10 of the Best Places to Eat and Drink in New Orleans [VIDEOS]

Heather drinks a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's

Visit Pat O’Brien’s to enjoy a delicious Hurricane, the rum-based drink that has become synonymous with New Orleans. (Photo by Jathan Fink, Jadeworks Entertainment)

When friends tell us that they’re visiting New Orleans, it is almost as if they lit the gas lights on Decatur Street, because brilliant smiles spontaneously brighten our faces, illuminating our jazz-tinged memories of the Crescent City. For us, New Orleans is our happy place, that special community which wins our hearts every time we visit with its amazing smells, unforgettable sights, and mouthwatering cuisine, not to mention a soundtrack that envelopes you and seems to throb in your very soul. 

For the uninitiated, NOLA is one of those magical places where anything can happen, where weddings and funerals alike are turned into celebrations in the street, punctuated by brass bands and music so vibrant you can’t help but dance along. The city’s joie de vivre is the most infectious contagion around, so we always love it when people we adore get to experience the heady, intoxicating, rejuvenating properties of one of our nation’s oldest cities.

Recently, a high school friend of mine took his family there on vacation, and he couldn’t believe how delicious the food was, exclaiming that the charbroiled oysters at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant are better than any steak he has ever eaten. But that’s only one culinary delight available in one of the top foodie destinations in the country. Here are some of our other personal favorites.

One of the first places most people want to visit is Café du Monde, a French Market pillar since 1862, known for its green and white awnings, melt-in-your-mouth beignets and rich chicory coffee. But we recommend visiting this coffee stand late at night after the crowds have disippated. For breakfast, early risers should head over to Café Beignet on Royal Street or visit the shop on Bourbon Street at Musical Legends Park instead. Both locations feature decadent pastries as well as a full breakfast menu, Cajun specialties and hearty sandwiches. You’ll have a shorter wait time, and with Steamboat Willie and friends performing live, you’ll definitely start your day off swinging.

Since New Orleans is known for its night life, you may have spent the night listening to jazz at the Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchman Street, making new friends at Channing Tatum’s Saints & Sinners on Bourbon, or getting spooked on one of Haunted History Tours‘  legendary ghost walks. So you may want to start your day a little later. If that’s the case, head to Commander’s Palace or the more intimate Court of Two Sisters for one of their legendary jazz brunches. Whether you dine on pecan crusted gulf fish and braised duck crepes at the palace or on fresh shrimp in spicy etouffee and veal grillades and gravy at the sisters’ famous buffet, you will leave both establishments full and happy. But why choose? Stay long enough and visit both restaurants, then decide for yourself which is your favorite brunch spot!

After brunch, head over to Jackson Square where you can sit for a charicature portrait, listen to more live music, or peruse some of the art galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques like Rendevouz Linen and Lace where you can buy everything from handmade lace handkerchiefs to gorgeous little dresses like the one I purchased for my eldest niece eighteen years ago.

At lunch, take a brief respite from your shopping to indulge in a muffaletta at Central Grocery and Deli, founded in 1906. This is where immigrant Salvatore Lupo created the iconic sandwich, easily identified by it’s round Sicilian sesame bread, loaded with provolone cheese, salami, ham, and an unforgettable olive salad. My friends Deb and Merlin, who are NOLA natives, head straight for Central Grocery every time they go home to visit because they swear this is one sandwich you just can’t replicate anywhere else. So be sure to get it when you’re in town!

At the end of the day, it’s always nice to unwind with quality spirits, and New Orleans offers more than its fair share of bars and taverns where you can imbibe. I can’t picture relaxing anywhere that hot jazz licks aren’t being played, so that makes Maison Bourbon my favorite jazz club in the French Quarter. Listen to all your favorites, including everything from “Basin Street Blues” to “The Saints Go Marching In,” all while sipping on top shelf drinks made by some of the best barkeeps in town.

Of course, you can always walk deeper into the quarter to America’s oldest bar, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, built in 1722. Seemingly indestructible (it has survived two fires), reportedly haunted, and once used by pirates as the base for a smuggling operation, Lafitte’s is built on legend. Both locals and tourists alike love this bar which serves up some of the finest adult beverages in the city, and it is always fun to sing along with the resident pianist. Whether you drink or not, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to this NOLA landmark.

Finally, as far as drinking establishments go, Pat O’Brien’s is equally well renowned. Although not nearly as old as Lafitte’s, the bar was converted from a speakeasy at the end of prohibition in 1933. It became so popular, it relocated to its current location on St. Peter Street, which was built in 1791 and once housed the first French Theatre Company in town. In the mid-1940s, rum was easily accessible but whiskey, bourbon and scotch were not, so O’Brien created the Hurricane, a delicious, fuity drink served in a hurricane-lamp-shaped glass. The beverage has since become synonymous with New Orleans. So you have to stop in for at least one! But be careful, don’t drink this on an empty stomach. It’s light and fruity but packs a whallop, so feel free to munch on the nuts and pretzels served at the bar so you don’t stumble out of the place at the end of the night.

If you’re not lucky enough to live in or near NOLA, you should definitely head over to the New Orleans School of Cooking on St. Louis Street for a fun-filled evening where you can take a class or watch a cooking demonstration, both of which come with meal provided. We highly recommend you take the class. Last time there we learned to make gumbo, blackened fish, maque choux, and fresh pralines (all while drinking of course), but courses vary so you can decide beforehand what you’d like to learn how to make. After the food is prepared, sit down and enjoy the fuits of your labor! While there, you can also buy supplies, regional ingredients, and a cookbook or two so you can truly take the taste of New Orleans home with you.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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