In New Orleans, it's not just about what's in your go-cup, it's about where you carry it. To make mastering the Big Easy a little, well, easier, we pinned down the dudes behind three of the city's hottest bars -- Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal of Cure, Bellocq, and Perestroika at Pravda -- to point the way.
Favorite Restaurant Kirk: Pho Bang. They watch my baby while I eat and it's hands-down the best soup in the country. But for dinner dates, Domenica. Neal: Coquette. Chef Mike's food is fantastic and I just love the vibe of this place.
Best Late-Night Eats Neal: ROOT. It's one of New Orleans' best, even when it's not late. Given the fact that you can eat there until 2am on the weekends, it's THE go-to for an amazing late night meal. Kirk: ROOT on the weekends. In New Orleans, there's a real void of places to go for late-night food, and there's a void of interesting offerings as well. ROOT offers inventive cuisine 'til late, which I love!
Best Bar Snack Neal: It's a tie. Oysters en Brochette with Marchand du Vin Sauce, or Souffle Potatoes with Bearnaise, both at Arnaud's French 75 Bar. Might as well order both; then you can sample as many of Chris Hannah's cocktails as you'd like, which are also some of New Orleans' best. Kirk: Fried Brussels sprouts at Tivoli & Lee, because they remind me of my Grandpa who loved Brussels sprouts! It's a comfort to eat them.
Best Dish Kirk: Stracci at Domenica. It's chicken liver pasta and braised oxtail, and it's magical. There are crazy flavors layered in this dish. Neal: The grilled lamb ribs with green tomato relish at Patois are one of my favorite apps in the whole city.
Best for a Work Dinner Kirk: I usually go to Horinoya because it's close and you can eat a truly great meal relatively quickly. It's a calm environment, which is good for meetings, and they have the best raw and fresh fish. Plus their matcha green tea is incredible. Neal: La Petite Grocery has flawless food and service with a dining room that strikes a great balance between relaxation and business.
Gut-Busting Dish Kirk: No thanks! Neal: A Company Burger at The Company Burger is the best hamburger out there.
Most Local Food Neal: The Shell Beach Diet at Brigtsen's is a smorgasbord of all things New Orleans on one plate. Kirk: Salvo's Seafood, a boil spot in Plaquemines Parish. Everything's caught locally and it feels like you're dining at a friend's house.
Best Coffee Neal: Merchant's full of great coffee and jaw-dropping design. I also really like Spitfire, a new shop in the French Quarter. Kirk: Spitfire's a great new place in the Quarter full of young people interested in making good coffee.
Best Hotel Bar Neal: Excluding Bellocq? I'd say that a spin around the Carousel Bar is pretty hard to beat. Kirk: Well, I love Bellocq, but if I'm not working, I visit Sobou to see what Abigail's making.
Best Dive Bar Kirk: The Saint! It's dirty and really divey. Like, really divey. And I've been going there for a long time. A looooong time. Neal: Brothers Three. The dive bar is a dying breed when it comes to the genuine article. This is the genuine article.
Best Muffuletta Neal: Every bit is done in house at Cochon Butcher. Everything that Donald, Stephen, and the gang do at all of their restaurants (Herbsaint, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Peche) is for real. Kirk: It's all about the olive oil flavor at Central Grocery.
Best Oysters Neal: Casamento's had the best oysters when I was a kid, and guess what? They still have the best oysters. Just like they have since 1919. Kirk: Casamento's is a New Orleans institution, plus I love the oyster loaf.
Best Po Boy Kirk: They have killer po' boys at the Erin Rose. It's a chef-driven pop-up doing culinarily relevant po' boys in New Orleans. Neal: A dressed shrimp po' boy at Domilise's has many competitors that come close, but none are better. It's po' boy perfection.
Best Drink Kirk: In the Summer, it's the frozen Irish coffee from Molly's. Neal: It's got to be Kirk's Sea Dog. Kirk still consistently makes the best drinks that I've ever had.
Best Place to Day Drink Kirk: All of New Orleans. You can still walk around drinking here. Why sit still when there are drinks everywhere? Neal: On a beautiful day it has to be the courtyard at La Fin du Monde on Magazine Street. Well-made drinks (and great food) with a serene setting.
Easiest Place to Get Laid Kirk: I'm married, so... Neal: The Saint. Or at least it was in my single days.
Best Go-Cup Filler Neal: A Fruit Cup (which is like a Pimm's Cup) made with Bittermen's secret fruit cup cordial. It's going to knock the world over when it goes live. Kirk: On a hot day I like to visit Sidney's on Decatur. Beer, wine, and spirits to buy and go-cups on the counter.
Best Way to Spend a Rainy Day Kirk: Sit out on your porch or balcony and just sip a drink. Or stay in a B&B when you visit, so you have that porch option. It rains here a lot. Neal: Drinking a Pimm's Cup and watching the rain from the Napoleon House is a transporting experience.
Best Sazerac Kirk: My house, but if I don't answer the door, you should have Chris Hannah at French 75 make you one. Neal: Cure. Sorry to be homer, but in my humble opinion, we make a pretty awesome Sazerac.
Best Shave Kirk: Aidan Gill takes great care of his customers, and it's an excellent place for a leisurely cut, good conversation, and a drink. Neal: Aidan Gill for Men. Aidan started the revolution, and if you don't believe me, just look him up. He's a living legend.
Best Way to Exercise Kirk: Bicycling on the levee. Neal: Running through the Garden District.
Best Hangover Cure Kirk: Sleep or pho. Or sleep and pho. Neal: Ramos Gin Fizz.
Best Live Music Kirk: One-Eyed Jack's or Siberia. What can I say? I'm a hipster and they book all the Pitchfork darlings. Neal: There is nothing like a good show at Tipitina's. It's just a New Orleans classic and a non-profit to boot. But check out Publiq House & Gasa Gasa on Freret if you want to experience NOLA's two newest music venues.
Coolest Street Neal: I'm biased, but Freret Street has it going on! Kirk: Freret Street's the one street in New Orleans that's happening right now. And it's been great to see it grow.
If you have one free hour in NOLA... Kirk: Sit on the levee. Drink a beer. Watch the ships go by. Neal: I know it's cliché, but beignets & coffee at Cafe Du Monde is about as good as it gets in an hour. On a beautiful day, it's hard not to at least get a glimpse of what makes New Orleans special as you sip coffee, eat beignets, and watch life go by.
If you have two free hours in NOLA... Kirk: Ride the Canal St ferry and lunch at Dry Dock in Algiers. Then sit on the levee. Watch life go by. Neal: Walk up and down Magazine Street from Felicity to Napoleon and pop into shops. Meander through the Garden District and check out the architecture on your way back from Napoleon Ave.
If you have one free afternoon in NOLA... Neal: Get sh*t-faced at lunch at Galatoire's. It's an all-afternoon affair that is bound to get you in some trouble. Kirk: Get a coffee at Spitfire. Go to Lucullus Culinary Antiques and the Kitchen Witch cookbook store while guzzling up a Pimm's Cup in-between at Napoleon House. Walk Royal Street a bit to look at the buildings and old things in the windows. Eat lunch when you get hungry somewhere!
Don't leave without... Kirk: Driving a few hours out west of New Orleans a few hours to eat fried Boudin balls somewhere in Scott, LA. I like Billy's with the melted pepper jack cheese center. Neal: Eating, drinking, and enjoying life. One day the world will realize that New Orleans has the market on quality of life cornered.