoped to return to, on an airplane, fully rested without thousands of miles of highway behind us, or ahead of us, to steal us of our energy.
One of the places we couldn’t stop talking about was New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most unique American cities we’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. We could barely enjoy New Orleans during our first visit as we spent two days alternating between some much-needed napping and eating. We swooned over 50 cent oysters, tender pork belly, and crawfish dip, all the while our minds consumed by planning the unavoidably long trek through the sprawling state of Texas that lay ahead of us.
So, this past December, we decided the time was right for us to visit NOLA again; to fully experience the city, meet its people, and, most importantly, indulge in some Southern delicacies. Here’s the scoop on where we stayed and the places we chowed down.
4 Nights, 3 Starwoods
With Starwood Platinum Guest status in sight and within reach, we reserved four nights in New Orleans at three different Starwood hotels. We began our stay with one night at Le Meridien New Orleans, then walked over to Westin New Orleans Canal Place for two nights, and spent our last night at the Aloft New Orleans.
All three hotels were in great locations and gave us the opportunity to experience three different parts of the city. While Le Meridien and the Westin were within walking distance of each other, Le Meridien was situated closer to the Warehouse District, while the Westin was just steps away from the French Quarter. Staying at the Aloft for our last night gave us the opportunity to see the Central Business District of New Orleans.
Our NOLA Food Finds
A cozy little bar located in the Loew’s Hotel, just across the street from Le Meridien. This bar serves up crafty cocktails, local beers, and a satisfying menu. After a long morning of flying, we cured our hunger pangs with an order of the shrimp panzanella, and a warm bowl of shrimp and okra gumbo.
You can’t go to New Orleans without a visit to one of Emeril’s restaurants. On our first trip we welcomed ourselves to the city with a phenomenal dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico. On this trip, we made sure to visit the flagship restaurant, the original Emeril’s New Orleans. Since the restaurant fills up quickly, we got there early, grabbed a seat at the bar, and ordered a bunch of small plates to share. My favorite dish we ordered here: the Emeril’s New Orleans barbecued shrimp. Bam!
Standing in long lines in touristy places is one of our least favorite things to do, but since our hotel was just a few blocks away from the mile long line at Cafe du Monde, we decided to see what all the hype was about. Here’s a tip: don’t stand in that line. If you really must have the coffee and beignet experience of your dreams, go around the line and straight to the patio of the restaurant where you’ll find another line (the much shorter”to go” line), and get those doughnuts in a bag. Go sit or stand awkwardly by the Mississippi River, as you coat yourself and your shoes in white, powdered sugar. Then say, “Well, at least we can say we’ve done that,” and move on.
Okay, so this is touristy too since everybody wants to sit at that bar that goes round and round, but we totally get why everybody wants to sit here. It’s just different and fun, and their Bloody Mary’s have pickled string beans in them. At that makes all the difference! Who knew?
Our first and only po boy of the trip came from Big Killer Po Boys. They seem to be appropriately named since our Seared Gulf Shrimp po boys were simply killer. Just imagine tender, succulent seared shrimp topped with radish, cucumber, carrot, sriracha aioli, and herbs stuffed inside a flaky, crusty roll. This is the sandwich dreams are made of.
Since Bourbon Street gives me the shakes with all those party go-ers milling around, we tend to stick to much quieter streets like Royal Street. But there was something about the Desire Oyster Bar, on Bourbon Street, that made me want to go in. I’m so glad we did. The oysters are huge and the red beans and rice is insanely addictive. Actually, this experience started my love affair with red beans and rice. Where has this dish been all of my life? Don’t forget to catch some music inside the Royal Sonesta hotel at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.
Cochon Butcher is the ultimate sandwich shop for meat lovers. The sandwiches here are so incredible that you’ll probably call this your favorite restaurant in New Orleans after your first visit. We shared the Cochon Muffaletta piled high with house meats and olive salad. It was the best muffuletta we’ve ever had, and this is saying a lot coming from two people who rarely eat meat.
There’s nothing I love more than going to a celebrity chef’s restaurant and actually seeing the chef in the kitchen. So when I saw Nina Compton, runner-up of Bravo’s Top Chef New Orleans, actually in the kitchen, I was amazed. Although we were only here for a snack, (brussel sprouts at the bar), I’d like to think this cozy restaurant attached to the Old No. 77 hotel has a good future ahead of it, especially if Nina Compton remains cooking in the kitchen.
If, after all of this rich southern food, you just want pizza, like we did, head straight to Domenica. This was our last meal in New Orleans, and I must admit, we were a little hesitant at first. I mean, being from New Jersey, we know good pizza, and we were a little apprehensive about pizza in New Orleans. But, Domenica nailed both the food and the service. In fact, we had such a good time eating at the bar and talking with the bartenders, that we might consider this evening, one of our best in New Orleans.
Much more than Bourbon Street…
We’ve heard way too many people say, “I’ve been to New Orleans once and I don’t need to go again.” We hate hearing this, especially because this statement usually comes from people who survived some crazy bachelor or bachelorette party on Bourbon Street. Please understand New Orleans is so much more than that. The amazing mix of food, culture, and music makes it a far richer experience for the senses than those just looking for the next party.
Until we meet again NOLA…
You can read about our first visit to New Orleans by clicking here.