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.hawaiirevealed.com/free-travel-info/big-island/links. 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.
Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
78-128 Ehukai St, Kona Keauhou 930 4900
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. It’s the best place to stay in Kona having recently been renovated and it has a wonderful relaxing vibe with great facilities. The business centre next to the coffee shop is a big plus. It’s really undergone a transformation in all ways. 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
Recently reopened after renoivations from an earthquake, 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, plush and modernised. Great snorkeling off the beach. It was the first and still the best beachside hotel in this area, opened by John D. Rockefeller in the 60s. Divine.
62-100 Kaunaoa Dr Kohala Coast 880 1111
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.
Keauhou Shopping Center, Kailua-Kona HI 96740 808/322-6400
World class sushi and Pacific Rim Fusion cuisine with an impressive range of sake. The 50% off selected sushi rolls and other pu-pus from 4:30 to 6pm in the bar make this a real winner.
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. Often has concerts here if not live music on weekends.
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.
Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai
78-6831 Alii Dr. above Keahou Shopping Centre 333-3434
I’ve been eating with Sam for over 30 years when his first restaurant was nestled in an industrial area. This one is an old Wendy’s burger joint that was gutted and has probably the best views on the island, especially for whale watching and sundown. Indoor or outdoor patio dining for breakfast & lunch with views of the ocean, a boat stern for a bar and fabulous food.
And up the road about 30 miles in Hawi Bamboo Restaurant 55-3415 Akoni Pule Hwy 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.
55-3435 Akoni Pule Hwy 889 5900
One of the better sushi spots I’ve grazed with an imaginative array of rolls and sashimi options.
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.
Only about ten miles out of Kona, just shy of where the Kona Village Resort that I loved fell apart recently due to an earthquake, is the Four Seasons Hualalai where The Beach House 72-100 Kaupulehu Dr. 325 8000 is the signature eatery with tables right on the sand for dinners. I’ve had a mighty all you can eat lobster fest there and the food is not nearly as gorgeous as the sunsets. But still…
Also worth considering are
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill 75-5995 Kuakini Hwy 327-0209
Huli Sue’s 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 looks like an old McDonalds (which it is) and a bit of a dive. But it’s one of the best local joints which serves a killer loco moco and other delights such as oxtail soup, Kalua Pig and Mahi Mahi. Cheap and cheerful but huge portions.
I spent six days in Kona late August and found some old flavorful friends closed but some hot new contenders rocking it.
Last year I experienced the raw fish restaurant Da Poke Shack on Alii Drive outside the Kona Bali Kai hotel and was blown away by this place that features the marinated raw fish and crustacean dishes that are Hawaii’s national dish.
This year, there are two newies that I’ve discovered. Umeke (75-143 Hualalai Rd Ste 104 (808) 329-3050) is an even better Poke and rice bowl shop by one of the original owners of the former who wanted to offer cooked food as well as a variety of raw fish marinated dishes. It was stupendous—two scoops of sticky rice with seasoning and shoyu, seaweed salad and two types of ahi Poke—one sweet, one spicy—all for ten dollars. The place was packed and rightly so.
Sam Choy, noted local superchef, took me to He’e (74-5590 Palani Rd) which is another small operation in a shopping centre. It’s based on the long-running restaurant Teshima’s up the road in Honalo and is similarly Japanese Hawaiian in genre without the drive. Sam raved about it and for good reason. Lip smacking fish, tempura and other dishes.
Lemongrass Bistro (75-5742 Kuakini Hwy (808) 331-2708) is a hole in the wall Thai just a couple of doors up from Umeke and I wasn’t prepared for the intense flavours I got with an Oxtail and Fried Soft Shell Crab. It ranked among the best Thai I’ve ever had and was cheap with great staff and a lovely ambiance. They have all the standard curries, soups and noodle dishes you’d expect but a lot more too.
Rays On The Bay (78-128 Ehukai St (808) 930-4949) is the top end restaurant at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keahou Bay and it’s just totally changed its direction and already killer menu towards a more sustainable, locally grown variety of ingredients. The result is staggering. First there is the view across the Pacific with manta rays doing loops in front of you with snorkelers and divers at night bobbing around them, A spacious, comfy venue is matched by the exquisite regional Hawaiian dishes. As good as the gourmet ones in Waikoloa, just closer and more intimate!
Oh and speaking of Sam Choy. His restaurant in Keauhou Bay overlooking the Pacific is still smokin’ and he has an annual Poke contest at the Sheraton in late January/early February which you can see athttp://www.samchoyskeauhoupokecontest.org
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 Kainaliu, HI 96750 www.konajoe.com 808-322-210 It sits high on a hill overlooking the Pacific with a huge lanai and cafe as well as a store where you can buy the estate trellised coffee as well as blends of beans from the estate and other growers. It’s a beautiful spot with tours and a full on operation within.
Kona 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 These folk roast their own heavenly coffee as well as for a number of local farmers who have their own labels. Aside from watching and smelling the roasting, they have a herd of geese that clean the grounds and honk at intruders
Greenwell Farms Highway 11 Kealkekua HI 96750 www.greenwellfarms.com 808 323 2862 Tom Greenwell is the Yoda of Kona coffee with his vast farm now growing vanilla and pepper in addition to what I think is the finest Kona coffees around. His estate beans are tops and he also has a Chameleon lend that combines light and dark roasted beans for a huge flavor. Tours are a delight.
Mountain Thunder 73-1944 Hao St., Kaloko HI 96740 www.mountainthunder.com 808 325 2136 This one is way up in the hills in lush rain forests with its herd of geese too. Their coffee is exemplary but the hidden treasure here is a body lotion and also a shower gel that are both coffee flavoured. I use them religiously!
A little secret though, the coffees of Ka’u on the way to Hilo are arguably better. I always make sure to stock up on Aikane Plantation from there and as for a Kona coffee, well. I buy Jesse Colin Young’s Sunrise in five pound lots. http://jessecolinyoung.com but No tours. You may recognise the name, he was the leader of the 60s band The Youngbloods whose most famous anthem was ‘Get Together’.
As a scuba fanatic for over 15 years (I started late), I’ve been diving the Kona coast and other Hawaiian Island every year. The waters in Kona are crystalline due to no drainoff of streams on the dry side, a set of mountains that divert the winds over the coast and also the fact that the water depth plummets right offshore. 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, Dick Dresie’s book on Shore Diving in Kona as a free download PDF at http://www.pdfebookds.com/Dick-Dresie-PDF6-1169588/ with top FAQs on why Kona is the best diving locale.
This site details other islands at http://www.shorediving.com/Earth/Hawaii/.
Local snorkeling at Place of Refuge http://www.shorediving.com/Earth/Hawaii/TBI/Place_of_Refuge/ is tops http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAWJKYqK5MY
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 protected 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 10,000 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 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 ethnicity 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 thought 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.
Warehouse District: 930 Tchoupitoulas. 504-588-2123.
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.
Riverbend: 8324 Oak. 504-861-0886.
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.
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.
Uptown: 1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822.
Home of the summer long garlic menu, it’s a festival of food and art and music all year round, hosted by JoAnn Clevenger. 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.
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.
Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610
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.
Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221.
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!
Lee Circle Area: 1300 St. Charles Ave. 504-525-4937
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!
Warehouse District: 800 Tchoupitoulas. 504-528-9393
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.
French Quarter: 534 St. Louis. 504-522-6652.
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
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.
1728 Soniat. 504-899-7397.
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.
French Quarter: 713 St. Louis. 504-581-4422.
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.
French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433.
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
French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021.
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.
CBD: 701 St. Charles Ave. 504-524-4114
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.
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 second 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.
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
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.
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.
430 Dauphine. 504-525-4455. Eclectic
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.
French Quarter 1032 Chartres. 504-587-0091
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.
CBD 817 Common. 504-412-2580
A couple cooks here with the name of the first and last letter of Mississippi 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.
Riverbend 626 S. Carrollton Ave.. 504-309-2679
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
The best hamburger and jukebox in New Orleans in a bar and dining room. Oh and it does steaks.
CBD: 401 Poydras. 504-523-9656
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
“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.
Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179
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!!
Elizabeth’s in Bywater
601 Gallier St. New Orleans, LA 504.944.9272
is a funky joint which pioneered praline bacon and is a must go for breakfast or lunch. Tiny but neat, great staff and wonderful iced tea yet the food is intensely flavoured with huge portions.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St Ann St 504-822-9503
It’s in a wrecked part of town, the Seventh Ward, hard to find, scary to walk to and there’s always a line. That’s because they have arguably the best fried chicken in the world. Well, at least New Orleans. And a lot more with home made veggies and corn bread. Not to be missed. Needless to say, no reservations.
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.
1234 Chartres St
It 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.
Audubon Cottages via Dauphine Orleans Hotel
415 Dauphine Street, (504) 586 1800
These seven cottages have been newly renovated—five with two bedrooms and two single bedroom—and 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. The cottages are being handled from the Dauphine Orleans Hotel which is only a block away.
415 Dauphine Street, (504) 586 1800
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
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.
214 Rue Royale, (504) 523-3341
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.
300 Gravier St (504) 523-6000
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.
320 Decatur Street
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.
3811 St. Charles Ave., (504) 899-9308
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.
833 Poydras Street (504) 581 3111
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.
Mansion 937 Esplanade Avenue, (504) 944 2255
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.
915 Royal Street (504) 523-1515
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