We challenged readers to narrow their New Orleans favorites down to three: one dish, one drink, one destination. They didn't disappoint, and neither did the NOLA natives and fans from elsewhere who found our challenge online and chimed in.
So whether you are headed to the Big Easy for the 49ers' Super Bowl appearance or Mardi Gras in early February or just because it's been too long since your last pilgrimage, here's a terrific array of suggestions.
Have more ideas? Join the conversation at www.mercurynews.com/travel.
DISH: Buy 2 pounds of boiled crawfish with potatoes and corn from the Original French Market. Get it to go.
DRINK: Anything from Abita Brewing on tap.
DESTINATION: With crawfish and beer in hand, head across street to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and commence to sippin' and suckin'.
- David Cordova, Santa Clara
DISH: The "10 Napkin" po' boy at Acme Oyster House (it's roast beef, not oysters).
DRINK: The Hurricane from Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (nothing like the Pat O'Brien's version).
DESTINATION: Bloody Mary's Haunted Pub Crawl. Or The Dungeon bar. Hours are midnight to 6 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Look close, or you will walk right by it!
- Gina Buscheck, Livermore
DISH: Pascal's Manale for barbecue shrimp.
DRINK: Maple Leaf Bar for a Sazerac. (If you didn't wear the bib at Manale, you used to be able to do your laundry next door to the Maple Leaf.)
DESTINATION: Tipitina's for a show. The only thing better would be tickets to the Super Bowl.
- Howard Higley, Mountain View
DISH: The shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake at Jacques-Imo's is a must-try.
DRINK: I'd recommend anything on Cochon's cocktail menu. They make their own bitters.
DESTINATION: We took a road trip out to Avery Island, home of the Tabasco manufacturing plant. The tour was really brief, but you can smell the vinegar as you pull in, and they have a cute little country store for all your souvenir needs. Across the road is the Avery Island Jungle Gardens. Doing both is a worthwhile adventure just two hours from New Orleans.
- Mike Montaño, San Jose
DESTINATION: Stop by Peaches Records on North Peters Street, and you'll be welcomed like family. Outstanding local music selection with lots of vinyl. Get some New Orleans musical history while you move to the music.
DISH: A short walk takes you to Central Grocery for the best muffuletta in town. Plan to share!
- Marlene Vogelsang, San Leandro
DISH: Make sure to have a crawfish frittata for breakfast or brunch at Vacherie.
DRINK: The Moscow Mule at Sylvain in the Quarter for some wonderful people-watching and a gorgeous view of Jackson Square.
DESTINATION: Take the passenger ferry to the Westbank and take a walk around Old Algiers Point.
- Jeffrey Muir, Former New Orleans resident now living in Santa Cruz
DISH: Tracey's (used to be Parasol's) hot roast beef po' boy.
DRINK: Jacques-Imo's watermelon mojito.
DESTINATION: Locals go out on Frenchmen Street. I love Mimi's in the Marigny, Apple Barrel and D.B.A. All play great music all the time!
- Cara Willet, Saratoga
DISH: Muffuletta at Central Grocery -- all others are just a pale comparison.
DRINK: No favorite drink, although I did have a lot of long-neck beers while at Tipitina's or the Maple Leaf Bar when I lived there.
DESTINATION: Catch the seat just inside the first door in Preservation Hall (you'll be sitting right beside the trombone player -- don't worry, he'll never hit you; he's a professional :-) ). I always considered Preservation Hall my time machine.
- Pat Hill Vandermolen, Sunnyvale
DISH: Shrimp po' boy at Johnny's Po-Boy at 511 St. Louis St. in the Quarter. Red beans and rice there is also the best I have ever had.
DRINK: The Goody cocktail at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street. This is like no other spot you will ever see here in Northern California.
DESTINATION: Insta-Gator alligator farm in Covington (about an hour north of New Orleans) is a working gator farm that is helping preserve native gators as well as farm them for leather and meat. This is the true South for the tourist with a little curiosity in them.
- John Brorsen, Kensington
As a native New Orleanian, I offer these tips:
DISH: Gumbo Ya Ya, a chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, at Mr. B's Bistro. It is thick, smoky and dark with tender bits of chicken and an incredible sausage. It is on my last-meal list.
DRINK: Abita Amber, a locally brewed beer. Have one at Cooter Brown's in the Riverbend area, which you can get to by taking my advice below ...
DESTINATION: Take a ride on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar in the middle of the day when it is not too crowded ($1.25 each way). Ride it all the way to the end and back again. You'll see mansions, oak trees, Audubon Park, Tulane and Loyola universities, and a host of places to hop off and enjoy a drink, such as the Columns Hotel, where portions of "Pretty Baby" were filmed, or at Cooter Brown's.
BONUS SUGGESTION: Walk down Bourbon Street once so you can say you did, then spend most of your time getting to know the rest of our city.
- Mark Bologna, New Orleans
DISH: Pumpkin pancakes at The Blue Plate Cafe.
DRINK: Cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde (great for people-watching).
DESTINATION: The best low-cost activity in the city is a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar line.
- Jamie Radley, San Leandro
DISH: Charbroiled oysters at Drago's.
DRINK: Monsoon at Port of Call.
DESTINATION: Arcadian Books. Just a funky used bookstore. With books packed from the floor to the ceiling. And be sure to pick up a map of all of the other used bookstores in the area. It's one of my favorite things to do in New Orleans!
- Shawn Rossi, Jackson, Miss. (who found your request from a Google Alert on "New Orleans" so I can keep finding out neat things about one of my favorite cities)
DISH: Fried oyster po' boy at the Acme Oyster House. Great oyster shooters, too.
DRINK: Cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. Delicious coffee with chicory in it.
DESTINATION: Mardi Gras World. Take the free ferry ride across the river, and a shuttle picks you up and takes you to the huge facility where they make the floats for the parades. Great tour.
- Susane Peruzzi, South San Francisco
DISH: Shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake at Jacques-Imo's. Best appetizer ever!
DRINK: Choose one drink? Are you kidding me?
DESTINATION: Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. A few steps off Bourbon Street and you are in another world. Intimate setting, great drinks, food, music.
- Laura Manthey, San Jose
DISH: Mosca's is among my favorite restaurants in the world. It looks like an abandoned gas station and it is a 30-minute drive from New Orleans, but definitely worth the trip. If I have to name a favorite dish it would be Oysters Mosca, Chicken Cacciatore, Chicken a La Grande, Shrimp Mosca, Spaghetti Bordelaise. Sorry, there's no naming just one dish at Mosca's.
DESTINATIONS: Visit the icon of New Orleans grocery shopping, Dorignac's. This is where the locals shop, and you will find ingredients for all your favorite Creole and Cajun dishes, including spice mixes, red beans, andouille, tasso and Poche's Crawfish Boudin. Gambino's Bakery is the place to visit for local treats like king cakes, doberge cakes and muffuletta bread.
- Vanessa Crews, Berkeley (but lived in New Orleans for five years)
DESTINATION: Few tourists know that the New Orleans Museum of Art has a room full of Fabergé objects, including five of the famed Easter eggs. My favorite thing to tell first-timers.
DISH/DRINK: Christmas Bar, Carousel Bar, Casamento's restaurant -- that's just the C's. So much more I wish I could say!
- Rose Steele, Until 1974, I lived all my life in Louisiana. I then took work in Oakland and was immediately sent to NOLA on assignment, where my desire to experiment was augmented by an expense account.
DISH: Flounder Meunière at Galatoire's. This restaurant has been a fixture in my family as one of the places to go to in New Orleans since I was a child.
DRINK: Sazerac at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.
DESTINATION: My experience would be coffee and doughnuts (beignets) at the Café du Monde or Morning Call, preferably after a night in the city where the bars do not close.
- William Morrison
DISH: Seafood gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.
DRINK: Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's.
DESTINATION: Walking down Bourbon Street.
- Tracey Nero, Menlo Park
Having worked in the energy industry for many years, I had several business trips to New Orleans. Here are two dishes that were recommended to me by locals when I was there:
DISH: A Ferdi Special po' boy at Mother's Restaurant (401 Poydras St.). This has ham, roast beef and "debris" (pan drippings). It's heavenly, but don't tell your cardiologist.
DESSERT: The bread pudding souffle at Commander's Palace. I can still taste it, even though I haven't been in New Orleans for 15 years.
- Mark Said, San Ramon
DISH: The flaming Bananas Foster at Brennan's is to die for -- and worth the singe!
- Karen Komatsu-Sampson
DISH: Smoked sizzling oysters at GW Fins. Smoky, buttery, heaven on a plate.
DRINK: Chicory coffee (with sugary beignet) at Cafe du Monde. It's practically a requirement in NOLA.
DESTINATION: For people-watching, the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. Try the spicy Bloody Mary with green beans for a predinner cocktail.
- Cindy Swartzel, Hayward
DISH: House of Blues "Gospel Brunch" every Sunday. Red Fish Grill at 115 Bourbon St. Cafe Beignet for breakfast every day, with outdoor blues music.
DRINK: Hurricanes to drink ... anywhere!
DESTINATION: Zydeco music at the Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street.
- John and Linda Bauer, Redwood City
The last time I was in Naw'lins was before Katrina. Here are my favorite memories:
DISH: Bread pudding. The last time we were there, there was a great one at a place called Mother's that had fruit in it. Spent the rest of the trip sampling that and jambalaya everywhere we went.
DRINK: Sweet tea with beignets. On a hot day, nothing beats that cold sweetness pouring down your throat.
DESTINATION: In the French Quarter, we found an actual milliner's. What gorgeous hats! I still regret not coming home with one and would love to have the chance to get there and find a fabulous one and bring it home.
What a fun idea. Thanks for the chance to share.
- Cindy Skrivanek
DRINK: Cucumber martini at the Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone. So surprisingly delicate and delicious!
DISH: Toss-up between the charcuterie platter at Cochon Butcher, or the fried soft-shell crabs, lemon grits, arugula pistou and opal basil butter at Borgne (a John Besh restaurant).
DESTINATION: Getting off the St. Charles streetcar at a random stop and wandering around the Garden District, ending up on Magazine Street to check out all the cool shops, stopping for a banh mi at Magasin and finishing by sipping some rum at the Rum House.
- Tara Bradshaw, Trafalgar Travel, Kingston, Jamaica
DISH: Charbroiled oysters at Drago's Seafood Restaurant in the Hilton Hotel, 2 Poydras St. (also at 3232 N. Arnoult Road, Metairie).
DRINK: Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, 123 Baronne St.
DESTINATION: The Spotted Cat for live music, 623 Frenchmen St.
- Gary Lion, Walnut Creek
DISH: The $5 plate of Hog's Head Cheese at Restaurant R'evolution. It is a delicious plate of porky goodness.
DRINK: The $2 drinks at Ms. Mae's on Magazine Street at Napoleon. Whoa.
DESTINATION: All of the used bookstores in the French Quarter, especially the Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street.
- Kathleen Lewis, Los Angeles
DISHES/DESTINATIONS: Breakfast at Cafe du Monde and dinner at the Gumbo House -- both tourist must-dos!
- Joe Bolin, San Jose
DESTINATION: An amazing side trip is to the Laura Plantation, which was built by slaves known for their excellent carpentry skills. It was owned by a woman, and the slaves of Muslim faith were allowed to practice their religion. The tour is fascinating. Descendants of the slaves still live there, in humble small homes near the fields. I walked around dumbfounded.
What did I also love? The airport pipes in music by Louis Armstrong (and the airport is named after him), even the tacky tourist shops blast great music into the street, and the street music -- 12-piece brass band. Stay and hear them play (and donate money).
- Deborah Green, Berkeley
DISH: Fried oyster po' boy at Acme Oyster House. For this healthy eater who steers clear of fatty foods, it was worth every calorie.
DRINK: Mint julep at Oak Alley Plantation. I thought it would be cloyingly sweet, but it was the most refreshing, delicious libation I've ever had as I strolled around the old plantation.
DESTINATION: Have a cocktail on the porch of The Columns Hotel and watch the St. Charles streetcar go by. It's right out of a Southern Living magazine ad.
- Janet Diehl, San Jose
DISH: The bread pudding at Commander's Palace in the heart of the Garden District sets the ultimate standard. Remember to order at the time of a food order, because it requires prep time to rise. I have never found anything else comparable in the entire world.
DRINK: The 25-cent martinis at weekday lunchtime at Commander's. Probably will not be available during Super Bowl, but it is definitely worth checking. Make your reservations now.
DESTINATION: Lil' Cajun Swamp Tours (800-689-3213) is the best swamp tour, with knowledgeable, fun and authentic Cajun guides. NOLA natives recommend this one. I never met anyone who took the tour that did not like it.
- Harvey Checkman, Cupertino
DISH: Red beans and rice with sausage at Coop's Place.
DRINK: King Cake martini at the Parkway for Poor Boys -- the last one of many divine cocktails I had in NOLA.
DESTINATION: Preservation Hall for New Orleans jazz. Wonderful concerts every night. I was spellbound by Kristina Morales and the Bayou Shufflers on one of the nights we went.
- Karin Stenberg, Richmond
DISH: Nothing beats barbecue shrimp. Not really barbecued, but shrimp simmered in a rich creamy sauce, often served with polenta. Wonderful dish. You can find it in a number of restaurants, like Mr. B's Bistro.
DRINK: For something different, try the Hand Grenade, made with grain alcohol and Midori. The best are served at Tropical Isle bars, located in the Quarter.
DESTINATION: New Orleans is a walking town, and there are many routes to try. Just walking up and down the streets of the Quarter, taking in all the sights and smells and curious architecture, is a joy. So is a trip down the Moonwalk along the river. Or try a stroll through the Garden District.
- Clifton Crawford
As for me ...
DISH: I have lots of old favorites, but my newest discovery was the rabbit and sausage jambalaya at Coop's Place. Order the "supreme" version with shrimp and tasso.
DRINK: The Napoleon House is famous for serving a great version of -- get this -- a British cocktail, the Pimm's Cup. It's very refreshing on a humid day.
DESTINATION: The National World War II Museum, located in New Orleans' CBD (Central Business District), is a great place to steep yourself in history. Plan to spend at least half a day at this fascinating museum, and don't miss the terrific IMAX film narrated by Tom Hanks.
- Linda Zavoral, Travel editor, San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group