The one thing every New Orleanian can agree one is that someone is always coming to visit. We know our city is fabulous — filled with unique culture, food, architecture and music. We also are tasked with being tour guides several times a year. This is the list I hand out when they have to find their own way.
It’s not that we — and I, as a professional tour guide — don’t love showing off our city, but sometimes, we’re busy. I, for one, gave up the Big Ass Beer strolls and Bourbon Street a few decades ago. Or at least I say I have, and cross my fingers I can avoid it. Locals know Royal is the only street worth strolling anyway.
However, in the interim, as they will, the friends, associates, alumni, co-workers and relatives, want to know where to go on their first visit to New Orleans. Here is my quick and dirty mostly Uptown-centric cheat-sheet:
In honor of Jazz Fest, I’ll also add a few places that cross the border.
My Holy Grail plate at Jazz Fest is Patton’s trio plate of an oyster patty, crawfish beignets and crawfish sack. Some might lust for Crawfish Bread or Crawfish Monica, but not me. I’m a purist. It’s the Patton’s trio plate or nothing. I’ve been known to buy a Fest ticket just for the plate, eat and leave. Sacrilege to many, but it’s my list.
Domilise’s is an ancient neighborhood hole-in-the-wall where the best oyster po-boy in town is served. It was also a definitive first destination for returning vets after WWII. Order their seafood po-boys like the locals do: very light butter, lemon, pickle, a bit of ketchup and a dousing of Crystal. Meat po-boys should be dressed — that’s lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mon-nazz. Light eaters: order half shrimp/half oyster, then split each half. That’s how the locals do it. A po-boy and a Barq’s here is a rite of passage. One of the party should grab the Dixies or Abitas at the bar and stake out a spot while the other orders. Bring cash.
The best roast beef po-boy is debatable among locals. Guy’s Po-Boys on Magazine is known for his fried shrimp and roast beef po-boys; however, Guy closes his shop after lunch. Mahony’s on Magazine is a solid choice for visitors. Alternates are Parasol’s and Tracey’s in the Irish Channel.
Casual, small Basin Seafood is for flavorful charred and raw oysters (skip Drago’s) and whole grilled fish South American-style. If Basin is full, head to The Standard, Red Dog Diner, or Rum House‘s Caribbean fare for Damn Good Nachos and lime-infused iced beer drink with a salted rim that quenches during hot NOLA summers.
The Watermelon Jalapeño Snoballs at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls on Magazine save my life in the summer. The Nectar Cream topped with condensed milk is the traditional flavor everyone’s mother and grandmother orders. Hansen’s is the original standard-bearer and located off Magazine on Tchoupitoulas. It’s best to Uber for about $5. Expect long lines where you’ll undoubtedly meet new friends. Let the owners tell you what to order.
La Boulangerie is for authentic French pastries, authentic Parisian-style loaves of bread, brioche, elegant stuffed baguettes, a classic French Croque Monsieur, and much more. A good stop for breakfast provisions, it closes around 3 p.m.
Breakfast is at Toast, Surrey’s, The Standard, Slim Goodies, Camellia Grill and Atchafalaya.
Cure on Freret is the snazzy lounge for nationally renowned artisan handcrafted cocktails. Casual dress is ok, but again, make an effort, then order small bites and serious drinks. Very nice date place.
Crawfish Uptown is by the bag at Big Fisherman. Eat out back or bring it home and eat on the porch or in the backyard. No, you cannot eat it in the house. Keep newspaper handy as a tablecloth and to roll up the mess after the fact. Outside of Uptown is a drive to Harbor Seafood or Bevi (not the place on the corner of Louisiana).
Where Uptown dines finely:
Clancy’s, Apolline, Le Petit Grocery, Daisy Bistro and Brigsten’s are date-night places (jacket not required, but you should wear one anyway; bow tie optional). Commander’s Palace and Tory McPhail’s sacred menu merits its own section.
Uptown’s flagship restaurant: Commander’s Palace
It’s our Creole flagship restaurant and a right of passage for the New Orleans’ visitor. The first hurdle is asking your guests to bring a jacket, tie or elegant dress; suits, hats and cocktail wear are not out of place.
The restaurant deserves respect, and it’s required.
First meals should include turtle soup as a first course with a generous double lashing of sherry; I suggest Shrimp Henican as the other starter; that way, you can share and taste both. The gumbo is also good, but tradition dictates turtle soup on a first visit. We have rules.
The pecan-crusted fish, any seafood dish or duck, is excellent. The bread pudding soufflé with whiskey sauce and all its accompanying pomp is the traditional de rigueur dessert for a first timer. Strawberry shortcake is also memorable and outstanding. All items are usually available on the daily and nightly prix fixe menu.
If you Instagram, be prepared to boomerang the soup and pudding presentations. Do order both and share. That’s how we roll.
The Uptown institution is located across from one of our famous historic cemeteries and a short half block from the fabulous Garden District Books — open only during the day, but so is the 25-cent martini luncheon special.
Jackets are required, and a tie ensures a better table. A dressy day-dress, scarf and elegant flats for walking among the tombs afterward are my recommendation. Reservations should be settled beforehand.
South Carrollton and Mid-City
Jacques-Imo’s: An institution of amazing local food the way we cook it at home. Do read the menu before you go — then order everything. Crowds outside during Jazz Fest might be daunting, but the Maple Leaf bar is next door. You can walk back and forth with a glass of wine. The Rebirth Brass Band plays at Maple Leaf on Tuesdays.
The quintessential neighborhood corner restaurants are scattered around town. Mid-City’s Mandina’s is the standard-bearer casual old NOLA that blends Creole with old school Italian. It’s where locals go straight off the plane, after mass, funerals, or football. Look for stuffed peppers or stuffed eggplant dishes. No jackets, jeans, and shorts are fine. Vincent’s (Uptown) and Venezia’s on North Carrollton for crazy delicious Italian with New Orleans’ influence beats anything in Brooklyn.
Yep, I said it.
Gabrielle is the hot spot for award-winning quail gumbo — the best in Louisiana — and innovative new-school Creole cuisine. Chef Greg Sonnier has been featured in Food & Wine and The New York Times since the 1980s. His slow-simmered duck entree alone is worth the journey. Order a cocktail and dessert and make it a meal. Give a quick call first, speak to Greg’s daughter; no jacket required.
Horn’s Eatery is breakfast in the Marigny. An old-school breakfast joint with an upscale menu, but they also offer eggs, bacon and a cup of Joe. The owner Slim Horn owned and ran Slim Goodies for years, the only diner open for business post-Katrina. Back then, there was a long line of refugees and only one breakfast choice. The National Guard leaned their rifles on the lunch counter. It’s where we came together to trade stories, necessities and MREs. This is Slim’s new spot. She’s the tall, rangy blonde in weather-beaten Frye boots. Do what she tells you.
You’ll find a sinfully rich crawfish étouffée served over eggs, a Cochon cornbread waffle topped with pulled pork, chimichurri sauce & pickled-peppers, and pre-war Pain Perdu of grilled baguette slices dusted with powdered sugar — exactly like Ma Mere used to make before church. The hangover cure breakfast is the Orleans Slammer: two eggs, golden hash browns topped with chili, eggs, bacon, cheese and your choice of bread. It’s big enough to share. Slim’s has most of the same menu Uptown, but a new owner.
French Quarter musts
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a must stop for a large selection of frame worthy historical New Orleans maps and hard to find local history books.
The best French Quarter bars are the rotating Carousel at the Monteleone Hotel and Napoleon House. DO hit both.
Across the street from the Monteleone is Mr. B’s Bistro, an incredible old school Creole restaurant. Order the gumbo, no jacket required but make a slight effort. I stop in to buy a Pimm’s Cup to-go at the bar before I stroll Royal Street.
One of my must stops is always the bar at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse for the Bourbon Milk Punch. It’s not always easy to balance all the oysters and bourbon with an ice cream drink, but try. I run in wearing shorts and leave with my frosted plastic cup of heaven. If you go buy two, you won’t want to share.
Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, Broussard’s (Banana’s Foster) or Galatoire’s are historic fine-dining choices in the Quarter. All are over a 100-years-old and filled with locals. You’ll need the navy blazer and tie or a dress. We dress for dinner in New Orleans.
El Gato Negro near the old Mint on Esplanade has the city’s best fresh Margaritas; the pineapple cilantro is a favorite. The Mexican food is authentic good from state of Michoacán and you can wear jeans or shorts.
Central Grocery on Decatur for the original (they invented it) authentic muffaletta sandwich, big enough for 2 or 4.
And always, everyone must try Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. I prefer it at 2 a.m. before heading home. No, do not order beignets at that hamburger place.
Poboys in the Quarter: the new rage is Killer Poboys. It is not traditional, but delicious.
Some swear by Mother’s, but locals do not eat there. Clover Grill and Camellia Grill (Uptown) for late night burgers.
In the Warehouse District, Willa Jean is the foodie place for upscale foodie type casual and inexpensive breakfast and lunches, even better for stocking up on muffins and baked goods to take home to your hosts.
Souvenir clothing and jewelry
Local ties are purchased at Perlis or NOLA Couture. This is also where we buy our crawfish version of the “polo” and our Mardi Gras rugby shirts. Everyone in NOLA owns these.
The best T-shirts are from Dirty Coast. Fun local lore souvenirs are sold at Fleurty Girl (no Bourbon Street nonsense). Expect quirky dishtowels, Drew Breezuz candles and unique NOLA novelty items. They also sell a large selection of proprietary T-shirts, kitchen items, Saints paraphernalia, etc.
Jewelry is to be found at Mignon Faget, a local designer who every local woman has worn daily for decades. There’s lots of silver and items under $200. The quality is equal to Tiffany’s and rivals Elsa Peretti’s collections. Better, yet, it’s unique, classic and very pretty. The cuff links are also spiffy, as are the etched Sazerac crystal glasses.
Kristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot and full time dabbler.