1. The crawfish.
I don’t care if you think they look gross or you don’t like the idea of sucking the brains out of a creature that looks like a tiny lobster, if you go to New Orleans, you MUST try the crawfish. Even if you have had crawfish before, you still need to try them in New Orleans. Why, you might ask? Creole seasoning would be my solemn answer. Anything would taste amazing dowsed in this magical juice. Words can’t describe the real thing. Somehow the whole city seems to know the recipe and yet simultaneously they manage to keep it a secret from the rest of the world. Any given restaurant in the city will serve you a heaping portion of spicy, salty crawdads. You could also get them at the Jazz Fest Like Jackie and I did and chow down on them with your bare hands while sitting on the ground watching festival goers mosey by.
2. The oysters.
They are huge, at least twice the size of any I have had before. They are cheap. At about 1\$1.25 a piece you can pretty much live on them If you want to. They are fresh, like caught-the-same-day-you-eat-them fresh. You can get them any way you like: raw, Rockefellered, grilled with garlic and parmesan…you get the point. I only wish I had had more while I was there.
3. The oyster bar at Acme Oyster house.
This was probably the best lunch experience I have had since I can remember. Super fresh seafood and your very own oyster shucker who takes care of your ever whim while also jerking your chain every chance he gets. Though there was a line out the door, we got seated right away because not many people want to sit at the bar. Why? It was so much fun and you get to watch them work while chatting with other patrons and seeing all the wonderful creations as they come out of the kitchen and bar.
4. The praline ice cream sunday at Acme Oyster House.
Vanilla ice cream, homemade caramel and whipped cream, pralines…
5. Eating Breakfast at Mother’s.
Mother’s is an old, fast paced New Orleans establishment. The food is awesome and the service is entertaining. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities who have eaten there. They also serve alcohol if you want a nice drink with your breakfast.
6. Eating the biscuits at Mother’s.
They serve these gorgeous mounds of perfection with every meal that they dish out at Mother’s and damn are they good. If you, like me, have never had biscuits in the south before, then you have no clue how good a simple biscuit can be. Every biscuit I ate, from Memphis to South Carolina, was amazing but Mother’s has them all beat. Fluffy as air and served with butter and grape jelly, the biscuits at Mother’s were the best.
Mother’s also serves a wondrous condensed meaty concoction called Debris (day-brie). Debris is literally the debris of roasted beef. They cook roasts and all the pan drippings and shredded beef that collect in the bottom of the roasting pan are then cooked down even more to make this fabulous side dish.
8. The catfish.
They know how to cook it in NOLA and it will melt in your mouth. Try traditional fried or grilled and slathered in Ettoufee.
9. The pralines.
They are not really cookies. They are not really candy. I can best describe them as a cross between fudge and brittle. They are unique and if you haven’t had them in New Orleans or possibly Paris, you haven’t had the real thing.
10. Eating Pork Rinds at Jazz Fest.
These are nothing like the pork rinds you get at the grocery store. They are big, crunchy, fatty, smoky and addictive. Some bites are so crunchy you can hardly eat them. Other bites melt on the tongue. Before going to Jazz Fest, I read an article on the best foods to eat there, and I tried a lot of them, but these were not even on the list! In my opinion the pork rinds are a must and the alligator pie is a pass.
11. Aimlessly wandering in the French Quarter.
This was absolutely my favorite part of my time in New Orleans, and my greatest regret is that I didn’t spend enough time exploring this rich and beautiful place. For a few hours Jackie and I just wandered from street to street and shop to shop and it was all wonderful. However, Bourbon Street really is kind of gross. Strip clubs and bars not meant to be seen in the light of day…occasionally fun but NOT the highlight of this amazing city at all. Make sure you don’t spend all your time on Bourbon but you could easily spend all your time in the French Quarter and be very happy.
As the name suggests, the whole bar looks like a beautiful, ornate carnival ride and it does spin around. Slowly. Jackie and I spent a fun hour sipping a drink while going around in circles in the most glamorous possible way. This is really a one of a kind experience in a perfectly lush hotel that evokes all the old world southern charm you could possibly desire.
13. Aimlessly wandering at the French Market.
Used books, jewelry vendors, cloths, food…right on the Mississippi river and the edge of the French Quarter. It’s just fun, like any outdoor bazaar but with the smell and energy of the vibrant city.
14. Aimlessly wandering down Frenchman street.
The locals will tell you that Frenchman St is what Bourbon Street used to be. Authentic and slightly run down in the most beautiful way. Balconies, thrift shops, and great live music in the middle of the day. This was my brief experience of Frenchman St. We ate fried chicken livers at a corner restaurant then poked our heads into a few bars to see people attentively listening to some amazing musicians-at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
15. Aimlessly wandering…with an alcoholic beverage in hand.
Yup, you can drink on the street in NOLA. Only rule is no glass containers. However, one shouldn’t make this a reason to be drunk the whole time! Do enjoy the freedom. Do a little day drinking and wandering like Jackie and I did, but don’t get smashed because you will miss out on truly experiencing this glorious city.
16. The Art galleries.
Yes, there is world class art in New Orleans. Maybe you didn’t know that, I didn’t. I was delighted to find about half a dozen high caliber galleries in just a couple of blocks in the French Quarter and I’m sure there are still more that I didn’t see.
17. The brass bands that wander the streets playing great music from dawn till dusk.
You probably won’t have to look hard for them; we saw two in as many days without even Trying. New Orleans has by far the best street music of any city that I have been to. All the music here is great and all the musicians seem to know how to play. This is not always the case. When you come upon a couple of random guys perched on a stone wall strumming their guitars here, you will not want to rush past averting your eyes, you will want to stop and listen.
18. Teresa Anderson.
She is a one woman musical embodiment of everything that is New Orleans. If you are in town for Jazz Fest, she will most likely be there, but she plays other venues in town. See her if you can. You will love her.
19. The cheap cab rides.
There isn’t much in the way of public transport but you really don’t need it. You can get a cab ride to almost anywhere in the city for under $20.
20. Driving outside of the city.
A lot of people who visit the city fly in. If you do, take a day, rent a car and drive. Do it at dawn or dusk when the sky turns purple and red over the alien landscape of the swamp. North of the city on route 55 is especially striking. You might catch a glimpse of an oil refinery rising from the distant horizon like an evil emerald city. It is strangely beautiful and haunting. The Louisiana countryside is drastically different than its largest city and seeing some of it really enhances the whole experience. It’s just one more experience that can’t be adequately put into words.
21. The New Orleans Fire Department.
Or more specifically, the New Orleans Fire Department’s fundraising calendar…Yes, ladies (and some gentlemen) there is some serious heroic beefcake on the NOLA fire squad. Just one more thing to love about this fabulous city.