When you think of New Orleans you inevitably think of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. Whether you visit during Mardi Gras and experience the street packed with bodies, beads twirling, glitter raining down and to go cups littered underfoot or during a quieter period with the lure of all day happy hours, haunted tours, and palm readings, this thoroughfare is synonymous with The Big Easy. Yet despite its fame and its proximity to a certain well known beignet dispensary, there are so many other unique and exciting neighborhoods to explore (and eat your way through!) while visiting New Orleans.
The neighborhood known today as the Warehouse district was once used primarily as a storage center for goods being sent to and from the New Orleans port. Reimagined and revitalized during the 1984 World’s Fair, the area has experienced a slow, yet steady growth in the decades since. From Julia street’s “gallery row” offering blocks of art and artists to explore to the James Beard award winning offerings from Nina Compton and Donald Link, to newly added boutique hotel experiences from Virgin Hotels, there has never been a better time to explore and experience the creative energy here.
Lunch begins at Cochon, one of Donald Link’s several eateries in the area. Carnivores will delight at the menu, as the name implies, serving up meat focused cajun cuisine inspired by the chef’s own upbringing. For cocktail hour, head to the brand that knows how to celebrate life. Discover Virgin Hotel’s newest addition with a specialty sip at Common’s Club. Start with the Sazerac, a classic NoLa drink, followed by an inventive taste of a Dole Whip Up or an Oaks Magnolia. For dinner, make a reservation at Compere Lapin from award winning chef Nina Compton. Vegan and vegetarian friendly, the service here highlights true New Orleans hospitality and the dishes are an ode to modern cajun fare blended with the Caribbean heritage of Chef Compton. The crawfish and cauliflower soup and curried goat are not to be missed.
A visit to New Orleans is not complete without a visit to the Bywater, a colorful artistic neighborhood in an area known as the “sliver by the river,” an area that was spared major flooding during Katrina despite its proximity to the Mississippi River. Full of colorful homes, artist enclaves, and some of the best eats in the city, the Bywater charm might be less flashy than the French Quarter, but it has a way of enchanting all those who wander through its establishements.
Start your morning at Bywater Bakery and come hungry. No mere bakery, this local favorite offers full breakfast and lunch offers, including a full vegan menu and savory geaux cups in addition to their ample baked goods selection. If you’re in town at the right time, don’t miss their take on the signature king cake—just keep an eye out for the baby! Stroll the colorful streets or take in the river views before gearing up for a meal at The Joint. This dive BBQ joint is low on frills and high on flavor and it pays off. Patrons can kick back and relax, loading up their metal trays with the smoked meat and heaping piles of mac n cheese and coleslaw. Grab a beer to wash it down but save your true thirst for Bacchanal Fine Wines & Spirits. The name may sound like a wine shop, and in fact you do enter through one, but it’s the backyard that really steals the show. Stop in the shop to browse the local selection of bottles and bring your choices through the doors to the ample backyard for live music and a buzzing good time all night long.
The charming Lower Garden district is peppered with elegant homes, stately hotels, and enticing storefronts, providing the perfect spot to wander aimlessly, popping in and out of the local establishments at ease. But if you’re looking for a place to eat, seek no further than Turkey & the Wolf. Located on the border between Lower Garden and the Irish Channel, Turkey & the Wolf is the brainchild of Mason Hereford and is a masterful take on the classic sandwich shop. So much so that Bon Appetit ranked this eatery as their pick for the number one restaurant in America in 2017. A counter run, playfully decorated space, the true hero items are the sandwiches, each one a medley of flavor and texture, and yet still seemingly simple and nostalgia inducing. Come hungry but leave room to cool off with a cup full of vanilla soft serve to enjoy from the shade of the terrace.
Uptown might not have the obvious charms of Lower Garden, or the late night cool of Bywater, or even the historical lure of the Warehouse district, but it does have one very real reason to venture this way and that is Mister Mao. Started by Chef Sophina Uong and her partner in life and business William Greenwell, Mister Mao is an eatery that prioritizes ambiance as much as the food. Bubblegum pink walls meet the jungle green painted trim and floor, laden with animal print rugs, to create a lush, tropical atmosphere, just as the duo intended. A striking mural by local artist Margie Tillman Ayres depicts tigers sitting among the tropical foliage and rattan accents complete the transportive scene. The food more then measures up to the exciting decor, with plate after plate of spicy goodness (note the hellfire heartburn section on the menu), pulling a melange of inspiration globally from Latin America to Southeast Asia. The menu changes often but if you’re looking for flavor you won’t be disappointed by any of these inventive dishes.
Part of the lure of New Orleans is its lush landscape and unique ecosystems, all viewable in a neat package in the City Park district. Primarily comprising the park itself, one of America’s oldest to boot, this area is an ideal attraction for visitors of all ages. Stroll the park grounds, admire the flora and fauna in the Botanical Garden, cool off indoors at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and take in the striking art at The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. All that walking will work up quite the appetite and luckily Toups Meatery is just a few short blocks away. The family style Meatery Board is up for the task and offers a great selection of all the best menu hits.
Leora is a travel journalist and the founder of Persephone Social, a hospitality focused social media agency based in NYC.