In September, with my husband Dan, we had the trip of a lifetime in the US. We started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for three days, then hopped over to New Orleans, Louisiana for 7, before ending in Brooklyn, New York for four more days.
One of the reasons we went over to New Orleans is because our friend lives there with her partner, and we hadn’t seen her for a while. She moved to NOLA a year or so ago, and inspired Dan to become vegan (and I’m pretty sure I’m on my way to becoming completely vegan in the next few years!).
This is a particularly great guide for vegans looking to travel to New Orleans – we were spoilt for choice and I decided to go vegan for this trip to make it easier for myself and Dan. I didn’t miss out at all – and I’m glad I did stick to vegan food because I didn’t want to take any chances with my dairy intolerance. I’ve also recently developed a shellfish intolerance so crawfish and shrimp were out of the question!
New Orleans is widely known as the ‘party central’ of the South – with Mardi Gras, bachelor and bachelorette parties, Bourbon Street, ‘go’ cups, indulgence in rich food, and the French Quarter. However, this is also a city of stunning, contrasting architecture, music, art and culture, and an enigmatic history that exemplifies the words ‘melting pot’. The unique mix of cultural influences – Creole, Cajun, African-American, French, Spanish, and American-Indian, amongst many other cultures, is an ongoing dialogue that has shaped the history, food, and attitude of the city’s inhabitants. It feels much more like Europe than America, with its own rhythm and pulse.
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Lower Garden District, in a beautiful house with the classic architecture of the area. The house was an American Double Gallery Townhouse, an adaptation for residential neighbourhoods of the classic American Townhouse style usually found in the city. With its classical columns and two covered porches (galleries), it looked like something you might find in Gone With The Wind (just not as big and grand!).
The first thing Dan and I noticed was how the humidity hit us when we exited the airport. After we’d been to Florida we were expecting the humidity, but we visited in the middle of hurricane season in September and the humidity and heat still showed no sign of abating. In Florida it was a little more bearable because we were lucky enough to have a swimming pool and were close to the beach, but there is little respite when you’re out and about in New Orleans. The air conditioning is incredible. Our apartment was at the very top of the house, with three flights of stairs. The heat rises in buildings like this and being in an attic apartment, we had to have the aircon on most of the time.
Whilst we were there, the temperature hovered at 30-31 degrees Celsius (it was 34 the day we arrived!) but with the humidity it was a little too much to handle for long periods of time. On the plus side, at least everyone is sweating so nobody is too bothered about what you look like! I would say if you’re visiting New Orleans, the best time is probably winter, spring, and late fall, avoiding August and September which are the hottest months. Still, we made the most of it, and nearer the end of our time there I started to acclimatise a little better. Drink plenty of water, wear loose, comfortable clothing (in cotton or linen), take breaks out of the heat, and take it slow. And enjoy that world-class air conditioning! Perhaps have a cardigan for when you get too cold inside though…
The transport in NOLA can be patchy and unreliable, but for tourists, the best bet is the four streetcar lines, the most iconic being the St. Charles Avenue streetcar which runs the length of the areas most tourists visit (the beginning of the French Quarter to the riverbend). Taxis are also reasonable here because the city isn’t large – we used Uber and Lyft, but the city also has a number of reputable taxi companies, amongst them United Cabs, a city favourite. For our seven day stay, we bought a 7 day Jazzy Pass, allowing us to use the buses and streetcar lines. Our favourite bus was the number 7 which ran the length of Magazine Street, one of the best streets in NOLA for food and shopping.
We had a budget whilst we were there, so we picked and chose what we wanted to do. We had a day in the French Quarter, and visited the Cabildo, the seat of colonial Spanish rule – it was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer, finalising the United States acquisition of the Louisiana Territory. Our visit coincided with the ‘We Love You New Orleans!’ exhibition, celebrating the people, places, and things that are uniquely New Orleans – the music, the traditions, the food. There were some beautiful Mardi Gras costumes, Sidney Bechet’s Saxophone, and a number of photos and paintings of people associated with the city. We didn’t leave without checking out the view from the corridor on the second floor, where the sun streamed in overlooking Jackson Square.
Jackson Square, Royal Street, and the surrounding area are the heart of the French Quarter, which is worth ambling around to take in the buildings and the atmosphere. Although we didn’t go down Bourbon Street (not my scene), if you want to, it’s probably worth a look, if only to say you’ve been there at least once! Frenchman Street is the best street in the centre for proper New Orleans music, and there are a number of bookshops worth visiting in the French Quarter too – check out this post and this one for more bookish NOLA things to do (and read). We visited Crescent City Books, a used-bookstore – though not in the French Quarter, it’s just over Canal Street.
We didn’t get a chance to visit the parks or cemeteries in the city (this time!), but if the weather isn’t too hot then City Park is worth visiting. It also has New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, and a Botanical Garden. Louis Armstrong Park is another park of interest – where you can find the historical Congo Square (where ‘off duty’ slaves used to congregate to dance and play music).
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art was the only official art museum we visited. Set over five floors (with work only exhibited on three), it is the most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world, covering the culture, traditions, diversity, and culinary heritage of the South. It also showcases works by up-and-coming young artists and students. If you only visit one art gallery, I would suggest The Ogden. On the Thursday evening, we had the opportunity to see a live Jazz band in the foyer – so it’s worth checking their events schedule to see what’s on.
The museum district also has a number of small free galleries, mostly near and on Julia Street, exhibiting work from a variety of artists – we had a look at a few of them one afternoon. The array of work was phenomenal – from multi-media work to classic landscape paintings.
The Lower Garden District, where our Airbnb was, has to be my favourite part of New Orleans. It is full of colourful buildings, tiny lizards, and leafy, tropical plants. The pavements (sidewalks) are idiosyncratic – the tree roots create hills and valleys wherever you step. It is also home to St Charles Avenue, Magazine Street, and a few sites of interest (for book lovers, Anne Rice’s old mansion, 1239 First Street), including some great bars and pubs. Our friend took us to The Avenue Pub, The Hot Tin roof bar (on the roof of The Pontchartrain Hotel, with an incredible view of New Orleans, and a speakeasy atmosphere), The Columns Hotel, and The Balcony Bar (on Magazine St).
The Garden District is also home to Audubon Park and Zoo, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Commander’s Palace, and The Garden District Bookshop. You could just spend a few hours walking around and dipping into air-conditioned spaces, taking in the architecture and quieter atmosphere of the area.
A caution – if you’re planning on visiting the cemeteries, you’ll most likely only be able to do so as part of a guided tour. Make sure you use this guide to make sure you choose the right company.
Vegan Restaurants and Cafes
As I mentioned above, we ate vegan for the whole trip, including vegan sweet treats like Beignets. There is an amazing variety of choice, and flavours that I’d never had before. The following are a few places of note.
1330 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70130
At first look, Seed looks a lot like a typical hippy vegan restaurant, with high white ceilings, quotes on the walls, and animal art. But the servers were friendly and helpful, the air-conditioning was cold, and the food was fantastic. We went there not once – not twice, but three times during our stay. The first time, I had their vegan tofu Po’boy (Po’boys are ubiquitous in NOLA) – the bread was the perfect blend of crusty and soft, the tofu had the perfect BBQ seasoning, and the vegan mayo was creamy. I had the vegan beignets, of course! Dusted with powdery icing sugar and deliciously sweet and warm. This is the only place in NOLA that does vegan beignets – so if you only get one thing, make it this. It was taco Tuesday when we rocked up so Dan had a selection of vegan tacos. The second time we tried the vegan ‘chicken’ nuggets – another thing you should try!
527 Julia St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Carmo is a ‘tropical’ themed restaurant featuring foods from a variety of ‘tropical’ areas, such as the Caribbean, West Africa, and South America. They offer extensive vegan and vegetarian options, but omnivores are catered for. The vegan food here is amazing. Packed with flavour, filling, and addictive. I had the ‘Rico’: ‘Grilled plantain topped with panela cheese, house-smoked wild boar, avocado, salsa fresca and our tangy sweet spicy “Rico” sauce. Served with organic greens with mango vinaigrette. Or have it Veggie: dairy cheese & vegan meat; or Vegan: vegan cheese & vegan meat.’
The vegan meat and cheese option is amazing. We also tried the vegan version of cheesy Brazilian bread, Pão de Queijo. I’ve been dreaming about this food since I got back, and might try making it myself sometime, though I doubt I could recreate the sauce perfectly, it was just so good. They also have vegan rice and beans, a variety of salads, and a few different curries.
2521 Jena Street, New Orleans, LA 70115
We ate at Bearcat for brunch on the Thursday we were there. It’s a little further off the beaten track off Freret Street, but it’s worth the trek. The Bearcat menu is split into two sections – Good Cat and Bad Cat, and most of the vegan options are on the Good Cat menu. The brunch options are amazing – a full vegan brunch that includes tofu scramble and black bean sausage, or vegan quesadillas, which I had. The quesadillas had tofu scramble, mushrooms, caramelised onions, cashew queso, and avocado.
Bearcat also offers meat options and vegetarian options, so everyone is catered for. It has an industrial chic décor, but is very warm and welcoming (well, not actually warm because of the air-con!).
4017 St Claude Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117
Our friends took us here on our last night in NOLA – it was out of the way, in Bywater (and their friend had a car). Depending on where you’re based, it’s probably best to get a taxi here and back. The Sneaky Pickle is a neighbourhood-style restaurant, small and cosy. And the food is amazing! Of course they have pickles, but they also have food for omnivores too (and cook the meat in pans that don’t go near the vegan food). Even if you are omni, it’s worth trying the vegan fare here, because it is truly delicious. I chose the famous vegan mac and cheese, and it was the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had – and I do mean even when I was an omnivore!
It’s made with squash sauce, pea, mushroom, tomato, and a cashew-chorizo crumble. It was full of flavour and creamy. I also tried a plate of mixed pickles (so good). If you can get here, it’s worth the trek.
Breads On Oak
8640 Oak Street, Ste. A, New Orleans, LA 70118
Breads On Oak is a 100% vegan artisan bakery, a little out of the way on the Riverbend side of the city. You can get a taxi or the St. Charles Avenue streetcar stop S. Carollton + Oak which is a 6 block walk. We came here for brunch, and both had a vegan buttermilk biscuit – I had the Biscuit Bravado with breakfast sausage, organic spinach and house-made béchamel. We bought an olive loaf for the apartment, and a cinnamon raisin roll.
They had a wide range of baked goods, sweet treats, and an extensive brunch and lunch menu. They’re open from 7am to 3pm 7 days a week.
3511 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70115
This was where we went for our first evening meal with our friends. The food here is delicious, a great introduction to authentic Ethiopian and African food, with welcoming hosts. We had the veggie combo to share, with plenty of Injera bread, the bread that you use to pick up the food. This was my first time eating Ethiopian food and I loved it, especially the Injera bread – it has a distinctive flavour (sour but slightly sweet). There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, as well as omnivore options too.
Other vegan options we tried were Dat Dog which does a number of vegan hotdogs, Juan’s Flying Burrito, Lilly’s Café for vegan Vietnamese, and District Donuts Sliders Brew, which is not vegan but the vegetarian burger can be veganised.
New Orleans might be a ‘party’ city but it is also full of culture, architecture, welcoming people, and plenty of history and delicious food. There are no shortage of vegan and vegetarian options, especially outside of the French Quarter, and you don’t have to miss out on any traditional flavours either. If you have any more recommendations for people looking to visit New Orleans, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!