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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers perform at Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers perform at Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to New Orleans

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers perform at Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers perform at Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans.
  • By Stephanie Carter
  • Photos by Emily Kask
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New Orleans is a city built on joie de vivre. Excess is the order of the day, whether you’re a first-timer hunting for cheap beads and bad booze on Bourbon Street or a lifer deciding what to order on your po’ boy. Everyone’s mom or grandma makes the best gumbo, and — yes — they do want to talk about it. Food is synonymous with identity here, one that all New Orleanians hold equally regardless of race or class.

The Crescent City’s rich history dates back more than three centuries. Over that time, Africans, Choctaw Indians, Haitians, Sicilians, Spaniards, Germans, French, Croatians and many other individuals have stirred the melting pot. Newer arrivals from places like Vietnam and Honduras are adding their own style. New Orleans bounces to its own brass band beat. The architecture is grand. The music comes from every corner. Art is everywhere — even on the water-meter covers. There are at least as many ways to experience New Orleans as there are people who have contributed to its revered culture.

Meet Stephanie Carter

Stephanie has lived in New Orleans since 1997, except for a couple of years when she bounced around Europe, Mexico, New York, Virginia and West Virginia. She is the author of “The Little Local New Orleans Cookbook,” a forthcoming book about the Louisiana go-cup, and other works.

Want to get in touch?

Email bytheway@washpost.com
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IN THE ACTION
Faubourg Marigny
The Marigny is home to lively music clubs on Frenchmen Street, bohemian bars, eclectic restaurants and colorful Creole cottages. Take in a performance at the Marigny Opera House, a breathtaking church-turned-performance hall. Book a room at Hotel Peter and Paul, a chic former church and schoolhouse, or one of the small inns. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Garden District and Uptown
Massive live oaks draped in Spanish moss and grand antebellum mansions make the Garden District one of the most majestic neighborhoods in New Orleans. Even the cemeteries seem opulent, particularly Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which quietly sits across from the immortally convivial Commander’s Palace restaurant. Magazine Street runs through the neighborhood, as does the iconic St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. Stay at the Chloe, a meticulously restored 19th-century mansion on St. Charles Avenue. Find this neighborhood.
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Eat

BREAKFAST
Bywater Bakery
Chaya Conrad’s cheerful, red bakery doubles as a meeting spot for neighbors in the Bywater. Breakfast “geaux cups” come filled with crawfish étouffée or shrimp over creamy grits, fluffy biscuits and hot sausage gravy. If you rise closer to lunch, try the yakamein. The spicy, restorative noodle soup combines African American and Asian influences. Common at Second Line parades, yakamein’s nickname is “Old Sober.”
BTW: The bakery sells bagels and schmears on Fridays. Though the lines are long, they move quickly and foster friendly conversations with locals.
Bywater Bakery, 3624 Dauphine St., New Orleans, La. 70117
BREAKFAST
Molly’s Rise and Shine
Situated along a quiet portion of Magazine Street, this kitsch-filled cafe is the place to fill up before hitting the local boutiques, antique shops, vintage stores and art galleries. Fluffy, scene-stealing biscuits bookend fried chicken sandwiches and a classic breakfast “sammie.” A bowl of yogurt with granola, mint and carrot marmalade won’t weigh you down quite as much.
BTW: Molly’s Rise and Shine comes from Mason Hereford, who also owns the lauded sandwich shop Turkey and the Wolf nearby.
Molly’s Rise and Shine, 2368 Magazine St., New Orleans, La. 70130
LUNCH
Liuzza’s by the Track
Surrounded by old Jazz Fest posters and horse-racing memorabilia, diners at Liuzza’s tuck into po’ boys that overflow with crispy Gulf oysters doused in garlic butter. Creole gumbo full of invigorating heat is another favorite at the tiny tavern by the Fair Grounds Race Course. The kitchen sautes fresh shrimp to finish bowls of the soup before sending them out. A bar that stretches the length of the dining room pours large, frosty goblets of local beer.
BTW: Situated a few steps from the New Orleans Fair Grounds, Liuzza’s by the Track serves as the block party before, after and during Jazz Fest.
Liuzza’s by the Track, 1518 N Lopez, New Orleans, La. 70119
LUNCH
Banh Mi Boys
Peter Nguyen’s popular sandwich spot speaks to the combination of cultures that resulted when immigrants who fled postwar Vietnam raised their kids in New Orleans. Inside a mural-filled Texaco station in Metairie, customers can order a “chef special” banh mi, full of fried Gulf shrimp tossed in garlicky Cajun butter, or a smoked duck sausage banh mi with apricot pepper jelly.
BTW: Save space (and napkins) for messy fries blanketed in oysters Rockefeller sauce or roast beef “debris.”
5001 Airline Dr., Suite B, Metairie, La. 70001
DINNER
Gabrielle
A dozen long years after Hurricane Katrina forced it to shut down, this beloved family-owned restaurant made a triumphant return in 2017. Gabrielle enjoys a loyal following because it embodies the ideals of New Orleans hospitality: pitch-perfect service and a gracious attitude that seems effortless. The fan-favorite slow-roasted duck sits on a bed of duck dirty rice with a crispy duck cracklin’ as a crown. The dark roux gumbo is surprising for its silkiness, cooked for days and blended into a smooth liquid before heading to the table topped with smoked quail.
BTW: The restaurant’s namesake, owners and chefs Mary and Greg Sonnier’s daughter Gabrielle (she goes by Gigi), is now grown. She runs the restaurant alongside her parents.
Gabrielle, 2441 New Orleans Ave., New Orleans, La. 70119
DINNER
Fritai
Haitian American chef and owner Charly Pierre coolly moves between the dining room and the kitchen in his joy-filled, dimly lit spot in Tremé. He helps out wherever needed, cuing up Kompa and Zouk music in between greeting guests, running food and dropping checks. Dishes such as smothered greens with mirliton (local squash), rice and Creole chicken bridge the gap between Haiti and a place known as the northernmost Caribbean city.
BTW: The cocktail menu is worth exploring. If you only try one, make it the amethyst-hued “Kanaval” with Don Q rum, coconut cream, cinnamon, butterfly tea and lime. For dessert, creme brulee, a New Orleans standard, is brightened with tangy passion fruit.
Fritai, 1535 Basin St., New Orleans, La. 70116
LATE-NIGHT
The Saint Bar & Lounge
It’s a dive — New Orleans-style — so the crowd doesn’t roll in until after midnight, and the bartenders don’t call it quits until 4 or 5 a.m. The Lower Garden District standby feels like a curious, dark den from the 1960s with a strong current of character and indie punk vibes. The drinks are cheap. The crowd is eclectic. The dance floor is sweaty, and there’s plenty of debauchery. If your flight out of New Orleans is the following day, be prepared to miss it.
BTW: The bar hosts a tiki and karaoke night on Tuesdays.
The Saint Bar & Lounge, 961 St. Mary St. New Orleans, La. 70130
LATE-NIGHT
Verti Marte
Verti Marte is a beacon of hope in the darkest hours of the night. While the menu is robust at this French Quarter corner store, you only need to know three words as you approach the deli counter in the back: All That Jazz. It’s a po’ boy layered with grilled ham, turkey, shrimp and two types of cheese, among other things. There’s also a solid muffuletta, the stacked meat and olive-salad sandwich Sicilian immigrants added to the New Orleans culinary canon in the late 19th century, when the French Quarter was still known as “Little Palermo.”
BTW: There’s no seating in the store, so carve out space on the curb outside for prime people-watching. Or carry it to go along with the other locals, tourists and service industry workers who have relied on Verti Marte for more than 60 years.
Verti Marte, 1201 Royal St. New Orleans, La. 70116
(New Orleans illustrator Kelli Laderer for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. If service takes a little longer than it does where you’re from, just remember that you aren’t where you’re from — and that’s the most wonderful thing in the world at the moment.
  2. Locals don’t usually wear beads or eat king cake outside of Mardi Gras season.
  3. Please put your trash and your urine where it belongs. New Orleans has a laissez-faire attitude, but public urination isn’t acceptable.
(New Orleans illustrator Kelli Laderer for The Washington Post)

Do

The Fly
Hidden behind the zoo in Audubon Park, this large waterfront swath of green space known to locals as “the Fly” offers prime views of the massive boats traveling along the mighty Mississippi River. Pack a Frisbee or a book along with a to-go picnic of spicy boiled goodness from Bevi Seafood (worth the drive down Carrollton). New Orleans Daiquiris is within walking distance of the Fly and offers a kaleidoscope of flavors available by the cup or pitcher, perfect for sipping away an afternoon.
BTW: Audubon Park was also the site for the 1884 World’s Fair. Now it is home to a running/walking track, ancient live oaks, a zoo, golf course and playgrounds.
The Fly at Audobon Riverview Park, 6500 Magazine St., New Orleans, La. 70118
Music Box Village
A riot of interactive architecture at the far edge of the Bywater neighborhood, Music Box Village feels surreal. Everything in the artist-made buildings of repurposed materials makes music, including melodic doors, floorboards that sound like different instruments when stepped on, and wind chimes tuned to specific notes. This venue is equally as enchanting for adults as it is for children. Music Box Village hosts concerts and more, so be sure to check the calendar to make sure it is open.
BTW: A snack bar provides water, natural wine, craft cocktails and beer. Pop-ups are announced on its social media channels.
4557 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, La. 70117
Drink and Learn Tour
Drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce leads an immersive romp through New Orleans’s past as told through the lens of its iconic cocktails. Her infectious enthusiasm, encyclopedic knowledge and sharp wit leave a lasting impression. The illustrative drinks included along the way don’t hurt either. The $55 tour runs a couple of hours along the city’s sometimes uneven sidewalks, so wear comfortable shoes.
BTW: Along with bartender Abigail Gullo, Pearce also shares drinks history and culture through her Drink and Learn podcast.
Paddle in Bayou St. John
Bayou St. John is one of the few natural waterways in New Orleans. Starting at Lake Pontchartrain and winding through the heart of the city, it once provided a shortcut for traders looking to access the Mississippi River, though the two no longer connect. It offers views of Creole homes from the late 1700s, the massive, tree-lined City Park and mid-century mansions. Kayak through the bayou with Kayak-iti-yat tours to learn more about this unassuming part of the city.
BTW: History tours are by reservation only, and you must have at least two people. If you want to rent a kayak on your own, check out Bayou Paddlesports instead.
Kayak-iti-yat, 3494 Esplanade Ave. New Orleans, La. 70119
Live music in Tremé
Tremé is the oldest African American neighborhood in the United States, home to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts and Congo Square — where free people of color and enslaved people gathered for markets, meetings and music-making that contributed to the development of jazz. The legacy lives on in high-energy, no-frills music venues. Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge, the funky, color-soaked club where musician Kermit Ruffins himself can often be found tending the barbecue on the back patio, is an excellent spot to catch live, local music.
BTW: When you’re not out listening to live music, tune your radio to 90.7 FM WWOZ, the local jazz and heritage station. Locals rely on the “livewire music calendar” to stay on top of shows around town. The station rattles off the listings at the top of each odd hour.
Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge, 1500 N. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans, La. 70116
Chat up an oyster shucker
At a proper New Orleans raw bar, there’s a special intimacy between customer and shucker. There’s not much standing between you and the person working to release your briny bivalve from its shell. There’s a natural moment to cut up or shoot the breeze. It’s no wonder that oyster shuckers tend to have amazing personalities. Case in point: the wise and funny Thomas “Uptown T” Stewart, a fixture at the oyster bar of Louisiana Italian staple Pascal’s Manale.
BTW: Pascal’s Manale is credited with creating New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, a famous dish of head-on Gulf shrimp bathed in tangy butter.
Pascal’s Manale, 1838 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, La. 70115
Stephanie Carter
Stephanie has lived in New Orleans since 1997, except for a couple of years when she bounced around Europe, Mexico, New York, Virginia and West Virginia. She is the author of “The Little Local New Orleans Cookbook,” a forthcoming book about the Louisiana go-cup, and other works.
Emily Kask
Emily is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in New Orleans.
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CITY GUIDES