New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. Like Miami, it's one of the places that feel like you've stepped into an area outside of the United States (at least for me) due to the culture, the history, and let's not forget that NOLA accent that has some of us swooning. New Orleans is a tourist hot spot, so it can be challenging to find authentic gems if you're only using travel sites as your guide.
With my eight years of experience attending ESSENCE Festival, I've found tried and true places I love from hotels to breakfast spots I have to try every time I'm in town. Check them out below.
Where To Stay
The Pontchartrain Hotel
I stumbled upon the Pontchartrain Hotel thanks to HotelTonight because my hotel plans fell through just before the ESSENCE weekend started, but I am so glad they did. From the service, the decor, the beautifully decorated rooms, and their rooftop bar — the Garden District property is worth every penny.
Finding a hotel in the middle of the action in the French Quarter during peak times isn't easy, but the fifteen-room inn gives you access to the hustle and bustle at a reasonable price point.
What To Eat
Willa Jean's owner and chef is known for her baked goods, but the Central Business District restaurant has made it clear that Chef Kelly Fields can do it all — especially breakfast. The Hangover Bowl was one of my favorite items on the menu, along with the milk and cookies.
Located just a few blocks from Canal Street, this local favorite is the only place I have breakfast, well at least until the weekend as the eatery is closed. If you get a chance to swing by during the week, don't miss out on the "CBB" Commerce Breakfast Biscuit. Oh, and tell Ms. Cassandra I said hi!
Loretta's Authentic Pralines
Loretta's Pralines has been around 35 years and was the first praline company in New Orleans to be successfully owned and operated by a black woman. You can pick up sweet treats like cookies, pralines, and brownies from their North Rampart or French Market locations. But, don't miss out on Ms. Loretta's Crab or Praline Beignets. We hear they're the best in beignets in the city!
Willie Mae's has been serving up crispy, golden fried chicken since 1947. The James Beard Foundation awarded the late Willie Mae Seaton, who passed away in 2015 at 99, even calling her fried chicken the best in the world.
Offering creole fare for brunch (Sundays only) and dinner, this Lower Ninth Ward black-owned restaurant is one not the miss by review standards on Yelp and TripAdvisor. The Lizardi egg rolls, seafood, and the bread pudding with rum sauce should be at the top of mind when you place your order.
Like Willie Mae's Scotch House, Dooky Chase has long served the New Orleans community, opening its doors as a sandwich shop. It later grew into a family restaurant thanks to the vision of Leah Lange Chase, who is known to many as the "Queen of Creole Cuisine." Mrs. Chase may have left us at the age of 96, but her legacy and contribution to NOLA's food history will live on.
Even after eight years of trying out po boys in the Big Easy, I wouldn't dare give one recommendation on where to go to get one. But, I will say that black-owned establishments like Gene's have a special place in my heart. While Killer Poboys is also one of go-to's because the menu offers sandwiches, you'd expect like the seared gulf shrimp po boy, they also provide options for vegetarians like their roasted sweet potato that comes loaded with black-eyed peas, pecan spread, and braised greens.
The Food Halls
There are two food halls in New Orleans. First up is, Pythian Market Food Hall where 14 Parishes offers authentic Jamaican cuisine like Jerk Chicken, Curry Goat, and Callaloo. Next up is St. Roch Market which provides a little more variety with twelve vendors. If you need to do a little morning juice cleanse before your next indulgent meal, have a smoothie at The Daily Beet or if you're ready for a bit of flavor, try Frita where chef Charly Pierre serves Haitian street food. The seared fish, crab mac and cheese, and fried plantains with creole sauce sounds like a movie. One more thing, don't pass up a chance to try a cocktail from The Mayhaw.
Things To Do
Bacchanal Wine is another NOLA spot that comes highly rated. Open seven days a week, the outdoor "wine laboratory" has live jazz, craft cocktails, cheese plates, and hundreds of wines from around the world.
This cafe isn't just a place to grab a powdery beignet —it's an experience. After all these years, I still love stopping by Café Du Monde, especially to have their Frozen Café Au Lait and take a moment to take the city in. If you're planning to stop by, be sure to carry cash as plastic still isn't accepted.
If you want to see a beautiful view of New Orleans with a well-crafted cocktail (my personal favorite is the "Some Like It Hot"), Hot Tin is your spot. Since this rooftop bar can get a bit crowded, go just before sunset to get a good spot and take in the scenic view.
After my first trip to New Orleans, I gave up Bourbon Street for Frenchmen. Last year, I stopped by the Spotted Cat to hear a little jazz and later made my way to Artists Alley, where I bought photographs and artwork created by local artists.
Featured image by Getty Images