I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't visit New Orleans until November last year. Me and the hub decided to go there over Thanksgiving, and I have to say, I would swap out turkey for gumbo any time.
We stayed in the French Quarter, at the Hotel St. Marie (http://www.hotelstmarie.com/) on Toulouse Street (here's the view from our balcony). It was raining off and on the entire time, which they say is typical in the city. I liked it; it lended a nice and shiny dreariness to the streets and old buildings.
New Orleans is a great place to walk, and we dashed between porches, balconies and overhangs, following the straightforward paths set out in Walking Tours of Old New Orleans by Stanley Clisby Arthur. It's a great book, which deserves to be read on the plane for the details of the buildings and tales about the previous owners, then used as a guide for walking through the best areas.
You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about food: po'boys, macque choux, jambalaya. And we ate as much as we could, convincing ourselves that it was an American right during Thanksgiving. And New Orleans needed the money.
We made sure we went Coop's Place (1109 Decatur Street, http://www.coopsplace.com/), a tiny bar that we heard about from Clarence Hill, owner of Clarence's Taste of New Orleans in Edgewood, Maryland (http://www.clarencestasteofneworleans.com/). He used to work at Coop's, and he gave us a list of things to try (jambalaya with rabbit was at the top of the list), as well as the name of a waitress there. Turns out, she was the only waitress there, and she didn't seem particularly impressed that we knew Clarence ("Oh, Clarence. I just saw him six months ago," she said, as if our carried greeting would have been more welcome if she hadn't seen him in years.) We weren't particularly impressed with Coop's either--the bathrooms were too dirty and the jambalaya too smoky for us. But don't take my word for it--people love it. I might have gotten the wrong dish. Or the wrong waitress.
We got dessert at Cafe du Mond, although neither of us drinks coffee. We were in town, and it just seemed like we had to go. The beignets were good, and the people watching was even better.
Our favorite place of the weekend was a tourist trap: the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street. It was in a great old building, pleasantly run-down, with murals on the walls and great high ceilings. We loved the gumbo, of course, but also liked the fried alligator, and wished we had made a meal of just that. We went there for our last foodie experience, too...a big take out box of bread pudding, which was still warm when we got back to our hotel room.
It may have been touristy, but that's what they say New Orleans needs...more tourists. Best of luck to them as they continue to rebuild from the storm. It's a crappy anniversary to celebrate, but New Orleans will use any excuse for a party.