Willie Mae's fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread and sweet tea.

New Orleans restaurants you have to check out

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Even though I was only able to spend about 50 hours in New Orleans, there was just two things on the itinerary: See the sights and stuff my face with Cajun and Creole food. It seemed like every tour or souvenir shopping stop was sandwiched by a stop at Café Du Monde or a bowl of etouffe. If you have a couple days to spend in NOLA and need some recommendations on where to eat, check out a few of the New Orleans restaurants I visited while in town.

Inside the Lobby at International House Hotel. Photo courtesy of International House.

Before you make any dinner reservations, ask the locals where they go for a meal. We stayed at the beautiful International House Hotel, located just a few blocks from Bourbon St. and French Quarter, and the staff there offered great insight into where locals eat. Architecturally beautiful with a Beaux-Arts design on the outside and sleek and sexy on the inside, International House was a wonderful hotel to rest our heads after long days of sightseeing.

Photo courtesy of International House.

The boutique hotel offers 117 guest rooms, suites and penthouses and was constantly buzzing with guests and activity. Curated art collections are on rotation within the hotel, but the space itself is something to marvel at. I’m a huge fan of staying at independent, smaller boutique hotels and the impeccable service, artistic appeal and luxury was exactly what I had hoped for.

Grab a seasonal, craft cocktail at Loa inside International House Hotel

Even if you’re not staying at the International House, you must drop by in the evening where you’ll find a candlelit lobby, antique velvet seating and a fabulous bar, Loa, which offers delicious and seasonally-inspired cocktails.

Inside Loa at the International House.

Nationally-recognized “Spirit Handler” Alan Walter is at the helm of Loa who also creates his own cocktail concoctions, syrups and aromatic bitters. The seasonal and signature cocktails list is not to be missed. I ordered a Delilah, a mix of London Dry Gin, Thai basil, pineapple balsamic and elderflower. All of the cocktails are locally inspired and beautifully presented. The mixologists are highly versed so tell them what you like and they can make a great recommendation to suit your tastes.

Order oysters wherever you go

Photo courtesy of Acme Oyster House.

My love for oysters is growing and while I’ve tried a gamut of varieties from the West Coast and Pacific North West, the oysters from Louisiana are unbelievable. Oysters from this region are plump, uber fresh and savory. Even if you’re not a fan of these delicacies, try some baked oysters and it’ll definitely change your perspective.

Some of the best oysters I slurped down came from Acme Oyster House. This oyster institution is packed non-stop so you may have to wait in line, but the hand-shucked oysters are completely worth it. Raw and chargrilled oysters can be ordered by the half or full dozen but you’ll also want to leave some room for an entrée or appetizer.

Etouffe and Fried Crawfish from Acme Oyster.

I ordered the Seafood Etouffe and a side of Fried Crawfish and it was true taste of the south. The etouffe was rich and creamy and the crawfish added a great texture to the meal. The menu is extensive so come with friends so you can try a bit of everything.

Traditional Cajun food is the way to go

The Shrimp Po-Boy from Mother’s.

Whenever I travel, I always order food that is typical of the area and New Orleans is one of the best places to do just that. One of our first stops in town was to Mother’s Restaurant where we ordered a Shrimp Po-Boy, Famous Ferdi Special and a bowl of Seafood Gumbo. The restaurant is a favorite among locals and is a quick and easy stop.

Order a bit of everything from Remoulade on Bourbon Street.

We also dropped by Remoulade in the heart of Bourbon St. for hurricanes, baked oysters, seafood gumbo, stuffed crab and red beans and rice. The eatery is the casual side of one of the famed New Orleans restaurants, Arnaud’s, so drop by there for a great meal among a low-key atmosphere.

Strawberrries-Arnaud-NOLAI highly suggest getting dessert while you’re at the restaurant since you can order off the same dessert menu as Arnaud’s. The Strawberries Arnaud is a bowl of fresh strawberries in a marinade of port, red wine, spices and citrus poured over local French vanilla ice cream. Absolutely heavenly.

Beignets for days

On day two of beignets for breakfast at Cafe Du Monde.

If you don’t get an order of beignets while in New Orleans, it’s like you didn’t even make the trip. I’m not ashamed to say that I went to Café Du Monde two days in a row – because they were just that freaking delicious. The fried French doughnut is served hot and the fluffiness of the pillowy dough and mounds of powdered sugar, in addition to a black coffee with chicory, is one of the best ways to start the day. Not to mention, it will give you the caffeine and sugar fuel you need to navigate your way through the city.

Add some jazz to your morning outside of Cafe Du Monde.

Café Du Monde is a great spot for people watching too as it is heavily frequented by tourists and is situated adjacent to Jackson Square. Saxophone players were playing outside both days I visited so I highly recommend taking your time here so you can take in the smells, sights and sounds of NOLA.

Saving the best for last

Unassuming yet so delicious.

You’ve probably seen Willie Mae’s Scotch House on TV or heard about this unsuspecting restaurant through the grapevine. Voted Best Fried Chicken in America by Food Network, 2005 James Beard Foundation winner for America’s Classic Restaurant, Southern Region and a number of other impressive accolades, Willie Mae’s is the real deal. We made our way to Willie Mae’s right before heading to the airport as our final NOLA send off.

Willie Mae’s fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread and sweet tea.

Fried chicken is an indulgence for me and while I’m not the connoisseur of this American comfort food, Kerry Seaton and the fry cooks are making magic in their kitchen. While Willie Mae has retired, her restaurant is doing everything right. The seasoning is perfect, the crunch of the batter is unlike anything I’ve ever had and the sides worked perfectly. At only about $11 for a plate of chicken and a side, Willie Mae’s is definitely worth the short cab ride to the Treme neighborhood.

Jackson Square, New Orleans

With a city rich in culture, history and growth after Katrina, foodies definitely need to make the pilgrimage to New Orleans at least once in their lives. While 50 hours in NOLA is nowhere near enough time to see and eat everything, it definitely allowed me to see just a bit of what the city offers. I’ll be making my return trip soon enough, but until then, I’ll be dreaming of Creole food.

For more information, visit www.NewOrleansCVB.com.

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