You know, you’d think writing a brief article about your hometown would be easy. It’s not. I’ve lived in New Orleans for 22 years and I still don’t really know if I understand the city. It’s in the deep south, but also weirdly liberal. It’s urban, but feels like a small town - everyone seems to know each other and once you’ve lived here for a little bit, running into friends in every part of the city is basically inevitable. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and honestly it’s pretty hard to keep up with. There’s no perfect way to describe the typical New Orleans neighborhood, so I’ll try my best to give y’all some insight to what you can find in different areas of the city! When discussing our food, though, it’s been pretty straight forward and unchanging for quite a while. On Mondays you can expect to see restaurants offering red beans and rice, a New Orleans staple. It’s literally cooked red beans, usually smothered with ham hock, sausage, and onion. It’s creamy and delicious, served over a bed of rice and often accompanied by Crystal hot sauce.
On Fridays, expect to find fried catfish and shrimp on offer. The city’s huge Catholic population has made consuming seafood on Fridays a pretty strong tradition. Honestly, though, we are a huge seafood town so you can pretty much find seafood every day of the week.
Other foods you can expect to find and should absolutely try are jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and po’ boys. Jambalaya is basically a seasoned rice dish filled with meats and the “holy trinity,” a New Orleans culinary staple consisting of celery, onion, and green bell peppers. Gumbo is a seafood stew (but way better than any seafood stew you’ve had), though sometimes you’ll find it made with chicken and andouille sausage, a local spicy pork sausage. Crawfish étouffée is a seafood dish consisting of crawfish and a few vegetables smothered in a butter sauce and served over rice. It’s super decadent and will probably give you cardiac arrest if you eat it too quickly but it’s totes worth it. Po’ boys, or “poor boys,” are sandwiches served on French bread, typically containing fried seafood or other favorites such as warm roast beef (ask for extra gravy, or debris as we call it, if you want a bad ass sandwich that’ll leave you covered in delicious beef drippings), hot sausage, or ham. Look I’m not saying New Orleanians eat these foods on a daily basis, but they are our culinary pride and joy and you should totally try them while you’re here!
Now onto the different neighborhoods you can expect to visit! I live in the Bywater, a residential area about five minutes outside of downtown. It has recently undergone a huge transformation as young gentrifiers from the northeast and west coast have come in, changing the landscape in a pretty dramatic way. I’m not here to discuss the positives and negatives of gentrification, though, just here to tell ya like it is. What used to be a culturally rich neighborhood filled with middle class people of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds is now the hippest, youngest neighborhood in the city. The best way to think of it is like a little Brooklyn. You’ll see lots of skinny jeans, overgrown beards, “craft” anything and everything, and maybe some face tattoos. The recent changes have brought in new art galleries, restaurants, and people who like to do things like urban farming. It’s interesting, and is actually a pretty fun place to live.
Not far from the Bywater is the French Quarter. You’ve probably heard of it if you’ve ever looked into going to New Orleans / have a TV. It’s the most tourist - heavy part of the city, with good reason. The architecture is damn beautiful, with French and Spanish influences coming together to make the streets look like a scene from some cheesy Western European romance novel. It’s real cute. Oh, just don’t make a big deal out of going to Bourbon Street. Honestly, it’s something you should do (like, just take a walk down the street) but don’t make a night out of it. It’s obviously a big aspect of New Orleans but it literally is just there to take your money in return for cheap thrills and even cheaper liquor. Locals are judging you if you’re on Bourbon Street drunk and holding a hand grenade. Instead, spend an afternoon on Royal Street popping in and out of art and clothing stores and check out Jackson Square which is where the Cathedral is located. Take some time to relax in the gorgeous courtyards and outside patios of the city, as well as eat at some of the restaurants I’ve listed below.
If you’re in the mood to see some gorgeous old homes and spend a day shopping at cute as shit boutiques, head to Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. While you’re there, check out Funky Monkey for vintage costumes and clothing, and hit up District Doughnuts for some craft doughnuts (!!!).
Looking for a place to take your kids? Head to the Audubon Insectarium and Aquarium if you’re downtown, or the Audubon Zoo if you’re uptown. They’re huge and beautiful, making it a fun way to spend an afternoon.
OK OK OK, I’ve also broken down the city into neighborhoods to find the best food, drinks, & entertainment. I’ll include a little description of neighborhoods that I didn’t mention above!
- Sneaky Pickle if you’re looking for insanely cheap locally sourced vegan and vegetarian food. Order the bowl of food and the vegan Reuben and then shoot me an email telling me this recommendation changed your life.
- Oxalis if you want to go a meatier route and get a burger TOPPED WITH BONE MARROW. Oh and also, they have $5 old fashioneds, so, duh.
- Pizza Delicious for literally the best pizza in the city. They’ll deliver to your Airbnb if you’ve got cash. Otherwise, go in for a whole pie or just a few slices.
- The Branch. Located in the back of Oxalis, The Branch offers a dark patio setting with craft cocktails. Wanting to get pumped up and not drunk?
- Check out Solo Espresso for awesome espresso and drip coffee. This place is a renovated little house that is so effing cute and there are pop-ups every Saturday featuring everything from baked goods to Burmese food.
- Baccanal for live music. It’s basically a wine shop with a massive patio. A live band plays from like 6 to 11 every night, so grab a bottle and head to the back to hear some music. There’s also a walk-up kitchen that offers some great snacks and entrees. Go anytime on weekdays but on weekends I’d recommend getting there before 6 p.m. to make sure you can get a table!
- Also, go check out the brand new Crescent Park. It’s right along the river and is an awesome place to have some snacks and watch the steam boats go by.
- Saturn Bar on St. Claude Ave. for wild Saturday night dance parties. Don’t get there before 11 p.m. though, play it cool and show up around midnight – that’s when shit gets real.
The Marigny acts as a barrier between the super touristy French Quarter and the more residential Bywater. If you’re staying in the Quarter, take a short walk over to the slightly quieter Marigny for a meal or some late night live music.
Eat: Paladar 511 for pizza and Italian food. It’s located in the architecturally stunning 511 Marigny building, just go for a glass of wine and relaxation if you aren’t looking for food! Check out Dat Dog for inventive hot dogs and cheap drinks during happy hour. Oh but if you’re already drunk (#me) and in search of munchies? Hit up 13 for goodies such as tater tachos and a bomb Bloody Mary because yolo Bloody Marys are basically a meal, right?. Butttt, if you’re looking for global fare and a more formal setting, Three Muses has you covered. It’s just a few steps from all of the music and bars, making it a convenient location for a civilized dinner.
Drink: Faubourg Wines for Wednesday Night wine tastings (6 – 8 p.m.) and daily $5 glasses of wine. It’s a wine store with a lounge and a great atmosphere. Plus they have cheese and usually some bread from Bellegarde Bakery so really it’s a win-win.
Drink/ Do / Late Night: Frenchman Street for tons of live music and bars lining the few blocks stretching from the river to Royal Street. Just spend the night popping in and out of places. On weekend nights it can get pretty crazy though, you’ve been warned. Go a little off the beaten path to Kajun’s for drunk karaoke. This place used to be kind of a secret but those days are far gone so I don’t mind telling you about it! Karaoke stops at around 3 a.m. so try to hit it up before then! Also, once you’re down on St. Claude there are like three awesome bars within a block or two of Kajun’s. Check out Siberia for an ”eclectic” mix of live music (read: everything from punk screamo to bounce) and some great Russian food from the back kitchen. Go to Allways Lounge for impressively grungy hipster drag shows or swing by Hi-Ho for some funky beats spun by DJ Soul Sista every Saturday.
The French Quarter
Eat: Sylvain for incredible Southern / French fusion and a super sweet staff or Bennachin for some awesome pan-African food that is served in portions larger than anyone could actually conquer. Head to Meauxbar to watch Chef Kristen Essig pump out some totally innovative food that makes Willy Wonka look #basic. Go to St. Lawrence for some super late night grub featuring massive plates of fried chicken, fish and chips, and omg poutine (thanks, Canada!). Oh, and everyone goes to Café du Monde for beignets because it’s obviously super historic and world famous and delicious and yada yada. Do it at least once, but here’s the thing: do. not. go. on. a. weekend. morning. Just don’t do it. You will waste half of your day in line for some awesome-but-not-worth-the-wait fried dough squares. Instead, go on a weekday morning, midday on the weekends, or for a late night treat. Matt and I drive by all the time on Sunday morning and just shake our heads at the 100-person long line. Don’t be those people!
Drink: Cane & Table for some kick ass craft tikki drinks and a great staff or Molly’s on the Market if you’re seeking a dive bar. It’s not too touristy and they have an incredible frozen Irish coffee that will def get you turnt.
Super Late Night: Oz Night Club. Yes, it’s technically a “gay bar” but it’s also the best dance club in the city. You’ll find it filled with people from all walks of life dancing to ridiculous pop music and being obnoxious (in a fun way).
This is kind of a weird part of town in the heart of the central business district that has become residential very recently. It’s super busy during the day and dead at night but that’s changing as more apartment complexes and condominiums are being erected.
Eat: Johnny Sanchez for some awesome Latin / Modern American food by Chefs John Besh and Aaron Sanchez. Make it over to Root for some gastronomy stuff that’s kind of pretentious but still really effing good. I’d recommend ordering the cigar box smoked scallops because duh.
Drink: Bellocq is the place to go for some craft cocktails and sexy lighting. For the local dive bar, hit up Lucy’s.
Lower Garden District
Eat: Mais Arepas for modern Cuban dining. Nile for Ethiopian. District for craft doughnuts (!!!).
Drink: Barrel Proof for a damn good cocktail and some of the friendliest bar tenders in this city. French Truck Coffee for some bomb locally roasted coffee.
Do: Shopping on Magazine Street. Spend an afternoon going between shops and boutiques and make sure to check out some of the more off-the-wall spots such as Funky Monkey, a vintage costume store.
So there you have it, that’s New Orleans in a tiny nut shell. This list doesn’t cover all the neighborhoods in the city, but most of the other parts of town are more residential and there’s not too much stuff to do in terms of tourism. If you find yourself wanting to know more about New Orleans or need help planning a trip, I’d love to assist you! Just shoot me an email.