A mileage run for SY prompted us to New Orleans for a few days between Christmas and New Years’ 2022. Nola isn’t a typical holiday destination, but it really ought to be – the weather is pleasantly mild, the crowds aren’t too crazy, and what else says holidays better than a tall, bubbly Ramos Gin Fizz?
This was my second time in Nola – the first was over Memorial Day weekend in 2016 for a wedding, where the weather was definitely hotter, the crowds larger, and my crew rowdier (as much as possible for mid-20s Asian nerds). Here’s a rundown of my favorite spots from both trips, as well as places that are on my list for next time. Starred are highly recommended.
French Quarter / Warehouse District / Central Business District
- *Cafe du Monde – the obvious choice for beignets and cafe au lait. There are outposts throughout the city, but I love ending my nights at the 24h original location next to the French Market. Better yet, no lines at night. [Bring cash!]
- Cafe Beignet – beignets here are larger and chewier than those as Cafe du Monde. Worth a try if you like beignets or soft, doughy centers. Many locations.
- *Gumbo Shop – try both the seafood and sausage gumbos, which are dark, viscous, and delicious. Crawfish etoufee is also great. Go early or late (we went at 8:30pm) to avoid the crowds.
- Central Market – home of the famed muffulettas. The shop was closed (as of Dec 2022) due to damage from Hurricane Ida, but we got pre-packaged muffulettas, which were good but felt dense and dry…so I definitely need to come back.
- Drago’s – located in the Hilton, the char-grilled oysters here are buttery and mouthwatering.
- *The Sazerac Bar – located in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel, it’s the “birthplace” (read: holder of official marketing rights) of the Sazerac, Nola’s official drink, and the Ramos Gin Fizz, my new favorite drink that tastes like a sophisticated boozy creamsicle.
- Fritzel’s European Jazz Club – Very classy music on very un-classy Bourbon Street. It’s a great option if you’re too lazy to wander all the way to Frenchmen Street. No cover, but you must order a drink with each set.
- Haunted History Tours – a very popular way to get a taste of the French Quarter. It was entertaining but our guide was meh and there wasn’t as much broader Nola history as I would have liked. Next time I’d find a tour with wireless mic / headphone sets and higher reviews (I saw some on AirBnB Experiences). But if you do go with this one, make sure to get the Groupon.
- Steamboat Natchez – experience the muddy Mississippi by paddlewheel. Definitely a great way to see some parts in the outskirts and learn more about the Delta, nearby plantations, and oil refineries.
- *National World War II Museum – highly recommend if you need a break from the eating. It’s pricey ($30-40), but very well done and interactive, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a history or war buff. You can do it quickly in 2 hours, but I would budget 3-5, especially if you also want to see the 48-minute 4D movie or the submarine experience (neither of which we had time to do).
- Next time:
- Preservation Hall – get tickets early!
- Sazerac House – free boozy self-guided tour of Sazerac history
- Mr. B’s Bistro – jazz brunch
- Molly’s – for Irish coffees
Garden District / Uptown
- *Window shopping along Magazine Street, or soaking in the vibes along St. Charles Street (preferably in a streetcar).
- Coquette – excellent, elevated New Orleans comfort food. We loved all of the dishes, especially the seafood stew, all the desserts, and the gin cocktail.
- *Commander’s Palace – a veritable New Orleans institution. Dinner here was a regal affair, although they don’t seem to be too strict on the dress code for women (jackets are mandatory for men after 5pm, but we wore sweaters and leggings). Two 3-course meals split amongst the 4 of us was the perfect amount of food. The turtle soup and gumbo are hearty though a bit on the sour side; the crab risotto and glazed quail were both excellent. For dessert, the strawberry shortcake was a sleeper hit, and the bread pudding is a must have. Next time I’d go on a weekend for the Jazz Brunch.
- Superior Seafood – back in 2016 I had the largest, juiciest oysters in my life here. It was probably more related to the season than the locale, but it holds fond memories.
- Next time
Midtown / elsewhere
- *Liuzza’s by the Track – holy moly the BBQ shrimp Po’Boy here is amazing. Tender shrimp, flavorful sauce, and bread that just soaks in the gravy. The gumbo is great too – dark roux, on the brothy side.
- *Cajun Seafood – no-frills fresh Viet-Cajun boiled crawfish (and other delights) to go. Back in 2016 we hauled a few pounds of crawfish from here back to our airbnb where we feasted while watching the season finale of Game of Thrones. Multiple locations.
- *Bacchanal – live music in a homey backyard stage, with charcuterie, cheeses, and wine. It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a very nice walk along the river.
- Next time:
- Parkway for roast beef po’boy. I went for a post-wedding event in 2016 and got a dry and underwhelming oyster po’boy, but my local friends swear by the roast beef.
- Morning Call for beignets
- City Park – I only drove through, but it’s enormous (50% larger than Central Park) and there’s a great sculpture garden that I’d definitely spend a few hours exploring next time.
- Swamp and plantation tour – it wasn’t recommended in December because we wouldn’t see any animals, but I definitely want to go out on an airboat sometime.
- We stayed in the Warehouse district, which was great – very safe, very walkable, and fairly quiet. Here’s our airbnb, which we loved.
- Bring cash for Cafe du Monde, and to tip all the street and bar musicians
- The roads and sidewalks aren’t great – there are lots of potholes everywhere, so bring flat, comfortable walking shoes.
- If you’re into oysters and crawfish, I’d go in March or April to catch the peak from both seasons. Here’s a great list of oyster happy hour specials from Eater.