Our city guide series continues today with New Orleans, a vibrant city known for its live jazz, colorful streets and authentic po’ boys. We enlisted cookbook writer Rémy Robert, who grew up in New Orleans, to share her insider tips for making the most of this exciting place…
Rémy Robert: The best way I can explain New Orleans is that it’s like a long-lost family member — as soon as you arrive, you feel that kinship, like you speak the same language. I hear about people who come on vacation and never show up for their return flight. And I get it. As locals, we’ll welcome anyone into the fold.
WHERE TO EAT
Po’ boys — sandwiches made on chewy, New Orleans-style French bread — are all over, but Parkway Bakery in Mid-City has my favorite. (It’s also the place Obama stopped by when visiting New Orleans.) Get the Surf n’ Turf, which has fried shrimp, tender roast beef ‘debris’ and gravy. It may sound strange, but it’s become a gold standard for po’ boys. Get sweet potato fries and take your order across the street to eat on the banks of the Bayou St. John.
Pagoda Café in the Seventh Ward always hits the spot for breakfast. Order your food inside the tiny house and pick your seat in the shaded outdoor area — it feels like you’re on vacation in a corner of the Caribbean. They make the best iced coffee around, and I always end up agonizing between the breakfast tacos and the kale and chickpea puff pastry turnovers. If you have a hearty appetite, take a slice of rum cake, with its super soft buttery center, for the road.
In a city known for po’ boys and red beans, it’s a little funny that Shaya, an Israeli restaurant in Touro, struck a chord from the moment it opened last year. You’ll want to bathe in the hummus and baba ganoush, and if veggies always tasted as good as theirs, we’d all go vegan. It’s refreshing, thoughtful, elegant and so easy to eat. Plan ahead for reservations, or walk in and cross your fingers for a seat at the bar or on the back patio.
Compère Lapin in the Central Business District is my go-to place for when I want to feel festive. It’s has a Caribbean flair and French roots that echo so much of this city’s cultural heritage. You could close your eyes and pick any one of their salads or seafood appetizers at random, like smoked tuna tartare with fried banana chips or heirloom tomatoes with buttermilk dressing. Don’t miss the curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and the spinach cavatelli.
One thing that’s worth the lines: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. A married couple opened it in 1939 and got a patent for their ice shaving machine, which makes ice like freshly fallen snow. Their motto, “There are no shortcuts to quality,” holds true (as does their other tagline, “Air-conditioning for your belly”). Rather than commit to one, I double my options by getting two snowballs in the smallest size: Nectar Cream in one; Satsuma and Ginger in the other.
WHERE TO HANG
Bayou St. John is my very favorite thing about New Orleans. It’s not a bayou like the one you might imagine, with murky lagoons and chomping alligators. It runs right through the middle of the city, almost like a canal, and is open to the public. You can rent kayaks and paddle boards, or just enjoy a beer on the banks.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and there’s no greater city for live music in any genre. Music has a way of just oozing everywhere here, and you’re likely to encounter impromptu brass bands (and their ensuing dance parties) on street corners. Even if you haven’t heard of the band, head to a good venue and you’re guaranteed to have a good time. WWOZ, our local radio station, has a detailed calendar with the events around town. My top picks include Bacchanal Wine (for backyard vibes), Gasa Gasa (an intimate venue with art and more unusual acts), Maple Leaf (Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday) and Hi-Ho Lounge (DJ Soul Sister has a dance party every Saturday). Frenchmen Street has several blocks of venues too, like d.b.a. and Blue Nile, a tourist destination that locals still love.
City Park is huge — 50% larger than Central Park! — so it’s got something for everyone. The botanical gardens ($6), sculpture garden (free!) and meandering paths feel like a sanctuary from the city, with centuries-old oak trees whose branches are covered with moss and stretch to the ground. There’s an amusement park, putt-putt, horse stables, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the “Big Lake,” where you can rent bikes and paddle boats. My preferred way to enjoy it all: with beignets and café au lait from Morning Call‘s deep outdoor porch.
The Bywater neighborhood is one of New Orleans’ oldest and most colorful artist communities. There’s been a huge influx of newcomers since Hurricane Katrina, and plenty of new hip restaurants and bars have join the old favorites. Spend an afternoon just walking around. Crescent Park runs alongside the river from Bywater to the French Quarter, and it’s a gorgeous oasis. You can access it via the “Rusty Rainbow,” a giant footbridge on the corner of Piety and Chartres, that takes you over the old train tracks.
Defend New Orleans
WHERE TO SHOP
If you can’t pick up and move here, the next best thing is to head to Defend New Orleans. They have awesome (not cheesy) NOLA-inspired prints, clothes and décor; and they carry great local brands and magazines. With locations in the Garden District and Warehouse District, it’s easy to work into your itinerary.
During New Orleans parades, the wig game is STRONG. Fifi Mahony’s in the French Quarter is a really fun place for them. If you can dream it, they’ve got it (or can custom-make it): all colors and styles, decked out with bits and bobs like unicorn horns, flowers and tiny hats. It’s the ideal spot for window-shopping or snagging something one-of-a-kind to make your next costume (and always remind you of NOLA).
If you’re looking for antiques, hit up Secondline Arts and Antiques in the French Quarter. Their sprawling market features over 150 local vendors; chat with them as you sift through their wares and wander around the fairy-lit courtyard. Then, walk a couple blocks over to Royal Street for a string of upscale antique shops that could double as museums — M.S. Rau has jewelry, fine art and furniture from around the world.
WHERE TO STAY
Rent a house in Mid-City, because it feels like a real neighborhood — with Bayou St. John, City Park and arguably more good dive bars and casual hangouts per capita than anywhere else. (Shoutout to Bayou Beer Garden, Bayou Wine Garden, Mid-City Yacht Club and Twelve Mile Limit!) It’s the spot to be for music festivals and you can hop on the Canal Street streetcar to go directly to the French Quarter.
If you want to be in the middle of the action, the French Quarter is where it’s at. Try the Roosevelt hotel, which is fabulous, especially during the holidays. While you’re there, you can hit the Sazerac Bar for drinks (the Sazerac is the oldest American cocktail) and Domenica for dinner. Or stay at Hotel Monteleone, which has the historic Carousel Bar that rotates very, very slowly.
The Warehouse District is a short walk from the French Quarter and a quick car ride almost anywhere else you’d want to go — but with just enough separation from the crowds. The Ace (their rooftop pool overlooks the city), Catahoula (with pretty rooms and a tiki bar on the terrace) and Old No. 77 (filled with local art) are boutique hotels with lots of charm.
I like to compare Bourbon Street and its ghost tours to Times Square: perhaps worth seeing for the spectacle, but otherwise, not a great representation of this vibrant city. Take your time, don’t plan a crazy itinerary and bring comfy walking shoes. The magic of NOLA is the way it kind of lulls you — the best parts are often the things you stumble upon by happenstance, like the lush courtyards of the French Quarter or the band that spills onto the sidewalk. Let it happen!
Thank you so much for the tour, Rémy! Have you been to New Orleans (or do you live there)? What else would you add?
(Graphic design by Miss Moss. Tree photo by Rebecca Ann Photography. Balcony photo by Nicole Franzen. First Shaya photo via Esquire. Second Shaya photo by Graham Blackall for Bon Appétit. Street music scene and Hotel Catahoula photos via their website. Defend New Orleans photo from via Instagram. Streetcar photo by Christina Lau. This series is edited by Stella Blackmon.)