The Thrillist Guide to the French Quarter

Published On 10/16/2013 Published On 10/16/2013
Jackson Square New Orleans
Scott Gold

Also known as the “Vieux Carré”, the French Quarter in New Orleans is one of the oldest and most well-known neighborhoods in America, pre-dating the actual country by almost 60yrs (1718, to be specific, courtesy of amazingly named Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. History!). Sadly, these days it might be more well known for its rep as a playground for besotted meatheads and a beads-for-boobs Mardi Gras economy than for its rich heritage and incredible food. But you don’t have to be that guy. So if you’re looking to truly get the most out of the French Quarter, here are your best bets.

Scott Gold

Haters: Spend every waking hour in cargo shorts and mandals.
Players: Pack a good suit.

Yeah, we get it: it’s hot here. You’re basically in the tropics, after all -- it’s only natural to want to keep from melting where you stand because of the ridiculous temperature and humidity, even in months like November. But if you don’t have at least one decent suit in your suitcase, you’ll miss out on some of the best damned cuisine in the world, particularly at grande dame eateries that have been open for well over a century, like Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, and Antoine’s, which require a little class (if only just a jacket and a respectable pair of shoes). It’s also a good reason to bust out the linen or seersucker and look like a suave-ass Southern charmer. In season, of course.

Flickr / JasonParis

Dopes: Get hooked on frozen daiquiris, syrupy drinks, and HUGE ASS BEERS.
Dudes: Explore the cocktail culture.

One look down Bourbon Street, and you’ll find Hand Grenades, Hurricanes, boozy daiquiris, Shark Attacks, and god-knows-what-that-is, but it’s bright blue and served in a test tube. Not to mention the availability of HUGE ASS BEERS. Maybe you want to sample one or several of these things for novelty, and that’s fine. It can be fun. But do yourself a favor and explore cocktails in the city that invented the cocktail. Think about the Sazerac, the the Ramos Fizz, the French 75, and bourbon milk punch. For the real deal, here’s an excellent list of the best New Orleans cocktails and where to find them.

Mother's Restaurant

Ravenous fools: Decide to eat just anywhere.
Hungry geniuses: Make a culinary plan/map.

The French Quarter is packed with fantastic restaurants, both high-end (see above) and casual. Odds are, you’re going to eat well in this town. That said, there are also plenty of places that make the rent by swindling suckers out of their rightful NOLA food experience by serving sub-par fare. Don’t expect every po-boy shop to be the bomb, just because it happens to be in the Quarter (make sure to hit Killer Poboys, Mother’s or Verti Marte, by the way). If you want oysters the right way, for example, here’s a great start for you.

Wikipedia / Poco a poco

Tools: Think that shops selling hot sauce, ball caps, and alligator skulls represent New Orleans “culture”.
Cools: Spend a day touring the real historic hotspots.

New Orleans has been here, for good or ill, for almost 300yrs, which for the USA, is a pretty long time. And a lot of our historical gumbo is well represented in the French Quarter’s art, architecture and museums, many of which you can check out for free. A short list of cool places worth your time would definitely include Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral, the Old US Mint, the Cabildo, the Pharmacy Museum, the Old Ursuline Convent, and The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. And that’s just for starters. You can stroll the levee and take in the majesty of the Mississippi River, or, at the very least, wander the Quarter and get an eyeful of the amazing architecture. And you can do it while legally carrying a drink around outside! Woo hoo!

Flickr / nate ellison

Neanderthals: Wear matching themed T-shirts and store-bought beads.
Super-humans: Do anything else.

Seriously. The photo of your group wearing those “Drunk #1” through “Drunk #7” shirts and Mardi Gras beads, while holding a plastic yard of booze and laughing at your friend vomiting in the gutter will wind up on the Internet and eventually come back to haunt you. This is an immutable universal fact.

Flickr / Nate Steiner

Don’t: Not know “where you got dem shoes”.
Do: Know “where you got dem shoes”.

They are on your feet, in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, you just saved anywhere from five to 40 dollars, depending on how gullible/drunk you are. You’re welcome.

Flickr / Kaylin Idora Photography

One-track minds: Get sucked into a shady strip joint by sketchy carnival barkers on Bourbon St.
Next-level thinkers: Check out some authentic burlesque.

When you're on vacation in NOLA and you've been downtown taking in their colorful libations all day, the temptation to see a little pink is perfectly understandable, and lord knows you have plenty of options. But like the food in the French Quarter, not all gentlemen's clubs serve up the good stuff. Instead of a sad, thread-worn joint that needs a scary carny to reel in rubes, do yourself a favor and head to a classier operation for some serious burlesque action. A good bet is always the FREE Burlesque Ballroom show on Friday nights at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse.

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1. Arnaud's Restaurant 813 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 70112 (French Quarter)

Arnaud’s is a decades-old French Quarter staple that embodies the French Creole style in architecture, décor, and, of course, food. Inside the red building lined with innumerable French windows and mint green balconies is a dining room straight out of a Southern novel with potted palm fronds, mosaic tile floors, and opulent chandeliers. Come for dinner or for the jazz brunch, where a jazz trio will serenade you while you decide between gumbo and shrimp remoulade.

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2. Galatoire's 209 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

Established in 1905, Galatoire’s has remained a Bourbon Street bulwark of French Creole cuisine. The restaurant blends tradition with curiosity as it juxtaposes gumbo, shrimp remoulade, and oysters Rockefeller with deep-fried zucchini sticks, (which you’re meant to plunge into a mix of Tabasco sauce and powdered sugar) and duck crepes with homemade Boursin cheese, Port-cherry reduction, and pistachios. Galatoire’s keeps things elegant with its forest green walls, lace curtains, and mirrored walls, a glimpse into a past worthy of a Faulkner novel.

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3. Antoine's Restaurant 713 Saint Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

Opened in 1840, this elegant St. Louis Street spot is the oldest French-Creole fine dining restaurant in New Orleans. In its fifth generation of family ownership, Antoine’s Restaurant offers a menu nothing short of old-fashioned, with Oysters Rockefeller served with Antoine’s original Rockefeller sauce created in 1889, creamed spinach, potatoes au gratin, and gulf fish served grilled, fried, poached, and sautéed. The Baked Alaska is not to be missed, and while you’re awaiting its arrival, promenade around the 14 dining rooms, each decorated to the nines with rich oak paneling, gilded accents, and portraits of the centuries of illustrious figures who once dined in the very spot in which you’re currently stuffing your face with pound cake and flambéed egg white meringue.

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4. Steak Pit 609 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

The Steak Pit is the official home of the famous Huge Ass Beers, as well well as some pretty huge burgers and other food and drink

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5. Killer Poboys 811 Conti St, New Orleans, LA 70112 (French Quarter)

The French Quarter's popular Killer Poboys serves exactly that: top-notch po-boys, cooked up in the tiny kitchen at the back of Irish pub Erin Rose on Conti Street. The po-boys here are crafted with a new-age eye, some even incorporating untraditional ingredients like pork belly, smoked salmon, and sweet potato. The cash-only counter also serves up standout sandwiches like BBQ chicken confit, Black Bear beef debris, and chorizo & egg.

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6. Mother's Restaurant 401 Poydras St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Central Business District)

Famous for their po-boys and jambalaya, Mother's has been specializing in authentic New Orleans-style cooking since it opened its doors in 1938.

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7. Verti Marte 1201 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

Twenty-four-hour deli Verti Marte is housed in the back of a small, unassuming grocery store on a quiet French Quarter street. It's earned a devoted following among night owls, especially for its interpretation of that all-important Louisiana staple, the po-boy, made with crispy fried shrimp and oysters on a soft, seeded roll. That's not to say the po-boy is all Verti Marte has in store: its calorie-packing sandwich roster includes All That Jazz, a ham and turkey sandwich layered with sautéed shrimp and mushrooms, and Swiss and American cheeses. They deliver, but you may want to budget in some walking time to pick up one of these monolithic sandwiches yourself.

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8. Jackson Square 745 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

An iconic New Orleans locale since its construction in the mid-nineteenth century, Jackson Square is perhaps the most recognizable place in town outside of the Superdome. Originally designed as a military plaza, the city block-sized space is now awash with artists, musicians, performers, and street hustlers nearly 24/7. If the free-range circus gets to be a bit much, the small garden park in the center of the square provides an oasis amid bedlam. For an even calmer respite, bear in mind the square sits literally in the shadow of the steeples of St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the United States. Its soaring, ornate basilica, generally open to the public, is worth checking out regardless of your religious affiliation.

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9. St. Louis Cathedral 615 Pere Antoine Aly, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

Located at Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.

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10. Old US Mint 400 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

The Old US Mint holds the title of being the only mint to produce American and Confederate coinage, and is now a National Historic Landmark and museum.

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11. The Cabildo 701 Place John Paul Deaux, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

A National Historic Landmark, the Cabildo was built under Spanish rule between 1795-1799 and faces the historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

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12. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum 514 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

If you're in the mood for some old time New Orleans history, the Pharmacy Museum will cure what ails ya, with extensive exhibits showcasing healthcare in Louisiana.

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13. Old Ursuline Convent 1100 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

The Old Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, with its construction reaching completion in 1753.

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14. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park 916 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116 (French Quarter)

Created in 1994 to celebrate the origins of jazz, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is a must-visit sight for American music and history lovers.

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15. Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse 300 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

Located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon St, Irvin Mayfield's always has entertaining live shows, including ones of the burlesque variety.



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