Beignets at Cafe du Monde | Credit: Matt Kettmann

As my son pondered whether the Nova Scotian oysters were more briny than those from Alabama, my daughter tucked into a creamy bowl of crabfat agnolotti, and my wife slurped up the cider-spiked broth of the mussels à la Normande, I leaned back in my seat to take a bit of pride in the scene. It was our first night out in New Orleans, where we’d brought the kids for their spring break, and it finally dawned on me that this was really my family’s first food-focused vacation, in which eating out topped our to-do list.

These were just the beginning bites of our trip, at Le Chat Noir in the Warehouse District, where Wu-Tang, De La Soul, and The Roots laid the soundtrack for the open-kitchen format just a few blocks from our room in the Higgins Hotel. But the days that followed would be consumed by consumption, whose caloric impacts we mostly offset, thankfully, by miles and miles of walking each day through the city’s culture-soaked neighborhoods.

There were beignets at Café du Monde, of course, where we opted to sit down and get served by the hustling waiters rather than wait in the long to-go line; lemongrass crab Caesar, spring som tam salad, and fried catfish with pickles and “zippy” ranch at Marjie’s Grill, where casual, complex cocktails completed the backyard vibe; multiple servings of crawfish noodles at Peche Seafood Grill, where you can’t go wrong on the menu, even when it comes to catfish swimming in a pickled-greens broth; and cracklins and chili butter oysters at pork specialist Cochon, where my daughter sat a seat that had just been vacated by Nicolas Cage. 

But even gluttons can’t eat all the time. In between reservations, we wandered the French Quarter, during daylight hours at first, popping into chandelier stores, art galleries, and clothing stores, where I purchased a sports coat from Italy. We’d later return at night, but my daughter wasn’t fond of the zombie drunks, who start their stroll soon after sundown. My son didn’t mind such stumbling, so we got a dose of NOLA’s darker history by taking a ghost tour, learning all about the atrocious Madame Delphine LaLaurie as we stood outside her haunted mansion and buying a slushie cocktail at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, built by a pirate in the 1700s.

Concert at Lafayette Park | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Seeing a proper set of live music with kids proved challenging — the main places are 21 and over, and Preservation Hall requires advance, not-cheap tickets. But we took a few songs in at the Musical Legends Park, and caught a raucous street performance of a six-man band that I would have paid plenty to see on stage. We also lucked out by finding a free Galactic concert at Lafayette Square, hosted by a nonprofit youth leadership organization and attended by what seemed like a 99 percent hometown crowd. “I like these events,” I overheard one woman say. “There’s less assholes.”

Muffuletta display at Vue Orleans | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Though it was spring break, our timing was perfect, happening under very pleasant, even slightly cool weather in the lull between Mardi Gras and whatever comes next. Crowds would start to build up by the weekend, but when we went to Vue Orleans, a high-tech, intro-to-the-city hub that’s clearly prepared for big lines (maybe cruise ships?), we were almost the only ones there. That made the experience more exemplary, with as-deep-as-you-want, mostly hands-free exhibits that explored the city’s history, music, and food in multigenerational manners. It ends with an elevator ride to the tallest balcony in town, where the entire NOLA landscape is laid bare, with interactive screens to explain the sights. It’s the ideal first stop for first-timers.

Even more informationally impressive was the National WWII Museum, located right across the street from the Higgins. As the country’s official showcase of that war and era, the massive campus would require a multi-day tour to ingest everything, which ensures that a two-hour visit will be action-packed. Our highlight was the Tom Hanks–narrated, 4D film Beyond All Boundaries, which poignantly presents the war into an immersive sensory experience. 

Riding the streetcar is another must. We took the Saint Charles line — the oldest continually operating streetcar in the world — all the way to Audubon Park, full of mossy trees, a zoo we didn’t see, and jogging coeds from Tulane and the architecturally impressive Loyola University. On the way back, we stopped by Magazine Street, where my wife and daughter bought dresses for upcoming weddings as my son and I tried liquefied chocolate and artisan truffles at Piety and Desire’s Café au Chocolat.

Yes, we always came back to the food. The one place atop my list that we failed to hit was retro sandwich superstar Turkey and the Wolf, but we may have done one better by prioritizing its sister breakfast restaurant, Molly’s Rise and Shine. The ’80s decor is memory-stoking extensive, and the fast-food-esque sandwiches satisfy on all fronts. Throw in a Southeast Asian–leaning puffed rice salad and a celery soda to start your day on top.

Our most classic dining experience was the jazz brunch at Broussard’s, where I washed down a Ramos gin fizz with bottomless mimosas and calvados as a trio cruised the courtyard. We started on deviled eggs, oysters Broussard, and turtle soup before my wife crushed her blackened redfish, then ate most of the gruyere-covered bread atop my cochon de lait croque monsieur.

The lobby at the Higgins Hotel | Credit: Matt Kettmann

To test our intestinal fortitude, we followed that indulgence with a tour of the Museum of Death, where I was connected to not one but two of the serial killer exhibits. My distant cousin was Herbert Mullin, who went on an LSD-triggered rampage throughout Santa Cruz in the early ’70s, and my aunt and uncle still live on a ranch outside of Yuba City adjacent to where Juan Corona dumped the bodies of his migrant farmworker victims. I wasn’t supposed to snap a shot of Mullin’s jailhouse paintings, but given the curious circumstances, it felt like the right rule to break.

Our final meal was at Compère Lapin, though we were all starting to overdose at that point. We stayed on the small menu, running through more oysters and ceviche and pork belly before throwing in the towel.

On our last morning in town, we plopped into a booth at Café Normandie on the ground floor of the Higgins, adjacent to Kilroy’s Bar, where my wife and I had enjoyed our second cocktails of the trip. (Our first were on the hotel’s roof at Rosie’s, alongside fluffy crab beignets.) I ambitiously ordered the fried green tomato BLT but had trouble stuffing much more in my face, so I headed back to the room for a pre-flight snooze. My family, meanwhile, kept chowing away. 



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