January 31, 2013

10 Things to Do and Eat in New Orleans

If you're looking for a quick getaway this year, consider New Orleans. Four nights over the holidays was plenty of time for us to eat a ton of excellent food, hear fantastic music and get to know one of America's most charming cities.

Here are 10 tips for where to eat and what to do. For a full recap in photos, check out our Facebook and Google+ albums.

CochonLunch and dinner are off the same menu so go whenever you can get a reservation or try to find a spot at the bar. We were able to grab a table at lunch after waiting maybe 20 mins without a reservation. With two James Beard Award-winning chefs at the helm, Cochon is one of NOLA's top restaurants right now, known for its oysters.

Fire roasted oysters at Cochon
Rabbit + Dumplings at Cochon

Commander's Palace. Enjoy an excellent, high-class creole meal at one of NOLA's oldest establishments. We recommend lunch - pricey but delicious, from the bread to the soup to the entrees. Plus at lunch they serve full-size martinis for 25 cents. You heard us. 25 cents. Reservations are a must and note the dress code - no jeans/sneaks at lunch. Jackets at dinner.

Trio of soups at Commander's Palace: Gumbo, Turtle and Black Bean

Garden District. Set aside at least an hour to explore the gorgeous, traditional old New Orleans mansions in this part of town. Public buses are pretty easy to figure out and take there. Download the iPhone app for a cheap tour of all the fun houses to see including those of John Goodman, Sandra Bullock and the Manning Family (as in Archie, Peyton and Eli...). Combine this with a visit to Lafayette Cemetery #1 and lunch at Commander's Palace because they are all right next to each other.

Peaks of Sandra Bullock's house under NOLA sky
John Goodman's gorgeous house

Coop's Place. You are likely to find a line outside the door of this French Quarter no-nonsense dive bar, but it is worth the wait. Get the fried chicken and jambalaya, what they're known for. It was possibly the best thing we ate all trip. Sneak a peek out the back door flaps to see where they cook in giant pots and smokers sitting right outside. Totally old school.

Bar inside Coop's Place

Roosevelt Hotel Bar. Before you head for the night, visit this inventor of the classic Sazerac and have a cocktail with the sophisticated NOLA crowd. If you visit during the holidays be sure to check out the beautiful light display (thanks to reader Leslie for this tip!).

Preservation Hall. All the great jazz musicians of the last several decades have played here and the shows continue to be top notch no matter who you see. You have to get in line a good 30-40 mins before each show (8:15, 9:15 and 10:15pm nightly) and then expect to stand in a crowded little room for a 45 min performance. No beers or photos inside. Just enjoy the music, even if you can't see well.

Preservation Hall from the outside, during the day. Best indicator at night is the line. 

The National WWII Museum. History buff or not, this is definitely worth spending a good two hours exploring and reflecting on what the generations before us went through at home, in Europe and in Japan during the D Day invasions. Do not miss the 45 min "4D" movie offered in the annex building. Very powerful.

Killer Po Boys. This place will make you feel like you discovered a hidden local gem. Find the Erin Rose Bar, a nondescript pub just off Bourbon Street on Conti, go in the front door, buy a beer and head straight to the back room. A handful of rotating po boys are served out of the tiny kitchen window. We had a great lamb sausage sandwich. The chef has appeared on "Chopped" and is fun to talk with, too. He also vouched that the roast beef po boy at Parkway Bakery, which you'll read about in most reviews, is worth the trip. We didn't make it there but trust his real chef recommendation.

Window to look for in the back of the Erin Rose
Lamb sandwich from Killer Po Boys

Cafe Du Monde. Fun to see and the beignets and chicory coffee are great, but we'll still say it is slightly overrated and touristy. Go early in the morning to avoid the lines or seek out delicious sweets plenty of other places.

Frenchman Street. If you really want to get trashed and do the whole Bourbon Street thing, fine. But THIS is where you need to be at night to hear awesome live jazz (the Uptown area is supposed to be great for jazz too). It is just a few short blocks long but full of live music venues. We especially enjoyed The Spotted Cat, where there is no cover and you can just wander in/out. If Kristina Morales and the Bayou Shufflers are playing, make a point to see them live.

Local jazz band at The Spotted Cat

A few bonus tips: Riding the Streetcar from end-to-end is a fun, cheap way to see more big pretty mansions and Tulane for half a second. The ferry to Algiers is easy to get to and a free way to "sail" the mighty Mississippi. Try to see an event in the Superdome because it's just huge and awesome. If you want to explore great food outside the French Quarter, watch Anthony Bourdan's episode of the The Layover: New Orleans, which offers a mostly different set of recommendations.

Lastly, if you are thinking about touring the Lower Ninth Ward, read this first. The curious voyeur in all of us wants to see the devastated neighborhood so many years after Hurricane Katrina, but I'm glad we ultimately didn't out of respect for the people still trying to rebuild a life there.

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