If you can spend a holiday away from home, do it. Christmas on a beach with a cocktail? Yes, please. Santa can bring his swim trunks! This year I decided to ring in the new year in New Orleans, my favorite place outside of Chicago, with my girlfriend Breyon. A bae-cation, if you will.
We stayed in the Bywater, a chill part of New Orleans that lazes by the Mississippi River. It is filled with the best little restaurants, all of them like gems that stud a crown. At the tail end of the Southwest Airline meltdown, our flight departing after midnight, we got off the ground, in the air, and landed at 2:30am. We groggily reached our stay at 3:30 and collapsed into blissful sleep.
The only agenda I ever have for New Orleans is food and romance, which are one and the same for me at times. I think it’s how you really get to know the soul of a place. If you can feed my soul, I know yours is good too. After a chance meet up with a member of Team Joy the Baker, Toby, the first stop was Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos, the same place I started my trip last April. Their margaritas are perfectly boozy every time. I always leave with a gentle sway in my step.
Last time I was here, I was having difficulty walking long distances but wanting to explore. This time around I explored my little heart out, taking extended walks, stopping to admire every pretty corner of this world Bre and I called ours for a week. Every restaurant greets you like you’re an old friend visiting, and everyone inside is so friendly. The servers call you “baybeh” and you melt. Of course, I’m going to tell you my favorite places and break it down by neighborhood.
Bywater Brew Pub – This was an accidental find. It was more me moving around my Google map and saying, “Huh… this looks good!” Cut to having marinated pork belly cracklin’ in a buddha bowl with the most perfect fried egg and house brewed beer. Bre and I kept looking at each other asking, “How did we end up here?!” I cannot wait to return.
Bacchanal Wine – By far, the coolest place in the Bywater. The front of house has bottles and bottles of wine you order and take out to the coolest backyard you’ve ever seen, paired with a live band. If you prefer a more low key vibe, head upstairs to the bar where you can order wine by the glass and amazing cocktails and the best mushroom leek soup I’ve ever had. If you’re cool (and we are) the bartender will recommend more local spots.
Elizabeth’s Restaurant – the. best. Bloody. Mary. in. town. THE END!
Saint-Germain – great wine with the cutest patio. Unfortunately, a bit pretentious save for the host (from Chicago!), who told us about Barkus – a Mardi Gras parade for dogs. Now I’m obsessed and will be going next year.
The Marigny District
Baldwin & Co. – a Black owned coffee shop, bookstore, and podcast studio. Their coffee drink names are inspired by classic books like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “The Yellow House.” After walking around the neighborhood it was the softest place to land and relax for a while. Also, check out their rental vacation home, which I absolutely must stay in someday.
New Orleans Art Bar – also owned by Baldwin & Co., this is a bookstore and wine lounge. We walked in on New Years Eve to it transformed into a club bumpin’ Afrobeats and a food truck serving spicy seafood rice. It was a younger scene, and involved way more men in unbuttoned shirts than I was prepared for. Mad? No. Unprepared? Definitely.
Ayu Bakehouse – this is a perfect place to daydream your day away. The vibe inside can only be described as “vintage zen” with its original woodwork paired with cool beige/terracotta decor. Though famous for their “boudin boy” (essentially a sausage roll with boudin) please don’t sleep on their other pastries. I’m a sucker for a good oatmeal raisin cookie and their gluten free toasted oat cookie hit all the marks.
Robért Fresh Market – yep, this is a local chain grocery store that happens to have the most immaculately fried catfish and chicken at their hot food bar. Here’s how you know the food is good, upon walking in there was an argument in the kitchen so loud that customers stopped to listen. I beelined for the hot food because I KNEW it was about to be the stuff of dreams. It’s science y’all, trust me.
The Irish Channel/The Garden District
Atchafalaya – if you’re looking for a boozy brunch paired with fantastic food and excellent service, please stop here. The entire meal was so good, but I keep going back to the deviled eggs, a seasoned whipped cloud. Excuse me while I cry for a minute.
French Truck Coffee – when you get to Magazine Street, one direction holds a decidedly upscale experience, and the other holds a more casual experience. We opted for casual, weaving in and out of vintage clothing shops and stationery stores. We skipped a crowded coffee bar and ended up at French Truck Coffee, where we made instant friends with the entire staff and bought fresh ground beans home with us. I hate finding coffee I love that isn’t here in Chicago – this is making me sad about Dutch Bros Coffee all over again (if you know you KNOW).
Cochon – simply, this is where you have to go. You just have to. (You just… fold in the cheese, David.) Their gumbo reigns supreme, that dark roux holding layers of flavor that bloom on your palette. Grilled oysters sit in a pool of garlicky butter, next to a fresh basket of rolls waiting to soak up the excess. I just made my own mouth salivate, my goodness. You don’t skip Cochon.
Bakery Bar – just down the street from Cochon, stop here for dessert and a drink. I couldn’t leave New Orleans without tasting a local favorite, doberge. They have little bites of cake (called do-bites!) which paired perfect with their chocolate martini. Tipsy chocolate milk? Oh, sign me up twice.
New Year’s Eve
After trying and failing to find New Years Eve plans, including getting invited to church by a lovely couple, we decided to make our own bar crawl. It turned out to be the best decision. Bouncing from the Bywater, to the Marigny District, to the French Quarter ending at Lafitte’s, Breyon and I were thoroughly drunk well before midnight. Celebrating with a bunch of strangers-turned-friends is the perfect way to ring in the New Year. Verdi Marte provided us with my favorite shrimp po’boy to end the night. Nothing like sitting in a planter box drunk eating the best sandwich in town. I would gladly do it again (and probably will).
I’m going to be a little vulnerable with y’all. At 36 this was my first kiss at midnight – my first romantic vacation. New Orleans, it turns out, is a perfect city to visit when you’re in love. Every place has a nook to snuggle in, its French roots promoting long strolls to nowhere in particular. Its Creole side makes a party wherever two or more are gathered. Loving with city with someone you love turned out to be the perfect vacation combo.
Joy said I’m feeling the call of New Orleans and she’s right.