Dauphine's in Washington, D.C.

The food in New Orleans may be one of the best reasons to visit that city, but it's far from the only enticement. Listening to music, wandering through neighborhoods where history and beauty seamlessly meld, and hanging out with some of the most unconventional, fun, good-hearted people in the U.S. are also top draws.

Maybe that's why dining on Creole and Cajun specialties elsewhere can sometimes be a disappointment—the food is in the right genre, but the rest of the experience is lacking.

Not at Dauphine's.

This D.C. gem conjures the Crescent City better than most restaurants outside Louisiana, creating a distinctive atmosphere in the high-ceilinged space with a swinging, horn-heavy jazz soundtrack, a lot of wrought iron recalling French Quarter balconies, and a staff as sweet as king cakes.

The cocktails and cuisine are also spot-on. If you can, come with a group so you can order a bunch of the tempting menu items.

You might start with an assortment of oysters, clams, catfish dip, or caviar from the raw bar, or maybe a plate of house-cured charcuterie with accoutrements such as pickles and seasonal mustards.

A second appetizer round could complete the meal if you're not too hungry. Top choice would be the heavenly shrimp remoulade (pictured below). This zingy salad packs heat via a fresh-tasting horseradish sauce. The sharpness is cut by a bumpy carpet of egg salad and above that, cooling iceberg lettuce.

Also excellent: the barbecued shrimp, pork-laden gumbo (with a creamy potato salad in the middle), blackened tilefish, and duck jambalaya. 

Shrimp remoulade at Dauphine's in Washington, DC

The bar's selection of historic NOLA cocktails features several obscure but delicious highballs made with house shrubs.

Finish things off with a show—the Baked Alaska gets flamed tableside.

In a city that can feel awfully serious sometimes, Dauphine's lets the good times—and good food—roll.