The Big Easy: A NOLA Guide

I have had the amazing opportunity to do a fair bit of travel in my time, and a lot of it has been very international-focused and thinking about what places abroad I’d like to visit. For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about the amazing American cities that I haven’t yet visited, and at the top of that list has been New Orleans. So imagine when, at the end of RubyConf last year, I learned that this year’s conference would be held in NOLA! While I spent most of my time at the conference, I was still able to explore part of the city and Ben was able to join me for the weekend to explore as well.

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Based on my short time in the Crescent City, here is little guide to how I enjoyed New Orleans on this particular trip!

Food & Drink

New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, with the intersection of Cajun and Creole foods, and its beverages, as a city in a unique ideological position during the Prohibition. Here are some spots I enjoyed!

CAFÉ DU MONDE  // I originally assumed I wouldn’t be visiting the most famous institution in all of New Orleans because of my aversion to lines and hype. However, the original location in the French Quarter across the street from Jackson Square (see below) doesn’t always have long lines and is open 24 hours, so you can definitely get your late night fix fast.

Café du Monde is famous for 2 things:

  1. Beignets
  2. Café au lait
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Café au lait and a plate of beignets

In fact, that’s basically all they serve, aside from some other beverage options. You have the option to sit down and wait for a server to take your order, bring you a little glass of water, and bring you your order, or to carry out and eat in the park across the street. This is not the place to be watching your sugar intake.

800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-4544
Open 24 hours
Cash only

There is another location located at the Riverwalk in the outlet mall that rarely has lines and accepts credit cards. If the French Quarter location is nuts, you can walk about 10 minutes to this one, pay by card, and look out at the Mississippi River while you enjoy your goods.

500 Port of New Orleans Suite 27

New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 218-7993

PAT O’BRIEN’S // New Orleans is the home of many drinks and cocktails because of its unique role during the Prohibition. Pat O’Brien’s is the home of the hurricane and its eponymous drinkware, and you can get a souvenir hurricane glass to take home when you order one here.

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A hurricane in a hurricane glass

The official motto of Pat O’Brien’s is “Have Fun!” Opened as a bar just before the Prohibition, Pat O’Brien’s operated as a speakeasy for a short while and is also the original home of the fire fountain in NOLA. (A few other establishments now have fire fountains as well.) Enjoy your drinks out in the courtyard with the fire fountain or watching a dueling piano show. You can also enjoy food at the courtyard restaurant from 11am to 10pm.

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Fire fountain!
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Crawfish etoufée

718 St. Peter Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 525-4823

CAFÉ BEIGNET //  Boldly located about a block and a half from the famous Café du Monde, Café Beignet offers a different fried dough option for folks who prefer a denser, doughier doughnut. They also have a more extensive menu, with sandwiches, Cajun food, breakfast items, and a cocktail bar.

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Frozen café au lait and beignets

While I still prefer the lighter, fluffier beignets down the street, Café Beignet is a nice option if you want to eat other things or if you want to try one of their specialty cocktails.

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600 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 524-5530

RUBY SLIPPER CAFÉ // Arguably most popular brunch in NOLA, one of the best ways to get a table is by using the app NoWait, which lets you secure a spot in their queue without having to wait in front of the restaurant. (Yelp acquired NoWait so you can also do this through the Yelp app.) This is the biggest tip I can give, as it can save you a lot of time to be able to show up at a restaurant and then be led directly to your table.

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Named for the feeling of returning home post-Katrina, Ruby Slipper offers a wide variety of benedicts, regional specialties, sandwiches, and omelettes alongside mimosas and other cocktails. Be prepared for a great meal and a big crowd.

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Fried catfish special
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Chicken St. Charles + shrimp boogaloo benedict

Several locations in New Orleans
(we visited this one)
200 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 525-9355

WILLIE’S CHICKEN SHACK // With 5 French Quarter locations, among their many downtown stops, Willie’s came through for us when we wanted late night noms and delicious fried chicken. If you are a fan of Popeye’s, you will love Willie’s for their amazing fried chicken and incredible honey butter biscuits. Their sides, in addition to the ones you might get at home, include New Orleans signatures like gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans & rice.

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For drinkers, Willie’s also serves up frozen alcoholic beverages like the 190, made with Everclear grain alcohol, and a blue Hypnotiq, named for the liquer of the same name, in addition to old standbys like daiquiris and piña coladas. You have the option of sipping these out of a tall, thin drinking vessel with a chicken’s head that says “Willie’s COCKtail”.

Several locations in New Orleans
(we visited this one)
428 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 345-2333

BACCHANAL WINE // Maybe the hippest place I’ve ever been in my life, my anxiety around going to a restaurant without a reservation with a party of 12 on a Friday night was as its height when, after waiting in line for over an hour, the host asked if we understood “how things worked inside”. How things work is that you walk into a wine shop to purchase bottles from a huge selection, find yourself a table (first come, first served, no reservations), and then order small plates from the food window. Most of the seating is outside in this backyard-esque space (Bacchanal was located at the end of what seemed like a residential street, which was a bummer when I wanted to grab some line-waiting food) and there is live music playing as you enjoy your food and drinks.

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Despite the fact that my sleep deprivation was really catching up with me the day we went to Bacchanal, aka I was super cranky and then anxious while I was there, even in that low state, I recognized how cool this spot was and would gladly visit again in the future—with a way smaller group. The music was fantastic, the food was tasty, and there’s no accurate way to describe the undeniably fun and chill and electric atmosphere of the place.

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600 Poland Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 948-9111

MR. ED’S OYSTER BAR // My group wound up at Mr. Ed’s after asking concierge for a recommendations on where to get oysters. After waiting for a while because they were very busy, our sassy and hilarious host offered to hook us up with free desserts for the inconvenience of waiting and the tone was set there when we met our server. Ask for Krys if you want to laugh and laugh but not if you have children or folks with sensitive dispositions in your party. Also, her crawfish bread recommendation was A+. The food was delicious but the most memorable thing about the evening was our banter with the staff and their amazing service.

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Crawfish bread
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Fresh oysters
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Crawfish pies

512 Bienville Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 309-4848

Sightseeing

JACKSON SQUARE + ART // Named for Andrew Jackson, this French Quarter park is a lovely oasis sandwiched between Café du Monde and St. Louis Cathedral. It’s a quiet reprieve during the day, especially nice if you have your beignets and café au lait from CDM across the street. Ben and I got to see a wedding taking place here, which was pretty special. It’s a historic place, right near where the Louisiana Purchase was signed!

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Along the fences of Jackson Square, artists are set up selling original pieces. Of note are the post-Katrina pieces made with materials from the disaster, like damaged wood planks and roof tiles. It’s a really special vibe and Ben and I fell in love with some prints by a couple that had actually just gotten engaged! Some of the art is silly, some of it is really risque (heads up if you that there was art depicting sex acts and genitalia), and all of it is really special and unique and worth looking at.

BOURBON STREET // When in New Orleans, you gotta at least check out Bourbon Street. Famous for drinking and debauchery, you will definitely see quite a bit of both, even on a weekday but especially on a weekend. If you’re feeling adventurous, find one of the spots that is selling the Hand Grenade, a NOLA specialty cocktail that comes in signature grenade-shaped drinkware and with a teeny plastic grenade for tossing into a receptacle at that bar. It is lively every single day of the week. I saw several elderly couples and families walking, so just be careful about what people may see when you’re walking: adult entertainers, very disturbing street performers, and more may await you. But they also serve enormous steins of beers, so weigh that how you will.

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FRENCHMAN STREET + ART MARKET // If Bourbon Street isn’t quite your scene, I recommend walking a few blocks to Frenchman Street, where you’ll find excellent live music coming out of bars and restaurants any night of the week. This is a must-visit if you are in New Orleans seeking live jazz.

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Music at Blue Nile

There is also an art market on Frenchman Street that has a lot of really cool, eclectic art. The art scene in New Orleans is so unique and has a common energy running through all of the pieces, there is really nothing quite like it. Have a stroll through and see if anything catches your eye!

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GUMBO FESTIVAL + ARMSTRONG PARK // We had the great luck of stumbling upon the Gumbo Festival in Armstrong Park, where folks could sample dozens of varieties of gumbo and listen to live jazz while taking in this beautiful park.

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ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL // Free to visit, the St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, although it was built before Louisiana became a part of the US. It’s a beautiful cathedral worth a visit even if you aren’t Catholic.

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FRENCH MARKET // A great little flea market where you can pick up delicious local food and knick knacks, clothing, comics, you name it. Totally worth a visit if you are looking for a bite to eat and a souvenir!

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STREETCAR // If you don’t live in a city with a streetcar, the New Orleans one is fun to ride around in, convenient for getting around the city, and are relatively affordable at $1.25 a ride. I recommend hopping on board if you need to go a distance that you don’t want to walk, whether it’s quite far or you have been walking for days and need to give your feet a break. Also, the novelty of riding a streetcar is very much a good enough reason to ride!

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Other Recommendations

*Some of these I haven’t visited but have had recommended highly to me!

CEMETERY TOUR // These were so so highly recommended to me but I was a bit too chicken and too short on time to do one. All cemeteries in New Orleans are above ground because they are below sea-level and many of the cemeteries have great historic significance. The regular tours are supposed to be great and they also offer ghost tours for the brave souls out there!

TABASCO COUNTRY STORE // Next to Jackson Square, we stopped in this adorable shop that sold everything that ever had the Tabasco logo/bottle put on it ever. They also had every variety of Tabasco ever created with some pretzel rods for you to taste. I actually really loved this little dedicated gift shop, so if you have a Tabasco-lover in your life, definitely stop by to pick up a souvenir of this iconic Louisiana hot sauce. (I personally prefer Crystal, sorry Tabasco!)

SWAMP TOUR // If it’s good enough for Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, it’s good enough for any of us! The swamp tours are famous in New Orleans and I would recommend one even having not been on one because it’s such a unique ecosystem that so few of us get to experience. These are probably less fun in the sweltering heat so plan accordingly!

SAZERAC BAR at THE ROOSEVELT // The Sazerac is New Orleans’s official cocktail and you can sample this unique drink at many bars. The Sazerac Bar is a choice place to try it as it is named after what is considered the world’s first mixed drink. Not every bar makes it with absinthe, as is traditional, and we frequently saw it made with Pernod. If you don’t like anise flavors, beware: you likely will not love drinking Sazeracs.

LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP // Considered the oldest bar in America and one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans, Lafitte’s was supposedly set up as a blacksmith shop as a front for privateering.

VIETNAMESE FOOD // New Orleans is home to a great Vietnamese community, after many Vietnamese refugees settled here during the the Vietnam War. Although we have a vibrant Viet community in Northern Virginia also, I was really excited to try the Vietnamese food and fusion food in NOLA and very disappointed that almost all of the restaurants serving it were closed on Sunday, the day we finally had time to go.

NEW ORLEANS COMICS AND ZINE FEST //  I stopped by this annual event at the New Orleans Public Library to support BubbleSort Zines (created by Amy Wibowo, aka @sailorhg) and other independent comics and zines creators. It was a really neat event that wrapped with a live band performance outside!

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Meh Places

DRAGO’S // Right in the hotel we were staying at for the conference, their charbroiled oysters were super highly recommended to me. However, when we got them, they mostly tasted of garlic butter; delicious but not anything to write home about because well, I don’t need oysters to be my vehicle for garlic butter. I could hardly taste the oysters at all. We found the rest of the food to be fine and the service to have fallen short, even though we gave them the daunting task of serving a huge party.

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STANLEY // A popular-on-Yelp brunch spot that boasted of their seafood platter, we found Stanley to be fine but overpriced and nothing to write home about either. Definitely don’t wait in line here and get your seafood someplace else for brunch.

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Po’ boy and the seafood benedict platter

THE WORLD FAMOUS CAT’S MEOW // A karaoke bar that looked promising but was maybe the worst experience I’ve ever had doing karaoke anywhere. In between every song, the karoake DJ would sing or dance or bring people up on stage. So while karaoke at a bar already takes a long time to get through the queue, it took twice as long because of these self-indulgent karaoke DJs. Bonus: The man who was kicked out of the bar earlier in the night standing at the window, shirtless, shouting at everyone inside. (Someone eventually tossed him a shirt. It had many lewd sayings on it.)


That was my time in New Orleans! I had a great time, despite having some really bad experiences. I hope I can go back, revisit the things I loved, and experience the things I missed!

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What do you like about New Orleans?
What American city would you recommend I visit next?
I haven’t been to Boston or Chicago yet, so I’m thinking about those right now! Although in the winter, I’m eyeing cities in Florida and Texas, too!

Don’t forget I posted my 1 Second Everyday video from NOLA already!

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