When people from the DMV talk about New Orleans, Celebrity Chef David Guas’ name comes up right away. The NOLA native spent his childhood and formative years in the city before moving north to pursue his culinary career in the D.C. area. Now, he’s practically a cultural ambassador for his hometown, spreading the spirit of the city through his authentic Louisiana fare at Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery.
So, when this first-timer was ready to venture to the Big Easy, I turned to Guas for guidance. Though he says he gets requests for recommendations about twice a day, the chef graciously agreed to lend his expertise. He shared his coveted “Friends and Family Guide to New Orleans,” which includes nearly 40 can’t-miss restaurants, bars, and attractions.
It sounds comprehensive, but for a world-class city like New Orleans, 40 barely scratches the surface. “For every one that I recommend, there’s four I missed,” Guas says. “I don’t say it’s a perfect list, but that’s the beauty of putting a list together. That’s your list.” As a native of the city and a culinary professional, Guas says he tried to include a mixture of well-known favorites and locals-only secrets on his list.
Of course, it can be subjective. “We’re very territorial, so even New Orleanians will argue amongst each other about what’s the best fried oyster po’boy in the city,” he says. To save myself from the imminent heart failure that would result from testing every fried oyster po’boy in the city, I decided to stick to the tried and true saying: When in New Orleans, do as David Guas does.
EAT AND DRINK
“If you go to New Orleans and you don’t do ‘Breakfast at Brennan’s,’ then you haven’t been to New Orleans,” Guas says. This institution in the heart of the French Quarter opened in 1946, and later moved to its current home on Royal Street. The morning meal became a signature in 1948, with classics like Eggs Sardou and Bananas Foster, which was invented at the first Brennan’s location. The restaurant recently underwent an extensive restoration, but the traditional cuisine and old-world elegance have endured.
For one of the city’s best loved combinations—beignets and cafe au lait—Guas recommends heading to Morning Call, nestled among the oak trees in City Park. “This is the classic argument that’s been going on for 50, 60, 70 years,” he says. “Who’s got the better beignets?” While he has nothing against the always-crowded Café Du Monde, Guas puts Morning Call on his list because of the location and the memories. Growing up, he learned to play golf with his grandfather in City Park. “I strategically chose some diversity so you can kind of tour the city,” he says.
After serving as the executive pastry chef for New Orleans icon John Besh’s restaurant group, Kelly Fields opened her own restaurant and bakery, Willa Jean. The hybrid space has a retail counter stocked with pastries and bread and a dining room that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stop in for a quick treat and a cup of coffee, or sit down and enjoy fried chicken and biscuits or New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp toast. “It’s kind of similar to my concept,” Guas says. “The first time I came back to town after she opened, I went straight there.”
“There’s a lot of new shops that have opened in the last 10, 15 years,” Guas says, but “Domilise’s is just iconic.” Founded in 1918, the shop has been run by four different generations over the years. The building doesn’t even look like a restaurant from the outside, and inside there’s a no-frills counter and a few tables, but that’s because the po’boys are the star attraction. The menu has 20 po’boys to choose from, but Guas is a fan of the fried shrimp sandwich. Get it “dressed,” he says.
This Italian grocery store and deli is the original home of another New Orleans star sandwich, the muffuletta. Created by a Sicilian immigrant, the muffuletta is one of a kind: it’s a 10-inch round loaf stuffed with ham, salami, Provolone cheese, and a marinated olive salad. The enormous sandwich is the size of a manhole cover, Guas jokes. A whole muffuletta from Central Grocery could feed a family. Thankfully, they’re cut into fourths.
Guas calls St. Roch a “mini Union Market,” which pretty much sums it up. The food hall houses more than a dozen craft food and beverage vendors, from Coast Roast Coffee to Elysian Seafood and Oyster Bar. “It’s just kind of one way to knock out multiple birds with one stone, Guas says. “I love that style of eating and shopping.” Perfect for a patchwork lunch or an afternoon pick-me-up.
The name, French for brother rabbit, comes from a mischievous rabbit character in traditional Caribbean folk tales from Chef Nina Compton’s childhood in St. Lucia. The Top Chef contestant and James Beard nominee has drawn inspiration from these stories to create her menu, which blends the culinary history of New Orleans, her Caribbean roots, and her classical French training. “The meals are borderline flawless,” Guas says. “The flavors are amazing, and they’re well-presented, well-executed, and you can always guarantee a wonderful dining experience.”
Donald Link is a household name in New Orleans. The Louisiana-born James Beard winner is behind Herbsaint, Cochon, Butcher, and most recently, Pêche. His seafood-focused spot is known for whole fish and fresh oysters. “It’s definitely [in] my top five restaurants in New Orleans right now,” Guas says. “I love how they’ve incorporated the wood burning oven, and sort of the family style cookery.”
“Arnaud’s is one of those places you walk in and you go to sit in the bar and you kind of feel like you’ve gone back in time,” Guas says. Founded in 1918, the restored space still has that Prohibition-era charm, with wait staff decked out in tuxes and live music in the jazz bistro. The French 75 Bar has superbly executed classic cocktails, including, of course, the namesake French 75. “They haven’t strayed, and you know you can get a proper beverage there,” Guas says. He also touts it as the best spot to get shrimp remoulade, which is the restaurant’s signature dish.
From one of the country’s foremost tiki authorities, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, this bar and restaurant transports you to Polynesia with its authentic tiki memorabilia, elaborate cocktails, and an over-the-over-the-top garnish game. “How much more fun can you have with a cocktail than dressing it up like that with edible flowers and an umbrella?” Guas says. “There’s something that instantly says party time and celebration.”
This craft cocktail bar is an alcoholic case study of island nations’ heavily-traded goods: rum, sugar, and spices. The space is purposefully shabby, with flaking paint and vintage light fixtures. The drinks are based on tiki traditions, but with plenty of modern twists, like a classic combination of scotch, rum, and coconut in an Old-Fashioned format with a coconut water ice ball. The Prototiki menu takes things a little further back in time, exploring cocktails from “before the dawn of tiki.” “There’s something pretty cool about preserving history through a cocktail,” Guas says. The small space will soon be growing, with an upstairs dining room in the works.
SEE AND DO
Escape the often-pungent streets of the French Quarter and wander through one of the city’s idyllic parks. The centuries-old oak trees draped with Spanish moss, winding paths, and duck-filled lakes, make it an ideal haven for a stroll, a bike ride, or a picnic. Don’t miss the massive and impressive Tree of Life in Audubon Park. For Guas, both parks are full of childhood memories of horseback riding, visiting the Audubon Zoo, playing golf, and tossing a Frisbee or football.
“Jackson Square is like the heart of the city,” Guas says. “It’s literally the nucleus of the city, of the French Quarter.” Teeming with artists, psychics, street performers, musicians, tourists, and locals, this park and courtyard is where much of New Orleanian culture converges. The centerpiece is St. Louis Cathedral, which is flanked by the Presbytere and the Cabildo. Stroll across the street towards the river and climb the levee for sweeping views of the Mississippi and the square. Catch a performance, and don’t forget to drop a little something in the donation bucket. “For New Orleanians, we’ve always supported street musicians because they’re not just sitting there with a cup shaking it. There’s skill; there’s talent,” Guas says. “That is part of our culture.”
A walking tour through the French Quarter with Friends of the Cabildo will illuminate the complicated history of the fascinating city and arm you with fun facts for your next trivia night. “They have a great local reputation,” Guas says of the non-profit volunteer group that supports the Louisiana State Museum. The licensed guides are a wealth of knowledge and their stories reveal mysteries like the origin of the word Dixie, the morbid reason Frenchmen Street got its name, and how voodoo took root in New Orleans.
Hop on the St. Charles Streetcar—not a trolley, Guas warns—and ride the rails toward the Garden District. “It’s just a wonderful way to see the city. “You hear the sparking and the grinding of the wheels on the track, there’s a little rocking back and forth that kind of puts you to sleep sometimes,” he says. Get off around 4th Street to ogle the gorgeous homes and visit the Lafayette Cemetery. “Cemeteries in New Orleans, they’re like no other cemeteries anywhere,” he says of the above-ground tombs.
You can’t throw a rock without hitting a fantastic musician in New Orleans (rock-throwing not recommended), but for lots of music in one spot, Frenchmen Street is the place to go. “Everybody goes to Frenchman Street—tourists, locals, you name it,” Guas says. “You can stumble into any bar in that area and listen to some amazing music. There’s really no going wrong on Frenchman.”