Thousands of people are descending upon New Orleans today donning their green, gold and purple beads and masks—Mardi Gras is officially here.
NOLA is steeped in history, and when it comes to good food and drink, there’s no shortage. Instead of returning to the tried and true favorites, we asked local industry experts for inside information. Here’s where to go:
Samantha “Sam” Carroll, chef and co-owner of Sac-a-Lait in the Warehouse District, starts her weekdays at Willa Jean for breakfast. “They’ve got amazing pastries and killer cocktails,” she says. “Kelly Fields is one of the city’s best chefs.”
For po’ boys, head to Gene’s. “It’s only $9, and they’re huge,” says Nina Compton, executive chef/co-owner of the widely-acclaimed Compère Lapin. Options at Gene’s include shrimp, catfish and chicken patty. “Can’t go wrong with any one, it just depends on my mood.”
Carroll suggests Domilise’s uptown; her chef-husband Cody opts for the fried oyster po’ boy, but she’s partial to the off-menu po’ boy. “You need to know to ask for it. It has fried shrimp, roast beef gravy, cheese, mayo, hot sauce and lettuce. You’ll always see a Neville or some famous musician in there, but it’s a locals-only hidden spot. Grab some Miller Lite and you’ll be in heaven.”
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Here’s a lunch insider tip from Amanda Toups of Toups Meatery and Toups South, which she owns with her husband, Isaac: head to St. James Cheese Company. “I just took our six-year-old there for lunch,” she says. “Isaac and I got to eat Iberico ham, burrata cheese and drink rosé, while poppy ate mac-n-cheese made from actually good cheese.”
Also on Toups’s list: Virginia Demarest’s Bayou Wine Garden in Mid-City, boasting a variety of house-made charcuterie and salamis, a vast selection of cheese and a menu featuring sandwiches, flatbreads and salads. “It has an epic outdoor space that’s between Meatery and our home.”
For a killer happy hour, Compton recommends Borgne near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Pizza Domenica uptown. “I hit those up when I can.” Also on her list is her favorite under-the-radar bar, Bacchanal. “It’s one of my favorite local spots,” she says. “It has great wine, an amazing backyard and live music. It’s the Mediterranean in New Orleans.”
“For great whiskey and beer, head to the Lower Garden District to Barrel Proof,” says Abigail Gullo, lead bartender at Compère Lapin. “Brought to you by the fine folks from Sylvain, this bar has an extensive selection.”
“It depends if you want fancy or divey,” says Carroll of her favorite hangouts. “For fancy bars, you can’t go wrong with Carousel Bar and The Sazerac Bar. But for low-key, cool dive bars, you’ve got to check out Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, Napoleon House and Rusty Nail.” Built sometime between 1722 and 1732, Lafitte’s is reportedly the oldest bar in the United States.
“The best place to see live music is a spot nobody really knows called Gasa Gasa,” says Carroll. “They book both big acts and local musicians.”
Looking to do something out of the ordinary? Take a tip from Gullo and create your own grub crawl via bicycle. “Bike up my favorite street, Esplanade Avenue, until you hit City Park,” she says. “Get some chicken wings and cool drinks at Mopho and then bike down Orleans to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for the world’s greatest fried chicken—seriously.” Willie Mae’s has held court in New Orleans since 1957. “They hold the title, and for good reason; the chicken is super juicy and the spice in the ‘just right crust’ has got kick!”