New Orleans has been on my bucketlist for many, many years. Mostly, I wanted to get to the famous Cafe Du Monde of the French Quarter. New Orleans is famous for spicy creole dishes, indulgent desserts, and fresh seafood. While in the city for the American College of Cardiology conference, Boyfriend (now Fiancé) and I made sure to try as many New Orleans classics as possible.
Starting with one of the oldest NOLA institutions, we booked date night at this classy restaurant prepared to dine on some of the best, high-quality creole cuisine. Though this restaurant is just off of crowded, wild Bourbon Street, Arnaud’s weeds out the drunken riffraff with a fairly strict dress code. Waitstaff in tuxedos seated us in a comfortable corner of the beautiful dining room, even placing the napkins on our laps.
While waiting for the table we reserved on Open Table, we enjoyed drinks at French 75, the attached bar named after the renowned champagne cocktail. I enjoyed the sweet and sour French 75 while Fiancé sipped on a bourbon.
In true NOLA fashion, no one takes themselves too seriously. A warm loaf of bread was placed on the table. We were told to tear off the bread and don’t bother worrying about the crumbs. There was a delicious crust that crackled with every tear. We did our best not to fill up on the bread. Our waitress then stopped by with a unique little tool to quickly gather our crumbs like they were never there. (Another waiter was kind enough to give me one!)
I ordered the “Jazzy Menu”, a tasting menu with choices of appetizers, entrees, and dessert. My appetizer was a delicious salad with spicy pecans, bold Stilton blue cheese, and acidic vinaigrette. Fiancé enjoyed a Caesar salad, then added on some escargot (my favorite). He tried one and said “it tasted like dirt”, so I ate the rest. The de-shelled snails are served in a pool of garlic, butter, and parsley with a small pastry on top.
My main course was scallops in a creamy mushroom sauce and small whipped potatoes piped in between each buttery scallop. Fiancé had the Steak au Poivre, cooked rare. Arnaud’s, as a rule, does not bring steak knives as all steaks should be easily cut with a butter knife.
Finally for dessert, Fiancé enjoyed a decadent chocolate toffee bombe. My Paris-Brest was slightly disappointing as the pâte à choux dough was tough rather than light and airy.
#2 Heard Dat Kitchen
The best NOLA food is soul food. I found this hole-in-the-wall recommended on some websites. It is a true hole-in-the-wall, housed in a tiny shack attached to a small gambling room. There is a small window and one two-person table inside. The remaining seating is colorful benches outside.
We ordered the homemade sugary fruit punch called “Dat Shyt.” The sweetness helped tone down the saltiness of our meal. Dat Fries were covered in Cajun seasoning, candied bacon, and a creamy sauce. I ate salty fried chicken with red beans and rice. The meat and sausage were so tender and the spice level was absolutely perfect. Fiancé devoured fried chicken with peppery mac ‘n’ cheese. All of our plates were clean by the end of our meal.
#3 Napoleon House
We stumbled upon this place by accident while wandering after finding the Carousel Bar was too packed to order a sazerac. I had read a brief comment on Chowhound that they enjoyed the sazerac there. The bar was full, so we agreed to be seated.
The sazerac here is made with absinthe, as the original recipe indicates. Per our waiter, they are one of the only NOLA restaurants to continue using absinthe. We ordered a charcuterie plate full of NOLA delicacies: pate, headcheese sausage, boudin meatballs, and alligator sausage served with toast and various toppings like pepper jam and mustard.
Fiancé ordered a half mufaletta which was huge! I have always enjoyed the tangy olive topping of this sandwich. The meat was tasty and not too salty. The fluffy focaccia bread prevented an overwhelming salt flavor from the combination of pickled vegetables and cured meats.
We ended our “second dinner” with cannolis filled with traditional ricotta cream on one end and chocolate cream on the other. I was immensely impressed by the shell, which did not become soggy and remained intact as we ate.
#4 Mother’s Restaurant
Mother’s reminds me of a New York Jewish deli, though keep in mind this food is not kosher. Line up outside and make your way past the deli counter to order at the cash register. The line looks long, but they serve quickly. Take a seat and one of the lovely waitstaff (who call you “baby”) will bring you your order. There’s more seating around the corner, so don’t be upset if there are no seats near the counter – the building is larger than it looks.
Mother’s serves up NOLA favorites like po’ boys, gumbo, and catfish. No frills, no fluff, and a ton of homestyle flavor. It’s fairly inexpensive, and obviously a favorite choice for lunch. Fiancé enjoyed a massive sandwich while I ate a perfectly portioned duck and andouille sausage gumbo. It was spicy without overwhelming my poor, sensitive taste buds. The meat was tender and I was comfortably full after finishing the size “Small” bowl. When you think of Creole food, this is the place to go.
#5 Cafe Du Monde
The original Cafe Du Monde is located in the French Quarter near Jackson Square on Decatur Street. There are 2 lines, one for seating and one for “to-go” orders. I recommend eating in the restaurant as the long line goes quickly. Once you’re at the front of the line, jump on any empty tables. The waitstaff will quickly tidy up messy tables. Keep in mind this is cash only.
We quickly sat at a small table. A waitress cleared the previous order, including the piles of powdered sugar. We ordered a cafe au lait and a hot chocolate to go with our beignets. It warmed us up after waiting in line in the chilly weather. These beignets are world-famous for a reason. They are light, fluffy pillows of fried dough buried in sweet powdered sugar. Get messy and enjoy!
Restaurant to Skip: Willa Jean
I’d heard great things online about Willa Jean, a fairly new restaurant to the NOLA food scene. Not to be confused with the famous Willa Mae Scotch House, this place is more modern and trendy. I enjoyed a latté flavored with herbs and turmeric. We split some poutine before our entreés. I had a rabbit pot pie, and Fiancé had their famous fried chicken sandwich Our food was about average, and our meal was essentially ruined by a nearby table filled with obnoxious women swapping sexcapades. Shortly after our dinner here, we stumbled onto Napoleon House, which was better in every way.
Have you tried any of these restaurants? Are there any “must try” places that I missed? Let me know in the comments!