NBA All-Star Weekend’s path to New Orleans is as circuitous and dramatic as any of the storylines that will actually take place on the court at Smoothie King Center. The festivities were of course originally supposed to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the state’s LGBT discrimination laws led the NBA to send its marquee midseason event to the Big Easy instead. There are plenty of on-the-court narratives to follow:
- Will Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have a Carlton/Will moment on the court?
- Will LeBron James try to show he’s not the old guy — and dominate?
- Will Kawhi Leonard try something crazy like a reverse dunk?
- And will the slam dunk contest live up to the hype of last year’s insanity?
Yet while those are all captivating subplots, the real drama for those heading to New Orleans is simple: Where do we eat, drink and be merry in the Big Easy? New Orleans — a city in which segregation and gentrification have increased mightily in the 11 years since Hurricane Katrina — remains a city of brass bands on any given corner, a city in which the smell of fried seafood permeates the air, and a city enriched by cultural landmarks most tourists never even know exist. All-Star came to New Orleans in 2014 and I’m still trying to catch up on sleep from that weekend. I will admit I tried to do too much in too little time. So, don’t be like me (and lucky for you, I’m here to help). What follows is a list that includes places to go, places with fried food and raw oysters to stuff your faces with, and sights that are a bit off the beaten path of All-Star shenanigans. Don’t say I never did anything for you. And we’ll add to this page as news pops off.
People think they can go anywhere and get good seafood — but that’s not the case. The French Quarter is hit or miss. But I have you covered on where to eat, including some places with historical significance.
The French Quarter
The best two seafood spots are Deanie’s and Acme Oyster House. The lines are crazy but worth it. Acme is known for its oysters (though the one in Metairie, right outside of New Orleans, is less crowded with food that’s just as good). If you go to Deanie’s, then be sure to get the crawfish trio — gumbo, bisque, and étouffée. If you crave something nonseafood, then Cafe Giovanni’s pasta Bolognese is the best bowl of spaghetti I’ve ever had. Finally, you better find yourself a cup of coffee (and chicory) and sugar-powdered beignets from Cafe Du Monde — it’s open 24 hours.
Tucked away on Orleans Avenue, this restaurant is a historic landmark — it’s where essayist James Baldwin would sit at the bar and write. Ray Charles name-checks the place in 1961’s “Early In The Morning.” And, in the 1960s, New Orleans members of the Congress of Racial Equality would gather to plan their next moves. Chef Leah Chase, now 94, was an inspiration for 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, appeared in Beyoncé’s video for “Lemonade,” and famously slapped the hot sauce out of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s hand when he tried to pour it on her gumbo. The best time to go is from Tuesday to Friday at lunch to catch the buffet. Get the fried chicken and red beans and rice and thank me later. Also, if you’re looking for a hangout of civil rights icons, Sweet Lorraine’s has a mural of the New Orleans Freedom Riders, and a banging Sunday brunch with live jazz that’s worth the price of admission. Or you can go late-night and enjoy drinks, music and stories you’ll never forget.
So there’s a good chance you’ll wake up Sunday morning with a hangover. It’s OK, this is a no-judgment zone. Stumble on over to Treme and get the Sunday brunch at Lil Dizzy’s. Yes, the biscuits and fried chicken are immaculate, but let’s not forget this: All. You. Can. Eat. Bread. Pudding.
New Orleans is, of course, known for its po’boys: sandwiches on NOLA’s very own French bread. This used to be my quiet little spot for po’boys until Obama stopped by on one of his visits to the Crescent City. This is also where Beyoncé gets her po’boys — “shrimp, Reubens, capreses, catfish” — when she visits. Parkway is known for its Surf N’ Turf po’boy, roast beef and shrimp. But you could get the David Dennis special instead: barbecue beef and shrimp. Everyone you ask will have a different answer, but for me, Parkway’s are the best po’boys in New Orleans.
Also: NOLA’s 5-Star Lunch Culture
A lesser-known nugget of information about New Orleans’ top restaurants. Some of the city’s five-star spots offer multicourse lunch specials that allow you to sample the menu at a decent price. For instance, Commander’s Palace, which is one of the best restaurants in the city, offers $30 two-course meals for lunch, and Antoine’s Restaurant has three course meals that cost $20.17. But most importantly: They both offer lunch cocktails for 25 cents. A quarter.
Off the beaten path
Here are some places that are A) not around Bourbon Street and B) not traditional New Orleans food, in case you need a break. Juan’s Flying Burrito is a great Tex-Mex spot with strong margaritas. Company Burger is widely regarded as the best joint in town, but Port Of Call offers great burgers as well, with exceptional drinks. If you want a late-night fix after your partying, then Camellia Grill is for you. Mid-Town’s Little Tokyo Restaurant has fantastic sushi. The sweet chili baked chicken at Zea Rotisserie & Grill is incredible.
FOR THE CULTURE
All-Star Weekend will give you all the sensory overload you’ll need. There will be long lines for Jordan’s newest All-Star shoe release, including the Jordan 6 All Star editions, pop-up shops highlighting the newest trendy gear, and much to do on Bourbon and Canal — the most popular intersection in the city. Parties spill out into the street and last well into the morning. However, you should also get a feel for offbeat places in the city.
Brandan “B Mike” Odums is the most talented person I know. Full stop. He’s a videographer, painter and graffiti artist who has turned the city on its head over the course of the past decade. His phrase “paint where it ain’t” has turned into a mantra for artists looking to turn abandoned buildings into living works of art. His art studio is an abandoned warehouse where walls are powerful works of art that you have to see to believe. Head down to the Marigny to Studio Be to get some culture. Studio Be will also be home to some Nike Basketball events showcasing some of the best and brightest ballers from New Orleans.
So often the idea of Mardi Gras revolves around floats, beads and alcohol. But there is a cultural history of Native Americans and African-Americans engaging in parades and jazz funerals for centuries. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is small but informative. You can get through the museum in less than an hour, and then get back to All-Star.
In 2008, Banksy had a run of 14 pieces of art in New Orleans. While most of the pieces are now damaged or destroyed, there are still a few to be found. There are tours of his art or you can check them out yourself. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city, and to see some of the legend’s work.
If you’re not going to the All-Star Game itself, then the Hot 8 Brass Band will be performing at the Howlin’ Wolf on Feb. 19, as they do every Sunday. It’s a huge New Orleans-style party that gives a tremendous look at what the city has to offer musically.
The No Limit Reunion (!!)
On Thursday, T.I. will host the 5th Annual Global Spin Awards, which will feature artists from across the country. But what really matters is that there’s going to be a No Limit Reunion performance. Read that again. Slowly. Master P. Silkk The Shocker. Mia X. Sweet holy goodness, this is going to turn the city upside down … and this is before the weekend even really kicks off.
On Saturday at 11 p.m., there’s a megashow featuring the Big Tymers, Jay Electronica and the aforementioned Hot 8 Brass Band. This is going to be about as New Orleans as you can get and it’ll be a party that probably won’t end until the sun comes up. Check them out at 211 Royal Street. Get in if you can fit in.
When All-Star Weekend hits most cities, there’s a rush to get on VIP lists, and to secure spots at exclusive parties. Admission prices to these events can run into the hundreds of dollars. Well, not in New Orleans. It’s just hard to justify dropping a paycheck on a party when the biggest and best party is happening for free: Bourbon Street.
You’re going to want to do Bourbon Street for at least one of the nights you’re in New Orleans. It’s tradition, and it’s absolutely necessary. The bars along Bourbon Street are fun, but the real party is out on the streets. Pop into any of the daiquiri shops and grab a daiquiri (with a free shot for a large) and make sure you grab a Hand Grenade, too. However you may want to space them out. What makes New Orleans so beautiful is the laws that allow people to take their liquor to-go.
That means ordering a drink at the bar then taking it out to the streets. This makes Bourbon Street the best place to be, as everyone will be roaming around. And why pay for VIP when you’re likely to run into a celebrity or athlete on Bourbon anyway? But what about what happens on the non-Bourbon Street nights? Glad you asked.
Many consider Frenchman Street to be Bourbon Street for locals. The bars on Frenchman are cleaner and less crowded, with better music — live bands abound. And if you catch it on a good night, there’s a brass band playing out in the streets. The Maison is good for hip-hop and Snug Harbor is legendary for its jazz and late-night food. This is the laid-back Bourbon Street and perfect for the night after you’ve had to write your address on your hand to get back home.