If there’s one city where it really pays to do your research, it’s definitely New Orleans. Yet despite the inundation of lists and guides that are available for clueless travelers, many people who come to celebrate their impending nuptials, partake in Mardi Gras revelry, or simply have a celebratory weekend tend to be ill-prepared or (all too frequently) ill-behaved, taking overindulgence to the extreme night after night, much to the chagrin of locals and fellow visitors alike.
If you’re looking to dodge the tourist traps and enjoy the city without looking like a jabroni, take some advice from a local and keep these commandments in mind as you wend your way through Crescent City.
Oh, and if anybody asks you where you got them shoes? They’re on your feet.
1. Don’t stand in line for oysters (or ham).
There will be lines of people baking (er, standing) in the sweltering heat to get into some of the tourist-heavy spots in the French Quarter (e.g., Acme Oyster House) for oysters. There will also be people who think a certain maternally named restaurant has the world’s best baked ham. Avoid all of this mess and find better, cheaper oysters (when in season) at spots that don’t require a two-hour wait. During oyster season, Casamento’s (4330 Magazine St) is a retro classic worthy of the trip Uptown, where shuckers stay on staff for decades and can open the bivalves with lightening-fast precision. If you’re headed towards Mid-City, The Half Shell regularly has some of the plumpest oysters and the kind of low-key neighborhood vibe that will keep you around for a second dozen. (Photo: NewOrleans.com)
2. Know your food and drink seasons.
It’s a pretty hard-and-fast rule in Louisiana to only eat oysters in months with an r in them, and that crawfish season runs roughly from late December until May. Other seasons, though, are often just as important, including citrus seasons (November through February) for the best kumquats and oranges, and blue-crab season, which provides up some of the Gulf’s best delicacies during the summer months. While a number of bakeries are adept at making sweets properly in line with the seasons, the Bywater’s Shake Sugary (3600 St. Claude Ave) is particularly tuned-in to making use of the city’s fruit and vegetable bounty. (Photo: New Orleans Food Fest)
3. Eat red beans and rice on Monday.
You might scoff at the idea of eating such a simple meal in a city teeming with decadent, sweet, and boozy alternatives, but there’s something special about the city’s ritual of serving up red beans every Monday night. (Plus, it’s delicious.) While you can find the dish on plenty of menus and in a fair number of bars for free, don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to someone’s house for a big bowl. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head out for a red beans-specific bar crawl to dive bars across the 7th Ward and Central City, including Teddy’s Hole in the Wall (2701 2nd St), where there’s also live jazz. (Photo: The Clever Cleaver)
4. The Ramos Gin Fizz is a brunch drink.
Ordering a Ramos Gin Fizz after brunch hours is roughly the equivalent of trying to get eggs Benedict at 8pm: you’re not going to make any friends with that kind of nonsense. If it’s past brunch time, order literally any other cocktail on the planet (if you’re sticking with New Orleans-themed drinks, err on the side of a Vieux Carre or Sazerac) until the sun starts to rise, then a Ramos is fair game again. If you’re a first-timer, try the fizz at at its classic home base (and Tales of the Cocktail hub), the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. (Photo: Flickr/Edsel Little)
5. Snoballs are not snow cones.
Snoball season runs from March through October, and offers up one of the greatest frozen treats in the United States for a limited time each year. Snoball ice is fluffier than the average, coarse ice found in a snow cone, and comes in a wide range of styles like stuffed (filled with ice cream) and “cream flavored” (mixed with evaporated milk). Everyone eventually picks a favorite spot, but the granddaddy of them all is Hansen’s (4801 Tchoupitoulas St), where lines wrap around the block for a taste of the decades-old favorite. (Photo: Defend New Orleans)
6. New Orleans food isn’t just “Cajun” food.
Here’s the deal: Cajun food hails from the Acadiana region of South Louisiana, which is anchored by the town of Lafayette and begins to take shape in earnest when you get about an hour-and-a-half outside of Orleans Parish. New Orleans’ food stems primarily from a Creole tradition, and in spite of some cross-pollination, the differences in the two culinary traditions are vast. Creole food counts among its ranks dishes like crawfish etouffee, yakamein, and eggs Sardou, while must-try Cajun dishes include boudin, cochon de lait, and the sweet, custardy bouillie pie. Beyond Donald Link’s Cochon and Cochon Butcher, the Mosquito Supper Club pop-up offers some of New Orleans’ best Cajun food without leaving parish limits. (Photo: The High Heeled Contessa)
7. Don’t Eat King Cake Out of Season, Eat Doberge Cake.
If you’re coming to New Orleans during carnival season (which runs between Three King’s Day and Mardi Gras Day annually), you’re more than welcome to scarf down all the king cake your arteries can handle, from cream cheese-filled to the gold foil-topped varieties at restaurants like Domenica. If it’s not in season, though, it’s terribly bad luck (and poor form) to eat king cake. Instead, snack on doberge cake—a local delicacy featuring thin layers of cake and pudding layered together and covered in rich ganache. (Photo: Gambino’s)
8. Watch your pronunciations and know (a little) ordering lingo.
It’s crawfish, not crayfish; po-boy, not poor boy. You’re going to want your po-boy “dressed” (i.e., with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise), and you might want “debris” (sloppy roast beef) with your fries. Just do it and thank me later. (Photo: neworleans.me)
9. Eat Vietnamese Food.
New Orleans is home to one of the most significant Vietnamese populations in the U.S., which means there are some amazing restaurants for pho and bánh mí. While you can’t walk a block these days without running into a Vietnamese joint in almost every neighborhood, the best restaurants remain either on New Orleans’ West Bank or in New Orleans East. If you’re feeling up for the trip, a stop at the Saturday morning Vietnamese Farmers Market (14401 Alcee Fortier Blvd) followed by a Vietnamese meatball bánh mí from Dong Phoung Bakery is one of the city’s best culinary excursions. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
10. Go ahead and have a drink on Bourbon Street—if only for the experience.
It goes without saying not to overindulge on Bourbon Street, especially in flip-flops and a camouflage tank. But to be honest, there is something otherworldly about walking down that dank corridor, even if it does smell like some combination of vomit, sugar, and liquor. Take a night to get it out of your system—stroll down the street with a technicolor Shark Attack or Hand Grenade in your clutches, and watch the hollering masses dance and carouse in the neon. Then move on—there’s a lot more to discover beyond Bourbon. (Photo: Team Tizzel)