New Orleans is fascinatingly photogenic. Flowered mule-drawn carriages click down narrow dainty streets, each passing block unfolding in movie set perfection, The glory days of Spanish, French and American colonists are reflected in the stunning architecture, which serves as noble backdrop to a vary earthy cast of characters. Swanky eight-piece brass bands, camped-out clairvoyants and painted mimes entertain each fresh batch of excited tourists at Jackson Square. The French Quarter teems with hipster tattooed service staff, muffin-top strippers, and dubious drunks on Bourbon Street (locals go to Frenchman Street), all padded with endless fried food and adult beverage options. Complementary mimosa on Tuesday morning? They all said yes, thanks, as did I. This is a where people live and work to drink, proudly charging to the bar with the battle cry of laissez les bon temps rouler. If your ideal vacation would include a history lesson, some world-class jazz, mechanical bull riding, or the essential desire to feel far-far away, this laid-back, soulful city is a top U.S.A. destination.

The locals can be found fortifying themselves with a cold beer paired with deep fried and butter-drenched dishes. This comfort food is often made from humble local ingredients, all devoured to the rhythmic sounds echoing through this musical city. The Jazz Festival was on so the streets were animated night and day, vibrating with anticipation, and the French Quarter is where I spent most of my waking hours. The venerable streets are brimming with relics from decades and centuries past; specialty shops display paraphernalia from the last three hundred years. The famous oyster houses are at every corner, dishing out enormous po’ boy sandwiches (abbreviated from poor boy), originally sold for five cents to the blue collar folk. If you don’t eat at least one grilled, fried and raw oyster here, you may as well not come. ACME House, although tacky and touristy with its neon lights and cheap checked table cloths, is the ultimate place for char-grilled cheese oysters.New Orleans is ironically lacking in French people, yet the Frog and I found a superb French restaurant called Crockett serving a heavenly steak frites. The food is worthy of its excellent reputation, and definitely not diet-friendly. Wherever you wander, the seductive scent of fried food floats through the city air. There were endless rows of street carts at the Jazz Festival showcasing New Orleans’s extensive portfolio of famed creations, most notably the crab and crawfish stuffed fried mushrooms. A few steps away, Mr. B’s Bistro serves up devilishly plump and juicy barbecued shrimp bathing in one and half cups of butter. I promptly stopped drinking the sauce after I read the recipe. Gumbo is another staple dish with shockingly intense flavors; perhaps because I first tasted this at ten in the morning. The spicy roux quickly slapped my taste buds out of their hung-over lethargy. Alligator stew (another local specialty) can be disturbingly chewy, so choose your establishment wisely.

New Orleans is a stage show filled with diverse and unique characters, but behind the scenes of this colorful matinee lies a consciousness that this world could be leveled by the merciless power of nature. In response, New Orleanians choose to live in the moment: Life is playful, energized by the simple pleasures of fine food, good company and a healthy dose of alcohol, all savored to the rhythms of the city’s own appropriately frantic style of jazz.