I fell in love with New Orleans the first moment the skyline appeared on the horizon as I drove into the city on I-10. We had driven all night, and the sun was just coming up. I was lucky enough to live there for seven years and work for the amazing Tulane Libraries. When I moved away from New Orleans just over a year and a half ago, I knew it had forever changed me. When you come to New Orleans for the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, embrace the magic of what you find, and let it change you just a little bit in the few days you’re there.
And New Orleans loves librarians! ALA was the first conference to come back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. People still reminisce about the librarians coming back to the city! New Orleans librarians were (and are) rock stars! If you meet a real, live New Orleans librarian while you’re there, stop and say hello. They have incredible stories about getting through the storm. While we all love our profession, a New Orleans librarian is a very special kind of librarian.
I live in New York City now, and even with all of the many things the Big Apple has to offer, I miss New Orleans every day. So, as someone who loves the city, I offer my recommendations for food and things to do while visiting. Want to view these recommendations while you’re on the go? Bookmark the full-screen view of this interactive map.
The CBD and Warehouse District
This summer, ALA is being held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which sits on the border of the Central Business District (CBD) and the Warehouse District of New Orleans. Just outside of the Quarter, this strange area of the city is home to many excellent places where you can eat and explore, all of which are easily accessible from where conference-goers are staying. What’s with Poseidon riding an alligator, you ask? Just go with it—you’re in New Orleans!
Mardi Gras World (1380 Port of New Orleans Pl.) – Just on the south side of the convention center, Mardi Gras World is an amazing place to stop for a taste of the magic that is Mardi Gras. Go see the floats and the artists that make up the parades touted all over the world for their beauty and the astonishment they bring. While Annual Conference happens at the wrong time of year to experience the real thing, Mardi Gras World can give you a tantalizing taste. Blaine Kern Studios really does create magic that will take your breath away.
Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas St.) – Locals joke that when you can spell “Tchoupitoulas” from memory, then you, too, can consider yourself a local! For anyone who loves pork, Cochon is the place to go. This is solid, down-home cooking for carnivores. On this Cajun-Southern menu, you can find smoked pork ribs, boudin (a NOLA classic!), pork cheek, shrimp, rabbit, and many other delicious things. Cochon is always an excellent night out. This is also one you’ll see on travel shows and foodie lists.
La Boca (870 Tchoupitoulas St.) – La Boca is one of my all-time favorites and was always the first place I thought of when I wanted a really nice meal. This one’s also for the meat lovers. The Argentine-style steak house will really make you sit back and say “Wow!” Their steaks will blow you away, of course, but the restaurant also has an excellent wine list, plus great sides and desserts. I especially love their flash fried Brussels sprouts, which will make even the strongest veggie-hater sit up and beg for more. La Boca will make further discussions of workflow efficiencies and strategic planning much less stressful and, dare I say it, maybe even a little bit enjoyable!
The Daily Beet (1000 Girod St.) – A restaurant for the vegetarians and the more health conscious among us! The Daily Beet offers lighter choices for those who might not want a heavy meal in the midst of your crazy conference experience. Focused on local and healthy food, the Daily Beet is there to pick you up and get you through the day. For salads, freshly pressed juices, and quinoa-inspired dishes, this restaurant is your stop. It’s also conveniently located near the World War II Museum and the streetcar line.
Stumptown Coffee (610 Carondelet St.) – This was a new coffee shop that showed up right as I was leaving New Orleans, and, boy, do I miss it! Located inside the Ace Hotel (where some of you might be staying), this cold-brew focused café has a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere and the best cold coffees to help you handle the heat. Recommended by myself and all of my NOLA friends, Stumptown is definitely on my own to-do list this conference!
The Garden District
Right next to the CBD and the Warehouse District is the famous Garden District. Take the St. Charles Avenue street car all the way down the line to see the true beauty of the Garden District. Home to many famous people (including yours truly back in the day), the Garden District is a decadent experience. It was hard to pare down my selections to suggest to y’all because there are so many good ones!
Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave.) – From the same people who brought you Cochon comes Herbsaint, known for a mixture of Italian, French, and Cajun-Creole cooking. Located on historic St. Charles Avenue, this restaurant offers a beautiful experience in addition to the beautiful food they serve. A great place to sit back, relax, and eat some amazing food after a long day of networking.
Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave.) – If you want the full, formal, Southern dining experience, Commander’s Palace is the place to go. This is where you wear your white gloves and best dress for a real formal dinner. Commander’s is also known for their fifty-cent martinis at lunch. I loved their jazz brunch and the full accoutrement of dining there. I usually avoid the fancy restaurants that most people recommend in New Orleans, but Commander’s is an exception.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (1420 Washington Ave.) – Right across the street from Commander’s Palace is one of the infamous cemeteries of New Orleans. Free to walk through at your leisure, this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in town, and I guarantee you’ve seen it before in the movies and on TV. Supposedly Anne Rice was inspired by this cemetery, as well, though that may or may not recommend it to you! Tours are available through different tour groups, but I loved just walking through on my own. Unlike many NOLA cemeteries, it is non-segregated and non-denominational. It closes early, though, so get there first thing. If you want to be really adventurous, walk down Washington Avenue across St. Charles Avenue and down another couple of blocks to see Lafayette No. 2. This cemetery has not been so well kept, but you’ll still see some interesting things. There used to be a tomb for sale by owner!
Pho Orchid (2135 St. Charles Ave.) – A tiny little Vietnamese kitchen hidden right off the St. Charles Avenue street car line. I walked past Pho Orchid many times before finally walking in and trying it. New Orleans has a great tradition of Vietnamese food, and this humble spot is not to be missed. I’ve never had something here that I didn’t like. Nothing fancy, but fast and affordable, with options for all dietary preferences, this is a good place to stop to fill up before running off to your next conference meeting.
The Rum House (3128 Magazine St.) – A super fun, laid-back Caribbean-style restaurant located on Magazine Street, which you should definitely check out anyway! Jerk chicken tacos, Cuban-style pork, brisket, delicious salads, and very original side dishes—I recommend the roasted poblano polenta. With a great bar and outdoor seating, the Rum House is a relaxed place to de-stress after a long day.
Dat Dog (3336 Magazine St.) – Sometimes you just need a hot dog! And Dat Dog is a true NOLA experience. There are several locations—one in the Quarter, as well—but the one on Magazine Street is very convenient. Where else are you going to get an alligator or crawfish sausage as a hot dog? Nowhere! Also known for their vegan hot dog (eggplant vegan sausage with fennel and garlic or smoked apple sage), this place will make anyone happy. Definitely not fancy, and you’ll need a lot of napkins, but always fun and delicious. They offer cold beer and other alcoholic beverages, as well as shakes and fizzy choices. Try the crawfish étouffée dog or the “Son of a Saint.”
Joey K’s (3001 Magazine St.) – Joey K’s is a New Orleans classic that serves all of the food you think of when you think about New Orleans, from shrimp rémoulade, chicken fried steak, and fried crab claws, to red beans and rice. One of my colleagues at Tulane told me that she had to quit eating here so often because she was gaining weight! A neighborhood favorite, as well as an internationally known spot.
The French Quarter
Of course, if you’re coming to New Orleans, you know about the French Quarter. Full of history, ghosts, and beautiful architecture, the Quarter is probably one of the most well-known historic districts in America. There are many fancy restaurants to choose from, but I like some of the less grandiose options. Go to Royal Street to see the Art Galleries, Decatur for the shops and the Cabildo, and, of course, Bourbon Street for the tourist experience.
Frenchmen St. – Frenchmen Street runs along the bottom edge of the Quarter. While most tourists head for Bourbon Street, instead go to Frenchmen to listen to great jazz alongside more locals. One of my favorite restaurants is Mona’s Café & Deli (504 Frenchmen St.), a Lebanese-inspired restaurant that’s fast and cheap. You’ll see the FAB Art & Bookstore (600 Frenchmen St.), an LGBTQ bookstore with a personable owner who will entertain you with stories for hours if you can get him talking. The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St.) is great for traditional jazz and swing dance lessons. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro (626 Frenchmen St.) also offers great music and drinks. There will be local musicians playing on the street and usually artists selling their art. Remember to always tip musicians!
Coop’s Place (1109 Decatur St.) – Coop’s is my all-time favorite restaurant in the Quarter, and it’s where I would take out-of-town guests. For delicious fried chicken and other New Orleans classics, this is one of my first stops. I recommend their rabbit and sausage Jambalaya. You can also find duck, lamb and other interesting Louisiana meats. (Have we talked about alligator yet?!) Coop’s is small, often crowded, and definitely not fancy, but it’s delicious.
Green Goddess (307 Exchange Pl.) – Unlike many restaurants in New Orleans, Green Goddess is a vegetarian and vegan friendly option. A New Orleans treasure hidden in the Quarter, this was always one of my favorites. The food is interesting and the atmosphere unexpected. For great wine and cheese, cocktails, and food, the Green Goddess is a must.
Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St.) – I have a confession to make: I don’t like seafood. Living and eating in New Orleans is difficult when seafood is not part of your particular palate. So this recommendation is from friends. The Acme Oyster House is a well-known New Orleans restaurant for your favorite seafood dishes. In addition to oysters, try local classics like étouffée, gumbo, or a po’ boy.
Fifi Mahony’s (934 Royal St.) – If you like dressing up, stop into Fifi’s and try on a wig! Everyone in New Orleans has wigs at the ready for every occasion. As long as you buy a wig cap, they will let you try anything on. A great place to buy a gift for yourself, friends or family. Take a little bit of the Mardi Gras spirit home with you!
Haunted History Tours – What is New Orleans without its ghosts?! There are multiple groups that lead tours, but regardless of what company you choose, a tour is a must. Each tour is made personal by its guide, and you will hear spooky stories that will make you see the streets of the Quarter differently. A way to learn some New Orleans history while being entertained and just a little bit scared.
The Marigny and Bywater
On the other side of the Quarter from the conference center are the stunning Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. A little farther out, but still walkable for the adventurous, the Marigny and Bywater have some absolute gems.
Elizabeth’s Restaurant NOLA (601 Gallier St.) – Elizabeth’s is the place to go for brunch. Locals and tourists alike flock here for the food. For praline bacon, duck waffles, chicken and sausage gumbo, and much more, Elizabeth’s is everyone’s favorite.
The Joint (701 Mazant St.) – New Orleans is not necessarily known for BBQ, but the Joint is the place to get it! Located down near the end of Bywater, this is a delicious and cheap option. Grab a taxi and go down for things like pulled pork and homemade mac & cheese. Bring your bib and be prepared to use a lot of napkins!
Bacchanal (600 Poland Ave.) – Excellent wine, cheese, music, and atmosphere. Known for their Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine, Bacchanal is where all the cool kids hang out. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be cool to eat there, as I can attest! Not a child-friendly option, but a good choice for quality adult time.
Satsuma (3218 Dauphine St.) – A well-known coffee shop and café, Satsuma is the type of place where you’ll see lots of locals and get a taste of the New Orleans lifestyle. Stop in for breakfast or a snack while exploring.
The Country Club (634 Louisa St.) – Need to take a break from conference life? Head for the Country Club! Known as an LGBTQ hotspot, it has a great restaurant and bar, and out back there is a pool and hot tub. Sit poolside with a drink, and enjoy the beautiful historic building where you find yourself hanging out. On Sunday, their drag brunch is a fun alternative to the stuffier Quarter and Uptown options.
Almost as famous as the French Quarter, the Tremé is another neighborhood not to be missed. Home of Congo Square, with its interesting and often troubling history, the Tremé is a place of music, culture, and food. The New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park is located in the Tremé, right outside of the Quarter on Rampart Street in Louis Armstrong Park. You might have seen the HBO TV show called Treme, which actually did a pretty good job of capturing life and politics in the Tremé post-Katrina. For those of you who want to travel a little farther away from the conference, make Tremé your destination.
Beignets and Po’ Boys
New Orleans is known for beignets and po’ boys! A po’ boy or “poor boy” is a sandwich that was traditionally made with whatever someone had caught for the day. You can find them at every sort of restaurant in multiple varieties. My two favorite places for po’ boys are Crabby Jack’s (428 Jefferson Hwy.) and Parkway Bakery and Tavern (538 Hagan Ave.), where President Obama ate. Both would require a taxi ride, but believe me, the food is worth it. You could try shrimp rémoulade, fried green tomato, or catfish, but the po’ boy is especially satisfying. Make sure to get it dressed if you want lettuce, tomato, and other toppings.
A beignet is a deep-fried pastry covered in powdered sugar. The most famous place to get them is, of course, Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St.). Located on the river in the French Quarter, it’s a good place to stop and rest as you’re wandering around the French Market and Jackson Square. But my favorite beignet shop in the Quarter is Café Beignet (334 Royal St.). Sit outside and listen to the street musicians on this beautiful piece of Royal Street. Beignets are available all over the place, but they’re enough to put you in a sugar coma, so don’t eat them before any important meetings.
There’s so much I’ve left out! But since this list is already so long, I’ll leave you here. New Orleans is one of the best cities in the world visit, and I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I will. If you see me in the conference center halls, say hello! From New York…already planning all of my meals…
Lauren DeVoe is acquisitions librarian at Columbia University Libraries, New York.