New Orleans is so magical, it makes me dizzy. The city had me feeling as though we were drifting on a Caribbean island, with the colors and the architecture and the slow, yet pulsing energy of each day. New Orleans is very urban but also, 18th century; it’s located in the south, yet more singular in culture than any other southern city. The food, the jazz, the voodoo, the humidity — there’s a true sense of something mystical swirling around, it really did make me dizzy sometimes. Truthfully, this was most likely due to the air being so thick and damp I often felt like I was swimming through the streets, even in the winter’s cool air.
The city is anchored by an immensely rich history that dates back centuries, with vast influences from African, to Caribbean, Spanish, and French. New Orleans is nothing if not jubilant, people seem to dance at the drop of a hat, it’s infectious. They second line for everything, making life a celebration. To truly get a sense of this city, you have to take the time to wander, to sit and sip coffee (or a Sazerac) and engage in the energy; and of course, talk to people, because the residents of New Orleans are proud.
I recently spent a month in New Orleans, and this list is far from exhaustive. But the following places brought me so much joy, and showcased the uniqueness that makes this city so special from any other place in the country, if not the world.
TO EAT AND DRINK:
For a good cappuccino in the French Quarter, there is no other but Spitfire. With only three stools at a bar to vie for, the space is small but the baristas are relaxed and friendly. I love walking through the French Quarter to Spitfire in the very early mornings, to mingle with the the quirky mix up people, some walking out of bars, only ending their festivities, others just beginning.
FRENCH TRUCK COFFEE
New Orleans has a famous style of coffee roasted with chicory. They often drink this brew iced, as the bayou weather tends toward the tropical side. Traditionally, the coffee and chicory mixture is brewed as a concentrate at room temperature, creating a strong and syrupy drink. It is served on ice with milk. French Truck’s New Orleans is especially good, given that they shake the coffee and milk with crushed ice and sugar. It is, absolutely, the best and most addictive coffee drink known to man. Located in the Lower Garden District, the small space is painted in a bright yellow and blue palate.
New Orleans’s food lexicon exists mostly of words such as: Po’boys, gumbo, muffulettas, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and beignets, to name a few. After eating lots of said dishes, we were definitely craving something a bit more green. We happened upon Green Goddess completely by accident, while an ominously dark rain cloud hovered above us and forced us into the nearest shelter. And we felt like we walked into some kind of island oasis. Maybe it had something to do with the impending storm, the damp breeze blowing into the open air space, the black and white tiled floors or the starry lights hanging from the ceiling, but I felt completely enchanted in this place. The menu features many traditional New Orleans dishes with a twist, as well as vegetarian options.
GUY’S AND GENE’S FOR POBOYS
Next time I’m in New Orleans I hope to visit more Po’boy establishments, because there are so many and I’m sure they are all good. But I only made it to uptown Guy’s, for the fried shrimp Po’boy of my dreams, and Gene’s in the Marigny, for the heavenly sausage and cheese. I gained about 15 pounds after spending a month there, but I was plump and happy.
CAFE BEIGNET AND CAFE DU MONDE
Beignets, or glorified doughnuts to most, are a New Orleans specialty, extra fried and covered in a mound of delicate powdered sugar that sticks absolutely everywhere (I was brushing it out of my hair hours later). There are two places in the French Quarter that most New Orleans residents and tourists go to for beignets: Cafe Beignet and Cafe du Monde. Personally, I enjoyed both. Cafe Beignet’s pastry was certainly denser, while Cafe du Monde’s was on the light and fluffy side. Both are best warm. Cafe du Monde’s atmosphere takes the prize, though; we walked through the early morning’s dense fog (as if the magical element could get any more ethereal!) to the old-world, open-air space, and it was buzzing with energy.
This romantic, candle-lit restaurant had us coming back for more; literally, we ate here twice in only four days, not only for the delicious food, but because there was just so much atmosphere. Located uptown on Magazine street, past palatial Garden District homes and surrounded by boutiques and cafes, the floors are tiled and the ceilings are coffered with chandeliers hanging above; the menu changes daily, as all ingredients are sourced locally.
LA PETITE GROCERY
Similar to Coquette, La Petite Grocery focuses on local ingredients, with a little more emphasis on hearty, southern food. The yellow building was once a specialty grocery store that was known for its butter and coffee, which was roasted in-house — hence the restaurant’s name, La Petite Grocery. Located uptown, also on Magazine.
DRINK A SAZERAC OR A RAMOS GIN FIZZ, ANYWHERE
One of my favorite places in New Orleans for a drink was Sylvain (not pictured). But truth be told, there are so many gloriously old and quirky bars serving classic cocktails that it was hard to choose; this is a city that definitely likes its spirits. It doesn’t get more old-world than drinking a Sazerac in New Orleans, which is why one must do so. The Sazerac is special to the city because it is considered to be one of the first known American cocktails, ever — and created, of course, in New Orleans. At the namesake Sazerac Bar, for example, as the narrow space fills with jazz, there is no doubt as you sip your cocktail that you are in New Orleans; the scene gives you a buzz, as does the insanely alcoholic namesake drink — a Sazerac is made of whiskey, bitters, absinthe and sugar, finished off with a lemon peel. I loved the Ramos Gin Fizz as well, extra shaken with egg whites and cream and practically frothing out of the glass.
We spent New Year’s Eve at the ever-classic Galatoire’s. We were caught up and transfixed by the revelry — the charm of the green-hued dining room, the waiters in tuxes, and the raucous clientele ringing in the new year, NOLA style. It’s an old establishment that still brings in a diverse and posh New Orleans crowd, tourists and locals alike, and the food doesn’t change, with an emphasis on seafood and classic dishes.
Named one of the best new restaurants in the country, Shaya is a welcome stray from the delicious but often heavy cuisine cooking that New Orleans is famous for. Featuring Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes, the bread and Mezze dips, like lutenitsa and labneh, are truly standouts that we went back for again and again. The space is clean and modern, but the outside patio, with whitewashed walls and blue accents, feels like a coastal Mediterranean cafe.
Other favorites (I feel I should start to simply list them, lest this becomes a novel): ATCHAFALAYA for atmosphere and Creole dishes, ANCORA for the best Neapolitan pizza and cocktails.
Billy Reid is the fashion world’s patron designer of the south. His name and designs have infiltrated all over the world, yet he continues to live and operate his label out of his home state of Alabama. His clothes are incredibly well constructed, and the New Orleans store features a beautiful kitchen and outdoor space that doubles as a gathering spot for the city’s creative community. Moreover, the staff is the absolute best and I spent many hours hanging out in the store drinking cocktails with them.
MEYER THE HATTER
I really love hats. There is something so special and eccentric and nostalgiac about wearing them. This 80-year-old hat store is as good as it gets when it comes to hat shopping. They sell my favorite go-to brand, Borsalino, as well as American-made Stetsons and everything in between. The storefront near Canal street outside the Quarter is 5th-generation owned, meaning Meyer is still the Hatter, and his ‘Nawlins draw and witty quips will certainly make your hat buying experience unlike another. Not to mention his charming French-born wife and colleague who sells hats equally well — between the two of them I was so charmed, I bought not one hat, but two.
This French Quarter boutique is a small, curated collection of beautiful separates from inspiring designers around the world. Armina, a co-owner of the boutique, helped me pick out the perfect pair of vintage jeans. Impeccable and eclectic taste is sprinkled throughout the store, from the design of the space itself to the racks of artful outfits.