Times change, people change – even tradition-bound New Orleans changes. Everywhere you go in the Crescent City these days, it seems like something new is going on. Road work, new developments, a new streetcar project, new restaurants, new housing, new hotels – there's even a Four Seasons Hotel coming to the foot of Canal Street. The city you know is still the city you've always loved, but in recent years, it's broadening its horizons to become so much more than that. Here are five experiences that will give you an entirely new appreciation for New Orleans.
A morning in Crescent Park
Dreamed up post-Katrina and finally opened this past year, this waterfront park hugging the Mississippi in the city's Bywater neighborhood isn't just much-needed green space where you can catch the rare breeze off the river during the sultry summer months, Crescent Park is a fierce work of post-industrial art too, from the soaring, arched back of a bridge leading from the foot of Piety Street and over the railroad tracks (giving you a workout before you even arrive) to the Instagram-ready ruins of the old wharf at the river's edge. Pleasant pathways, native plantings and skyline views complete the picture within the 1.4 mile linear park, providing a true escape from the city without going very far at all.
An evening at St. Roch Market
Just a few blocks to the north on gritty St. Claude Avenue, the vacant and very historic St. Roch Market spent years under the knife, re-emerging recently as an almost too-gorgeous swan, a seductive incubator for a wide variety of small food businesses, along with a produce stand and a very good cocktail bar. Drop by any time, but it's become a popular place (and rightly so) for an evening out with a group. Snag a table in the center, order a round of drinks and graze your way around, stopping for sure at Shank Charcuterie, a standout spot from Cochon alum Kristopher Doll, who's working to open his own shop nearby. Try whatever he's got, but Doll's boudin is fairly ridiculous. As in good. Service note: Happy hour runs from 4-6, market-wide, Monday through Friday. In case you were interested (and you know you are).
Lunch with the ladies at Shaya
One of the best meals you'll eat in New Orleans right now is nothing like most of the meals you'll have eaten in New Orleans over the years. Alon Shaya's (Domenica, Pizza Domenica) modern Mediterranean joint serves up the kind of food that New Orleans perhaps didn't know it needed, but has quite suddenly fallen for, and hard. Sophisticated salatim (try the lebneh and the pickled vegetables, for sure), falafel, freshly-baked pita and silky hummus will have you overstuffed before you even get to the main courses. Reservations at ShayaRestaurant.com.
Drink coffee like a hipster
From pop-ups to carts to roaster cafes to sophisticated little espresso bars, New Orleans rather suddenly has all of the accoutrements of a proper coffee scene – no need to suffer a subpar cup any longer. For visitors staying in the Quarter, Spitfire Coffee is a hip little sliver on St. Peter Street, while those in the Lower Garden District are spoiled for choice between the Cherry Coffee pop-up at Stein's Deli on Magazine Street (Proprietress Lauren Fink is one of the city's best baristas) and the new storefront from local roaster French Truck, which is responsible for one of the best New Orleans-style iced coffees (sweet-ish, nutty with chicory, creamy, delicious) around. Unless, of course, the chicory-infused cold brew at Rivista – way up Magazine in the Garden District – is actually the best. We can't decide. You'll just have to try both.
Eat like a local. Order the banh mi.
Thanks to a pattern of Vietnamese migration that began in the 1970s, a steaming bowl of pho or a crispy banh xeo are now as essentially New Orleans eating as a roast beef Po'boy or a plate of eggs Sardou. From West Bank staple Nine Roses' new French Quarter café, opening this month on Conti Street, to the playful, fusion-y MoPho on City Park Avenue, Vietnamese everything seems to be So Hot Right Now – not that we're anything but thrilled. Bon appetit!
Crescent Park image via the City of New Orleans