The parade route that snakes through downtown New Orleans has always been popular with revelers, but until recently it came with a caveat: Casual spots for quick food and drink along the route were scarce.
But as the area rapidly evolves, so have the options for drinking and dining. As Mardi Gras temporarily transforms downtown New Orleans, these new spots are stepping up to serve the crowds, including restaurants, bars and a pair of food halls making their Mardi Gras debut in 2019.
A boom in new real estate development has drastically changed the look and feel of downtown neighborhoods, with more luxury condos, boutique hotels, office buildings and restaurants opening in one-time warehouses or old parking lots.
Ryan Haro has seen both sides as a longtime downtown resident who has also owned businesses and worked in real estate and restaurants here. He says the change includes an influx of newcomers to the city and retirees looking to downsize. They've boosted the demand for more amenities.
“The Warehouse District and the CBD area are getting way more business because those people are not going to the French Quarter,” said Haro. "They want to stay right there in the midst of enjoying everything close to home. You can go to the Quarter for other stuff — but you’d rather stay out of it because it’s so chaotic during Mardi Gras.”
As Carnival revs, here are some easy options to keep the easy food and drink rolling near the downtown section of route:
The Pythian Market, 234 Loyola Ave.
Roughly four blocks from St. Charles Avenue, the downtown food hall’s long list of vendors offers a good variety for large groups with different tastes looking to either fuel up before a parade or wind down and replenish afterward.
For those starting out their morning before the day parades, Edison’s Espresso and Tea Bar serves hot and cold coffee drinks, including the spot’s signature Edison — a sweet eye-opener made with cold brew, espresso, caramel syrup and milk. A Saturday jazz brunch also features morning dishes from 13 of the market’s vendors, mimosa and Bloody Mary specials, and musical performances from a live jazz ensemble.
From jerk chicken and fried plantains at the Jamaican spot 14 Parishes to Little Fig’s falafel and hummus plates and La Cocinita’s carne asada-stuffed arepas, global flavors abound at this food hall. During the “happiest hour,” from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, all food is under $10, including tuna nachos from Kais, a slider and French fries from Frencheeze and wood-oven pizza from Meribo Pizza.
At the market’s Bar 1908, parade-goers will find plenty of Carnival-themed quaffs like king cake-flavored frozen cocktails ($10 for a small) and a Mardi Gras beer and a shot deal for $8.
The market also serves as a one-stop-shop for king cake pick-ups. The line up includes a selection of cakes from popular local bakeries like Nonna Randazzo's and Gracious Bakery and an ice cream king cake from Quintin’s Natural.
Heads up to parade goers: Pythian Market is closed on Fat Tuesday.
Auction House Market, 801 Magazine St.
The polished food hall on the corner of Julia and Magazine streets from the developers of St. Roch Market is home to 10 vendors and offers plenty of different ideas for food and drinks just one block off St. Charles Avenue.
Here, international options like Indian dosa spot Tava and Thai street food concept Long Chim are coupled with a handful of vendors offering plenty in the way of healthier food, for those looking to mitigate some of the inevitable Carnival excess.
Hawaiian poke concept Aloha Lei features both fresh sushi rolls as well as colorful poke bowls and the vegetable-focused Happy Jaxx features fresh fruit smoothies, breakfast grain bowls, and toasts with a variety of toppings from a barbecued jackfruit with vegan slaw to a garlic shrimp with peanuts and egg.
For a Carnival-themed sweet treat, the king cake macaroon tart from bakery Mac and Moon features purple, green and gold macaroons topping a cream-filled tart that’s both gluten-free and vegan.
Sofia, 516 Julia St.
Carbs are key when laying a foundation for a big night out, and Italian newcomer Sofia has plenty to offer in that arena.
Wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas anchor the menu at this modern Italian eatery, including a spicy clam pie topped with chili oil, clams, Grana Padano cheese, parsley and plenty of garlic, and a rib-sticking malfaldine, which comes swimming in a hearty pork Bolognese. For smaller appetites, the restaurant’s long bar provides a nice spot to cozy up for a quick glass of wine selection of antipasto before heading back to the route.
On Saturday and Sunday (March 2 and 3) the restaurant will open a walk-up window from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for parade goers to grab pizzas, small plates and drinks to go.
Flamingo A-Go-Go, 869 Magazine St.
For those looking for the French Quarter Mardi Gras experience without having to cross Canal Street, the over-the-top décor and fish bowl-sized “flocktails” here peddle in sensory overload.
A sprawling outdoor patio offers a nice respite to sit and relax while king cake daiquiris provide a sugary pick-me-up and a long list of bar snack, flatbreads and burgers provide plenty of fodder to soak up that excess alcohol.
The sound of the drum line marching closer isn’t the only rumbling you hear during Carnival in New Orleans.