Because I work in the quarter and ride my bike, tourists tend to assume that I am a local. Many times, I'll be hanging out by my Schwinn, fiddling with my phone, and people will just come up to me and say, "hey, where can I get a good bowl of gumbo?", or "where can I get a good poor boy?" Or, and this one is really funny, "where is Jackson Square?"
I work right by Jackson Square, so I usually just point in the direction of the giant cathedral.
And the best question I ever got was "so where is NOLA?" I was like …
Wait … is this a joke? This has gotta be a joke, right?
It wasn't a joke.
I try so hard to be polite, I really do. And on that particular day, I had to will my hand not to do the hardest facepalm of my entire life. I politely said, "well, you're in NOLA, it's just New Orleans, Louisiana … like, NO + LA."
But when tourists ask me this stuff – "where do I get the best *insert Cajun/Creole food here*" – usually my first reaction is, "in the French Quarter?" Because usually the best of those things are not there.
Take for instance, gumbo. Usually around New Orleans, the natives will tell you that their mama makes the best gumbo, but that's going to be impossible for any tourist to try – even if you give them a recipe for mama's gumbo – because that kind of thing takes a long time to perfect. My husband is this way. His favorite gumbo is his mom's, she only makes it for Christmas and it is the best. HOWEVER, there is a gumbo that comes close to it, and it's from a gas station in Kenner. Yes, a gas station in Kenner. Nope, not the tourist hub Mother's Restaurant on Poydras, but a gas station in Kenner – by the airport. And you can't really tell tourists this stuff. I'd feel bad if I said, "well, just take a $50 Uber ride for the best gumbo of your life." Usually, if I have friends in town, or if my parents come to visit, my husband will make a trip to this very special gas station and buy them gumbo, and they're always say, "WOW this is amazing! Why isn't this as good as the stuff in the French Quarter?"
It's just how it goes. And these days, I can't even tell tourists where to get the best burger, because Yo Mama's is closed for the time being. I still can't get over that. So sad.
I can, however, tell you where to get the best crawfish. Because we are smack dab in the middle of crawfish season, and nope, it's not going to be in the French Quarter. Or even on the East Bank. If you come to New Orleans during the spring months, and are not able to attend the party of a grandmaster crawfish boiler, then your next best bet is making it across the Mississippi River over to Perino's Boiling Pot in Harvey – which is one of my husband's favorite restaurants. And this isn't coming from someone from Ohio (me), this is from someone from New Orleans (husband).
You can get it all there: the salty spicy crawfish, the fixings, the pile of corn (very important to an Ohioan). And of course, the first thing the bartender asked me? Would you like a Strawberry Abita? I thought, YOU BET I WOULD.
Also, there are stuffed animals everywhere. Everywhere. Some of them, I'm not even sure if they're not on an endangered list.
As soon as you walk in, you are welcomed by a huge bear. This is the best shit, you guys.
And honestly, one of my favorite crawfish stories comes from this place. Picture it (I'm being Sophia Petrillo here for a minute, hang in there with me): it was few years ago, when I first moved here. My husband and a few of our friends were hanging out at Perino's, and there was a table of Canadians sitting next to us. (Now, this place is usually full of locals, but tourists do find it, because it's pretty damn good, and these Canadians were in the know.) But they didn't know how to eat the crawfish they ordered, and we think they were too afraid to actually ask a server, so they asked my husband.
He picks one up and shows them, but he does it pretty fast – because he's a pro and has been eating the little suckers since he was still in the womb. He's also the kind of guy that doesn't take out that "vein", quotation marks because it's not really a vein. He's hardcore. The Canadians look a little confused, so he shows them again, slower. He separates the head from the tail … and then one of the Canadian ladies is like "OH, I'VE GOT IT NOW" and proceeds to do the same thing, separate the head from the tail, and then pops the whole tail (WITHOUT PEELING IT) into her mouth and starts crunching.
The rest of our table is smiling, grins plastered on our faces, but we are all internally screaming in horror.
My husband is frozen in disbelief. The woman is still crunching and through the chewing, that might have been breaking her teeth, is like "yeah, this is really good!"
We all had to be like, "NO NO you have to PEEL the tail, PEEL IT."
But my poor husband was too embarrassed and horrified, "CHECK PLEASE," and we got out of there so fast. He still feels really really bad about it, and to this day, hopes those Canadians were not turned off of crawfish for forever.
So the moral of the story? If you don't know how to eat crawfish, ask your friendly server, save on the dental bills.