Been there, Done that: Personal guide to New Orleans hotspots

7 Mar
Bourbon Street parade New Orleans

A band leads a parade down Bourbon Street in New Orleans during the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend.

I’m an unofficial ambassador for New Orleans. If I was actually paid for the number of times I recommend it to others, I’d be able to retire.

To make it easier to point friends in the right direction, I’ve compiled a list of places we’ve visited over the years. The following are some of our favorite night spots and restaurants, as well as a few other tourist spots that are worth visiting. The list comes complete with links to the appropriate websites.

Today, I’ve entered these as a post. But the links can always be found at this page on my blog. 

Restaurants

  • Brigtsen’s – Located at the intersection of St. Charles and Carrollton, this restaurant is a ways from the usual tourist haunts, but it’s worth the trip. It focuses on foods with a Creole/Acadian flair. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, and chef Frank Brigtsen came out to say hello to diners. It is located in a converted house and does not seat too many, so reservations are recommended.
  • Commander's Palace Garden District New Orleans

    Commander’s Palace, a landmark restaurant, is located in the Garden District.

    Commander’s Palace This is THE New Orleans restaurant, and the place that gave Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme their start. A bit on the pricey side and tie or jacket are preferred, although business casual will suffice sometimes. It’s worth the effort.

  • Emeril’s New Orleans – Wolfgang Puck said the banana cream pie here is the Best Food He Ever Ate in New Orleans. I don’t know how you’d just pick one item, but this would be in the running. Not super expensive. Emeril has two other restaurants in the city.
  • Emeril’s NOLA – Located on St. Louis Street in the Quarter not far off Decatur, this restaurant is easy to get to. Frankly, I haven’t had better food in New Orleans. We ate there for a Sunday lunch, and the prices were not expensive. We had two entrees, dessert, drinks and coffee, and our bill was just over $87. We made reservations the day before, but they may not have been needed for lunch.
  • K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen – Paul Prudhomme cooks up dishes that honor his Louisiana heritage.
  • Red Fish Grill – This is casual dining, but delicious New Orleans food. Located at 115 Bourbon St., so it’s just inside the Quarter, not far from Canal Street. BBQ oysters are a specialty, and save room: desserts are decadent.
  • Cafe du Monde – Beignets and cafe au lait. Just as good at the end of the day as the beginning. Don’t expect to order bacon and eggs; you can get beignets or beignets. Try the chicory coffee — you’ll either love it or hate it. On Decatur Street at the edge of the French Quarter near the Mississippi.
  • Cafe Beignet, where the offerings are more than just beignets.

    Cafe Beignet, where the offerings are more than just beignets.

    Cafe Beignet – The storefront location is on Royal Street right next to the police station. Hmmm, a French donut stop right next to a police station. The beignets are good, and, unlike Cafe du Monde, they do offer other kinds of food, such as eggs, French toast, et cetera. They are not open 24/7. If you order a “coffee,” you will be given chicory coffee, so if that’s not what you want, be sure to specify your selection.

  • Mulatte’s – Near the convention center, this casual restaurant features good Louisiana food and live cajun music every night. Very good corn and shrimp bisque.
  • Deanie’s Seafood – In the French Quarter. Worth eating here for the free appetizer of new potatoes cooked in crab boil (read: spicy).
  • Drago’s Seafood Restaurant – Located in the Hilton Hotel at the end of Canal Street and adjacent to the convention center. Charbroiled oysters are the best. Even if you don’t like oysters, give them a try. The corn and shrimp bisque is darn good, too.
  • Mandina’s – Located in Mid-City at 3800 Canal Street, Mandina’s can easily be reached by the Canal Street trolley, but it is a ways out. This has been a neighborhood restaurant for decades and offers a mix of Creole and Italian food — what an interesting change of pace!
  • A well constructed and tasty muffaletta, Cajun potato salad and an Abita beer at Cochon Butcher.

    A well constructed and tasty muffaletta, Cajun potato salad and an Abita beer at Cochon Butcher.

    Cochon Butcher – The muffuletta is a unique New Orleans sandwich and is offered at many places around town. We’ve sampled several — including Central Grocery’s —  and none that we’ve found does it better than Cochon Butcher. Search the blog posts for a more extensive story and photos. This little restaurant is located near the World War II museum.

  • Bon Ton Cafe – An authentic New Orleans Creole and Cajun restaurant on Magazine Street in the CBD, so it’s close to the Quarter.
  • Napoleon House – This French Quarter bar and restaurant, just a couple blocks from Jackson Square, was recommended by a couple bloggers for its muffulettas. On a quest to find the city’s best, I had to check them out. Here’s a post on what I thought.
  • Central Grocery – OK, it’s not really a restaurant, it’s, well, a grocery. But it’s also the originator of the muffuletta, the Sicilian sandwich that rivals the po’ boy for official sandwich of New Orleans. Located on Decatur Street near the French Market. Expect a line for those awaiting muffulettas. They’re big; a half is plenty for most men, a quarter for most women.
  • Antoine’s – We went here for dinner on Valentine’s Day 2014. It’s located in the heart of the French Quarter at 713 Saint Louis St. The food is old-school New Orleans, and in my opinion, lacks the flair and creativity of a Brigtsen’s or Emeril’s.

Bars with a musical flair

  • Frenchmen Street features a number of small music clubs, including the Spotted Cat.

    Frenchmen Street features a number of small music clubs, including the Spotted Cat.

    Spotted Cat Music Club – Located on Frenchmen Street, this little bar is a great place to listen to live jazz. It opens in the mid-afternoon and closes late. It’s one of dozen or so bars with live music on Frenchmen Street. Check out the Apple Barrel, Blue Nile and Snug Harbor, too.

  • d.b.a. – A much bigger venue than the Spotted Cat, which is just across the street, with lots of floor space for listening or dancing, and the band is spread across a large, elevated stage. A big wooden bar is accessible from two sides of the building. It offers a large variety of beers from across the country and even around the world, including a large selection of beers on tap, which isn’t always the case in NOLA. It also offers a number of specialty cocktails, but the night we were there, the bartenders weren’t keeping up with the simple orders, let alone the complicated ones.
  • Tipitina's, New Orleans, La.

    Tipitina’s, New Orleans, La.

    Tipitina’s – Another landmark music spot is Tipitina’s, located at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon streets. Tip’s history, as related on their website: “Tipitina’s began as a neighborhood juke joint, established in 1977, by a group of young music fans (The Fabulous Fo’teen) to provide a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years. The venue, named for one of Longhair’s most enigmatic recordings “Tipitina,” has survived in an ever-changing musical climate. In the past three decades, Tipitina’s has grown from a small, neighborhood bar into an international music icon. The venue has expanded into a two-story music venue…”

    New Orleans band Bonerama Mark Mullins

    Mark Mullins of Bonerama performing at Rock ‘n’ Bowl

    Here’s a link to a music video of the famous song of the same name, popularized by Fess, as he’s known popularly. This music video features another one of his popular tunes, “Go To The Mardi Gras,” which also features a prominent role on “Treme.” We went to Tip’s on a Sunday night, which is the weekly time for the Fais Do-do, or Cajun dance party. Bruce Daigrepont generally plays this gig, and we had a blast. Search the blog posts for more on this.

  • Rock ‘n’ Bowl – Located in Mid-City on South Carrollton Avenue, this bowling alley/bar/music venue books some of the best musical acts in town. We saw Bonerama here in February 2014, and it was a great spot for a concert. For a post on this venue and a couple others, see this post.

Bars

  • Pat O’Brien’s The inventor of the Hurricane. Located in the Quarter. They serve food, too… but I never make it past the Hurricanes. They are best consumed while singing at the top of your lungs in the piano bar. There’s also a large open-air courtyard that’s great for soaking in the sun on a nice NOLA day.
  • Ramos Gin Fizz Tujague's New Orleans

    Mixing a Ramos Gin Fizz at Tujague’s.

    Tujague’s — This bar (pronounced Two-jacks) along Decatur Street has an accompanying restaurant, too. But I never get past the bar. (Do you detect a theme here?) Don’t bother with a beer. Order the Ramos Gin Fizz and then ask the bartender what else is good. No doubt, it will be. UPDATE: Finally ate at Tujague’s. They offer a unique approach. They have a limited list of entrees every night, and every meal features five courses. The meal was OK, but I’d stick with the Gin Fizzes. An interesting sidenote: We ate there on Feb. 16, 2013, and were greeted by owner Steven Latter. He died on Feb. 18. UPDATE 2014: Faced with closure after Latter’s death, Tujague’s was sold and re-opened by Latter’s son, Mark. The new owner spruced up both the dining room and the menu. I’m eager to give this landmark another try.

  • Tracey’s – This sports bar in the Irish Channel is a great place to watch a game. It has 18 TVs, and you’re sure to find some fans supporting your team. We’ve watched a couple of Husker games here over the years, and there are sure to be fans of nearly any team watching a game there.
  • Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel – Named for what is believed to be the world’s first cocktail, the Sazerac is a New Orleans staple. The bartenders will gladly mix you one, and they’ll share a little history about the bar and the town. It’s an upscale bar, but feel free to walk in off the street. Be sure to take the link above to the website and read the story about how Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long educated New Yorkers on how to make another NOLA staple: the Ramos Gin Fizz.

Places To Go/Things To See

  • Bourbon Street – Do I need to describe?
  • Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral – This is likely the background on any live broadcast from NOLA, whether it’s a Super Bowl, Final Four, NBA All-Star or any other show. Jackson Square is ringed by artists selling their wares, and mule-drawn carriages line Decatur Street. Services are still held inside St. Louis Cathedral.

    Jackson Square walk toned

    Enjoying a walk around Jackson Square.

  • New Orleans School of Cooking – Located in the French Quarter very close to Emeril’s NOLA restaurant, this attraction is fun for anyone interested in New Orleans food. We’ve attended a couple of the demonstration classes, which are hosted by a NOLA native. You’ll get to sample the dishes.
  • A pair of walkers and a runner make their way around Audubon Park on a trail that circles the park.

    A pair of walkers and a runner make their way around Audubon Park on a trail that circles the park.

    Audubon Park – Located along St. Charles Avenue and easily reached by streetcar.

  • Garden District Walking Tour – There are many companies that offer walking tours. You can see the houses of many famous residents — John Goodman, Trent Reznor, Anne Rice, Archie Manning — and tour a cemetery or three, among other things.
  • City tour – Again, several companies offer tours. Ours took us through many different neighborhoods, past Lake Pontchartrain and through some of the Lower 9th Ward that is still rebuilding following Katrina. ADDENDUM: In November 2012, they stopped offering tours through the Lower 9th. Apparently, residents are tired of the tours going through their neighborhood … without some sort of compensation for the disruption.
  • The National World War II Museum – This sprawling complex started out as the D-Day Museum, which was established here because the landing craft that made D-Day possible were manufactured in New Orleans. On my recent visit to New Orleans, the women attended a cooking school, and the men visited the WW II museum. It was a day well spent.
  • Ghost tour – Several companies offer night tours of the supernatural in the Quarter. Most are offered at night. After a drink or two, it’s much easier to imagine the ghosts.
  • A streetcar heads down St. Charles Avenue. The neutral ground  - the local term for the street median -- is a popular place for runners because of its long unbroken stretch and the soft but sure footing it provides.

    A streetcar heads down St. Charles Avenue. The neutral ground – the local term for the street median — is a popular place for runners because of its long unbroken stretch and the soft but sure footing it provides.

    St. Charles Avenue Streetcar and other routes – A great way to get around in lots of areas in NOLA. The St. Charles streetcar will drop you very near Brigtsen’s. Have you ever heard of “A Streetcar Named Desire”?

  • City Park – There are a number of attractions at the park, including Storyland for the kids and the New Orleans Museum of Art, where we saw an interesting show of Civil War photographs as part of a travelling exhibition. The park is reachable by streetcar, but is the opposite direction from Audubon Park.
  • Lake Pontchartrain – Looks more like an ocean than a lake. Take the Causeway — the longest continuous bridge over water — across the lake to the North Shore.

Places to stay

  • Chateau LeMoyne – Just one block off of Bourbon and near Canal, this hotel was clean and a pretty good value.
  • The Saint Hotel – Located in the 900 block of Canal. We stayed at The Saint shortly after its grand opening. It was built in 1909 as a hotel but was never opened as such. It was converted into office and retail space, and, after sitting abandoned for several years, was recently converted back to a hotel. It has a contemporary lobby and rooms. We stayed here during its first month or so in operation and it was a good deal; the rates have increased substantially since.
  • Courtyard by Marriott near the French Quarter – This hotel is just a half block off Canal Street across from the French Quarter. Not exactly cheap, but for a good location in a major city, I thought it was a good value.
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2 Responses to “Been there, Done that: Personal guide to New Orleans hotspots”

  1. Diane Vance March 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    Mark,

    sorry for the short notice … Fairfield Cafe Paradiso hosts Mike Dillion Band 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, tomorrow

    band members Carly Meyers, Adam Gertner and Patrick McDevitt, all from NOLA, except Mike is a Texan, played last summer here at Fairfest in June; don’t know if this is who you came to see….

    The Fairfield Weekly Reader (not affiliated with Ledger) writes about the band casting a vodoo spell and Madi Gras style polyrhythmic insanity …

    $10 tickets in advance CP mobile app or $12 at the door.

    Diane

    Like

    • msmidt March 10, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

      Oooh, sounds like fun. We saw Bonerama on a Friday night during Fairfest, and I’m working with a group in Keokuk that’s trying to get them booked here sometime this fall. Thanks for the head’s up.

      Like

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