Everybody has a secret place they don't want to share with anyone else--they say the person who finds Paradise will make sure no one else can find it. I believe we all find our faves some time in life and I'm happy as an ex rock 'n' roll tour manager who travelled the world and now a travel writer, to hip you to great locales and hidden treasures. So here they are and they will be added to and updated with regularity.
Click to jump the queue:
Kona, Hawaii is a great location to base on the Big Island. I've been there close to a hundred times and have stayed from days on short scuba dive breaks to months on long layabout holidays. It's a great little town, a short hop to the best beaches in the world, only a few hours to the world's only active 'drive-thru' volcano which has been mildly erupting for 25 years and is at the base of the cool Waimea high country where paniolo cowboys roam and wonderful roads wind through an exotic island. The best travel book for the Big Island (all islands for that matter) is from these folks http://www.wizardpub.com/bigisland/bigisland.html whose site also has an incredible set of links to the whole island at http://www.wizardpub.com/bigisland/biglinks.html. You'll find articles by me that include Kona at http://www.philtripp.com/travel_writing.php and in the Sunday Telegraph here http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,22684027-5013411,00.html
WHERE TO STAY
You have a range of choices from great condos on the water and up the cooler hills, resorts galore on the North Shore and even a few cheap and cheerful hotels in town like the King Kamehameha or Kona Seaside. The Wizard folk have a great aerial guide to them at www.wizardpub.com/bigisland/bigresort.html.
But here are the ones I recommend.
Casa D'Emdeko Condos on Alii Drive
This is where we spend most of our time on island when we want to be close to town on Alii Drive oceanside. It's a 15 minute walk, five minute easy bike ride and has free parking, great barbecues right on the water, salt and fresh water pools neat units and a faux beach in front of the lava rocks that shield you from the pounding surf. Sunsets are superb here and there is a bar/party area as well as outdoor tables for dining by the barbies. We use Sunquest Hawaii for our rentals when we don't connect directly with the owners we know. Their site is at www.sunquest-hawaii.com/Condos/Casa_De/casa_de.html and there are full photos of each unit as well as a handy calendar and video views.
Kona Village Resort Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, Kailua-Kona 367 5290 www.konavillage.com
About 15 miles out of Kona, this the most laid back and luscious place to go to get away from town located halfway between Kona and the Kohala Coast where the resorts are. Kids are strongly discouraged in May and September when they are charged full rate! I like that. Though it now has other superluxe resorts on the lava fields around it, it's still private, spirited and unique.
The place is laid out so each hut is private and they are scattered across 85 acres with only 125 units. There are lavish bungalows and plush duplexes. No phones, no TV and no radios encourage you to disconnect, but they do have free wi-fi in the concierge office. The beach is perfect and there is a broad range of activities.
The food there is fabulous and included in some package rates. They have a daily lunch buffet that 'outsiders' can come to by reservation and going through a security checkpoint that keeps out the riff raff.
Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa 78-128 Ehukai St, Kona Keauhou 930 4900 www.sheratonkeauhou.com
It sits a few miles outside of town at the end of Alii Drive, is home to an incredible nighttime display of manta rays and is a relaxing place to nest that's not too over the top. There are trams into the town and a small harbour nearby where you can take boats out for snorkelling or diving cruises in the Fair Wind mid-range and Hula Kai luxe boat. www.fair-wind.com
30 miles North is the Waikoloa resort complex with every premium brand but just a little further is a better, less-crowded option at the most beautiful beach in America.
Mauna Kea Resort 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr Kohala Coast 882 6000 www.maunakearesort.com
Recently closed due to an earthquake which spurred major renovations, it's the grande dame on the white sands of Hapuna Beach with a wonderful all-you-can-eat lobster and seafood buffet on the sands with band Saturday nights. A beautiful location, immense lobby looking out on the ocean and great restaurants inhouse. Rooms are huge and the trade winds are cooling. It's reopening in late 2008 and was the first and still the best beachside hotel in this area, opened by John d. Rockefeller in the 60s. Divine.
Hapuna Prince 62-100 Kaunaoa Dr Kohala Coast 880 1111 www.princeresortshawaii.com/hapuna-beach-prince-hotel.php
Right next to the Mauna Kea, this property appeals to the golf freak as does its sister hotel and also to the Japanese clientele who delight in dressing up. It sits a bit up on the hill and the columns of palm trees that stretch up towards Mauna Kea are my favourite screensaver and wallpaper on my computer. We were 'stuck' here during 9/11 when all flights were cancelled for days and couldn't have been happier to be stranded. Super people, super location.
Five best meals in Kona
Keei Cafe--Mamalohoa Highway 11 133 Mile Marker, Captain Cook, HI 96704 808 328 8451 Mediterranean, Brazilian and Island styles with seafood as the centrepiece and great wine list.
Kenichi Pacific-- Keauhou Shopping Center, Kailua-Kona HI 96740 808/322-6400 World class sushi and Pacific Rim Fusion cuisine with an impressive range of sake.
Kona Brewing Company--75-5629 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 www.konabrewingco.com 808 334 2739 Indoor/outdoor beer pub with outstanding pizza made from spent wheat from microbrewery on premises featuring five bottled and six draft specialties.
Killer Tacos--74-5483 Kaiwi St Ste 145, Kailua-Kona HI 96740 (808) 329-3335 Superfresh and cheap tacos and burritos with fish, kalua pig, chicken beef or bean fillings in a lino and melamine room with limited seating.
Aloha Angel in the Aloha Theatre--79-7384 Mamalahoa Hwy Kainaliu, HI 96750 www.alohatheatre.com (808) 322-3383 Indoor or outdoor patio dining for breakfast & lunch with views of the ocean, incredible egg and pancake dishes plus baked treats.
And two up the road
Bamboo Restaurant in Hawi 889-5555 Believe me this is worth the trip. Their satay potstickers, fish dishes, ribs, smoked pork and cabbage, desserts and especially their lilikoi (passionfruit) margaritas keep bringing us back.
Merrimans Opelu Plaza, Hwy. 19, Waimea 885 6822 in the upcountry cowboy town is a gourmand's slice of Heaven with Hawaiian fusion cooking including a Sashimi Caesar Salad with corn and shrimp fritters or their sauteed, sesame-crusted fresh catch with lilikoi sauce.
Plus, the 'don't miss' lunch place in Waimea that recently moved.
Maha's at 65-1148 Mamalahoa Highway 889-5755 has been a hideaway with delectable lunch only dishes from cracklng fresh salads to unique sandwiches and outstanding desserts. Family style, it's my fave lunch spot.
Also worth considering are
Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill
75-5995 Kuakini Hwy 327-0209
64-957 Mamalahoa Hwy 885-2772
Habaneros Mexican, Keauhou Shopping Center, 324 HOTT
Teshimas Japanese, 79-7251 Mamalahoa Hwy Kealakekua 322-9140
Big Island Grill 75-5702 Kuakini Hwy 326 1153
Kona is Coffee Country with an annual festival in November and an incredible range of small farms selling their own beans. There are tours as well as tastings and these are five faves.
Kona Joe 79-7346 Mamalahoa Hwy Kealakekua, HI 96750 www.konajoe.com 808-322-210Kona
Blue Sky Hualalai Rd & Route 180, Holualoa HI 96725 www.konablueskycoffee.com 877 322 1700
Holualoa Kona Coffee Co. 77-6261 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa HI 96725 www.konalea.com 808 322 9937
Greenwell Farms Highway 11 Kealkekua HI 96750 www.greenwellfarms.com 808 323 2862
Mountain Thunder 73-1944 Hao St., Kaloko HI 96740 www.mountainthunder.com 808 325 2136
As a scuba fanatic for over 10 years (I started late) I prefer Jacks Diving Locker http://www.jacksdivinglocker.com as the sort of operation that is friendly, efficient, safe and somewhat pampering.
Their two tank morning dives are tops and they do Manta ray night dives http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1vB43_fHOA and even a blackwater pelagic magic trip. Great video on that http://www.jacksdivinglocker.com/charters2/PelagicMagic.htm
Another more homestyle operator I love in Kona is the family-run Torpedo Tours http://www.torpedotours.com/ 938 0405 which takes you out to places the other commercial boats don't go and equips you with underwater motor scooters called torpedos which can be used by divers and snorkelers alike to zip around the reefs. And if you're lucky, the skipper will catch a mahi mahi or tuna as happened with us and split it! Mmmm fresh sashimi...
This is the ultimate guide to local diving on the Big Island
http://home.hawaii.rr.com/ddresie/ with top FAQs on why Kona is the best diving locale.
Local snorkeling at Place of Refuge http://www.hawaiiscubadiving.com/hawaii/dive-sites/place-of-refuge.html is tops
We love it for the fact that you can guarantee turtles on every dive, it's easy in and out even with tanks and a wonderful protect clear bay for marvellous times.
Hawaii Forest & Trail is your extreme sport connection http://www.hawaii-forest.com/index.asp with everything from waterfall hikes, bird watching treks, a military tank tread vehicle ride and much more.
All these activities may wear you out. Massage is the answer and we have a top lass for all styles of therapeutic massage. Touch of Heaven Massage's Sherry is our girl right in town, 937-2711 and 329-1560 75-5782 Kuakini Hwy # 3b firstname.lastname@example.org It's actually in the Kona Alii Condos ground floor on Alii Drive, right next to Lava Java which is a nice coffe shop and bakery on the bay. Not to be missed but book in advance.
There are so many things to do and places to go on the Big Island. My short list for first timers is head to Hilo, spend a couple of days there but up in Volcano Village where it's cool and close to the Volcano National Park. Take a helicopter ride over the craters, drive the scenic coast route to the Botanical Gardens just north of town (and have a smoothie at What's Shakin a mile further!), head to Pahoa and the hot lava pools on the coast or do a one day circumnavigation of the Island down to Hilo lunch at Cafe Pesto in town), up to Waimea on the Saddle Road and dinner in Hawaii before collapsing!
I got married in 1992 at Mama's Fish House in Paia which remains my fave restaurant and also my fondest place to stay since they have private luxe cottages in their private beach area, Kuau Cove. You'll find the menu of both food, wine and accom at http://www.mamasfishhouse.com and everyone I've turned onto it that have stayed or just eaten there has thanked me profusely for one of the great experiences of their lives.
I hate to wax lyrical here but the strawberry daiquiri is my second favourite to Dante's Down The Hatch in Atlanta, the crab and shrimp stuffed mahi mahi is to die for and the desserts are so fine as to be totally off limits to this diabetic. The wine list is superb, the views are stupendous, especially at sunset and the décor is amazing as is the service. Life doesn't get better than this.
Paia is the cool place to go in Maui, only 8km from the airport, a sleepy town with only one traffic light (soon to be two) at the base of Haleakala Volcano (where the 32 km dawn bike ride terminates from the top of the crater and the winding road to Hana some three hours away kicks off). It's also the home of the windsurfing capital of the world at Ho'okipa just a klick from Mama's where you can watch kite and windsurfers do their thing for hours on end.
My second fave eatery is Paia Fish Market in the middle of town at the traffic light where you can get fabulous tuna sashimi, a seafood chowder that is world class and all sorts of grilled fish, top burgers and lotsa cold beer. Right across the street is Milagros which is a cool hang, great drinks, a little Mex and fab atmosphere. Wending your way upslope along the street, you pass real cool clothing and unusual stores and the killer Mana Whole Foods store which has every imaginable organic or vegetarian type of chow, vitamins and cosmetics as well as an eclectic 60s clientele that are a delight to see in the aisles.
Back down on the main drag is Charlie's which is a great breakfast option but also where Willie Nelson hangs out in a diner style atmosphere. There is a great pizza bar too Flatbread Company as well as a cool wine store with quite a selection of upmarket wineries. And for morning coffee in centra Paia, you can't find better than Anthony's but if you are headed back to Kahalui, the Maui Coffee Roasters is a great place to get beans to bring back and makes a mean bagel.
If you are game to head out to Hana, which is heaven, the hell is the Hana Highway which has a continuing video game of twists and turns, switchbacks and a series of waterfalls all along the way. But once you get to Hana, there are a variety of places to stay but the crown jewel is the Hotel Hana-Maui and Honua Spa (http://hotelhanamaui.com/) which is so old style it transports you back at least 50 years in time. Superb food, a dynamite pool, cabins on the hillsides leading down to crashing waves and a relaxed ambience that is traditional Hawaii to da max!
Hana is a paradise and full of treasures. The website http://www.hanamaui.com can help guide you with other accommodation option, stores and marketplaces as well as attractions. A hidden gem for lunch is the driveway restaurant just out of town going away from Hana which is a barbecue grill set up in the yard on the road with a a sign Best Food in Hana making mahi mahi and ribs. Down at Hana Bay is Uncle Bill's Lunch Wagon which is an unusual and iconic style of aloha plate lunch. And at mile marker 29 is Up In Smoke BBQ which also has exquisite fish tacos as well as seared flesh.
Other must-do foodie haunts are Halemaile General Store http://www.haliimailegeneralstore.com/ where Bev Gannon, superchef of the Hawaiian Airlines and cooking icon holds court up the volcano. Her crab boboli dip on a small pizza skin is legendary and the place is abuzz with the trendy and hip. The Kula Lodge is privey but great for breakfast and and a million dollar view in Kula. And right up there close by is the Kula Cottage http://www.kulacottage.com which is a one unit piece of heaven on the slopes at under $150 a night.
Over in Maalea Harbour is the Waterfront Restaurant http://www.waterfrontrestaurant.net/ nestled in a condo of all places but world class in fine dining stakes with an equally eclectic wine menu and gorgeous pounding surf views. There are nine choices of fish preparation of several varieties and it runs a close second to Mama's.
Lahaina, further up the road North has a few great treats for foodies. David Paul is no longer at the eponymous restaurant but it is superior French Contemporary Hawaiian cuisine. I'O http://www.iomaui.com/ is fusion Asian Polynesian while Mala Ocean Tavern http://www.malaoceantavern.com/ is a tiny place on the water outside of town right across from the Cannery Mall. And finally, it's an elegant chain but Roys Restaurant in Kahana is one of my Hawaii faves along with his venue in Kahala and West Oahu.
As for other places to stay on the island, I tend to avoid Kihei and head a little further to Wailea where the Four Seasons http://www.fourseasons.com/maui is on my top ten world list with the Oceanside Ferraros restaurant not to be missed. The rooms are huge, the staff is incredible and the prices are high, but worth it. If you want to stay in Lahaina there are two gems: The historic Lahaina Inn http://www.lahainainn.com/ with ten rooms and two suites that are charming and elegant and the Plantation Inn http://www.theplantationinn.com which is a block away and beautifully done up with a gorgeous pool. It also harbors Gerards Restaurant which is fine French dining with a killer breakfast muesli.
The must do things in Maui? I love the booklet 101 Things to Do http://www.101thingstodo.com/hawaii/maui/activities/ which has a lot of options and is free. Taking the dawn cruise from the Coon family's Trilogy boats www.sailtrilogy.com over to Lanai is top of the list which is under motor heading there and under sail coming back with excellent whale watching in season (November to May) and they also spend a half day on island with a shuttle tour, snorkeling and you can go up to the hotel and have cocktails by the pool if you wish.
Bicycling downhill 34 kms from the peak of Haleakala Volcano at 1o,000 feat to sea level with only 100 metres of pedaling takes you through several climatic zones and is a once in a lifetime experience, safe and easy. Hike into the gorgeous I'o Valley or along the slopes of Haleakala Park. Diving is great thought not as good as the Big Island and there are many option other than the overused Molokini crater. There's the thrill ride of ziplinging, surfing and kiteboarding if you're brave enough. And there is an old railroad with steam engine for the tourist in you.
New Orleans (called NOLA from here on in) is often referred to as ‘The City That Care Forgot’. It’s where I lived in for a month a year working Jazzfest in the 70s and where I go back to virtually every year. Despite speculation, the city as a whole has its mojo back after Hurricane Katrina and you’d hardly know there was a catastrophe there. It’s the spirit of people who have rebuilt, the party atmosphere that never stops, a rich cultural stew of ethnicitiy and an equally delicious palette of food styles served up hot and spicy.
It is not against the law to walk down the streets with large cups of alcoholic beverages. They’re called ‘go-cups’ and you can easily take any drink from a bar to the street or refill them from banks of frozen drink machines arranged in storefronts like colourful gelato concoctions. You can even order drinks through little windows in the sides of buildings housing bars.
It is rumoured however that it is breaking the law to be on a diet while in New Orleans. I’ve not seen anyone arrested for it, but evidence of indulgence is everywhere. Which is why I thoought I’d start with some great classic and new restaurants and work my way to where to bed down in the Crescent City. I’ll explain a little bit about each cuisine style and give the places I’ve experienced the best spreads in N’awlins.
Cajun is short for Acadian, the Canadian French immigrants deported by the British who settled in the swamps and flatland prairies around NOLA. Theirs is rustic food using the trinity of onion, bell pepper and celery and the trio of peppers - white, black and cayenne as well as seafood like crawfish and shrimp or fish, duck, smoked meats, sausage and game. And always with rice.
Cochon. Warehouse District: 930 Tchoupitoulas. 504-588-2123. http://www.cochonrestaurant.com
Emulating the tiny butcher shops of Cajun country, they smoke their own meats and produce dishes saturated with local flavour. Killer dishes here are the boucherie plate (an assortment of sausages, hogshead cheese, etc.); panneed pork cheeks; pork and blackeye pea gumbo; cochon de lait with cabbage and cracklings; and smoked beef brisket.
Jacques-Imo’s. Riverbend: 8324 Oak. 504-861-0886. http://www.jacquesimoscafe.com
Come early and be prepared for the noise and bustle in a shacklike restaurant, tented in the rear with a pick up truck out front with a table for four in the back end. It’s exotic Creole Cajun with dishes like shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake, stuffed catfish and their fried chicken is incredible.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. French Quarter: 416 Chartres. 504-524-7394. http://www.kpauls.com
For 30 years Paul Prudhomme has been preaching the gospel of Cajun and creole cooking here having invented blackened fish, but each day has a changing menu and reservations are possible and highly advised. Top dishes include shrimp or crawfish etouffee; roast duck with pecan gravy; pan-fried veal with roasted stuffed peppers; blackened beef tenders in debris sauce and don’t miss the bread pudding with lemon sauce even if you have to take it home.
Contemporary Creole is similar to Cajun but blends French, African, Caribbean, Spanish and American influences. It uses the veggie trinity but embraces more European preparations and plantation cooking with the addition of tomatoes and beans.
Upperline. Uptown: 1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822. http://www.upperline.com
Home of the summer long garlic menu, it’s a festival of food and art and music all year round, hosted by JoAnn Celvenger. Her history is as amazing as the food. Try shrimp remoulade on fried green tomatoes; Tom Cowman's Famous Roast Duck with Garlic Port or Ginger Peach Sauce; Duck & Andouille Etouffée with Corn Cakes & Pepper Jelly and some of the best Pecan Pie on the planet!
Ralph's On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. http://www.ralphsonthepark.com
A fine dining haven in a historic and gorgeous spot right across from the City Park, it’s been a restaurant since the Civil War but now a showpiece of the Brennan family. The City Park salad (red oak & romaine, Granny Smith apples, Stilton blue cheese, vinaigrette, applewood smoked bacon) is as much a classic as potato-chip crusted frog legs. The grilled fish with crawfish and andouille is not to be missed and the saffron braised lamb cheeks are out of this world.
Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610 http://www.brigtsens.com
A veteran of Commanders Palace and K-Pauls Frank Brigtsen is a master of cuisine in the small three room cottage he and his wife have run for over 20 years. Here are a few examples: Shrimp Remoulade with Guacamole and Devilled Eggs; Pulled Pork with Corn Macque Choux Griddlecake & Pepper Jelly Glaze and their Seafood Platter is an amazing assortment of delicacies.
Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. http://www.commanderspalace.com
Katrina did good for the dressy Palace which had gotten complacent but now shines again with their classic shrimp remoulade, gulf fish with pecans, tasso shrimp Henican, crackling duck and anything seafood. But try the Chef’s Playground of ten mini serves for a galaxy of creole delights. There’s a three soup sampler not to be missed with Champagne poached crabmeat as a side.
These are the Holy Trinity of chef Emeril Lagasse who is the TV wunderkind of N’awlins cooking. I use his recipes monthly!
Delmonico. Lee Circle Area: 1300 St. Charles Ave. 504-525-4937 http://www.emerils.com/restaurant/3/Emerils-Delmonico/
Right on the tram line at the start of the Garden District, it’s historic yet casual and the jewel in Emeril’s crown. Stars here include Green Onion Sausage Stuffed Bell Pepper with Creole Tomato Sauce; Warm Mississippi Rabbit Remoulade with Fried Green Tomatoes, Benton’s Bacon, Local Citrus Salad and Horseradish Gastrique; Saffron-Chili Dusted Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with Brown Butter-Sweet Potato Grits, Skillet Beans, Benton’s Bacon, Smoked Corn and Mango Chow Chow; and Pecan Pie with Bourbon Chocolate Ice Cream, Caramel Sauce and Pecan Brittle. Whew! That’s a mouthful!
Emeril’s. Warehouse District: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393 http://www.emerils.com/restaurant/1/Emerils-New-Orleans/
This is the big, bustling, noisy HQ but with small plate dishes and daily specials to be pored over before looking at the menu. Classics are Andouille Crusted Texas Redfish with Grilled Vegetables, Shoestring Potatoes, Glazed Pecans and Creole Meunière Sauce; Andouille and boudin sausage plate, smoked exotic mushrooms with tasso cream sauce and pasta.
NOLA. French Quarter: 534 St. Louis. 504-522-6652. http://www.emerils.com/restaurant/2/NOLA-Restaurant/
Right next to the New Orleans Cooking School in the quarter, this relaxed, yet funky atmosphere has a smoky aroma that gets the juices going. Top choices are Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wings with Homemade Hoisin Dipping Sauce; New Orleans Style Crab Cake with Crystal-Butter Sauce, Spicy Boiled Corn Relish, Chive-Garlic Crema and Creole Red Bliss Potato Chips showing of Emeril’s style.
Pelican Club French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504 http://www.pelicanclub.com
Muddy Waters guitarist Brian Bisesi turned me onto this alleyway gem behind the Montelone Hotel in the Quarter and it has a huge range of exquisite dishes, fabulous service and three dining rooms each with different character. Fish is the dish here with Baked Oysters divine, Panned Gulf Fish topped with Crawfish Etouffe and a Jalapeno Hollandaise a must, Seared Yellowifsh Tuna topped with Seared Diver Sea Scallops a total delight and Trio of Duckling: sliced breast, confit of leg and barbeque an absolute indulgence. Brian swears by their gumbo while I’m a fan of their Seafood Martini.
Gautreau’s Uptown: 1728 Soniat. 504-899-7397. http://www.gautreausrestaurant.com
An uptown hidden gem on a side street in an old pharmacy, the menu changes regularly but the exotic seafood dishes are boldly presented while you can never go wrong with the duck confit with mustard and sage. Great crab cakes too!
Classic French Creole evolved from the aristocratic cooking of the well-to-do French Creoles rather than the provincial preparations of Cajuns. Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s are the heritage restaurants but there are many newcomers in this enduring style.
Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St. Louis. 504-581-4422. http://www.antoines.com
Though 160 years old, it’s a tireless standard bearer for this cuisine with 15 dining rooms. It’s the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller, Eggs Sardou and Pommes de Terre Soufflees. You can’t go past their Shrimp Remoulade, Trout Ponchartrain and Escargots Bordelaise. Your biggest problem here is the huge scope of the menu and making up your mind.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. http://www.arnauds.com
Old style look—tiled floors, pressed tin ceiling, beveled glass windows and overhead fans, it is very dressy. Start with a drink in the French 75 bar which is another world. Essential dishes include Shrimp Arnaud which is the original remoulade, Oysters Arnaud with five preparations, Smoked pompano or pompano David and Duck Ellen
Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. http://www.galatoires.com
Jacket required and no jeans ever in this grande dame of old line restaurants!! But worth it and they can fit you into a spare jacket. Late afternoon is the best time and trust the waiter. Shrimp remoulade is the star starter, I love the softshell crab with lump crabmeat as much as the buttery trout meuniere or crunchy amandine. Shrimp marguery is awe inspiring as is the grilled pompano with brown butter.
Brennans French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. http://www.brennansneworleans.com
Bananas Foster is their claim to fame and their breakfast is not be missed. Dinner in the courtyard with flickering candles and gaslights is romantic. Chef Lazone Randolph has served since 1965 and took over from grand chef Roussell who was a 50 year veteran. Best Bets: Oysters Rockefeller, Tournedos Chanticlair, Turtle Soup, Redfish Perez, Trout Nancy and their crepes.
Herbsaint . CBD: 701 St. Charles Ave. 504-524-4114 http://www.herbsaint.com
Sister restaurant to Cochon. Named for the anise flavour liquer, it’s a newer classic place where French meets country. Here you’ll find frogs legs as well as duck confit with dirty rice yet also pork belly in a variety of preparations. Don’t miss the dark roux gumbos and their French fries with pimenton aioli.
Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 504-522-7273. http://www.courtoftwosisters.com/
It’s classic creole in a courtyard environment with a daily jazz brunch served smorgasbord style that is a not to be missed event. The courtyard is gorgeous with wisteria vines, fountains, and surrounded by French quarter homes. The Sazerac cocktail is one of the city’s best and on a gorgeous day, you won’t want to leave.
Dooky Chase Mid-City: 2301 Orleans Ave. 504-821-0600.
It’s Creole soul with the best fried chicken in town, catfish, amazing gumbo, chicken creole and stewed chicken in brown gravy with all the trimmings. You’ll also relish the string beans and yams as well as other veggie preparations such as okra in season. Open for lunch with a view to dinner starting again soon.
Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. http://www.mrbsbistro.com
A first class gourmet Creole bistro without the formality where you’ll find the high standards of chicken-andouille gumbo, barbecue shrimp and bread pudding but also great delights in duck spring rolls, grilled jumbo sea scallops with wood-grilled portobellos, braised rabbit and killer crab cakes. Service is sharp, reservations are loose. It’s a Brennan family operation.
Others that are Special or Eclectic
Felix’s Oyster Bar French Quarter 739 Iberville Street http://www.felixs.com
Forget the restaurant, it’s belly up to the oyster bar where sacks of bivalves are shucked in front of you by real characters. Mix your own sauce—ketchup, Tabasco, Worcestershire, horseradish and a touch of lemon—and slurp down dozens with cold Abita beer.
Casamentos 4330 Magazine St. 504.895.9761
Oysters, oysters, oysters shucked fresh and quivering on the half shell first, fried and in a roll and Gulf preparations with other fried seafood. Extremely white interior, like another world, peppy waitresses and wonderful to walk off the food down trendy Magazine Street’s shops.
Bayona. 430 Dauphine. 504-525-4455. Eclectic http://www.bayona.com
Though Susan Spicer is a queen of N’awlins cooking, this restaurant defies categories and moves across a spectrum of styles. Try Seared Sea Scallops, Miso Glaze, Sesame Somen Noodles & Grilled Bok Choy or Sweet Potato-Tasso-Shrimp Soup, Cornbread, Green Onions for starters and graduate to Andouille-stuffed Rabbit Roulade & Buttermilk Fried Leg, Smothered Greens, Stoneground Grits, Creole Mustard Sauce for a main.
Stella! French Quarter: 1032 Chartres. 504-587-0091 http://www.restaurantstella.com
Arguably the city’s most eclectic kitchen for culinary exploration using local ingredients but not in a meat and potato way. Check out Trio of oysters with three caviars, granitas, and vodkas; Duck five ways (seared breast, lacquered leg, moo-shu, duck in miso broth, foie gras wontons) and finish with Trio of cremes brulee. The tasting menu is expensive ($95 with $185 paired with wines) but worth the adventure.
MiLa CBD: 817 Common. 504-412-2580 http://www.milaneworleans.com
A couple cooks here with the name of the first and last letter of Missippi and Louisiana in the enchanting Pere Marquette hotel. You must have a drink in the hotel’s equally eclectic bar before being cocooned into MiLa. Sweetbreads with black truffle grits contrast with New Orleans style barbecue lobster and sweet tea-brined duck.
Camellia Grill Riverbend: 626 S. Carrollton Ave.. 504-309-2679 http://http://www.camelliagrill.net
Right where the streetcar turns from the Garden District is a white fronted diner that is heaven for breakfast with waiters who peel your straw back and are great personalities, many of them 30-40 year veterans. From early morning to late night, it’s hamburger heaven, omelette nirvana and grill sandwich succor.
Port of Call French Quarter: 838 Esplanade. 504-523-0120 http://www.portofcallneworleans.com
The best hamburger and jukebox in New Orleans in a bar and dining room. Oh and it does steaks.
Mothers CBD: 401 Poydras. 504-523-9656 http://www.mothersrestaurant.net
I always vow not to go to Mothers early in the morning and have a Ferdi’s special po-boy sandwich, Diet Barqs root beer and chickory coffee but some things can’t be avoided. It’s the city’s longest running po-boy shop but it also serves lunch and dinner with red beans and rice, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole and other plate specials. They roast their own beef and scrape the ‘debris’ off the pans to add to the sandwiches as well as baking their own hams. A Ferdi’s is ham and roast beef with debris and gravy, dressed with shredded cabbage, pickle, mayo and creole mustard. *Blorp*
Johnny’s Po Boys French Quarter: 511 St. Louis, 504-524-8129 http://johnnyspoboy.com
“Even my failures are edible.” may sound like a weird credo but Johnny’s claims to be the oldest family owned po boy restaurant in the city. There are about 50 choices of meat and seafood po boys served on French loafs and even alligator. But they also have standards like Red Beans and Rice, Country Fried Steak, Crawfish Pie and Crab Cakes.
Mandina’s Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179 http://www.mandinasrestaurant.com
It’s as neighbourhood a bar and restaurant as they comes, casual, friendly and no credit cards. It’s a haven for fried foods from trout meuniere, soft shell crab amandine and fab onion rings but also a great range of low creole delights. I love their turtle soup with sherry and shrimp remoulade but their gumbo rocks too. Oh and Creole Catfish!!
After all this eating, you’ll need to lay down before you hit the classic bars below them. There is no shortage of great and grubby places to stay except during a convention but here are my top 10.
Le Richelieu 1234 Chartres St may be a three star but it has rock ‘n’ roll class and best of all, free parking! Very charming in a quiet part of the Quarter, the suites are well worth it. Claim to fame? McCartney stayed here recording Venus and Mars and it has a lovely family ambience. http://www.lerichelieuhotel.com/
Audubon Cottages via Dauphine Orleans Hotel 415 Dauphine Street, (504) 586 1800 http://www.hotelmaisondeville.com/accommodations/audubon.html
These seven cottages—five with two bedrooms and two single bedroom--are hidden away in the Quarter with their own courtyards and private pool. It’s the most magic place I’ve stayed in NOLA with the historic houses oozing ambience and class. It’s like being in your own home in the Quarter--charm and privacy of a vacation rental with hotel amenities up the street. At the time of writing the Maison de Ville which ran the cottages was closed for renovations but the cottages are being handled from the Dauphine Orleans Hotel which is only a block away.
Dauphine Orleans 415 Dauphine Street, (504) 586 1800 http://www.dauphineorleans.com
Old style courtyard of brick and cypress, filled with palms and a saltwater pool, 14 elegant patio rooms with Jacuzzi are across the street from the main hotel which houses over 100 rooms. The Hermann House is an amazing structure and the nine Carriage House Courtyard cottages are richly appointed with period antiques. It also houses the cottage where John James Audubon painted his ‘Birds of America’ series and they’ve turned a bordello into a quaint bar.
Renaissance Pere Marquette CBD 817 Common Street http://www.marriott.com.au/hotels/travel/msybr-renaissance-new-orleans-pere-marquette-hotel
A new favourite for me, just a block away on the other side of Canal Street from the Quarter and a world apart. Aside from the other-wordly bar and gorgeous modern interior, it houses MiLa restaurant, has free wireless and an in-house Starbucks. Fantastic staff and lush rooms.
Monteleone 214 Rue Royale, (504) 523-3341 http://hotelmonteleone.org
My friend Brian won’t stay anywhere else. Some rooms are tiny, others surprisingly spacious and the rooftop rocks at night while the Carousel Bar downstairs spins around in this great edifice. Perfect location just a block from Canal Street and Bourbon.
Windsor Court 300 Gravier St (504) 523-6000 http://www.windsorcourthotel.com
Four Diamonds and Four Stars, deserving every one of them, this luxurious palace has an unsurpassed level of service. The Grill Room restaurant is fine dining plus, it has its own English art collection and a wonderful heated pool.
Bienville House 320 Decatur Street, http://www.bienvillehouse.com
Some of the best staff I’ve ever encountered in any hotel and an oasis of class at the bottom of the Quarter, it’s an older hotel but with modern amenities with great access to everything, yet away from the dreck. I loved my time there because it’s historic with grace yet has a homelike feel to it, not stuffy.
Columns Hotel 3811 St. Charles Ave., (504) 899-9308 http://www.thecolumns.com
This Garden District mansion claim to fame was as the set for movie ‘Pretty Baby’ and has one of the coolest bars in the city as well as exuding elegance. Right on the tram line but away from the Quarter, the staff are extremely friendly and the location perfect not to have to drive into town.
Le Pavillon 833 Poydras Street (504) 581 3111 http://www.lepavillon.com
Five blocks from Bourbon Street but a world away in elegance, it’s an ornate and gorgeous building, its tradition stretches back to the mid 1700s with a fascinating history and old world luxury. Some of the antiques are museum quality including a carved fireplace mantel and spectacular armoire in the lobby.
Melrose Mansion 937 Esplanade Avenue, (504) 944 2255 http://www.melrosegroup.com/melrosemansion
A beautifully restored Victorian Gothic Mansion that had fallen into disrepair as a brothel is one of my fave stays just outside the Quarter with its own pool and fascinating history. Four suites in this turreted manse with deluxe furnishings and Jacuzzis make this a must-stay for honeymooners with four other smaller rooms still great value. They also have another hotel in the Quarter, Hotel Royal which is an 1827 Creole townhouse.
Cornstalk Fence 915 Royal Street (504) 523-1515 http://www.cornstalkhotel.com
It’s was pretty funky in parts but romantic in no small part due to the legend of the 165 year old cast iron fence made to look like the native cornfields of the bride who was brought here from Iowa. A Victorian showcase with crystal chandeliers and antique mirrors, it has just been remodeled and the old funk is gone.
WHAT TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS
1. Avoid Mardi Gras - it’s a zoo and the city is far prettier when it’s not doused with drunks. The best time to me is in spring when the magnolias are blooming and the tourists are few.
2. Avoid Jazzfest. I hate to say it since I worked on it for many years and it introduced me to the magic but it is crowded, hot, often rainy and hard work. There is so much music in town any time, if you’re a first timer, get into the groove in spring or fall.
3. Avoid summer. It’s hot as hell, humid as a rainforest and the people can be freaky in the heat.
4. Leave town. While New Orleans is wonderful, there are great things to do in the surrounding areas such as Cajun country, plantations along the river and swamp tours. Check out the article Ain’t No Blues on This Bayou at http://www.philtripp.com/travel_writing.php
5. Take the streetcar/trolley/tram down St Charles. I love this trip which goes along St Charles Avenue from Canal Street at the edge of the Quarter. You get to see all of the great mansions in slow motion and up at Riverbend where it turns right, maybe get off and experience the Camellia Grill before heading down Carrolton to turn around and head back. It's a great way to get to the Audubon Zoo and also to dmire the hanging necklaces on the trees. Also, stop at The Columns for a cocktail.
That said, there is so much to do beyond drinking and eating, but those are the main activities along with listening to great jazz, Cajun, R&B, soul and blues. The bars on Bourbon Street tend toward the dive while hidden treasures exist in the strangest places. The local magazines Offbeat http://www.offbeat.com and Gambit reveal them with gig guides. Here are a few.
Tipitinas Uptown 501 Napoleon Avenue 504 895 8477 http://www.tipitinas.com
Founded as a clubhouse for Professor Longhair it’s the best spot in town for major and minor local artists. The Fais Do Do on Sunday is killer.
Maple Leaf Bar 8316 Oak St (504) 866-5323 http://mapleleafbar.com
One of the oldest and best loved bars, it used to be a chess and music club with washing machines in the back. Eat down the street at Jacques-Imo’s and hang here for Papa Grows Funk on Mondays, Rebirth Brass Band Tuesday and Wild Magnolias if they’re in.
Snug Harbour 626 Frenchman Street (504) 949 0696 http://www.snugjazz.com
It’s the city’s premier jazz club seven nights a week and try to see Charmaine Neville or Ellis Marsalis if they’re playing. Nice restaurant too.
Mulates 201 Julia St (504) 522-1492 http://www.mulates.com
It’s the world’s most famous Cajun Restaurant, the music is better than the food nightly but it is close to the Quarter. Worth a spin on the dance floor with lessons.
Le Bon Temps Roule 4801 Magazine St., (504) 897-3448 http://www.myspace.com/4801magazine
Much mo’ bettah coon-ass music den Mulates. The back room rocks out with no cover, swirling dancers featuring Cajun and other styles. Soul Rebels Brass Band on Thursday is the regular gig.
Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl 3000 S. Carrollton Ave. (504) 861 1700 http://www.rockandbowl.com
Recently moved, it’s home to one of New Orleans’ most intense zydeco scenes every Wednesday and Thursday night, swing nights on Tuesdays and a mixed bag of New Orleans stuff on Fridays and Saturdays. Kermit Ruffins, Anders Osborne Bonerama and Rockin Dopsie are the top acts to catch here. And yes, it is a bowling alley too.
D.B.A. 618 Frenchmen St, 504) 942 3731 http://dbabars.com/dbano
A small bar but with a big lineup of local heroes including Jon Cleary, Walter Wolfman Washington, Johnny Vidacovich and free Swing Dance Lessons on Sundays
House of Blues 225 Decatur St., 310-4999; http://www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/neworleans
It’s not a house and not about Blues, it’s a beer barn but with great acts of all genres. The Gospel Brunch buffet on Sunday is a top gig.
There are also a lot of great things to see in N’awlins aside from culinary and booze palaces. A family must is the trio of the Audubon Zoo in the Garden District, Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street and Audubon Insectarium a couple of blocks up.
Aquarium of the Americas has huge displays include a walk under Caribbean Reef, 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit and a colourful Mardi Gras of sea critters. It also has a great bird area, sea otters and sting rays. http://www.auduboninstitute.org/visit/aquarium
Located inside Customs House, you have to pass through heavy security to get in due to Federal regulations but once inside, it’s a galaxy of insects and crawly creatures including a live cockroach exhibit that is hilarious. Audubon Insectarium is the newest of the trio and well worth the trip, especially if it’s wet outside. http://www.auduboninstitute.org/visit/insectarium
Audubon Zoo is the old girl and classic with it’s flat walk an easy sstroll past wondrous exhibits including the award winning Louisiana Swamp and Jaguar Jungle. There are white tigers and albino alligators, great elephant enclosure and funny orangutangs. I highly recommend the swamp train.
New Orleans School of Coooking 524 Saint Louis Street (504) 525-2665 http://www.neworleansschoolofcooking.com
Fun, food and folklore it has entertaining classes where you get to eat the results, teaching the basics of Louisiana cooking in a rollicking environment. Local chefs teach Cajun and Creole cooking, there’s a shop with all of the spices (though they’re cheaper at a supermarket) and there is no better place to drop granma or the wife and kids for an afternoon.
Oh, and if you’re looking to buy music, the best place is Lousiana Music Factory on Decatur Street.
There are a wide range of tours ranging from horse drawn carriages and ghost tours through the Quarter, Cities of the Dead cemeteries and voodoo or the tacky Grey Line trek through the parts of New Orleans still suffering from the results of the Great Deluge. On a bright day, the Steamboat Natchez tour is a gorgeous view of the working river. A couple of good sites to check out at New Orleans Online http://www.neworleansonline.com and http://www.neworleanscvb.com.
San Francisco--coming soon
French Riviera--coming soon
Las Vegas--coming soon
Florida Keys--coming soon
And more to come