Checklist: New Orleans Like a Native

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Plenty lies beyond the French Quarter’s confines. New Orleans is a study in juxtapositions—fragrant magnolias throwing waxy shade over sidewalks fractured from soft rains; freshly built homes casting long shadows over weedy lots whose homes washed away in the storm. It is these stark contrasts, though, that make time spent in this heat-swollen city all the more lovely.

Here’s how to visit New Orleans like a native.

1. District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew

Come into District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew for the coffee—served cold on tap, if you like—and the saucer-size doughnuts, with daily flavor offerings ranging from salted caramel to maple sriracha. Stay for the flaky buttermilk biscuit crowned with a poached-to-perfection egg and miso praline bacon for a smack of umami. Lunch offerings include fried chicken sliders studded with candied jalapeños and a sweet and spicy slaw.

2. City Park

A place that marks time in pre- and post-storm increments, City Park shines as a benchmark of progress. The park, comprising some 1,300 acres, brims with experiences, all settled beneath moss-slicked oaks. Bob in a pedal boat on the Big Lake, seek shade in Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage in Storyland, picnic in a field of wild-flowers or walk among the sculpture gardens in this “choose your own adventure-style” park.

3. Cowbell

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Photo by Claire Vath

“More cowbell” may be one of most overused Saturday Night Live platitudes, but a meal at Oak Street’s eclectic Cowbell, an old gas station turned restaurant, feels decidedly less cliché. Don’t let the casual space with its reclaimed wood-lined walls and bottle cap art fool you. Cowbell masters the art of upscale comfort food with a menu including perfectly crisped fries with tangy house-made ketchup or agogo sauce. Order the fish tacos or the Cowbell’s Locally World Famous Cowbell Burger topped with a dollop of zinfandel, bacon and onion compote.

4. Cure

You won’t find a sign on Cure’s building, which keeps the tourists away. Five years ago, the cocktail bar opened in a former fire station, and it fits neatly into Freret Street’s casual vibe with its unassuming gray brick facade. Golden light commingles with the appreciative murmurs of patrons, providing a soothing ambiance in this industrial-style watering hole. Cure’s happy hour Sazeracs—rye and bitters served in an absinthe-rinsed glass—are deliciously refreshing, and their liquor selection is particularly impressive.

5. Lilette

Tucked into a shady corner of Magazine Street, Lilette quietly announces itself with gold leaf etched letters. The classic French bistro with its white tin ceiling and movie theater-esque red velvet walls provides a respite from the humidity and bustle of the city. Menus change seasonally, but summers are the perfect time to refresh with an island of chilled crabmeat and avocado ringed with a light corn broth. Linger over The Last Word, a chartreuse-infused cocktail, for a particularly rosy lunch.

6. Frenchmen Street

Head to the Marigny (pronounced “MEH-ri-nee”) where Bohemian cottages stand shoulder to shoulder, and music spills into the streets. Duck into Frenchmen Street clubs like The Spotted Cat, d.b.a., Apple Barrel, Blue Nile, or Snug Harbor for an
intimate evening with New Orleans legends—the soul-punched timbre of John Boutte and Charmaine Neville, or the piano renderings of old classics from a Marsalis brother. Even out on the street, you can catch music groups spitting notes from the bells of their horns.

7. Plum Street Snoballs

Snowball stands are as ubiquitous on South Louisiana street corners as stop signs, and everyone here has a favorite, like Plum Street Snoballs. The screen door springs scream as you walk in, announcing your entrance into this charming hideaway. Order anything but a small, and you’ll be handed a Chinese takeout carton brimming with syrup-soaked ice shaved as fine as a fresh snow.

Claire Vath is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala., who covers everything from beauty, parenting and travel to agriculture and concrete. She likes craft cocktails, trips to the beach and her perfect circle of mom friends who commiserate over the weirdness that is parenthood.

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