City Guide: New Orleans {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

New Orleans Travel Guide 2018

A long long time ago I used to spend a lot of time in New Orleans. Before I was married, before the storm, before children.

I went with a high school best pal, tagging along to a conference my father was attending. We stayed at the Hotel Monteleone, thought we were sophisticated eating dinner at Brennan’s, drank hurricanes at Pat O Brien's with rock stars and behaved about as responsibly as you would expect two 17 years old in New Orleans to behave.

For a few years when we were newlyweds, Mark's project in Niger was managed by Tulane University. We came for work meetings and to see friends in graduate school and spent late nights at Cafe Brasil and the Spotted Cat.

And then somehow, tragically, twenty years went by without a single day in New Orleans. I often say it is a place I am always homesick for even though I have never lived there. For part of Noah’s graduation celebration, we decided to show him this town we both love so very much. If you love Italy, particularly places like Rome, Naples, and Venice then you will love New Orleans. So start planning your visit with my guide that is full of my advice on what to do and where to eat, drink and shop in New Orleans.

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

Where {and What} to Drink 

Late Morning Sazerac at The Carousel Bar
214 Royal Street

The secret to getting a seat at this wildly popular bar is to get there about 11 am on a Monday morning. At this New Orleans approved cocktail hour you can drink your sazerac in peace without feeling guilty when you pass the growing crowd of people eyeing your spot as the bar slowly spins past them.

Hurricane at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

941 Bourbon Street

Go inside and find a cool dark corner in the back. Order the original recipe hurricane, full of rum and fresh fruit juice in a plastic go cup, and follow the stern instructions to not stir or sip your drink through a straw.

Mezcal Cocktails at 21st Amendment 

725 Iberville Street

I have long had a rule that I will only walk one block on Bourbon Street, but since this was Noah's first time we walked end to end. It's as loud and sticky and smells just as bad as it always has. In this city not bound by convention, I am sticking to my rule and I advise you to do the same. Once you have seen your fill of the Disneyland for drinking head for literally any other street. I like Iberville where you will find the 21st Amendment and if you are lucky there will be a prohibition era jazz band and you will have the same sax player from the night before at Preservation Hall.

French Marquis at Arnaud's French 75 

813 Rue Bienville

I know I know you are probably supposed to have a French 75 at a bar named French 75, but I didn't. This very old-fashioned bar is next to the equally old-fashioned Arnaud's restaurant and has a delightful air of calm gentility.

Where to Eat

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}
2381 St. Claude Avenue

We left at dawn from Boston where it was 45 degrees and gray and landed before lunch in sunny and steamy New Orleans where it was at least 40 degrees warmer. We packed away our Uniqlo vests and took a walk through the Marigney to the renovated Saint Roch Market. The bright white and airy space was once one of the souths first open-air markets before Katrina destroyed the building and is now a very modern food hall. Noah & I ordered Cajun Cubanos from Fete au Fete and Mark had his first of many shrimp Po Boys. While our sandwiches were being made we sipped cocktails that were fresh with lime and had a bite from Thai bitters.

Turkey and The Wolf
739 Jackson Ave

How could something that has been billed as the best restaurant in America possible live up to expectations? We were hot, not all that hungry and kind of cranky when we realized we were near Turkey and the Wolf. Well, I have to say believe the hype. We split the ridiculously delicious fried boloney sandwich, stuffed with potato chips and slathered with Dukes mayonnaise and a wedge salad that was generous with the bacon and bright with fresh dill blue cheese dressing. There are tiny animal figurines glued to gumball machines and the cocktails are served in vintage cartoon glass tumblers and have names like Woo Girl, Round Two Girl and Don't Go Broke in Mexico. It could be all a little too cute, but it's not. It is quirky and charming and the food really shines.

Tchoups Meatery 
845 North Carrollton Avenue

Within walking distance of the New Orleans Museum of Art, this spare dining room belies the rich plates on the menu. In an attempt at something moderately healthy, I had a beet martini that was almost as good as one of Mark's fresh pressed juices with a healthy dose of gin and a sharp pickled beet on the side. My hamburger was just the right amount of messy due with the inspired addition of ground pork to the beef and topped with pickled squash in place of the usual pickle. We ordered a tall slice of peanut butter, bacon, bourbon salted caramel, layer cake which was as decadent as it sounds. My only regret is that I did not have room for a snowball from Pandoras next door.

Today's Cajun Seafood
1700 McShane Place

Our tour guide recommended this as one of his favorite no-frills lunch spots, and by no-frills I mean your food is served in styrofoam boxes and there is a bottle of bleach next to boxes of ramen noodles used to make yak-a-mein on the open shelving. In other words my kind of place. We had bowls of gumbo full of crawfish and shrimp and chunks of vegetables and shrimp po-boys that were easily a foot long. Come with a go cup or have a Barq's root beer to drink.

Three Muses
536 Frenchmen Street

Grab a seat at the bar, let the bartender tell you what she is making and order a slew of small plates that cover all kinds of cuisine bases from gumbo, to pork belly sliders to a kale salad (don't worry about it being too healthy, it has a generous dusting of grated cheese) and enjoy the live music set on the small stage in the corner.

Compere Lapin
535 Tchoupitoulas

Even our Uber driver commented that this restaurant had just won a James Beard award, that's how much buzz this place has right now. We booked a very early lunch a few days ahead and dove right into the buttery bacon studded biscuits where the whipped maple butter is, of course, a necessary accompaniment as soon as we sat down. The cocktails are ace and the small menu is precise. We fought over the last bite of the chilled shrimp with jalapeno jus and Noah's hot chicken was a sublime mix of hot and sweet. Mark had a very subdued an elegant filet of Drum fish with. ribbons of fennel. My catfish sandwich was delicate and crisp on a soft bun. This was the standout meal of the trip. If you only have time for one restaurant in New Orleans, this should be it.

District Donuts
2209 Magazine Street

One of the things I really really miss in Italy is a glazed donut. When I am back in the US, I wait for the red light at Krispy Kreme and buy boxes of Entenmann's at the bodega so I was thrilled to find this fancy gourmet donut shop in my Instagram research. Fluffy, yeasted, donuts are baked all day at this Uptown spot. I went with a classic glazed, Noah had a maple bacon and Mark chose a cinnamon roll. 

What to Do 

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

Treme & Mardi Gras Indian Tour

I learned a lot of things about New Orleans from the television show Treme. Learning about the Mardi Gras Indian culture was by far the most fascinating. I wanted to know more so I found a tour company that promised a morning in the Treme neighborhood with a deep dive into this rich culture. We met at Congo Square, said to be the birthplace of jazz and learned some history of this freewheeling city on the Mississipi. Then we heard the sound of a tambourine and looked up to see a fully masked Indian in a yellow feathered suit. He sang and we snapped selfies and just as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared again before the sun was too high in the sky. From Congo Square, we meandered through the Treme neighborhood, spotted both the real and TV character Davis's houses and visited the moving slave memorial at the historic Saint Augustine's church.

Backstreet Cultural Museum

116 Henriette Delille Street

This tiny museum in the Treme is just three rooms which are packed with Mardi Gras Indian suits, each of which take a years worth of sewing of beads and feathers to create and other artifacts from Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and the mysterious Skull & Bones gang of the Treme.

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum 
724 Dumaine Street

Our connections to one unique part of New Orleans culture are deep. Mark was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Haiti. We got married on a beach in Benin, not far from the famous Voodoo village of Ouidah. We have powerful gris-gris from west Africa by our front door and I am always lighting candles in front of saints reliquary's here in Rome. Naturally, a visit to this small museum in the French Quarter was on the to-do list. The rooms are crammed full of altars and voodoo flags and portraits of Marie Laveau and you know I do love a shrine. I left euro coins next to the skulls and American quarters for the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

Listen to Some New Orleans Jazz

Preservation Hall

It's small, it's hot, it's an absolute must. It doesn't matter who is playing. It will be great. Get in line and buy a bottle of water and a cold beer from the man selling them out of a cooler near the door. We got lucky and snagged the pillows on the floor in the very front row. You can book a spot on a bench for an additional cost.

Frenchman Street

Frenchman Street used to be the antidote to Bourbon Street. Now it feels more like I remember Bourbon did 20 years ago. But even without Cafe Brasil and with the groups of college kids and pre-wedding partiers it's still better. At Snug Harbor the jazz is terrific and the drinks are strong. If you don't feel like a full evening of live jazz you can sit downstairs at the bar and watch the main stage on a TV screen. 

See Some Art

New Orleans Museum of Art
One Collins C. Diboll Circle, City Park 
Closed Mondays

My newly minted music school graduate was more interested in seeing art than listening to live music so we got up early, ate some donuts and then got an Uber to the New Orleans Museum of Art. The museum was cool and empty and filled with one of the more interesting collections of both classic and contemporary art. The black and white photographs of the city by Lee Friedlander changed the way I think about my own photography and the two visiting Veronese pieces from Venice were like seeing old friends.

Go Uptown

Take the Streetcar uptown and stroll through the Lafayette Cemetary.

Where to Shop 

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

Dirty Coast
713 Royal Street

In this shop just off Jackson Square, you will find locally produced T-shirts, gifts, and prints featuring well designed inside jokes that only a native understands. I bought a stack of flour-sack dishtowels to give as gifts. 

Simon of New Orleans
1028 Jackson Avenue 

We wandered into the folk artist, Simon Hardeveld's rambling outside studio and immediately knew this was our kind of place. Ramshackle and colorful and utterly without pretense Simon's art captures the words and spirit of his city.

Aunt Sally's Pralines
810 Decatur Street

Creamy and tooth-achingly sweet, a box of handmade pralines is the perfect fleeting souvenir of this decadent city. I like the ones laced with hot sauce.

What's New
824 Decatur Street

This French Market shop is filled with treasures like ceramic oyster plates, stained glass fleur-de-lis ornaments and packable bright canvases painted with beloved New Orleans sites. 

Trip Planning

A good trip is only as good as your research. While I don't recommend too much planning for a city as languorous and capricious as New Orleans, it does pay to have a few ideas to give your days a little bit of structure. Here is how I planned our trip.

Instagram stalked New Orleans accounts

Rewatched all four seasons of Treme.

Read this brilliant article by L. Kasimu Harris

Dug out old copies of The Moviegoer & Confederacy of Dunces. I would also add anything Ellen Gilchrist writes, Zeitoun & A Streetcar Named Desire to that reading list.

After this trip, I might love New Orleans more than I ever thought I did. Even after 20 years, the storm, a husband and a college graduate, I know what it means and more than anything else, I hope that you fall in love with this singular and remarkable place too.

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}

City Guide: New Orleans  {What to Do and Where to Eat, Drink and Shop}


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