500 Chartres St., French Quarter
The Napoleon House is the tourist trap that is well worth the hassle to visit. Smack in the heart of the French Quarter, it is the enclave that was built for Napoleon had he ever arrived into New Orleans. He didn’t. The walls, the paintings, the bar, and the bar staff however, breathe history and realness. They have vegan beans and rice for lunch, and it’s worth the wait in line for the sweet tea alone. If you’re going to have a Sazerac in New Orleans, have it here. Have two, and don’t call us.
820 N. Rampart St., French Quarter
Okay, this is the real deal: easily one of our favorite return-to bars in New Orleans. This joint concocts drinks according to the recipe from the year the drink was invented. So you get lots of authentic pre–Civil War and 1920s recipes, made from rum and gin (I don’t drink gin, ever!…but I do here…) It’s basic, with little fanfare, and there's no need to shout here—there’s enough of that three blocks away. This is real, carefully and lovingly prepared, super authentic, and reasonable. And on Sundays, there are a couple of crock-pots in the back booth with beans and rice to deaden or carb out the inevitable weekend hangover.
Central Grocery & Deli
923 Decatur St., French Quarter
Like the po’boy, beignet, and gumbo, the muffuletta is a classic New Orleans culinary treat. Picture a thick loaf of Sicilian sesame bread stuffed with salami, ham, pepperoni, marinated olives, and pickled vegetables and you get the idea. And the place to get what is possibly the city’s best version is at Central Grocery, in the French Quarter. It makes sense, as the sandwich is said to have been invented by founder Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant who opened the place in 1906. It’s worth ordering more than one, as the sandwiches keep well and make great midnight snacks.
813 Bienville St., French Quarter
If you haven’t been to Sunday brunch at Arnaud’s to listen to live Dixie jazz, have you really been to New Orleans? Some locals would answer with a resounding no. A French Quarter restaurant on lively Bourbon Street, Arnaud’s (like its iconic neighbor around the corner, Galatoire’s) has been around for over a century. Waiters in black tie deftly waltz around the grand, high-ceilinged dining room to serve shrimp bisque, crab cakes, Belgian waffles, and chicken and andouille gumbo. It’s also home to French 75—one of our favorite bars in the city, especially for its Garden Mayahuel (Cabeza tequila, mezcal, ginger, pineapple, basil, and lime juice), once the sun sets.
209 Bourbon St., French Quarter
Step through the door at this New Orleans dining institution, and you might forget what decade it is. The dining room—full of French bistro chairs, white tablecloths, and ceiling fans—seems virtually unchanged since 1905, when the restaurant opened. But it’s the crowd, decked out in their old-school Sunday best (even during the week), that is really transportive. We’re talking gents in bow ties and seersucker suits (jackets are required), and ladies in pale-pink and pistachio dresses. The menu is similarly unaffected by modern trends, full of classic dishes like the seafood okra gumbo (Louisiana shrimp, oysters, shellfish stock, and okra in a light roux) and the avocado and crabmeat salad. This is New Orleans as its best, and your experience in the city is practically incomplete without a meal here.
Arnaud’s French 75
813 Bienville St., French Quarter
Although French 75 is part of the legendary restaurant Arnaud’s (they share the same 1918 building in the French Quarter), it’s worth a stop in its own right. The cocktails here are mixed by a team of New Orleans’s finest bartenders, and we’d recommend the namesake drink (Courvoisier cognac, cane sugar, lemon juice, and Moët & Chandon). If you don’t plan to move on to Arnaud’s for dinner, the small bites here—like the Brie and jalapeño-stuffed shrimp or black-eyed pea beignets—will tide you over until your next meal.
Krewe du Optic
809 Royal St., French Quarter
Krewe founder Stirling Barrett knows how to create an experience. Krewe is fundamentally a sunglasses store, but it’s also a hidden spot to have a coffee and just hang out. Like the city behind the brand, these frames are unusual, sometimes quirky, and beautifully crafted. Set aside time to visit Barrett’s plant-filled, showroom-style store and you won’t be able to leave without indulging in a pair of these special frames. Slow burners, indecisive shoppers, and general passersby can take a seat in the sunny, brick-walled alley outside for a coffee break.
The Spa at Windsor Court
300 Gravier St., French Quarter
Cocooning robes, a eucalyptus steam room (we recommend sweating it out there pretreatment), and Swarovski crystals lining the ceiling of the reception area set the decidedly plush tone that encourages you to (happily) disconnect. The popular Classic Court Facial is a mashup of rousing face massage, gentle exfoliation, plumping masks, plus add-on therapies like LED lights, microdermabrasion, and oxygen treatments.
738 Royal St., French Quarter
Masks are a defining element of Mardi Gras celebrations and have become a symbol of sorts for the city as a whole, making them the souvenir of choice for tourists. The super intricate iterations sold at this Royal Street gallery are nothing short of heirloom quality—a far cry from the flimsy plastic stuff you can find in every run of the mill gift shop. In addition to the leather, feather, and bejeweled stunners handmade by resident artist Dalili, there’s also a selection of imported masks from Venice.
726 St. Peters St., French Quarter
Preservation Hall is an institution: This art gallery-turned-concert hall has been at it for the last 50 years, nurturing local talent and forming a traveling house band to help spread jazz around the world. The space is cramped and the lines to get in are long, so don’t bank on snagging one of the few seats. And while there’s no booze served inside (hence the all-ages-welcome policy), they do allow outside drinks. There are shows at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm every night.