Friends have told me for years that I should visit New Orleans. “It’s your ideal city,” they said. For the most part, they were right. Good food, a laid-back vibe, French influence, and beautiful architecture: New Orleans is definitely a place that speaks to my soul.
I headed down last week for the Online News Association conference. While I was in town, I got the chance to explore by foot. I primarily spent time in the Garden District, Downtown, French Quarter, Touro, and Uptown, but my last couple days in the city, I got the chance to see Bywater, a quaint neighborhood across town by the Mississippi River. My experiences in New Orleans painted a picture of a city that’s vibrant and lively, but still very aware of its traumatic past.
For example, I rode the bus most days, and when I did, I noticed that they play evacuation videos that show people how to make it to key check in points during a hurricane or a flood. People on the bus didn’t seem fazed by the video, and why should they be? They probably see it everyday, and they’ve already confronted the realities of the city they call home.
For me, though, it was scary to imagine New Orleans covered in water and possibly wiped off the map. It was also confusing to see beautiful buildings and homes that were in more-or-less great shape, despite Hurricane Katrina and other storms that have passed through the city. My friend Lyndsey, a journalist who covers ecology, culture, and justice in the South, told me that other parts of the city including the Ninth Ward reflect more damage from the hurricane. People who once lived in the neighborhood can’t afford to move back and rebuild their homes, so there are lots of vacant properties. Lyndsey also told me about how little the federal government does to help these areas.
Still, as a whole I was impressed by New Orleans. It’s clear that it has a fighting spirit. That, coupled with its joie de vivre and fun-loving nature, makes it an ideal place for anyone who wants repose from the daily grind, or for people who appreciate a good time. This extends to food and cocktails, but also encompasses music, taking in beautiful buildings, and wandering around and seeing where the city takes you.
Here are some of the highlights of my trip. They include food but also sights, because a trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without some walking tourism. I almost passed out one day because it was so hot and humid, but then I rallied, because that’s what you do in New Orleans:
Magazine Street is one of New Orleans’s main commercial corridors. It runs from downtown all the way across town through Audubon Park. There are lots of good places to eat, shop, and drink, but some of my favorites are:
Molly’s Rise and Shine – Molly’s Rise and Shine is a cute diner from the people who started Turkey and the Wolf sandwich shop (more on that later). They have inventive takes on classic diner fare and Southern food, and delicious pastries. See: this carrot marmalade yogurt and chai almond roll.
Guy’s Poboys – You can’t leave New Orleans without getting a poboy. The sandwich comes with many fillings, but I would recommend the fried shrimp. Also, when they ask you at Guy’s if you want all the toppings, say yes. There’s a spicy sauce on the sandwich that takes it to the next level.
La Boulangerie – For a cute French-style café with good pastries that makes you believe you’re in France for a few minutes, visit La Boulangerie on Magazine Street. I got a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino and sat out on the patio and people watched.
Levee Baking Co. – While we’re on the topic of pastries, I wanted to tell you about the best ones in New Orleans. Levee Baking Co. truly blew my mind. I went with Lyndsey one day, and then I came back a few days later by myself. The sweet and savory pastries are delicious, and they’re not too big, so you can have two or three without feeling like you’re on carb overload.
Cavan – Cavan was one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. It’s in an old mansion, and the interiors are so ornate and beautiful. The food matches the aesthetic; it’s artfully prepared, and delicious. I got zucchini beignets that made me want to permanently relocate to New Orleans, fried oyster puttanesca, and key lime pie for dessert on the recommendation of my waiter. The service is also excellent here. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had dining alone, because the hostess and waiter were so warm and attentive.
My friend Rachel and I went to Saba
late at night after going to a conference event. I had my favorite meal in New Orleans there. The brussels sprouts hummus was next level, and so were the small plates. I ordered halvah for dessert and it was a great end to the meal. Halvah tastes kind of like peanut butter. It was set atop a brûléed banana, which was perfectly soft and caramelized. I wish I could eat it again right now. I don’t have pictures from this dinner, partly because it was dark inside and partly because I was completely in the moment enjoying my food, but trust me, it was good.
French Truck Coffee – French Truck Coffee is a chain in New Orleans, but you wouldn’t guess that from its artful interiors and next-level service. I went in as I was walking down Magazine Street and ordered an iced tea, and the cashier was so friendly and attentive. I’d highly recommend stopping by to get work done, or just for a break while you’re shopping or sightseeing.
DeVille Coffee House & Crêperie – Last but certainly not least, DeVille Coffee House on Magazine Street has one of the best crêpes in the city. I went with Rachel for lunch and I got a spinach, roasted red pepper, mushroom, and cheese crêpe, and it was so light and delicious. I would go to the coffee house everyday if I could.
Café du Monde – A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a stop at Café du Monde. Yes, it’s touristy, but it lives up to the hype. The beignets are hot, sweet, and soft, and the café au lait is perfect for dipping small pieces of doughnut.
Napoleon House – Napoleon House has been around for a while in New Orleans. When you walk through the doors, it feels like stepping back in time. They’re famous for their muffuletta sandwiches, and I’d highly recommend ordering one. Also, don’t leave Napoleon House without ordering a sazerac, a specialty cocktail in New Orleans. Lyndsey made sure I ordered mine with absinthe. I’d encourage you to do the same.
Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral – You will probably have to deal with throngs of tourists at these destinations, but it’s worth it. The square and cathedral (pictured above) are very photogenic, and it’s worth it to read the signs and discover the history of the space.
UptownCreole Creamery – Creole Creamery is a must-visit spot for anyone who loves ice cream. I think it’s the best ice cream I’ve had anywhere, and I do not say that lightly. I got the black chai and oatmeal cookie molasses flavors, which I’d highly recommend. The ice cream is light, sweet, and delicious. It’s perfect to cool down after a hot summer day.
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz – Hansen’s is a New Orleans institution. Visit the small shop uptown to experience snoballs, or fluffy ice desserts with flavored syrups. I got an ice cream flavor snoball with bananas foster topping, and I can’t even find the words to write about it. It was that good.
Audubon Park – Nature lovers will enjoy a leisurely stroll through Audubon Park. I stopped by twice; once to see the Tree of Life (pictured below), and another time to take a long walk. Admittedly, this is hard to do on a hot, humid day, but bring plenty of water and it will be worth it.
Pizza Delicious – Pizza Delicious was rated the best pizza in New Orleans, and for good reason; the slices are large and fresh, with melted cheese, perfectly seasoned sauce, and a crispy crust. Also, Pizza Delicious has delicious salad, which is the mark of a superior pizza joint. Stop by if you’re in Bywater, and then walk to the nearby Crescent Park afterward.
Revelator Paloma Cafe – I went to Revelator Paloma Cafe for breakfast my last morning in New Orleans, and it did not disappoint. The service was excellent, and so was the food. I’d recommend the horchata chia pudding and breakfast sandwich with avocado. The latter comes on a buttery biscuit that will make you dream about biscuits for weeks.
Bacchanal Wine Bar – This hip spot in the Bywater is perfect for enjoying bottles of wine or custom cocktails while enjoying live music under string lights. The night I went with my friend Rachel, they had a three-person jazz band playing.
Turkey and the Wolf – As I mentioned before, Turkey and the Wolf is one of my favorite sandwich shops in New Orleans, and maybe the country. Stop by for innovative sandwiches spanning meat and vegetarian, including the sweet potato sandwich pictured below. Save room for soft serve!
Antiques on Jackson – While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Antiques on Jackson, a funky antiques shop steps away from Magazine Street and Turkey and the Wolf. A local artist makes French-inspired signs (pictured above), and there are plenty of fun souvenirs for friends and family.
Although I’m sure there are many good places to eat and drink in the Garden District, I primarily stopped by to ogle beautiful houses and see local art. It’s an interesting part of the city because it’s so steeped in history, but there are still signs of modernization (see the hand sculpture graveyard above). I’d recommend blocking off a few hours at least to walk through the neighborhood. You can probably find a good walking tour if you don’t want to go alone.
New Orleans challenged and surprised me, which is the mark of a good travel destination. It also satisfied some of my longings for France. There’s a lot of French influence here because the area was once owned by France before the Louisiana Purchase. Although some of that influence was muted over the years (see this article about French speakers in Louisiana from the New York Times), there’s still genuine pride and celebration of French culture. Also, there’s an international influence in the city that’s obvious through its excellent multicultural dining scene. I’d highly recommend visiting New Orleans for its history, architecture, art, good food, and fun-loving vibes. I hope I can visit again, soon. In the meantime, I plan to laissez le bon temps rouler.