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What’s the best (or at least one) way to see New Orleans? Race a half marathon through the streets—and then restore your energy with a gorge tour of the city’s best eats.
In the dusky, streetlight-lit dawn, 12,000 runners line up on Poydras Street. Breath heavy, shoulders brushing, they wait for the bullhorn that will signal a shuffle toward the start, and then a struggle to the finish. But at the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, scheduled for February 28, 2016, the event isn’t over when your feet stop running. In a city famous for birthing culinary specialties, the post-race feasting is part of the deal. But if you can’t wait for the race, you can try your own running culinary tour of the city. If you enjoy sweat and salt-cured sausage in equal measure—here’s your guide to running in the Crescent City and refueling with a dish (or drink) for every mile.
The start line is adjacent to the Mardi Gras parade route, which will be packed with another sort of crowd come February. Feel free to soak in the spirit and shed your top—if you’ve got a sports bra underneath. All clothing dropped in the corrals is donated post-race.
Drink: What better way to start the morning than with a Bloody? Topped with pickled green beans, olives and a lemon wedge, the Mary served at Stanley is good enough to change your life. Order the double, and at a minimum, it will transform your afternoon.
When the route turns, you’re running along the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the country. Get a boost from the Charles Street route’s resiliency—it’s also the city’s only line to serve passengers around the clock following Hurricane Katrina.
Eat: Po’ boys are the answer to the question: Shouldn’t my sandwich filling be deep-fried? Technically, this sammy can also be stuffed with deli meat. But why would you order roast beef when the fried shrimp special at Parkway Bakery & Tavern is so damn good?
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The Garden District is the best neighborhood to experience the city’s antebellum vibe—think: oaks and Spanish moss that drape over iron gates fencing gingerbread houses.
Eat: Head back to the district for lunch at Commander’s Palace. Founded in 1880, the experience feels old world, especially when the vested waiter offers you a bowl of turtle soup with aged sherry finished tableside. Plus, martinis are 25 cents when you buy an entrée.
The Orleans Club is coming up on your right. A gift from Colonel William Lewis Wynn to his daughter on her wedding day, the club now hosts ladies’ social club functions and débutante teas. Don’t let visions of scones distract you. There’s plenty of time for that later—nine more miles to go.
Drink: At Carousel Bar, the seats move (just like the real thing). Order the Sazerac and feel the sweet burn of America’s first original cocktail warm the back of your throat.
Check out the outer edge of Audubon Park before looping back the way you came. Fun fact: The green space was designed by the nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Eat: New Orleans food is known for being good, not healthy. But the marinated Brussels sprouts at Cochon Bakery check both boxes—although if you’re already there, you might as well accompany your side of greens with house-cured meats stuffed into a muffuletta.
You may remember this stretch, but take a second look above your head. You’ll notice beads hanging from the branches, holdovers from Fat Tuesdays past.
Eat: La Boulangerie lets you replenish like royalty. The bakery offers two king cake versions (the icing-laden Southern and the croissant-like French), both of which have a porcelain figurine baked into the dough just waiting for one lucky sweet tooth to bite.
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You’re probably feeling a little tired by now, but it could be worse. When yellow fever swept the city in the mid-19th century, the disease took thousands of lives. Popular Garden District ghost tours tell tales of the victims haunting the homes. Good news: You’re healthy, it’s daytime and you’re halfway done.
Eat: Bam! You crushed the race’s mid-point. Celebrate your feat in celebrity-chef style at Emeril’s. Hint: Order the barbecue shrimp.
Look for the Superdome in the distance as you make your way back toward downtown. Who dat? Home to the Saints (and the 2013 blackout), the stadium can hold nearly 80,000.
Eat: Revisit the football spirit at lunchtime with a bowl of Jambalaya Supreme from Coop’s Place. No buddy’s game-day stew can touch this Cajun combo of sausage, rabbit, tasso and shrimp.
You’re back in the thick of things. On Magazine Street, you’ll take in the National WWII Museum, Freedom Pavilion, Victory Theater and Contemporary Arts Center, all within a few blocks.
Drink: Cognac, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar might not sound that great mid-run, but it will a few hours after—especially if it’s mixed to perfection at French 75. The bar, which gets its name from the concoction above, often makes the short list of best cocktail houses in the country.
Easily the coolest mile in the race, this one takes you through the iconic French Quarter with its brick Victorians laced with wrought-iron pillars and balconies. You’ll feel like you’re a (very sweaty and tired) extra in a Tennessee Williams play.
Eat: Café du Monde is right on the course around mile 9.5. Return to the popular spot anytime. The restaurant is open 24/7 and it sells two things: coffee (regular or chicory) and beignets (fluffy fried dough, topped with a snowstorm of powdered sugar).
Get a final glimpse of the Mississippi in all its riverboat glory before turning up Esplanade for the home stretch.
Eat: Thanks to the Gulf ’s warm waters, oysters can be harvested year-round. There’s a joke here about half marathons and half shells—but just go to Luke at happy hour and enjoy fresh, plump bivalves for 50 cents a slurp.
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The morning fog has burned off , and you’re almost done. Let the hospitable locals carry you along as you make your way through residential streets lined with Creole-style houses and smiling faces.
Eat: You may not believe it now, but one day, your legs will be ready again to dance. Hit up Candlelight Lounge where $10 gets you live music and a bowl of red beans, rice and ham hocks. Every Wednesday, the famous Treme Brass Band plays—and the place gets first packed and later wild.
Hell yeah. You did it—and you’re done! Soak in the verdant beauty of City Park as you search for a Spanish oak to rest your weary gams.
Drink: Sip on your free finish-line beer—at once the worst and the best thing you’ll consume all day. World-class cuisine is cool and all, but victory tastes pretty sweet.