Most New Orleanians take a side in the Westbank vs. Eastbank's friendly rivalry. While I am loyal to the Eastbank myself, residents of Algiers or Gretna love the quiet, local feel and authenticity of their Westbank homes. Many restaurants across the river are known as real neighborhood places. Gattuso's, to name just one example, provides a personal touch. Patrons note how the staff seems to know the regulars there, evidence that it's a friendly neighborhood joint. And the food reflects it: you can tell why people keep on coming back.
New Orleans is brimming with great Vietnamese food, but the Westbank is where more adventurous foodies can find the most authentic Vietnamese establishments. Nine Roses is one of the best. It recently opened a location in the French Quarter, but to find the home-cooked quality and vast menu that made the restaurant so well-known, you'll have to visit its Gretna location. It's hard to pick just a few dishes to recommend from the extensive and almost universally delicious menu. One notable thing to try is Bo Nuong Vi, which is served on a tabletop grill with beef, shrimp or squid that you cook yourself. The more you ask around, though, the more you'll find that everyone has a Nine Roses dish that you shouldn't leave without trying. You'll just have to come back again.
After you're full from enjoying one of the many restaurants dotting the towns of the Westbank, scenic bike rides along the levy provide views of New Orleans' Eastbank from afar. Algiers Point, where the river makes a sharp turn and the Westbank juts out into the river, is a perfect place to take a breather and see the city sprawled out before you. But you don't have to stop there. Between the Gretna Ferry Landing and the Algiers Ferry Landing is a 2.5-mile ride, perfect for a short trip or as part of a longer ride. Though the view from Algiers Point is the most famous one along this bike ride, there are great views throughout.
Biking may not fulfill your need for speed, but NOLA Motorsports Park has you covered. This is not your regular go-cart track. NOLA Motorsports boasts the largest karting track in the United States, and its carts go up to fifty miles an hour. Bring a group of your friends to one of their "Kartmanias," a three-hour ticketed event with unlimited racing. The 2.5-mile tracks give you a taste of what it's like to be a formula one racer.
While you're on the Westbank, you have to check out Jean Lafitte Park. The nearby parks make it easy to step out of the hubbub of the city and into its 23,000 acres of bayous, marshes and beautiful wildflowers. You can find great bird watching here, and you might even spot an alligator. The elevated trails do close sometimes for flooding, but this comes with the territory when you're exploring a natural wetland.
The Mississippi may be a classic dividing line for the United States, but for the city of New Orleans it's a false boundary. What we call the Westbank is actually directly south from the Eastbank. But in New Orleans, we rarely refer to magnetic north or south, and our roads almost never go in a straight line. For tourists trying to navigate the Crescent City, being directed "Lakeside" or "Riverside", and "Uptown" or "Downtown," rather than simply north, south, east or west, is probably baffling. It's easy to forget our Westbank neighbors are actually to the south.
South or west, the Other Bank is not as far away as it may seem. It has never been easier to ferry or drive across, ever since they discontinued the tolls on the river's bridges. The ferries are also bike-friendly. The ease of communication and transportation between the two sides of the river facilitates the rivalry between them. But even if you remain loyal to your East Bank neighborhood, you can still enjoy what Gretna, Algiers and Jean Lafitte have to offer. We won't tell.
Photos courtesy of Anna Currey. Gattuso's photo courtesy of www.gattusos.net