Nowhere is the mix of cultures in New Orleans more obvious than on a plate. Creole, Cajun, French, Spanish and soul food elements mingle to create one of the most recognizable regional cuisines in America.
The legendary restaurant scene attracts foodies like bees to honey. Traditional favorites like shrimp Creole, gumbo and bananas Foster are served at restaurants like Galatoire’s and Arnaud’s that are more than a century old.
Recently, a bumper crop of innovative new eateries has shaken the dining scene like a Bond martini. Visitors who live to eat will hit a mouthwatering jackpot with a visit here. Tantalize your taste buds on a flavor-filled gourmet getaway to the Big Easy.
The New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (725 Howard Ave., 504-891-4060, nochi.org), known as NOCHI, is a new cooking school with a robust array of classes for amateur enthusiasts. Start your day in the lobby cafe with fortifying buckwheat and chia seed waffles lavished with passion fruit curd before heading to the state-of-the-art kitchen to get cooking.
Parisian-style brasserie Justine (open daily; 225 Chartres St., 504-218-8533, justinenola.com) embraces both classic and contemporary elements. Unfussy bistro favorites include onion soup and a burger served on a brioche bun. For a dish with a more inventive spin, order the octopus vinaigrette laced with a bounty of fresh herbs and citrus. Dramatic décor and antiques offer plenty of eye-candy while a live fan dancer adds a note of erotic irreverence.
Burn a few calories with a stroll in serene City Park. The New Orleans Museum of Art’s recently expanded Besthoff Sculpture Garden (open daily, free admission; City Park, 504-658-4100, noma.org😉 presents dozens of works nestled along meandering footpaths shaded by towering live oaks, magnolias and pines. Highlights include large-scale works by Jeppe Hein, Robert Longo and Frank Stella.
Located in a minimalist space in the trendy Warehouse District, Maypop (open daily; 611 O’Keefe Ave., 504-518-6345, maypoprestaurant.com) fusion menu is Southeast Louisiana meets Southeast Asia. Try the plump, local oysters — traditionally fried and served with a spicy cucumber relish for a dash of heat. A lusty jumble of herbs and spices adds panache in all the right ways.
At Gianna, (open daily; 700 Magazine St., 504-399-0816, giannarestaurant.com), James Beard Award winner Rebecca Wilcomb cooks simple, ingredient-driven Italian recipes learned at her grandma’s apron strings. Start with tortellini in brodo — meat-filled dumplings served in a clear chicken broth. For the main course, slow-roasted pork shoulder with fennel and orange or braised chicken served with polenta are winners.
Cocktail culture is robust in New Orleans. Jewel of the South (open nightly; 1026 Saint Louis St., 504-265-8816, jewelnola.com) is a new French Quarter tavern housed in a 1830s Creole cottage, complete with a leafy courtyard that acts as a magnet on languid summer evenings. The bartenders’ potent take on the sazerac, the hometown cocktail of choice, is made with rye and herbsaint. For something out of the ordinary, tempt yourself with a tuxedo tails, a creative riff on a martini served with a quail egg.
Good to know
Getting there: Flights from all three NYC-area airports take 3 hours.
Getting around: New Orleans is a walking city. Streetcars, public buses and the new bike share, Blue Bike, are excellent ways to get around.
Where to stay: In the Arts District, the Old No.77 Hotel and Chandlery (535 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-527-5271, old77hotel.com) was once a coffee warehouse. It has preserved original industrial elements and added a rotating gallery and guest rooms curated by local artists.
The newly opened Maison de la Luz (546 Carondelet St., 504-608-4466, maisondelaluz.com) is heavy on the luxury. If you crave the party scene, hotel guests may reserve a cushy poolside perch at Ace Hotel next door.