NEW ORLEANS CHEATSHEET


FOOD:
CHEAP EATS | NOT SO CHEAP EATS | POBOYS ETC

DRANK:
WINE | BEER | DIVES | DIVE CRAWLS | COFFEE

EXCURSIONS:
MUSIC | SWAMPS | PLANTATIONS

LINKS / MULTIMEDIA

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See almost everything on this list on Google Maps here.

...and sing my praises here:
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alecbyfoot@gmail.com | 504.434.2130

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FOOD




CHEAP EATS:

Coop’s is my most-recommended resto in the FQ, simply because they have everything one would ever want to eat in Louisiana at reasonable prices, in central location and casual environment, and they’re open late. You can get better versions of whatever you’re eating here at many places in town, but not for cheap and under one roof.

The Joint: we’ve always been the laughingstock of the south in terms of BBQ, but we started picking up the slack after Katrina, and this place led the way. Reasonable and very cute inside; crowd pleaser.

Company Burger: best burgers AND fries in town, I don’t care what Port of Call says.

Satsuma: best relatively healthy brunch/breakfast, Bywater and Uptown/Tulane locations.

Lebanon’s: solid, inexpensive, cute Mediterranean near Tulane off St. Charles streetcar line.

Popeye’s: hold your laughter. It tastes different here than anywhere else, and I’m not kidding: 99% of people I know in Louisiana love it, eat it semi-regularly, and agree upon the excellence particularly of their red beans and rice.

Lily’s: my favorite Vietnamese within the city. We have the second largest population of Vietnamese in America, but most of the great places are well outside of town. Lily is a shrewd businesswoman so it’s a bit pricier than the many other places on Magazine, but it’s worth it. Honorable mention to Magasin, which is considerably cheaper.

Domenica: the pizza situation in NOLA is pretty dismal, but Domenica, like all of disgraced restaurateur John Besh’s twelve restaurants, has an absolutely killer happy hour. Pizza Delicious is also very good. Ancora is without a doubt the best pizza in town--and some of the best I’ve had anywhere--but it ain’t cheap.

Taceaux Loceaux: you have to find their mostly uptown whereabouts on Twitter, but they’re cheap and delicious. That said, I’ve never encountered a major American city more clueless about Hispanic culture in general than here, and Mexican food is emphatically not what you should be after.

St. Roch Market: this upscale food court is in some ways a microcosm of post-Katrina NOLA food culture, was designed so every inch is Instagrammable, is the lightening rod of post-Katrina gentrification in New Orleans, and astonishingly, almost everything here is good. If you have picky people, they truly have something for everyone: cocktails, oysters, Mexican, Vietnamese, classic NOLA, seafood, vegetarian, coffee, even dessert.

Bao & Noodle is amazing homemade-from-scratch Burmese noodles in a spellbindingly humid room, and seemingly the hipster BYOB date night spot of the entire Marigny.

Casamento’s isn’t exactly cheap, and has bizarre hours, but it is adorable and classic inside, justifiably famous for char-grilled oysters, and also has some of my favorite restaurant gumbo in the world. Make sure you walk to the bathroom through their kitchen, which features cookware seemingly in use for 100 years.

J’s Creole Wings are the best I’ve ever had. 

1000 Figs is incredible Mediterranean in a tiny, almost too-adorable space (on an even more gorgeous section of Esplanade Avenue) but is an absolute godsend you’re sick of eating heavy food. 


NOT-SO-CHEAP EATS:


Caveat: this isn’t really my wheelhouse; I’ve never been able to afford expensive restaurants.

First, the bad news. I hate to say it, but most classic old school NOLA restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Antonie’s, Galatoire’s, Tujauge’s, Arnaud’s, etc. most are kind of resting on their laurels as American cuisine has not only caught up with but started lapping them. The solution: go for their ~$25 prix fixe lunch + cocktail specials. Most have them. This way you can check them off your bucket list without feeling ripped off.

Now. My fave truly fancy restaurant is August, but I’ve only been lucky enough to go, like, four times. My favorite overall restaurant in the FQ is the much more reasonable and casual Sylvain, named for the first opera performed in the new world. Its dining room is hip and loud, so if you hate loud dining rooms, ask for a seat in the courtyard. Their food is reasonable and consistently excellent, their cocktails are not cheap but they are mind blowing. My own cocktail virginity was taken here via their sidecar, which is still the best I’ve ever had. Paladar 511, conveniently just off Frenchmen, is also reasonable and has an amazing menu and food. Weekend reservations will be easier there than Sylvain. Peche has amazing seafood and is great fun especially during or just after happy hour because it gets such glorious light. And Shaya, which won restaurant of the year nationwide left and right in 2017, is absolutely worth all the hype. Award-winning Israeli food in New Orleans: go figure? Their lamb ragu fried chickpea hummus is one of the best things I’ve ever ate, period. It can be notoriously hard to get reservations--just show up and sit at the bar during off peak hours. 


POBOYS ETC:

Parkway is the oldest (though after getting over 15’ of water during Katrina, the building is basically brand spaniking new), perhaps the most famous, and where most sitting presidents go for poboys when they come through town.  

However, I am partial to Domilise’s because the sweet little old ladies who are my neighbors cook every sandwich to order. It’s is blocks from my house, totally off the beaten path (though so close to shopping/bars on Magazine Street!), and their prices raise every time Anthony Bourdain shows up--it’s very much his kind of place. Make sure to get Zapp’s Voodoo or Crawtator chips and Barq’s root beer (all made right here) while waiting for your sandwich. Ask for it dressed with no ketchup! The ladies here, I think, got bored and started putting ketchup on poboys, which is not kosher! “Dressed” typically means mayo, lettuce, sometimes pickles, sometimes tomatoes--otherwise, you’re just getting some kind of meat on dry French bread. Don’t let the ladies sell you fries, either--there won’t be room in your stomach for them. Domilise’s shrimp is absolutely transcendent, though I’m allergic, so I get catfish.

If you want roast beef poboys, be prepared for a three hour siesta, and get one at Parasol’s or Tracey’s--the sandwich itself and these two restos are emblems of the Irish Channel neighborhood.

Finally, the best and most “pure” drunk food I’ve ever had is just off Frenchmen at Gene’s Poboys. This place is chaos manifest. At least two off-duty cop security guards have been murdered outside, and there are three entrances: one on Elysian Fields for (excellent) frozen daiquiris, one on the corner for “normal” poboys, and another for seafood on St. Claude/Rampart (which I believe confusingly goes by Irene’s for tax evasion purposes). I have taken legit chefs here and they’re like, “OMG, I have never seen MSG used to such poetic effect.” Do not eat in the daytime; three drinks minimum recommended beforehand.

If you must stick to the FQ, Killer Poboys’ shrimp poboy is impressive, their others are just weird, and the best late-night food (including delivery) in the whole neighborhood is Verti Marte, caddy corner from the haunted LaLaurie Mansion. I have heard from many sources that Kathy Bates, who memorably played the homicidal sociopath Madame LaLaurie in American Horror Story, is a devotee of their roast beef and debris poboys.

The only place to get a good cold muffaletta is the original Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Don’t be fooled by the next-door imitators, and only go around lunch so they’re still fresh--by 2pm the taste will be off. Be prepared for tourist tax: $27 for whole sandwich (easily a filling meal for two in itself), two bags of Zapp's chips, and two bottles of Barq's (all made right here in NOLA). You might wait in line for fifteen minutes, but no matter. Beware; they’re closed Monday--can’t tell you how many times I’ve made that mistake. If a hot muffaletta is more your speed, get it (along with some boudin as a souvenir) at Cochon Butcher, which is probably the best overall sandwich shop in town (honorable mention: Stein's Deli).



DRANK


COCKTAILS:

Columns Hotel: one of the only antebellum mansions of the uptown you can go into for free. Drink a Pimm’s cup on the porch and watch the streetcars ramble by.

Hot Tin: the classy rooftop bar of the recently reopened Ponchartrain Hotel, which has the best view of the city bar none.

Hotel Monteleone: the famous slowly-spinning Victorian carousel bar, frequented by the literary intelligentsia of the 1920s-30s. A worthwhile ripoff. Go earlier than you’re accoustomed to drink or you’ll be throwing bows to get a seat at the thing. Excellent jazz in this room on weekends, but it’ll be mobbed.

Napoleon House: this building was built as a villa for Napoleon when he was in exile in Corsica, but he never showed up. Ground zero for (large/expensive) Pimm’s cups downtown and regularly voted one of the best bars in America.

Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel: the sazerac was arguably the first cocktail invented in America, right in this glorious curved mahogany bar. It’s the official drink of New Orleans. Here they’re very expensive and strong--for a great cheap one that’s a little on the more balanced and sweeter side, see…

Bar Tonique: my favorite happy hour in the French Quarter. $6 cocktails. Excellent bartenders. The dark and stormy, made uniquely with backstrap molasses, is the best by far I’ve ever had. Consistently great Sazeracs and other drinks.

Cane & Table: my favorite FQ cocktail bar. Expertly made cocktails, adorbs environment, next to Coop’s.

Loa at the International Hotel: Alan, their bartender, is my vote for biggest cocktail genius in NOLA. This is the place you go and say, “I like (x kind of alcohol): surprise me. Blow my mind.”

Cure: the flagship of the post-Katrina cocktail boom. Go for their happy hour; after that it’s pricey. Some of the best mixologists in the city.

WINE:

Bacchanal: is the only truly great wine bar in the city. A consistent crowd pleaser. Wine and cheese in a feral garden backyard with music. Probably #1 date night spot in the entire city. (Its inferior uptown equivalent is Delachaise).

BEER:

Avenue Pub: best beer bar in NOLA? Awesome wrought iron balcony overlooking St. Charles and awesome pub grub.

NOLA Brewing Co: the best and first post-Katrina microbrewery; almost everything they do is excellent--look out for their stuff on tap around town. If you’re super into beer, a handful of microbreweries have juuuuust started popping up and are generally excellent, close to one another, and crawl-able, but for my money NOLA Brewco is still the best.

DIVES:

My true area of expertise.

Snake n Jakes (near Tulane), The Saint (Lower Garden District), and Saturn Bar (Bywater) are consistently rated best dives in America, for good reason. All night dance parties weekends at the saint, and often great shows at Saturn Bar.

Pal’s: the king of midcity dives.

Corp Bar: the crown jewel of CBD/Warehouse district dives.

Marie’s: my favorite Marigny dive; literally a hole in the wall, profuse characters.

Mayfair Lounge: just off St. Charles, another crown jewel of NOLA dives. There tends to always be one person here dancing alone regardless of the day or hour.

Verret’s: my favorite overall bar in the city. Used to be an old black guy bar called the Turning Point, because its corner is where all the tourists from the Garden District realized they were driving into the hood and turned their cars around. Flooded during and reopened as Verret’s, which it had been before the TP. Red leather booths and characters abound.

Pete’s Out in the Cold: in the Irish Channel, maybe the most out of the way dive on this entire list. You still have to be buzzed in!

Little People’s Place & Candlelight Lounge: amazing people and often music too.  

DIVE CRAWLS!

Uptown:
Bros 3: my home base, and the only thing resembling a honky tonk in the city. They lost their keys in 1972 and it hasn’t closed since. Miss Mae’s, notoriously the cheapest bar in uptown, is right down the street, also never closes, and is full of hilarious and insane characters, as is Le Bon Temps Roule, one of the low-key favorite live music spots in the city (and neighborhood bar of Lee Harvey Oswald, who lived a few doors down and has a plaque at the bar). 

Bywater:
BJ’s, Vaughan’s, and J&J are the perfect Bywater crawl, and close to Bacchanal and The Joint BBQ. On St. Claude, Kajun’s is bonkers all-night Karaoke, All-Ways Lounge hosts all kinds of weirdness, including amateur burlesque and stripteases and the Hi Ho Lounge is home some of the best DJ dance nights in town on weekends.

FQ:
Cosimo’s, Erin Rose, & Molly’s at the Market: my favorite classic FQ dives, Aunt Tiki’s is my favorite of depraved Decatur Street bars, Golden Lantern is my favorite gay bar in town--they do great low-key drag shows often, and Chart Room is my favorite super-late-night FQ bar.


COFFEE:

Cherry Coffee: Overall the best coffee in the city, opened in my backyard by the only girl who has ever stood me up on a date.

Stumptown: glorious environs in the lobby of the Ace hotel.

HiVolt: the first good coffee in the city post-Katrina, on a gorgeous corner in the LGD.

Spitfire: the best coffee in the FQ. Pourover and espresso only.

Honorable mentions: French Truck, Mojo, Solo Espresso, Drip Affogato.


LIVE MUSIC


The WWOZ Livewire is our de facto live music calendar. Let it be thy bible. Palm Court, Jazz Playhouse, Little Gem, Carousel Lounge, Friztel’s, Palm Court, Sweet Lorraine’s, Snug Harbor, and DBA are our most reliable jazz venues. Overwhelmed? Me too. Just wander into whatever’s closest after 5pm and you’ll probably be in luck.

The Prime Example deserves its own byline. It is my go-to bar to impress native New Orleanians, because unless they’re 7th ward Creoles, they’ve probably never heard of it. You often have to call to see what’s going on, which is also part of the appeal. Julius, the owner, is the ultimate NOLA gentleman. Amazing, low-key, intimate jazz and, perhaps the best sounding small room in the city (no parallel walls and stage surrounded by brick), AND, unbelievably, my favorite restaurant gumbo in the world. You can usually forego the cover charge if you just proceed straight upstairs and eat, but you didn’t hear that from me.

I should also mention that I’ve seen some of the best musicians of my life at the semi-far-flung-for-tourists Maple Leaf and Dos Jefes Cigar Bar, both of which are in antipodal parts of uptown.

Poor Boys and Sidney’s Saloon are more under the radar venues where jazz, indie, hip hop, R&B, soul, funk, and bounce bleed into one another. Head here and the surrounding bars on St. Bernard Ave if St. Claude Ave is too vanilla for you.

One Eyed Jacks: best sounding mid-sized room in town, great live shows of non-local acts, and haunted as all get out.

Gasa Gasa: where damn near all of the smaller-scale indie shows go down. The rest are at Circle Bar.


STREET MUSIC:

The best place to see New Orleans music is on the street.  

Start with Doreen Ketchens, widely regarded as the FQ’s most venerable street performer. I cannot see this lady play without immediately tearing up, even on Youtube. She is usually outside of the Rouse’s Grocery on Royal and St. Peter Streets (the best place in the FQ to pick up walking drinks). Her husband will usually be on sousaphone, and her daughter is the drummer. I have never seen someone drum to jazz so competently while texting. Continue down Royal street until you hit the back of the cathedral, turn towards the river, and continue down Decatur Street to Frenchmen to find any number of diverse street musicians of wildly varying quality.

Thursday - Saturday nights, there are usually brass bands competing for tips on Frenchmen Street. The best place to watch them is from the balcony at Dat Dog while eating a Gator Dog and drinking Louisiana beer.

And finally, the pinnacle of New Orleans culture, and my reason for living, is walking with the best brass bands in town during secondline parades on Sunday afternoons between October and June. Here is the calendar for that; much more on them in the NOLA Lynx section below.


EXCURSIONS


SWAMPS:

The best way to see nature in Louisiana, by far, is from a boat. If you want to spring for anything here, even as a broke traveller, believe it or not, make it an airboat tour. They’re AMAZING and the best way to see scenic/natural Louisiana. My favorite by far is Airboat Tours by Arthur on Highway 90 in Des Allemands (tell them i sent you). Almost right next door is the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen in Louisiana--which is really saying something--a 3 story by 128’ long abandoned ship, which is for sale like a used car on the side of the highway. Many drive-thru daiquiris nearby, too ;)

If you want to do a kookier swamp tour on a regular boat, I LOOOVE Zam’s in Kraemer. If you’re lucky, ZeZe will be your guide; make sure to ask him what ZeZe means in Cajun French. Here’s a little taste of what to expect.

The free and closer-to-town option is also wonderful: go to Barataria Preserve, which is a beautiful through the swamp on flat elevated platforms. The first and last portions are the most beautiful, the middle is hallucinatory. Make sure to stop at Daiquiri Factory, the original drive-thru daiquiri stand (the first was technically in Lafayette), afterwards, especially if it’s hot.


PLANTATIONS:

The first thing to know: do not expect Gone with the Wind-style plantations in Louisiana. Generally, ours are more 18th century, much earlier, and less opulent than those built throughout the south in the first half of the 19th century. Their exteriors of our plantations will be roughly in line with what you expect, but their interiors are often relatively spare. At each you’ll learn why.  

The closest plantation to town is Destrehan, which is a 30 or so minute drive. It was in 12 Years a Slave, Interview with the Vampire, etc, and is a solid tour. If you just want to knock one out, this is the one to do. (It’s also convenient to Arthur’s Airboat Adventures, above).

Oak Alley is the most famous Louisiana plantation, but it’s a well-oiled tourist machine as a result. Think constant busloads of French, German, Chinese, and American tourists and chaperones attempting to corral them with megaphones, which can feel like a mob scene. The guides at Oak Alley are also somewhat hit or miss in my experience (hot tip: usually, the older the guide, the better). The big plus of Oak Alley is that it’s close to many other of the “big name” river road plantations--Laura, Evergreen, St. Joseph’s, et al. My advice is to just drive by them all, stop at Oak Alley, park illegally on the shoulder in defiance of the sign there, quickly get the money shot of the facade, then speed off like Bonnie and Cylde before the law shows up to hassle you.

My favorite plantation tour is Houmas House, which is a hike, but worth it. Why?

  1. It’s is the most Gone With the Wind-esque plantation, it was owned by three generations of eccentric bachelors with more money than they knew how to spend. What started off as a more typical, spare, Louisiana creole-style plantation got additions and more additions throughout the 19th century, so now the place is just completely bonkers.
  2. The art collection is out of control: there are Gauguins hanging around salon-style and badly in need of stretching that the tour guides don’t even point out.
  3. The grounds are amazing. It’s like getting a free botanic garden visit thrown in with your plantation tour.
  4. Anna, one of their guides, is by far my fav plantation tour guide. She is whipsmart and hilarious. (Anna, if you’re somehow reading this, call me maybe :-*).  
  5. There’s a legit awesome bar in the garconniere, staffed by bartenders who actually know what they’re doing (!).

Now, like almost all plantation tours, Houmas House’s engagement with the fact of slavery is minimal and poor. Most guides at all will ramble on and on about the families who lived and owned the plantations, then relegate the human cost of the plantation economy to one stop or worse, a “self-guided” auxillary portion of the tour. (To its credit, Laura Plantation is a bit of an exception). Enter the Whitney Plantation. It’s diametrically opposite from all the others and absolutely crucial in that it offers a plantation tour from the perspective of the enslaved. I thought my first visit would be harrowing and leveling, akin to visiting, say, the Holocaust museum. I was very surprised me that it still feels a bit like a work in progress. The eccentric owner of the place buys up slavery-related stuff from all over Louisiana and beyond, so it feels to me like an uncompleted collage. My very subjective opinion is that that it’ll be another five or so years before it really becomes a true American institution, but it’s eminently worth a visit in the meantime.

In sum: if you want to make a day of it, do Houmas House and the Whitney for a complete perspective, and drive by the others. If you just want to check “plantation tour” off your bucket list, beeline to Destrehan before or after a swamp/airboat tour. PS: eat a huge meal in New Orleans before you leave, and bring snacks from the Rouse’s on Royal Street in the FQ. The food outside of New Orleans is generally few and far between and not super great compared to what we have in town.