What's must-see in New Orleans?
December 29, 2010 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to New Orleans next week for a conference. What do I need to know?

I'm staying at the Roosevelt (anyone been there?) in the Central Business District so I'm not going to be too far from the French Quarter. I won't have much time for sight-seeing and most of my free time is during the day. If there's one (or two things) that I shouldn't miss, what are they?

My friend may be renting a car, but if not, I'll probably be walking anywhere I go. I'm pretty much getting my fill of live jazz for the week, so I'm not really looking for concerts. Are there any great restaurants or cafes nearby? How about cool local shops?

Bonus question: The weather predicts to be in the mid 60s. This sounds wonderful, but since it's so close to the gulf, is it a wet/cold mid 60s? Should I stick to long sleeves and bring a coat, or is a jacket okay?

(For those in the area - the night-time concerts are generally open to the public: JEN Conference)
posted by Kimothy to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Napoleon House. For sure.

The French Quarter in general is a great place to stroll, browse in galleries and shops, grabbing snacks and drinks along the way. I'd avoid Bourbon Street unless you are looking for strip clubs (or have reservations to eat at Galatoire's, which is AMAZING.) My favorite streets for strolling are Royal, Chartres, and Decatur St. back beyond Jackson Square. You have to get cafe au lait et beignets at Cafe Du Monde at least once, even though it's touristy.

Take a ride on the St. Charles streetcar and head uptown through the Garden District. Magazine and Prytania streets are worth a browse, if you didn't get your exploring/snacking/browsing fix in the Quarter. You might want a guidebook or maybe a quick browse on Yelp for specific shops or restaurants, though, because they're very long streets with sparse clusters of interestingness. I'd suggest getting off the Streetcar around Third Street for Magazine Street and walking further uptown until you get bored, then swoop back up to the streetcar downtown.

Frenchman Street in Faubourg Marigny is the happening spot for drinking and live music - if you already have lots of music-oriented plans, you'll probably end up there at some point. If not, you should blow off your music-oriented plans and go there anyway.

I also love the Carousel Bar, though it's very posh and totally different vibe from the usual New Orleans drinking establishment. Don't go there if you've already got a buzz on, because the bar is set up on a sort of lazy susan-esque floor which rotates just slowly enough to be disorienting.

If your friend has a car, a trip to St. Louis #1 cemetery is the obvious choice. You should, however, be sure to go well within daylight hours, because apparently the surrounding neighborhood is pretty rough. Another driving idea would be to check out Mid City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl. If you have time, you could also head out of town for a swamp tour. Having grown up in Houma, I'd suggest Annie Munson's or Black Guidry's (if either of them are even still alive). But there may be closer or more convenient places for this in other towns outside New Orleans proper.
posted by Sara C. at 3:47 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

More stuff I forgot:

Next week will be Twelfth Night, and you should definitely try to partake in some kind of Twelfth Night party/event if possible. Also, that means it's time for King Cake, which you should totally try.

Weatherwise, it's humid and often breezy, so yep, prepare for what seems like "warm" weather to feel colder than you'd expect. However, New Orleans gets a lot more sun this time of year than a lot of other American cities, so when the sun is shining on you 60 degrees will definitely feel warm. Unless rain is forecast, it probably won't be wet. We don't have that Pacific Northwest drab/damp winter weather.
posted by Sara C. at 3:50 PM on December 29, 2010

I didn't stay at the Roosevelt, but the lobby was impressive. I was there to go to the Sazerac Bar, which I loved. I've forgotten the name but a drink I had with cucumber and elderflower was amazing. The food at Cafe Adelaide (on Poydras) was very good and I was enamored with the broiled oysters at the restaurant in the Hilton Garden at the end of Poydras (but only if you like butter and garlic).
posted by miscbuff at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2010

Thanks for the heads up on the conference. I may check it out. I'm going on a trip that seems to overlap yours. I hadn't done any research or planning on activities yet. Also, thanks for asking this question. Hopefully, we'll both get some good ideas.

Anyway, what I have give extensive thought to is where to eat. I'm collecting my thoughts in a google doc. Until I read your question, this doc was private. I didn't really plan for an audience, so some of it might be hard to make sense of without reading my mind. Memail me if you'd like some clarification. I should add that all of this planning is based on second hand research. Relatively extensive, perhaps even obsessive, so hopefully valuable. But no first hand experience.

At the top is the list of restaurants that I'm currently expecting to patronize. A couple have informative links.

Below that are links to a handful of NOLA food information resources... an excerpt from a GQ article with link... an excerpt from the blog of a friend whose taste I trust... a couple more links to Chow Hound... a table with restaurant rankings from Gayot...

Last is a cut-and-paste from a geo-bookmarking site that I use. It may be slightly more useful because it includes the tags that I added to keep track of why each spot was bookmarked. They're generally easy to decipher. I think.

I made a reservation at Galatoire's a few days ago. I had to settle for a 9:30 table. If you're interested in that type of restaurant you need to move fast, if there's much of anything left at all. In addition to your conference, there are the hordes of Sugar Bowl attendees.
posted by stuart_s at 6:45 PM on December 29, 2010

I'll be there Tues-Thurs for work next week - my company has offices on St Charles, and when I have to go down I usually stay at the JW, and I generally have the same sort of constraints - no car, limited free time, etc. Your hotel is gorgeous, lucky you - there's a restaurant right next to it/attached to it called Domenica which is really great - local chef, Italian food, pretty space. There's another place I like in the Quarter called Green Goddess (link) - really interesting place, good food. Last time I was there I was treated to dinner at Cochon - holy cats, if you like pork you should check it out, and they have flights of moonshine on the after-dinner drinks menu.

There's tons of interesting walking to do - since you're walking during the daytime you might check out St. Louis cemetery #1 - it would be an easy walk from your hotel. There are tons of shops to go in and out of - walk as far as you can out Royal, come down a block to Chartres and come back. Frenchmen Street is pretty cool, very lively especially at night. Magazine Street is cool, but it's wicked spread out, and not really easily walkable from where you'll be. You'd likely take a car out that way. Tell us more about the kinds of things you dig and more walky/shoppy things will come to mind.

I also dig the late night round trip ferry to Algiers Point and back - it's super pretty to cross the river at night, and it's free.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joint Math Meetings? If so, lets meet up.
posted by virga at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2010

^ oh bollocks. saw your link to your own conference. oops!
posted by virga at 7:06 PM on December 29, 2010

Oh! And I totally dug Coop's Place.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:08 PM on December 29, 2010

Stuart - looking at your google doc as a local, here's my general commentary:

New Orleans is not a city for barbecue. You can get BBQ here, and it's likely better than what you'd get in Boston or Toronto or someplace. But seeing as you're in the Cleveland area, you should save the stomach space and eat barbecue closer to home (specifically Memphis or Kansas City).

Mothers is a bit of a tourist trap. There are many better poboys to be had.

Re Herbsaint - OK, but I'd recommend Cochon or any of John Besh's restaurants first. Also Green Goddess, if the weather's nice and you can sit outside.

Also, your list seems to have a lot of poboys and stuff you can get in other places (fried chicken, bbq, nouvelle cuisine), and no Cajun food at all. New Orleans isn't the home of Cajun cuisine, but it's closer than anywhere else you're going to go, while you can get fried chicken on every street corner from Slidell to Baltimore. Also no mention of soul food (Aside from Willie Mae's Scotch House, which I've never heard of) or serious seafood.

You get gumbo at Gumbo House, not poboys. Poboys are nice, but seriously there's a lot more to New Orleans casual food. I'm pretty sure there's no chicory in the coffee at Cafe Du Monde. If you want chicory you're probably going to have to buy it from a supermarket and brew it up in your hotel room - or maybe CC's brews a chicory blend? For what it's worth, people mythologize Coffee With Chicory all out of proportion, but it hasn't been a thing in at least 2-3 generations. Coffee with chicory was something my great-grandparents drank. Because they only came to town from "down the bayou" in their boat once a month. Ordering a coffee in New Orleans and assuming it'll have chicory assuming we all speak French and fight duels in the street.

Additionally - keep in mind that, if you're leaving on the 11th, you're not going to be dealing with "The Sugar Bowl" crowd at all. They'll be gone by next Tuesday at the latest (and aren't the type to crowd up fancy restaurants, anyway).
posted by Sara C. at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2010

I'm pretty sure there's no chicory in the coffee at Cafe Du Monde.

Not in the French Roast, as far as I know, but I'm 100% certain the iced cafe-au-lait is a chicory blend, and the regular yellow-orange Cafe Du Monde coffee can is a chicory blend as well.

I definitely give the thumbs-up to Green Goddess, and Mother's is worth it if you happen to be close and hungry during one of those rare moments the line is down to a reasonable level.
posted by hominid211 at 9:19 PM on December 29, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, this is a lot to investigate. Great!

I'm not looking to shop for clothes or other stuff like that - I'm more of a "look at this cool, weird stuff" and "I've never seen this before" kind of shopper when I travel.

I did know about the math conference - I know someone else who was going to attend. If I had a more concrete schedule, I would say meetup, but I think it'd be too hard to organize as things are.

Of course, if anyone makes it to any of the evening concerts, let me know, and maybe we can catch a drink or two.
posted by Kimothy at 10:03 PM on December 29, 2010

The Quarter is great for "look at this cool weird stuff" browsing. My favorite place to go for that sort of thing is this vintage furniture store on Decatur called, like, "Greg's Antiques". It's a whole long shop-front as well as the vacant lot next door and a whole big space in the back, all chock full of old furniture and architectural salvage. I live too far away to ever buy anything, but I love wandering between the armoires and baker's racks and imagining what my ideal quirky vintage apartment (A shotgun by the Fairgrounds, obvs) would look like.

But there are tons of other places for browsing of all types.
posted by Sara C. at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2010

I live about four or five blocks from the Roosevelt and as others have mentioned you will be in a great location to check out some fun parts of New Orleans without having to deal with some of the unpleasantness associated with staying in the French Quarter or driving in the city. I'd generally second a lot of what has been said so far.

The Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone is super neat and worth a drink or two if you are in the FQ and happen to be passing by. It's on Royal, which as Sara C. mentioned is one of the better streets to wander down in the French Quarter.

For po-boys, I see you have listed Domilise's in your Google Doc. Also worth checking out is Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Between those two you should be covered on po-boys unless you are a huge po-boy connoisseur.

Domenica (as previously noted) is attached to your hotel and quite good. The same chef who is responsible for Domenica (John Besh) also has a more casual (but equally tasty) place called Luke which is within walking distance from your hotel. If watching someone prepare food is your cup of tea, you may be able to reserve a table at Luke near the kitchen, which is surrounded by glass. Besh is also behind August which is a bit upscale, but I hear is quite good.

I'll disagree (slightly) with Sara about completely avoiding Bourbon St. as I'm a fan of the BBQ Oysters at Red Fish Grill. A certain undertaker here on MeFi turned me on to them and now my SO and I walk down semi-regularly to partake in their deliciousness. The rest of the food at Redfish is tasty, but we tend to just down a dozen of the oysters at the bar with a few drinks, so we don't have to wait for a table.

As for Willie Mae's Scotch House, I've never had the opportunity to eat there, but it has a reputation for having some of the best (if not *the* best) fried chicken in the country. If you are into fried food it may be worth a visit. If you decide to head to Willie Mae's keep in mind that they are only open for lunch, and they are cash only.

If you wind up on Magazine, Jackson is a personal favorite of mine. Their filet with truffle risotto is insanely good. If you want a nice chill bar where you can have a drink and laid back chat, the outside patio in the back of Pravda is super low key, but may be a bit of a walk from where you are.

A few small-ish things that no one else had mentioned: Ignore anyone who tries to stop and talk to you, especially in the quarter. Don't worry about seeming like a jerk, just ignore them and keep walking.

The phrase "trolley" is tourist for "pick my pocket". Stick with "streetcar" and you'll stand out less.

There are drugstores on Canal street that are open until at midnight. Walgreens is at the end of the block your hotel is on (Baronne and Canal). CVS Pharmacy is one block up from the Walgreens at Carondelet and Canal. If it's after midnight and you need snacks, fried chicken, and/or alcohol there is a 24-hour Brother's convenience store at the corner of Carondelet and Common (walking there via Common St. should be safe at all hours).
posted by darainwa at 1:44 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with most of the above. New Orleans is the best eating and drinking town around, so do bit of that.

Don't go to Domilise's. It's fine for a neighborhood joint, but really not that good overall, and pretty far out of your way.

(Of course, I go there every time I head back home, but that's for nostalgia reasons).

No one's mentioned the D-Day Museum. It's not "New Orleansy", but it is a significant national museum.
posted by griseus at 5:40 AM on December 30, 2010

Response by poster: Where is the D-Day Museum? I assume it's that D-Day - and I'm actually pretty into checking out things to do with WWII. (And my birthday happens to fall on D-Day...)
posted by Kimothy at 7:23 AM on December 30, 2010

It's in the Warehouse District, near Lee Circle - should be walkable from your hotel. Or if your conference is at the Convention Center, it's also very close to there.

National World War II Museum

posted by Sara C. at 8:28 AM on December 30, 2010

Local here, at work in the Quarter as we speak - There's some good info above so I'll comment on the weather. It won't really be a wet or cold 60s (unless you go by the river, where it's a few degrees cooler usually), but it is often very windy downtown so a jacket will come in handy. Today it's about 61 and I'm wearing a sweater and scarf, but no coat. Bring a little fold up umbrella too if you can.

The WWII Museum (used to be D-Day but has expanded to include other aspects of the war) is on Magazine St. about 10 blocks from your hotel. It's probably about a 15 minute walk from there. John Besh's American Sector restaurant is at the museum. It's not my favorite Besh restaurant but they have half price slider-size sandwiches and drinks at happy hour. Luke has a great happy hour too, with cheap oysters (I think $.50) and half price drinks.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:36 AM on December 30, 2010

There is chicory in the coffee at Cafe Dumonde, that's what gives the unique flavor but the beignets are the true star there. I like Acme for Po Boys and it's in the quarter. Always my 1st stop when I get into town. Actually good Tex Mex at Taqueria Corona, the original on Magazine is my favorite. Irene's Cuisine (also in the quarter) is one of my favorite stops, like eating in your Italian grandmother's living room. Brigsten's and Conchon are must haves. You need to cab it to Conchon but you can take the street car to the riverbend and easily walk to Brigsten's. Camellia Grill is in the same area as Brigstens and is a great diner style place with real old fashioned service. For drinks in the Quarter I used to always go to Johnny White's Hole in the Wall. It's small and a real bar with stiff drinks and a great place for people watching on Bourbon Street. And you absolutely must go to Port of Call for a burger. It's on the Esplanade end of the quarter and is awesome. Lola's on Esplanade by the fair grounds is a favorite too. I'm so Jealous. I'll be there in May for the 2nd week of Jazzfest. I can't wait! Have a great time!
posted by white_devil at 10:08 PM on December 30, 2010

There is chicory in the coffee at Cafe Dumonde, that's what gives the unique flavor but the beignets are the true star there

I don't want to bicker, but there's nothing terribly unique in the flavor of the coffee at Cafe du Monde. It's just coffee. It tastes just like every other cup of local coffee I've ever had, including the stuff I brew myself when I come home to visit family (Community Dark Roast FTW!). Now, it's true that the standard drip coffee in New Orleans tastes better different than the sludge the passes for same in the rest of the country - but that's because of the roasting profile, not chicory.

While it's possible to find coffee with chicory in New Orleans (and especially to buy it in local supermarkets), it's not what you're going to get if you just ask for a cup of coffee. Even at Cafe du Monde. Despite what your guidebook might say.
posted by Sara C. at 10:22 PM on December 30, 2010

Oh crap, I just did some googling and apparently I am totally wrong.

And have the shittiest palate for coffee, ever. Since I apparently can't taste the difference between coffee with chicory and coffee without chicory.

Huh. Sorry. Carry on, then.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah. I only lived there for 7 years and had coffee at cafe dumonde every day,what do I know? ;-)
posted by white_devil at 1:10 PM on December 31, 2010

For what it's worth, I only grew up there and have generations of family in the area, so what do I know?
posted by Sara C. at 1:19 PM on December 31, 2010

Response by poster: Hey now, I've never even been there. Let's keep the focus where it belongs! :) Also, I seem to have lost my friend with a car. There may be someone I can pal around with who is renting, but otherwise, I'm on foot now.

I may still try to figure out a way/time to see the WWII museum Sunday, but we'll see. I have to make sure I can get to the airport now too.

Thanks all for the suggestions!
posted by Kimothy at 1:44 PM on December 31, 2010

Just a few thoughts on what's already been said:

- Cafe Du Monde is wonderful. I largely ignore the whole touristy or not crap. It's either good, or not, and Cafe Du Monde is good, and historic, and if you're there at the right time wonderul.

- Parkway Bakery & Tavern has the best po-boy I've ever had, but everyone has their favorite.

- Willie Mae's Scotch House is amazing. The chicken is wonderful and spicy and the sweat tea is almost as good.

What i would suggest for anyone visiting for a short time is to pick a neighborhood and explore. Between the street car and walking you can have a great time in the Garden District, or the French Quarter, or take a stroll down Magazine Street. New Orleans is best taken slowly, and a lot of these suggestions are all over town.

Have fun.
posted by justgary at 2:27 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry I'm a little late to the party, but I hope I can add something!

For restaurants, New Orleans has a good selection of casual and fancy places. For the nicer side of things, you generally can't go wrong with either a John Besh restaurant or one owned by the Brennan family. I've been to Luke several times (all with MeFis I think!) and it's quite nice. I went to Palace Cafe recently and really liked it - it's a little more casual than their other places but the food is spectacular and the atmosphere isn't as stuffy as say, Commander's Palace.

On the casual side, I've never been to Willie Mae's Scotch House but it's a bit out of the way if you don't have a car. I loooovee the fried chicken at Fiorella's, and also their fried pickles are delicious! (Oh yeah if your New Year's resolution was to lose weight or eat better, you might want to start your year in February.) Also yes Cafe Du Monde is really fun and the beignets are so yummy - just don't expect to keep the powdered sugar off your clothes! I also like breakfast/brunch at Eat.

darainwa is right about the trolley/streetcar lingo and also ignoring any crazies who come up to you. I'm not sure the crazies are any crazier than any other city, but just like any city you of course need to use street smarts!

A fun thing to do Uptown is to take the streetcar to The Columns Hotel for drinks. Also their appetizers are quite tasty as well (not sure what the kitchen schedule is anymore). It's really beautiful and elegant but you don't have to dress up - I mean I wouldn't wear paint-covered overalls but jeans are totally fine. We had our 10th Anniversary MeFi party there and it was a blast!

I'll come back if I think of anything else!
posted by radioamy at 7:40 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yes Port of Call for burgers...they are amazing! It does get rather crowded on weekend nights, so go during the week or at lunchtime. Their drinks are also awesome!
posted by radioamy at 9:57 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh also you should definitely check out Mardi Gras World! It's part of Blaine Kern Studios, which makes floats for the majority of the Krewes. You learn a ton about Mardi Gras and get to see float pieces up-close and personal. I've been two or three times and I'd go again.

Also ditto above about the National World War II museum - it's very cool!
posted by radioamy at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2011

with either a John Besh restaurant

I agree with this. Went to August recently and it was pretty awesome.

I've never been to Willie Mae's Scotch House but it's a bit out of the way if you don't have a car.

We walked to Willie Mae's from the french quarter. Took about 30 minutes if I remember correctly. Very doable, and loved strolling through the neighborhoods (daytime). So whether it's walking distance depends on how much you love walking, and like fried chicken (we'll probably drive next time, but it was very worth the walk).
posted by justgary at 12:44 AM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, I don't know if anyone is still looking at this, but I just remembered that a friend from work went to NOLA in 2009 and went on and on about the Fried Green Tomatoes. Unfortunately she can't remember the name of the restaurant - though she's trying to see if her sister remembers. Where can I get the best? (Hopefully within reasonable walking distance)
posted by Kimothy at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2011

The main place I know of that famously serves fried green tomatoes is Jaques Imo's.

It's not walking distance from your hotel, but it is walking distance from the St. Charles streetcar and located in a cute little part of Uptown.

It's a fairly well-regarded restaurant, though I'd say that I'm not sure I'd go there just for fried green tomatoes. Especially at this time of year (they might not be on the menu in the depths of winter, in fact), and especially considering that fried green tomatoes aren't a particular local specialty or anything. There are probably equally authentic places to eat them closer to home for you.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 PM on January 3, 2011

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