I’m often asked where I would go or what I would do if I were taking a week (or weekend) trip to New Orleans. This, essentially, is the highlights from a series of emails I’ve written about how I would get my tourist on in the Crescent City. These opinions are my own, and are just that – opinions.
Everyone will tell you to go to Mother’s for brunch or po-boys (that typically New Orleans sandwich made on French Bread). Unless you’re there on a weekday, you should avoid it, in my opinion. It’s too expensive for what you get, the lines on weekends are too long, and the new ownership of the place has turned it a tourist trap. If you want to experience a “real” New Orleans po-boy, go to Parkway Bakery or Tracey’s (the dive formerly known as Parasol’s). Better, cheaper sandwiches, and more local flavor. No offense to the couple that bought Parasol’s, but I haven’t been there since the ownership changed hands, so I’m not ready to recommend them yet. You absolutely have to have a roast beef po-boy while you’re in New Orleans, and I also recommend a fried oyster or shrimp sandwich if you dare. If you’re not of the meat-averse variety, the other definitive New Orleans sandwich is the muffuletta, a large, round seeded roll filled with Italian meats, cheese, and wonderfully oily olive salad. The definitive place to grab a muff is Central Grocery, one of a few restaurants that lays claim to inventing the sandwich. For the decidedly non-kosher among us, there’s also Cochon.
If you have a day to visit a plantation, I recommend Oak Alley. It’s a magnificent piece of living history.
If you want to do something cheesy and touristy, I’d suggest the Honey Island Swamp Tour. Legend has it that a Bigfoot-like creature lives back in the swamp. There’s also the Haunted History Tour of New Orleans, which is super schlocky but fun. Note: I’ve almost run these tourons over on multiple occasions. Save the power drinking for post-Haunted History Touring.
As far as fine dining goes, there’s Breakfast at Brennan’s and John Besh’s Restaurant August. The Brennans own seemingly half the restaurants in the French Quarter (hereafter referred to as just the Quarter), and I think Brennan’s is one of the best. If you love French Creole food and want to take in the old money (and some of the nouveau riche) of New Orleans, there’s Galatoire’s. This is the kind of joint where you keep your jacket on during dinner. I’m not a huge fan, but that’s because I feel like Anthony Bourdain when it comes to sauces that end in -aise.
For Italian, there’s Impastato’s and Venezia’s. Impastato’s is the kind of place you want to go when you don’t mind dinner taking 2 or 3 hours, and you want to see the pasta Alfredo made at your tableside. Venezia’s is good old-fashioned casual N’awlins Italian food, in the kind of place that’s changed very little since it opened 50 years ago.
Breakfast, burgers and milkshakes are the specialty at Camellia Grill. It’s New Orleans’ version of (DC’s) The Diner, except it sucks less. Jimmy Buffett picked this place as one of his ten favorite burgers in the US. Jacque-Imo’s is probably the most popular of the new New Orleans restaurants. They don’t take reservations for small groups, and you might wait in line, but it’s probably worth it.
For a quick and casual lunch, Juan’s Flying Burrito is cheap and easy (I was tempted to make a joke about New Orleans women, and thought better of it). For an inexpensive but flavorful burger head to Bud’s Broiler. Fresh, never frozen, beef, and a simple but interesting array of toppings. I’d recommend the #4 with either hickory sauce (a really , really pungent BBQ sauce) or chili, cheese and onions. The Calhoun and City Park Avenue locations are the best.
New Orleans City Park is charming, housing a whole host of fun things, including the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s mammoth, probably larger in size in proportion to the city than Rock Creek is to DC. Grab some burgers or a po-boy and hang out in the park if the weather is nice.
Now if you want to go deep New Orleans and eat at the places where the locals dine, head on over to sample the chicken Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme or Rocky & Carlo’s in Chalmette. Willie Mae’s is an exceptional story, a James Beard nominee that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and was rebuilt largely through the efforts of the James Beard Foundation and famous chefs from across the country (including DC’s Ann Cashion and New Orleans’ John Besh). Rocky & Carlo’s was similarly destroyed by the hurricane, in an area that was devastated in a more thorough manner than most of the rest of the area. Go there for the baked macaroni & cheese, the brocioloni (a variant on braciole), or the veal parmigiana.
If you dare to try raw oysters, Felix’s or Pascal Manale’s. I like Manale’s better, but Felix’s is in the French Quarter.
Now that you’ve eaten your way through New Orleans, there’s nightlife. For a romantic evening, you can’t do better than live jazz at Snug Harbor. Located just outside the quarter in the Marigny, this is the area where locals like to congregate. Bars like DBA, the Apple Barrel, Cafe Brasil and the R Bar are all within a short walk from here.
As far as in the Quarter, The Gold Mine Saloon is where I wiled away much of my young adulthood. It’s pretty raucous, the bathrooms are foul, but you must do a Flaming Dr. Pepper Shot if you’re brave enough to enter. Cosimo’s is the coolest bar in the Quarter, just far enough off the beaten path so you avoid the worst of the tourons. Fahey’s and O’Flaherty’s are cool little Irish bars in the Quarter.
Now I’m back to food…if you need a late night bite to eat, there’s Verti Marte and Clover Grill. Both joints are 24 hours…the former is better if you want to grab some takeout and take it back to the hotel, the latter the better option if you’re not quite ready to call it a night but need a quick bite to eat. The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli’s post-Afghan Whigs project, named a song in honor of Verti Marte.
You absolutely, positively, have to go have a drink on the outside balcony of the Columns Hotel. If you’re looking for live New Orleans music, you can’t go wrong with the world famous Tipitina’s. The Sunday Fais Do Do with Bruce Daigrepont is a little slice of Cajun heaven in New Orleans.
I’m sure I overlooked a few things here and there, and this is meant to be more of a living post than a static snapshot.
NB: Updated August 2012