New Orleans isn’t just a city, it is a soul.
It doesn’t have residents, it has locals who wear wigs on an average Friday night like it ain’t no thang. It doesn’t just have good food, it has food so rich and spicy you will understand why everyone is dancing it off later.
New Orleans is Southern, Creole, god-loving and voodoo-revering. And it is beautiful.
I am lucky enough to consider New Orleans one of my adopted second homes because it is the real home of my beautiful, spirited and always dancing wife. And every time we visit, she shows me another reason why this place is so much more than just a city.
The below tips are all from my wife, I was just the scribe. So, if you’re booking a trip to NOLA, bookmark this page and go hungry!
Where to Stay:
You can always stay near the French Quarter, but it is touristy. That said, you can find many charming boutique hotels like one of our favorites, the Royal Sonesta. But another option is renting an Airbnb in one of these neighborhoods to get more of sense for the city’s real soul:
- Bywater/Marigny (pronounced Mare-ah-knee): Just blocks away from Bourbon Street, and home to the famous Frenchman Street between Esplanade & Royal Street, this neighborhood boasts live music wafting out of nearly every bar, colorful locals you can’t help but dance with, and stories that will sound much better than, “Once on Bourbon Street…”
- Uptown/Garden District: This is a beautiful part of the city with huge live oak trees dripping over the streets and traditional NOLA architecture. The Garden District is accessible via the streetcar down Saint Charles Ave. When you look at a map – opt for homes between Magazine Street & Saint Charles Ave. The other side of St. Charles can be a bit sketchy.
Where to Nosh:
Jacque-imos: Julie’s fave restaurant in NOLA is Jacque-imos in Uptown on Oak Street off of Carrollton. It’s casual, Cajun-Creole food in a quirky old house that was converted to a restaurant. It only takes reservations for parties of 10 or more, but if you get there early, you’re wait won’t be too long. If you arrive after 7ish, plan to wait an hour or so. But it’s worth the wait.
To get there, I highly recommend taking the streetcar from downtown at the corner of St. Charles Ave and Canal Street. The streetcar takes you up St. Charles Ave through the Garden District where the street is lined with live oak trees and amazing old mansions. It’s about a 20-minute ride and much more quaint than a taxi or an Uber. Get off the streetcar at Oak and Carrollton and the driver will tell you where to walk next, but it’s just a few blocks from the stop.
Cochon: A new restaurant that is the best damn thing in New Orleans right now is Cochon. Southern New Orleans at ITS BEST with lots of trendy pork on the menu of course. Make sure it’s a must on your list.
Dooky Chase: If you want world famous Creole/soul food like killer fried chicken and authentic collard greens and you’re willing to get off the beaten path, go to Dooky Chase in the Treme neighborhood. The neighborhood isn’t the safest, but the restaurant is legendary (one of Obama’s favorites) and classy locals make the jaunt often. It’s open for lunch only (most days offering a buffet) and worth the short drive from the French Quarter.
Central Grocery: Hands-down my favorite foodie find in all of New Orleans is Central Grocery on Decatur St in the French Quarter. It’s an old Sicilian deli that serves Muffaletta sandwiches that are impossible to replicate. The bread is made fresh just for the sandwiches and the olive spread is made in house. You’ll only need to order a 1/4 sandwich (OK, maybe a half to be safe), but it’s the best Muffaletta you’ll find anywhere in the world…including Sicily.
Johnny’s PoBoys: My wife Julie rarely goes to NOLA without stopping at Johnny’s PoBoys for lunch. Get either the Roast Beef PoBoy or the Fried Shrimp PoBoy. Order it “fully dressed” and it will come with more mayo than you’d think legal, but that’s just how they do it in the south!
Cafe Du Monde: For breakfast or an afternoon snack, you can’t go to NOLA without a stop at Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. It’s always open, always good, and always packed! Snag outside seating on Decatur across from Jackson Square for great people watching.
For something a little nicer in the French Quarter, Antoine’s or Arnaud’s are my wife Julie’s faves. They are historic landmarks and New Orleans institutions. Julie recommends starting at the Sazerac bar at Arnaud’s where there are rooms upon rooms of historic Carnival queens and kings photos, jewels, and other Mardi Gras fanfare. There are also apparently haunted dining rooms where secret carnival crews would meet in order not to reveal their kings or queens. Cool stuff…real NOLA food and history. And amazing service!
Compere Lapin: If you’re a Top Chef fan, you may remember contestant Nina Compton known for her southern Caribbean cuisine. She opened a restaurant in NOLA after the show and it’s getting GREAT reviews, although we haven’t experienced it firsthand yet.
Mosquito Supper Club: This pop up supper club has as a rotating prixe fixe menu featuring farm-to-table, seasonal ingredients plus a whole lotta seafood and Louisiana soul. The small family-style meal only accommodates 24 people in one seating a night, so reservations/tickets are a must. Plus the whole experience is super ‘gram worthy!
What to Listen to:
If you rent a car or just want to act like a local, turn your FM radio dial to 90.7 or check out www.wwoz.org and click on the Livewire Music Event calendar for a complete listing of all the live music around town. It will likely be an overwhelming list because the music never stops in NOLA. That said, here are the Julie-approved venues with the best local music:
1) Tipitina’s (Uptown) – Famous for great local music but also brings in bigger acts.
2) d.b.a. (Marigny) – Small local musicians with great Beer on draft.
3) Preservation Hall (French Qtr) – Always has an amazing local band – usually brass bands which are the heart and soul of NOLA
4) Maple Leaf (Uptown) – Whatever they have will be a blast. The bar is a hole in the wall and it smells but it’s perfect for a real NOLA experience.
5) Snug Harbor (Marigny) – You’ll see REAL local old NOLA acts like Charmaine Neville or Ellis Marsailles. Great stuff that NOLA is made of.
As with any city, but especially in New Orleans, walking around is the best way to see the city’s soul and catch street musicians who are as talented as most stage musicians. Music is literally and refreshingly everywhere you turn! Our favorite go-to plan is to walk around the French Quarter during the day, popping in to bars and shops along the way, and then head to Uptown or Marigny at night for dinners and music. Whatever you do, this city will leave you wondering why it’s taken you so long to discover it!