New Orleans is a little insane right now. Maybe that sounds silly describing a city where it's not odd to witness a brass band marching past your front porch, with your neighbors dancing behind it. But New Orleans is a little more insane than usual right now. This year, wedged tightly in the middle of the Carnival parades that start Friday, the NFL has brought the Super Bowl to town.
Are you coming for the game? Good. (If not, pay attention, because you should visit soon.) It's not hyperbole to say that New Orleans is one of the greatest cities on the planet in which to celebrate. If you enjoy good food, wine, beer, cocktails and music, it is hard to go wrong.
But it is possible. Arriving here in Carnival season is like being a kid in a candy store—except you're over 21 and the candy is all rich food and strong drink. A friend who came to visit a few years back somehow disappeared between his taxi and the door of his French Quarter hotel. When we finally found him, he said the last thing he remembered was seeing a sign that read "32-ounce beers—$4 each!"
So here are some tips for making the best of a trip down here. This isn't a comprehensive list of the best places to eat and drink. It's a handy cheat sheet for anyone coming to watch the 49ers and the Ravens, or just coming to enjoy our insanity.
Any list could start with New Orleans' two restaurants with Grand Award-winning wine lists. Both Emeril's New Orleans and Commander's Palace know how to take classic New Orleans food, add innovation and fun and pair it with an incredible selection of wines.
The team behind Commander's has a new restaurant in the French Quarter. SoBou offers gourmet food disguised as casual fare, a great cocktail list and a large selection of wines by the glass. The most ambitious new spot in town is Restaurant R'Evolution. Not only are chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto cooking fascinating food, but wine director Molly Wismeier has built an impressive wine list.
If your main concern is not being late for the game, there are options near the Superdome. Chef John Besh is best known for his flagship Restaurant August, but his newest spot is Borgne, in the Hyatt next to the dome. Executive chef Brian Landry offers a great menu of seafood dishes inspired by Louisiana settlers from Spain's Canary Islands and a well-devised list of wines to pair with them. Down the block, Little Gem Saloon was a pioneering jazz club a century ago. It reopened this month with a menu of Creole classics. General manager Chris Ycaza knows wine—he impressively upgraded the cellar at Galatoire's.
Like any great city, New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods. So don't just stay in the French Quarter and the CBD (Central Business District). Wander into the Warehouse District and check out Cochon, Cajun food for the 21st century. Hop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar (the green one) and take a ride Uptown. Between the mansions and leafy streets are numerous bistros in old shotgun houses or corner groceries. Two of my favorites are Lilette and Boucherie.
Take a red Canal Street streetcar to Mid-City to visit Parkway Bakery & Tavern for an education in po-boy greatness. Order the roast beef or fried shrimp, or if you can't decide, the "Surf and Turf." And always ask for your po-boy "dressed."
Hop in a cab to check out Bywater, which has attracted a flock of twentysomethings in recent years. Maurepas offers farm-to-table cooking at good prices.
Anyone can come to New Orleans and drink to excess. Real pros know how to drink well. Your first stop might be your hotel bar. The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt, beautifully restored a few years back, is a temple to Art Deco style. And it's named for the official city cocktail of New Orleans. (What? Your city doesn't have an official cocktail? How sad.) The Monteleone is home to the Carousel Bar, where you get to slowly revolve and watch the Quarter go by. The Grill Room at Windsor Court recently hired mixologist Christine Jeanine Nielsen, who has put together an inventive drinks list to go with an already fantastic wine list.
While cocktails never went out of fashion here, Cure led the way on modern mixology trends in the city and is worth a cab ride Uptown. Its younger sister, Bellocq, is closer downtown and focuses on cobblers—drinks built around aromatized or fortified wines.
When you need a classic, the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's restaurant is managed by one of the smartest men in town, bartender Chris Hannah. Antoine's Hermes Bar is a great way to see the historic restaurant. For wine, Patrick's Bar Vin is a good bet.
My list has only scratched the surface, and the No. 1 hobby in New Orleans is debating where to eat next. So if you've been before or you're a local, let me know what your cheat sheet would include.