There are a small number of places in the world where I can see myself spending the rest of my days. Of those places, only two are in the United States, and New Orleans will forever hold one of those spots. My first trip to New Orleans was in 2014 with one of my best girlfriends, and I have been back every year since then. While the rest of the United States (even in Black dominated areas) still struggled with representation of Black folk, New Orleans had Black people plastered on every billboard, in every commercial, and most surprising to me, with their hair in a natural state. The coifs of locked hair were some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen outside of New Jersey, the fros were juicy, and oh, the accents!
When a housekeeper at the Windsor Court Hotel gave me suggestions for where to get good eats in the city, I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “What part of Africa are you from?” I could place most African accents, but this one was different. When she giggled and replied that she had lived in Louisiana all of her life, I found it difficult to believe. Throughout that trip, I found myself whispering, “This is so West African” multiple times, and it is a major part of why I keep returning. The more I ventured away from the tourist areas, the more I fell in love with the city. On to the details, as suggested by the many helpful born and bred women of New Orleans that I’ve encountered on my trips. Without their input, dress code suggestions, and gentle nudges away from food danger, I wouldn’t have seen the true character of the city. Now, I want to share their insights with the CiteASista readers so that you can have a different (and completely accessible) experience than the one commonly suggested online.
To Eat & Drink
This is why you’re here. My first visit to New Orleans was a major food fail. Most of the business district locations of the popular restaurants in New Orleans leave much to be desired. If you want serious eats, residents make it clear that you will have to bypass the deceptions of Yelp and go into the non-touristy areas. Here’s a list of my favorites:
Katie’s in Mid City – For brunch and cochon de lait with wait service
Located on 3701 Iberville Street, Katie’s is the one place I always recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans. I was uninterested in beignets until I encountered the meat stuffed version served here, the cochon de lait is tender and juicy, and the specials are always a hit!
Hank’s Supermarket – For chicken and fish sandwiches to-go
Located on 2634 St Claude Ave, Hank’s is your typical corner store like you’d find in the NY tri-state area. The fried chicken comes highly recommended by residents, but the sandwiches are great as well.
Soul’s Seafood – For seafood to-go
Located on 2732 Lasalle Street, Soul’s is not for the pretentious. These are good eats served out of a no frills outpost in a rather undeveloped area. Just like Hank’s, there is no place to sit so make sure you have a comfy room to take those soft shell crabs back to.
Cajun Seafood – For seafood
The location of choice here is on 1479 N Claiborne Ave. You can find po boys, snow crab legs, boudoin, and you can sit down and eat! Adjust your expectations and don’t come here on a date.
Acme Oyster Bar – for the chargrilled oysters
Located on 724 Iberville St, this is the only food spot on this list that is located in the Bourbon Street area. The draw here is the oysters, but full disclosure, you only get about 6 small oysters for $12. Combine the price with the ridiculous line at this location, and you may end up skipping this altogether.
Emeril’s – High end fine dining
Located on 800 Tchoupitoulas Street, Emeril’s is for the person worried about venturing out but wants reliable food. The food here isn’t cheap, but it sure is good.
Superior Seafood – For the pomegranate mojito
Located on 4338 St Charles Ave, the mojito is the draw. While they offer a variety of flavors, the pomegranate will blow you away.
N.O. is a popular destination internationally, and the types of accommodations reflect that. If you need something ritzy, that is absolutely available, but if you need something on the cheap, New Orleans has hostel options that start at $20 per night. I’ve stayed at the Windsor Court Hotel in the business district and the car-or-Uber-fare-needed Sheraton Hotel Metairie with no qualms. If money is not a problem, then you’ll easily secure a comfortable place.
My 2016 stay required more budget-friendly accommodations, so I lucked out and landed the last spot at the IHSP French Quarter House hostel in a mixed 12-bed dorm for about $30. This was my first “dorm” stay outside of Japan, and the privacy and cleanliness in the 12-bed dorm was non-existent compared to the capsule hotels in Kyoto. If considering staying in one of these dorms, adjust your expectations. Think along the lines of band camp dorms with a bit of drunken naked 21-year-olds screaming loudly at each other in the middle of the night. The Quisby is a newer hostel option with en-suite bathrooms and sturdy beds, so try to book it before the rooms fill up. Essence Festival is just around the corner!
If you’re like me, then no vacation is complete without a trip to the beach. Luckily, Biloxi/Gulfport Beach is only an hour away from New Orleans. On the Gulfport side, the water isn’t crystal blue, the sand is unusually sticky, and there aren’t many food options, but this beach will do for a short day trip. You may want to drive further up to the Biloxi side for a more impressive strip of beach, Load up on your chicken and drinks from Hank’s and some seafood from Soul’s and be on your way.
If this is your first time in the city, multiple guided bike tours are available for the lone traveler or for a large group. This is the best way to get a look at the contrast between the business district and the rest of the city. During my first tour, New Orleans still bore marks of Hurricane Katrina, complete with large X’s on the sides of homes to signify the result of search efforts in its aftermath. These tours can include cemetery visits, historic churches, and go for an overall “haunted” vibe, so check websites beforehand to find the experience you want. (You will also want to ask what breaking mechanism is used on the bikes. From what I’ve seen, back peddling is not for the unseasoned rider.)
On my most recent trip to New Orleans, I made a visit to City Park and encountered so many things to do that I spent the rest of the day wandering that area. Upon entrance to the park, you will immediately notice stately trees draped in white. These are most likely live oaks, and the white covering is Spanish moss. I initially found these trees eerie but grew to see their beauty as they shaded me from the intense New Orleans sun. You can bring a blanket and have a picnic here, or take time to visit the New Orleans Botanical Garden and NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden. This was the highlight of my last trip!
An internet search will suffice if you are trying to find the destinations that many tourists like to visit, (such as the World War II Museum) but if you are specifically looking for nightlife outside of the tourist area, you can get the local experience at the following:
Autocrat on 1725 St Bernard Avenue – The place to be on Friday nights, complete with food vendors waiting outside to fill you up when the party is over
The Hangover on 2101 N Claiborne Ave – Come here for New Orleans bounce and an all-night experience
Club Caribbean on 2443 Bayou Road – The Saturday night move for Caribbean music
I didn’t have the chance to visit Vieux Carres or Bertha’s (the go-to spots for the 30 and up crowd), nor Seals, Primetime, and Arlines, but if any of you get a chance to check these out let us know in the comments! I’ll be posting a second guide to New Orleans for foodies who have a bit more to spend and talking about a pillar of New Orleans and the Black community, Leah Chase, later on in the year, so be sure to check back in with CiteASista during Essence Festival. In the meantime:
What are your must-dos while in New Orleans?
Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!?