FIVE THINGS?! We recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, but even though it was a short trip, narrowing down everything we’ll miss about this unique city was no easy task. Hell, gumbo alone could take up all five spots (mental note for a future gumbo post…) And you can’t ignore the po’ boys. Or fresh Leidenheimer french bread. Oh, and Abita on tap!
Having been to New Orleans a few times, this list partially reflects some things that we consistently miss every time we fly back home. And aside from one item, we tried to avoid the obvious answers (ahem, G-U-M-B-O). With the exception of a trip outside the city to Gretna, most of these are in or within walking distance of the French Quarter, so it’s easy to relive all of these things within a day. And with all the food you’ll be eating, you’ll need to walk it off.
If you don’t mind the heat and aren’t afraid of hurricane season, flights and hotels are pretty reasonable in August (about half the price as they are in late fall). But don’t forget to pack an umbrella, as there’s a good chance you’ll see a few brief rain showers during your late summer visit. And bring a pocket full of dollar bills–Not for the cavalcade of strip clubs on Bourbon Street, but for the street performers, homeless, and vendors at the French Market.
1. Chocolate Pecan Crunch at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House
This dessert from Bourbon House‘s Sara Toth won gold prize at the 2014 New Orleans Food & Wine Festival. One medal doesn’t seem like enough for this rich, salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, dessert that is almost impossible to describe with words and pictures alone. The inside includes layers of chocolate mousse, crispy pecan brittle, caramel, and a chocolate crust. All topped with rich chocolate ganache and pecans, served with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. We were too full to finish it at the restaurant, but that didn’t stop me from wrapping it up and shoving the leftovers in my carry-on bag. Two days and 1,055 miles later it was still worthy of a gold medal.
Yes, we’ve already dedicated an entire post to Merchant, but it’s worth repeating. For a break from the noise of Bourbon Street, stop by Merchant for good coffee, crêpes, and friendly staff. And don’t forget to grab an almond croissant for the plane ride home (sorry, United, for all the powdered sugar on seat 9B).
3. Chargrilled Oysters
Okay, yes chargrilled oysters are pretty common in NOLA and it’s almost superfluous to even include them on the list. However, every single time we go to New Orleans, one of our first meals includes them and it’s one of the first dishes we miss when we return home. And as a little bit of a #FoodPSA, I want to note that even if you THINK you don’t like oysters, you should still give them a try, ’cause you haven’t had any like this. Of course if you’re allergic you should use common sense…but it might be worth it…
4. Beignets from Café Beignet
Standing in a sweaty line at Café Du Monde for beignets and a café au lait holds an iconic place in many peoples’ hearts. But honestly, if you want to avoid the crowd and (dare I say it) find better beignets, then check out Café Beignet. Everything also feels a lot less manufactured than at Café Du Monde, plus one of the locations is next door to a police station, so it’s most likely the safest place to enjoy a beignet (insert joke about cops stealing your beignets).
5. Three Happiness Restaurant
Technically, Three Happiness Restaurant isn’t in New Orleans, but it’s only about 15 minutes outside of the city in Gretna, LA. We have pretty solid Vietnamese food in Northern Virginia, but you simply can’t beat Vietnamese food in the New Orleans area. With a huge Vietnamese population (Tina’s family being some of them!), Louisiana has some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll find in the Western hemisphere. If you need an expert’s confirmation of this, check out Season 11 of Top Chef. The food at Three Happiness Restaurant was delicious (no really, seriously delicious), but it was the good vibes from the owners that made it truly unique. Their hospitality was so genuine that you felt like you were eating in their own home. Highlights included the crispy egg rolls (wrapped in lettuce and basil and dipped in nước chấm), tender cubes of ribeye sauteed in butter, and a seemingly never ending seafood hot pot with shrimp so fresh they were still wearing mardi gras beads.
Runner-Up: JW Marriott New Orleans
Also, as a “runner-up,” I want to give a shout out to the JW Marriott on Canal Street. The hotel’s location was perfect for accessing the French Quarter, while also not being right in the middle of all the action (because it’s nice to be able to sleep a little bit). The hotel food wasn’t anything memorable (especially for the steep prices), but it was fine if you needed a quick bite or late night room service snack. The rooms were clean and the staff was friendly (except for one condescending guy). The bellhops were all awesome and took care of us and our luggage like we were BFFs. So, we would definitely recommend JW Marriott for its cleanliness, friendliness, and location.