Just a few years ago, it was easy to play the role of concierge to friends and family visiting the city for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It wasn’t hard to show off your singular but tourist-friendly take on New Orleans, sending them home with memories of one hell of a good time.
It’s not so easy when your arrivals have been around the block a few times and show up hip to the must-visit staples of the city: the culinary temples, the neighborhood bars, live music clubs, curiosity shops and outdoor destinations.
The problem doesn’t lie in a shortage of choices. Rather, it’s that there are so many.
We let a cocktail shaker of handpicked New Orleanians provide their insider lists.
Mind you, resident know-it-alls, we know that some of the venues picked here are obvious to you, but they’re worth a second look. Clip and save for your next visitor tour.
STEVE WATSON, proprietor, Kingpin Bar, Midway Pizza
Meyer the Hatter, 120 St. Charles Ave.: Classic millinery with an old-style window display. Timeless. Hang with Sam Meyer, whose family has owned it since hats were invented. I usually advise friends to spruce up a fedora with a feather, which they sell for like three bucks — triples the value. And make sure you buy one of their signature hat boxes — they’re keepsakes to bring back on the plane.
Cochon, 930 Tchoupitoulas St.: I know it’s on the tourist list now, but I always recommend going there. It’s set back in the Warehouse District, providing a nice break from the chaos of the Quarter.
The Little People’s Place, 1226 Barracks St.: It’s the place to go see a brass band in Treme … and ice cold beer, too.
Domilise’s Po-boys and Bar, 5240 Annunciation St.: The day friends are leaving town, I take them to this way Uptown po-boy classic and tell them to get in the line and order the shrimp, a bag of Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators and a Barq’s root beer. It always reminds me of the uniqueness of this town.
Sunday brunch at Patois, 6078 Laurel St.: Avoid the lines at the overbooked brunch spots. It’s always a great time. Stick around when things slow down and have a Jack Daniels with owner Leon and Chef Aaron, both of whom have crazy tales to tell.
BIG CHIEF JUAN PARDO, Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians
Mais Arepas, 1200 Carondelet St.: It’s a corner storefront restaurant in Central City that serves authentic Colombian. I get the chorizo and pulled pork with a glass of Cava Brut. They’re known for their cornmeal cakes, potato soup, spicy grilled corn rolled in cheese and skirt steaks.
Thursday Nights at Vaughan’s Lounge, 4229 Dauphine St.: Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet have taken the weekly slot long held by Kermit Ruffins. Corey’s a great trombonist, and it’s a fun scene at this ramshackle Bywater bar. The band sets up in a little corner, and the crowd spills out onto the street.
Da Truth Brass Band: I know that tourists may just fall into them playing here, but I take friends to see Da Truth Brass Band when they perform on the sidewalk by the Foot Locker on Canal Street. They never disappoint.
Congo Square and its neighborhood bars: I always work in a trip here to get the spirit grounded. And nearby Armstrong Park, you have the Ooh Pooh Pah Doo Bar (1931 Orleans Ave.), the Mother-in-Law Lounge (1500 N. Claiborne Ave.) and all the Treme spots.
LARISSA RACHEL, webmaster and graphic designer for Touro Infirmary
NOLA Smokehouse, 739 Jackson Ave.: It’s in the Irish Channel on a corner of Jackson Avenue near the old hospital where I was born. This BBQ spot opened last year. To say it’s the best barbecue I’ve ever had is an understatement. Its limited hours — Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. ’til 3 p.m. or until they sell out — makes it that more special to take visitors. Get the brisket.
Clancy’s: The lobster risotto is not to be missed at this white-tablecloth Uptown old-school establishment. It feels formal, but it’s a fun clubhouse. It’s all tucked away in a residential neighborhood, a destination spot.
The Chart Room, 300 Chartres St.: The French Quarter has no shortage of dives, but this bar off the path is where Uptown comes to go Downtown gritty. It’s tourists and locals at the proverbial drinking hole. Say hi to Miss Lisa, the classiest bartender in the Quarter.
Crescent City Steaks, 1001 N. Broad St.: With that vintage neon sign beckoning you, this Mid-City classic on Broad Street seems frozen in time more than the many other like-minded dining temples. It really transports you. The steaks come sizzling in butter, New Orleans style. Request one of the private curtained booths, or bring a group of friends.
Yo Mama’s Bar & Grill, 727 St. Peter St.: Topped with everything from peanut butter to caviar, this burger spot stays open late. It’s the alternative to the always-reliable Port of Call.
TORY McPHAIL, executive chef, Commander’s Palace, SoBou
R Bar, 1431 Royal St.: Because it’s the ultimate two-for-one: On Monday nights, you can get a shot of well liquor and a haircut for 10 bucks at this fun bar, which has long provided one-stop shopping for young line cooks of New Orleans. Good pool table, too.
Tan Dinh, 1705 Lafayette St., 96: “Vietnamese” isn’t what visitors think of when they come (to New Orleans), yet it’s a vibrant part of our culinary history. I take them to this Gretna spot, on the West Bank. The menu is massive, but the thing to get is this thick sugar cane stick dish, which is wrapped with grilled shrimp paste or char pork meatballs. It’s an elaborate do-it-yourself at the table, involving rice paper, pickled vegetables and this opaque fish bowl of boiling water that looks like you’d put Sea Monkeys in it. The result is to die for, seriously the cat’s balls.
The Saint Bar & Lounge, 961 St. Mary St.: Marked only by a fleur de lis, this Lower Garden District bar is a great last stop. Rather than elbow round the packed super-young front bar, with all the hipster craziness, seep your way through a curtain in back, and you’ll find this open-air woody tiki-like bar. It’s got a great vibe, and you can actually converse in it. We don’t go ’til like 1:30 a.m.
Superior Seafood, St. Charles and Napoleon avenues: It may look like a random restaurant chain from the outside, but inside it’s kind of grandly appointed, like a French train station bistro. And they have an incredible frozen take on the French 75, made with gin, champagne and lemon. It’s the antithesis of the sickly-sweet staple. And their happy hour raw oyster bar is one of the best, because the oysters are actually served nice and chilly, which is often not the case in better known raw bars.
PAUL COSTELLO, photographer
The Sandpiper Lounge, 2119 Louisiana Ave.: It’s my No. 1 place I take visitors … but that comes with an asterisk. It has to be Friday or Saturday night when they have a deejay. Such good music, classic soul, funk and disco, and great dancing. Outside on Louisiana Avenue, there’s folks grilling in 50-gallon drums. We get “the set-up,” the original bottle service.
Casa Borrega, 1710 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.: From a design point, this Greek Revival house-turned-Mexican cantina — on a quiet stretch of Oretha Castle Haley — is so well-curated, a kind of Santeria chic. The courtyard is super-romantic. It’s my favorite place to get a michelada — they do them perfectly. Besides the fresh tamales and chiles rellenos, I’ve seen some great live music there, unexpected, and not always Mexican-influenced.
Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Ave.: It’s a rare place where you get dressed up for lunch in an iconic culinary temple that serves some of the best New Creole cuisine and … 25-cent martinis? The daily specials are always inspired and unexpected, too.
Coco Hut, 2315 Bayou Rd.: Nobody in town, not even Peche, makes more fresh and delicious fish than this little Caribbean lunch spot. The owner’s name is Mother Nature, and she’s a trip. She grills the fish on a BBQ on the sidewalk. It’s like you’re in someone’s house with just a few inside tables and a couple two-tops on the street. Get one of the fresh cane juice drinks.
Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter St.: It may seem super-obvious, but I always take visitors here. To me, it’s just magic.
ANDREW FREEMAN, associate, Bond Public Relations
New Orleans Athletic Club, 222 N. Rampart St.: Sometimes, my guests get a little tired of the requisite overindulgence, so I take them with guest passes to the only old-school and truly historic gym in town … with a full bar and a formal ballroom complete with chandeliers.
Holt Cemetery: This City Park-area 19th century potter’s field was created as a cemetery for the indigent population, and it’s one of the few here with in-ground burials. When a storm’s rolling in, I bring houseguests to stroll its overgrown paths and marvel at the handmade crosses.
Piazza d’Italia: Charles Moore’s 1978 postmodern masterpiece sits on a corner (of Lafayette Street) in the CBD. The plaza is an architectural fever dream with fountains, columns and neon.
The Country Club, 634 Louisa St.: Gone are the halcyon days of clothing-optional swimming, but spending a day poolside at this Bywater watering hole still feels like being transported to a different universe. Civilized debauchery.
Golden Lantern Bar, 1239 Royal St.: This dive-y gay lounge has been on Royal Street for over 40 years. I’m pretty sure some of the drag queens that perform at their not-to-miss Saturday night revue have been on stage for at least that same amount of time.
The Delachaise, 3442 St. Charles Ave.: My go-to spot, so I naturally bring visitors to sit on the front patio facing St. Charles to watch the streetcars pass, ogle the runners and share a bottle of wine over an order of goose fat fries.
BEN JAFFE, tuba player and band director, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Salvo’s Seafood 7742 Louisiana 23, Belle Chasse: A West Bank family-friendly seafood joint, you go for the giant platters of hot boiled crabs, crawfish and shrimps. This is a no-frills local spot. Dress accordingly; it’s going to get messy.
Euclid, Dominos, The Mushroom, Peaches: We still have more (mostly) independent music stores than most cities. They’re run by locals who know their stuff. Doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it. They carry all the local music you can’t find anywhere else and some new discovery.
Lost Love Lounge, 2529 Dauphine St.: You’d never know it from the outside, but there’s a Vietnamese restaurant hidden in the back of this great bar.
Candlelight Lounge, 925 N. Robertson St.: It’s one of the last remaining places to hear brass bands in Tremé. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the Tremé Brass Band, led by the legendary Benny Jones who comes from a long line of musicians.
Siberia, 2227 St. Claude Ave.: My favorite very happening strip is St. Claude Avenue, where you can hop from one music club to another. Siberia is a rock club, relatively small, room for about only 50 people. In the rear is a phenomenal Russian cafe. If you tell the doorman you’re there to dine, too, they’ll let you in. Get a cold vodka shot to start with; that’s how it’s done.
JOHN BERENDT, author, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” French Quarter resident
Li’l Dizzy’s Café, 1500 Esplanade Ave.: Order from the menu or keep going back to the all-you-can-eat buffet (my choice). The star of this Creole soul food place is the superb fried chicken. Then there are the collards, grits, sweet potato and barbecue — it’s all constantly being refreshed.
El Gato Negro, 81 French Market Place: An authentic Mexican restaurant nestled behind the French Market. Food first-rate, prices modest, service fast and friendly. Your waiter will whip up a tasty tableside guacamole.
Pascal’s Manale, 1838 Napoleon Ave.: This Uptown family-owned classic is known for its barbecued shrimp. But my favorite at lunchtime is Oysters Dante with deep-fried oysters served atop penne … Come on a Friday afternoon to watch the locals slurp down happy hour raw oysters at the stand-up bar.
Kermit Ruffins, trumpeter/singer/bandleader the Barbecue Swingers; owner, The Mother-in-Law Lounge
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park: City Park’s thrill rides are off-the-wall fun. The rollercoaster is hilarious; scares the hell out of 5-year-olds and 50-year-olds. The carousel is a thing of beauty, 100 years old and hand-carved.
The Joint, 701 Mazant St.: You can smell the aroma of the wood blocks away from this BBQ spot on a quiet Bywater corner. Best barbecue ribs and Bloody Marys. I love that it’s so close to the river and you can see the bridge at night. I like to go out back and watch the rotisserie. I call it the Spinning Elephant, because it’s shaped like one and it never stops, just keeps spinning 24 hours a day.
Tapps II, 2800 S. Rocheblave St.: My bass player, Kevin Morris, has set up an incredible Wednesday night jam at this mom-and-pop bar in Central City. You never know what musicians are going to show up. Total spontaneity. It may look like a rough neighborhood but it’s old school. The music is ridiculous.
St. Roch Market, 2381 St. Claude Ave.: St. Claude Avenue is booming, and now, with this just-opened seafood and produce market — with every sort of food and sandwich vendor you can imagine — it’s going to get bigger. Get there before they finish the streetcar line. The place is airy and great-looking. You go there toward the end of the day and then can go club-hopping at some of the most varied of places for good music in the city. St. Claude’s the new Frenchmen Street.
St. Augustine Church, 1210 Gov. Nicholls St., and St. Peter Claver Church, 1923 St. Philip St.: We have so many wonderful churches for music and powerful sermons. These two Catholic churches, both beautiful and in Tremé, are my favorites for taking visitors to have an experience. You can dress with respect or just show up in a Saints shirt and jeans. They’re welcoming.