City Guide: New Orleans
New Orleans is the kind of city where even the most tacky, touristy things seem to make sense, and where the actual people of the city are the real entertainment. They’re authentic and fiercely loyal to their city, incredibly friendly and tolerant, and even welcoming to the idiot tourists. The Uber drivers will give you the best overview of the stages of New Orleans, including how New Orleans had lost its mojo pre-Katrina. The recovery was brutal, but now the city is back and better than ever. Every weekend is a celebration, a festival, a big football game, or a convention. It’s not just during Mardi Gras—New Orleans is always a party.
Other than the tacky Bourbon Street, the French Quarter is small, walkable, and filled with fascinating building details, shotgun houses, galleries, and incredible overhanging flowers everywhere. There is a bar every 10 feet, and everyone walking has a drink. The best time to be here is 9:30 a.m., after the party and before the tourists.
Faubourg and Marigny
This neighborhood borders the Quarter and is becoming the more hipster-cool spot for stores and restaurants. It’s still more offbeat and grittier than the Garden District by a lot, and it’s fun to see the contrast of where people actually live.
Garden District (Uptown, Upper and Lower District)
There are a lot of parts to the Garden District, from the incredible huge homes to the more commercial area of Magazine Street. It’s worth a walk down the street to see fewer tourists and where people really live, and is a great walking area.
Arts District and CBD
Technically two neighborhoods, but they blend together. This area borders the French Quarter, is home to tons of hotels, and the restaurant scene is incredible—and keeps getting better.
This neighborhood is where the New Orleans resurgence lives. It’s a cool little area of houses that are being rehabbed with a younger, cooler crop of people moving in. (Our glassblowing friends from Brottworks were some of the first in here, and they built a new home and studio smack-dab in the middle, before it was cool.)
There is no shortage of hotel rooms in the city. Name a chain or brand and you can find it here.
The classic old dogs are the Roosevelt (a Waldorf Astoria) and the Ritz Carlton, on opposite sides of Canal Street bordering the Quarter. The Windsor Court Hotel is huge, new, and super-luxurious. If you want the Quarter with a little more seclusion, your two best bets are Audubon Cottages and Soniat House, which have the classic New Orleans hidden courtyards.
International House and Loft 523 are our favorites for location. There is also a relatively new Ace Hotel, if you’re a fan of the more happening lobbies, quirkier rooms, and hot new restaurants (see below). The new Pontchartarin Hotel is in the Garden District and oozes historic luxury, and the Royal Frenchman opened recently and was transformed from two Creole townhouses into a fairly quiet retreat.
Classic tips for New Orleans dining:
- Have a Sazarac, ideally in the Sazarac bar at the Roosevelt. At least once to see the bar.
- Fried chicken in town is Dooky Chase versus Willie Mae’s—both will be recommended, but locals will tell you Dooky Chase is much better.
- Po-Boys are everywhere: Mother’s on Poydras, Mahony’s on Magazine. Everyone stands in line for Mother’s, including us a few times. The experience is cool, but I’m not sure the ham is worth the line?
- New Orleans loves all of their sandwiches, though, naming Turkey and the Wolf one of their best new restaurants. Also, try the classic Stein’s (Jewish Italian deli, right where you’d expect it?).
For a touristy spot (pick just one or two):
- Sylvain: Score a table in the back courtyard
- Café Beignet: Better than touristy Café du Monde
- Sucré: Go to a decadent brunch in the second-floor dining room
- Pythian Market: A new food hall with a cool history and a big happy hour.
- Manolito: Tiny, new, Cuban, and cocktail-focused (but what isn’t in this town?).
- Brennan’s: A classic in the Quarter, but recent revamps mean that really good food is coming out from a new chef, who was nominated for a Beard Award this year.
- Domenica: Pizza, charcuterie, pasta in the Roosevelt from the original Shaya crowd (below).
- From Chef Donald Link and co: Cochon, Herbsaint,and Péche (seafood) are some of the best places in town for dinner, and Cochon Butcher is a great fast-casual joint for lunch.
- At the Ace: Josephine Estelle has amazing cacio e pepe, plus there’s Seaworthy, a crowd-pleasing oyster bar.
- Maypop is newer restaurant from Chef Michael Gulotta, with a flavorful, fun menu.
- Toward the Garden District: Toups South (located in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum) and Cavan, in a revamped classic house. Willa Jean is the new place for inventive southern food (and they serve cookie dough for dessert).
- If you must do Emeril: Try Meril; it’s more inventive and casual than his others.
- Bakery Bar: A great spot for brunch, but, more importantly, their salty balls (small bites of salty cake dough covered in chocolate).
The Garden District (we suggest a progressive):
- Coquette: Who can argue with fried chicken and Champagne?
- La Petite Grocery: A historic market-gone-restaurant with fabulous food.
- Shaya: Modern Israeli, and wonderful.
- Saba: New, competing modern Israeli down the street from the original Shaya chef. Just go to both.
- The Vintage: New all-day dining—they’re open until “the party stops,” so it’s a good nigh-ender.
- Bacchanal Wine: Great wine and small plates with a fantastic outdoor space.
- Bywater American Bistro: New and hot (an Eater Best New Restaurant, and the chef just won a Beard at also-great Compére Lapin), with can’t-beat open-kitchen theater surrounded by a bar.
- In Freret: It’s the new happening-growth area, so try Cure (recently won a Beard for its amazing bar program), High Hat, Bar Frances, or the new Freret Beer Room if you’re in the ’hood.