NOLA Thanksgiving
November 12, 2016 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Husband and I are heading to New Orleans for Thanksgiving and I have a three part question. We are driving from Austin and just booked a hotel in the French Quarter from Wednesday to Sunday. It will be our first time there. I saw this question from 2009 and this one from 2013 which are both very helpful. My questions: 1) what should first-time visitors do to soak it in? 2) are there Thanksgiving related events or meal recommendations? 3) How is the drive from Austin to NOLA and are there any noteworthy stops? About us: originally from Northeast, just moved to Austin this Fall, love ethnic food, do not need turkey or traditional Thanksgiving fare, like visiting new cities and spending hours walking around.
posted by allthingsconsidered to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My partner and I just went to New Orleans and had some of the best meals of our lives. I'd recommend commander's palace and the Caribbean room if you're looking for amazing food. Both of those places were out of this world good. In particular I'd recommend the fish en papillote at the Caribbean room. Really really good. Otherwise me mail me your email address if you'd like, my friend has a compiled list of some of the best things to do generally.
posted by Carillon at 8:28 PM on November 12, 2016

Saturday's going to be the Bayou Classic football game in the Superdome. It's a big big deal and there are a lot of events surrounding it. One year we inadvertently stayed at the same hotel as one of the teams and it was way more excitement than we bargained for especially in terms of security getting in and out of the hotel. Try to find out what's happening when and where so you can either partake or avoid, as you prefer.

The drive to NO is long. Long long long. The most straightforward route, especially if you're south of the river, is taking 71 to I-10. That way lies madness and highway hypnosis, though you do get to see the biggest Buc-ee's I've ever witnessed. (Apparently there's a bigger one in New Braunfels. Since you're not from around here, if you do go that way you should definitely stop and get the full Buc-ee's experience. Clean bathrooms, tons of food options -- a great place for a last toilet/snack stop before you really get underway.) Every time I've driven that way I reach a point where I think I've driven to the edge of the earth. You also get lots of 18 wheelers on 10, and then there's the clusterfuck that is the Katy Freeway (i.e., I-10 heading into Houston from the west). Widest freeway on earth, allegedly.

The route I would take adds about 20 minutes on to a 7 hour drive. Take 290 east out of Austin, follow the signs for Houston, then join up with I-10 once you're in Houston. It's got pretty, rolling hills, small towns frequently enough that you know there's civilization nearby, and fewer big trucks. There will be significant numbers of college students heading home that way, though, especially if you're leaving later in the day.

With either route, I can't really predict when it'll be rush hour in Houston on the day before Thanksgiving, but if you can avoid it you definitely should. Definitely consider taking the HOV lanes or toll roads if you can -- if you don't have a TexTag, you might look into getting one now. A friend inadvertently drove on the toll portion of the Katy Freeway and got an unexpectedly large bill in the mail that he's still whining about. With the TexTag you'll get the discounted rates and not the jacked-up pay-by-mail.

In Louisiana you'll get to cross the third-longest bridge in the US (fourteenth longest in the world), the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. It's 18 miles of divided highway, two lanes each way, with water all around. Again, feels like the edge of the world. Don't get on it with your gas running low.

I've heard there are better muffalettas, but Central Grocery is their undisputed home and origin. It's worth it for a look at (and taste of) the Sicilian-American experience in the South -- different from the Northeast in a lot of ways.

If you head out the I-10 route, you'll pass La Grange and Smithville, both charming little old Texas towns. La Grange has a notable courthouse and I think literally two stoplights. They neither of them would take much of your time but you'd get a look at Texas from 100+ years ago.

Sadly Blue Bell is not currently doing their creamery tours, but if you head out the 290 route on Wednesday you can stop by their store and ice cream parlor. Because in Texas, it's never the wrong season for ice cream.

I hate to say it, as a native Houstonian, but I can't really think of any good stops there. Most of the stuff I can think of is so far off your route as to be ridiculous, or would take too long to do properly, or would be closed this time of year/for the holidays/whatever. I'd basically make it a priority to get through Houston as expeditiously as possible.
posted by katemonster at 8:47 PM on November 12, 2016

As someone who made a similar drive on I-10 this year (just in the opposite direction)... I highly endorse stopping at Johnson's Boucaniere if/when you drive past Lafayette. It's a little out of the way but to me it was worth it as it blew my mind. Perhaps others will disagree? They seem fairly highly regarded though.

Otherwise, yeah. You're in for a long, boring drive on terrible roads. I'll leave the NOLA stuff to others more knowledgeable.
posted by daikaisho at 9:38 PM on November 12, 2016

I've spent the last 11 Thanksgivings in the French Quarter. Try to get a reservation for "dinner" (I say that because TG dinner is usually at 2pm, and I don't mind if it's whenever) beforehand, because everything decent fills up. Personally, I wouldn't go for Commanders Palace or Galatoires or something upscale because of the cost, but you'll never go wrong going someplace expensive, since NOLA takes food seriously. I've enjoyed Thanksgiving meals at Palace Cafe, Muriel's, Praline Connection (not as nice but just as delicious), that class of place. Just avoid turkey, it's never what you hope. I think we'll see if we can get in to Cochon this year.

For me, what keeps me coming back isn't haunted house tours or cemeteries. The best part is how culture is everywhere. Don't sweat it, just go out the hotel door and follow the music. If you can't hear any, walk towards Frenchmen on Royal or Chartres, you'll hear it.
posted by Pacrand at 10:32 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make a cursory stop on Bourbon Street for the experience, but don't linger too long. Our favorite restaurants were Borgne and Cochon Butcher. Pat O'Brien's in the afternoon is a treat. We had a room to ourselves in September. I skipped the nighttime return because I dislike crowds. Go to any dive on Frenchman for the music. Skip Acme. The line is huge and you can get great oysters at a zillion other places. Feeding alligators marshmallows on a swamp tour is surprisingly entertaining.
posted by Ruki at 10:36 PM on November 12, 2016

Seconding to skip Acme, but just go across the street; Felix's is good.
posted by Pacrand at 10:58 PM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I haven't had a holiday meal at Palace Cafe, but it's my fave of the Brennan restaurants. Delicious food, nice atmosphere, but not as stuffy as Commanders.
posted by radioamy at 11:47 AM on November 13, 2016

Oh and you should definitely get a "Thanksgiving" poboy from Parkway.
posted by radioamy at 11:48 AM on November 13, 2016

I'm a NOLA native living in San Antonio, and make the drive home at least once per year. Every time, without fail, I stop for cracklins, boudin, and fried boudin balls at The Best Stop in Scott, LA. It's at exit 97, not far west of Lafayette. This is my favorite place for Cajun comfort food, bar none.

Pro-tip: I also stop there on the way home and fill a cooler with things I cannot buy in Texas, like seasoning meat (tasso, pickle-meat), stuffed, um, things (beef tongues, chickens, pork chops) and their excellent andouille.

If you're looking for a full meal in that area, I recommend Fezzo's.
posted by the matching mole at 11:59 AM on November 13, 2016

Not sure what the weather will be like and what will be open, but I agree that swamp tours are really fun. Go for one on a regular boat, as the airboats are really loud. I've been on a few and can't recall any difference between the various companies. I also love Mardi Gras World. If you're into history, the WWII museum is cool. Also, just wandering around the French Quarter is fun, especially Royal St. and Decatur St.

I can't remember if I've been to Best Stop, but it's generally agreed that the best Cajun food is found at the little side-of-the-road outlets like that.

In terms of other food recommendations, there are a lot of Nola-related threads with great suggestions.

If you're looking to get souvenirs, keep in mind that literally every shop in the Quarter that sells tshirts, magnets, mugs, etc., is owned by the same company, so they all have the same stuff and prices. Don't bother trying to comparison shop or find different stuff! On the other hand, you can get unique and cool shirts and other swag at Fleurty Girl (Garden District and FQ), Storyville (Garden District), and Dirty Coast (Uptown and FQ).
posted by radioamy at 11:25 AM on November 14, 2016

I live in New Orleans and sometimes drive to Red Rock, Texas to visit dear friends who are part of the post-Katrina diaspora. I've found the Southern Foodways Alliance's Southern Boudin Trail to be a reliable resource for delicious meats of all kinds, not just boudin. The Best Stop is on the trail, as well as other places in Scott, La. I definitely recommend bringing an ice chest for your ride home.
posted by BicycleFace at 10:25 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older What should I put in the Christmas hamper?   |   Free of the evil master...I mean iPhone Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.