What to Do in New Orleans Now
From old school jacket-and-tie Creole joints (with 25 cent martinis) to the bars and boutiques redefining southern cool, New Orleans is constantly churning out worthwhile weekend plans. Here, Jennifer V. Cole creates the ultimate three-day guide to the Big Easy.
Visiting New Orleans without really digging into its food is like taking a pass on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So ditch that calorie counter, pack some roomy pants and prepare to indulge. Start your trip off old-school with lunch at one of the town’s most legendary restaurants. On weekdays at Commander’s Palace, ladies who lunch get dressed up (and turned up) on 25 cent martinis served alongside chef Tory McPhail’s pitch-perfect modern Creole fare, such as shrimp and tasso ham with Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc and pepper jelly, and chicory coffee-lacquered quail. Afterwards, wander the above ground Lafayette Cemetery across the street.
Equally old school is lunch at Galatoire’s, a Friday ritual and culinary rite of passage. Arrive early to claim a seat in the downstairs dining room—they don’t accept reservations—and start with a sazerac and fried eggplant, served with béarnaise sauce and powdered sugar for dipping. Then follow your waiter’s lead: shrimp remoulade, the grand goute seafood tower, pompano topped with crabmeat Yvonne. It’s as much about the atmosphere as the food, and people have been known to linger over their tables all afternoon into dinner, making it a Galatoire’s double header.
After lunch, it’s time to embrace the new energy of the city, checking into the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, an 1854 warehouse turned design hotel, flush with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Set out to wander the French Quarter, just three blocks away. Before dinner, make your way to an oyster bar. Try newcomer Peche Seafood Grill, or go with the well-worn counters at Acme Oyster House or Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Afterwards, have a pre-dinner cocktail at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, where legendary barman Chris Hannah makes the meanest sazerac in town. Or get your tiki on at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29.
For dinner, explore next gen New Orleans through some of the city’s hottest young guns. Your choices? Balise, where Justin Devillier showcases the port traditions of the city (pork belly with pickled shrimp, peaches, and Nuoc Cham) from a 19th-century Creole townhouse, or Angeline for Southern food through a Mediterranean lens (Mississippi Rabbit Milanese, ricotta angolotti with lima beans). After dinner, make your way to the legendary Preservation Hall for live music in one of the city’s most storied jazz halls.
It might be touristy, but it is absolutely correct to start with a breakfast of beignets and café au lait on the alfresco patio at Café du Monde, just off the always-bustling Jackson Square. Then make your way up to City Park to explore the Botanical Garden and the open-air Besthoff Sculpture Garden, or wander along the footpaths that meander throughout the 1,300-acre park.
While in the Mid-City area, get the full Cajun meat experience over lunch at Toups’ Meatery with a board packed with headcheese, boudin, and pork cracklin’s you can pop in your mouth like meaty popcorn. At MoPho, chef Michael Gulotta highlights the rich Vietnamese influence in the Crescent City. Try one of his mashups of a po’ boy and a banh mi, loaded with fried shrimp dressed with fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, and chicken liver pâté. Or go the more traditional route at Liuzza’s by the Track, a landmark po-boy joint just around the corner from the horse track where locals stop in for sandwiches stuffed with roast beef and fresh horseradish or New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp.
Spend the afternoon wandering the shops along Magazine Street. Stock up on seersucker at Perlis, gorgeous hand-woven Turkish towels at Loomed or jewelry inspired by the architecture of New Orleans—including the omnipresent fleur de lis—at Mignon Faget. Red Arrow Workshop is your stop for Louisiana-inspired gifts, such as botanical prints and artful maps of the Mississippi River. Have dinner in the neighborhood at Shaya where recent James Beard Award-winner Alon Shaya showcases the bounty of the area and his Israeli roots. Try labneh made with yogurt from the nearby Progress Farm dairy, Louisiana shrimp shakshouka, and pillowy wood-fired pita. Afterwards, make your way over to Frenchmen Street, home the densest collection of jazz clubs we’ve ever seen, for a dose of local music and some of the city’s most colorful characters at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro or d.b.a..
Sleep in and then go for brunch at the recently renovated and re-opened Brennan’s, a veritable dining icon. Jump start the day with their brandy-spiked milk punch and then leisurely dig into the signature gumbo, grits and grillades, ending with a rich bread pudding. At St. Roch Market, a food hall that reopened this spring after being shuttered for a decade, thirteen vendors sell everything from farm-raised oysters to locally-roasted coffee to jams, jellies, and fresh produce. Take an afternoon cocktail break at Cane & Table, where you can get any cocktail on the menu served in a hollowed-out fresh pineapple—the ultimate to-go cup.
Get unparalleled views of downtown at Crescent Park, which hugs the Mississippi River for 1.4 miles in the Faubourg Marigny/Bywater neighborhood. Walk off some of your day’s indulgences or just sit on a bench and watch the river float by. End your trip at beloved local haunt Bacchanal, known affectionately as “Nola’s backyard party” and located in a shack of a house amongst a slew of warehouses along the river. Walk in, buy a bottle of wine and some cheese, and head out to the picnic tables to order more food and listen to music under the stars. If it’s a nice night, get there early (around 5 p.m.) to stake out a table and then just plan to chill for the rest of the evening. It’s not called the Big Easy for nothing.