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48 Hours in New Orleans

Savoring the Flavors and Culture of the Crescent City

The hectic holiday season is the perfect time of year for a quick getaway. For some, that involves a beach and an umbrella drink. For me, it means food, drink and exploring the culture of other cities, particularly those with a rich history. 

One of my very favorites is New Orleans. On this visit, we had just two short days to soak up what the Crescent City—nicknamed for the shape of the bend of the Mississippi River—has to offer. 

My first stop upon arrival is always chargrilled oysters. Gulf oysters covered in garlic butter, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, grilled over open flames to get just the right amount of char from the flare-up as some of the butter drips into the fire. I've tried many of the notable versions in town (I try to sample at least five or six versions per visit) and keep coming back to the same top few. This time, there was no question; Felix's took the No. 1 spot. Adequate crispy cheesy topping, but not so much that you lose the oyster underneath. 739 Iberille, Fleixs.com

If you are into the history and culture of a city, I recommend taking a walking tour. I booked through Airbnb since I have purchased "experiences" through the site in the past. Our guide, Brian, was both entertaining and informative. We walked through town learning the history of the French Quarter before arriving at St. Louis Cemetary No. 1. You must have a tour guide to be admitted to the cemetery. The Catholic church owns it, and in the interest of preservation, they require all visitors to have a licensed escort. You can find a guide at the gate, but the groups are usually larger, and you may not get as much background information. I suggest booking a smaller tour (10 or fewer) for a more personal visit. AirBnb.com 

After seeing some notable tombs (including Marie Laveau), it is time for dinner. Run, don't walk to Mr. B's Bistro and order the Gumbo Yay-Ya and the barbecue shrimp. Yes, you are going to have (and want) to wear a paper bib. From the first sauce-covered shrimp that you pull apart, you will understand why. This French Quarter Brennan family institution is celebrating 40 years this year, and deservedly so. My favorite way to enjoy New Orleans is a "progressive dining" adventure. After enjoying shrimp and gumbo, we headed over to the most famous of the family's group of restaurants, Brennan's for my favorite childhood dessert, bananas Foster. "Drunk Bananas," as my mother calls it, was invented at Brennan's in 1951. It has since drawn countless visitors for the tableside flambee spectacle. You can order it in the bar, along with a cocktail or glass of wine. A server will bring a cart to your table to prepare the dish as they tell the story of its origin. 201 Royal St., MrBsBistro.com; 417 Royal St., BrennansNewOrleans.com

After sleeping off our day of travel and food, we made our way to Jackson Square for a breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde. As usual, there are musicians entertaining customers just outside of the patio. If you stroll along the outside of the square, you will find artists showcasing their work. 800 Decatur St., CafeDuMonde.com

Next, we headed to the French Market District. The market was founded as a Native American trading post before European colonization and now covers six blocks of the French Quarter near the river. It is the oldest of its kind in the United States. Across from the market shops, you will find Central Grocery, the birthplace of the muffaletta sandwich. Go early, because the line will wind out the door by noon. Luckily, they have them ready to go whether you want to dine in or take it across the street to Crescent Park. 923 Decatur St., CentralGrocery.com

After lunch, we headed back toward the other end of the French Quarter, where antique shops and art galleries line the streets. After shopping, it is time for dinner. A happy hour stop at French 75, the bar attached to Arnaud's, means soufflé potatoes and gougères. The cocktail program is recognized by the James Beard Foundation, and upstairs they have a Mardi Gras museum offering a glimpse into the spectacle of Kings and Queens of the annual festival. 

After enjoying bar snacks, we headed down the street listening to the music from a parade, one of many you will likely see passing through the French Quarter. We might have stopped back into Felix's for another couple dozen oysters, but I know you won't judge.

Other favorite food finds, both in and outside of the French Quarter:

Crabby Jack's – Get the duck po'boy; you'll thank me later.

428 Jefferson Highway, CrabbyJacksNola.com

Clancy's – A fine dining restaurant full of locals, for a reason.

6100 Annunciation St., ClancysNewOrleans.com

DatDog – With three locations in NOLA, DatDog offers inventive dogs in a casual atmosphere. I love the build-your-own with duck sausage, blue cheese and blackberry sauce.
DatDog.com

Coop's Place – Coop's is where you get your etoufee. Near the French Market and Central Grocery. 
 1109 Decatur St., CoopsPlace.net

"If I had to sum up NOLA in a dish, I'd say barbecue shrimp from Mr. B's Bistro. It's beautiful, delicious and a hot mess in all the best possible ways." –Joel Bein, travel companion and fellow food junkie

  • My vote for the best chargrilled oysters in the French Quarter definitely goes to Felix's.
  • Cafe Du Monde is open 24/7 so you can get your sugar-coated fix any time of day.
  • The Gumbo Ya-Ya at Mr. B's Bistro is my favorite in New Orleans, and yes, I judge you based on your hot sauce offerings.
  • You never know when a parade will pop up on the street.