The lure with New Orleans always revolves around the city’s utterly unique Creole food. Can I get an amen? There’s also the lacy wrought-iron, antebellum architecture of the French Quarter and Garden District, built by English and Spanish artisans. And you’ve got the Mississippi Delta blues—a gumbo mix of Huck Finn spirit and Robert Johnson pathos. In effect, this is America’s most original city and most European at once. With lots of inbound airlift and available rooms, it’s also one the country’s most fun and affordable big city meeting destinations. “We already had our recession with Katrina,” says Mark Barton, director of sales for New Orleans Marriott. So we’re feeling a lot of optimism right now because we’re coming back, and you know what, people want to eat well in good times and bad.” Following an all-encompassing $38 million renovation in 2007, the 1,329-room hotel features a huge new artsy lobby lounge, new rooms with flat screen TVs, and the largest ballroom in the state. It’s also the only convention hotel in the French Quarter. “We call ourselves the French Quarter’s Grand Central, because our guests tell us that,” says Barton. “And right now I can say this city is the best deal in the country. Our group rates run $99-$249 depending on season and load. Compare that to San Francisco.” Directly across Canal Street, JW Marriott New Orleans is the well-to-do sister hotel, with 300-count cotton linens and a Don Shula Steakhouse. Two blocks up Canal, The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans feels like a French Quarter manse with its intimate, ornate public spaces wrapping around a central outdoor courtyard. On a recent trip, Mr. Taittinger from Reims is a couple tables over. Yes, the champagne guy. But here’s the best deal in The South. Part of Ritz-Carlton’s room inventory includes The Iberville Suites, priced around $100 nightly, with charging privileges and full access to the regal host property. Beyond the Quarter The aptly named New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center is as surprisingly stylish as it is well located. The moddish 320-room biz hotel is across the street from the riverfront Convention Center, housed in a 19th century cotton mill with the original brick walls still exposed. It’s a 10-minute walk to the Quarter but right at the base of the artsy Warehouse District, where everything’s happening right now. The go-to places: Emeril’s flagship restaurant, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the mesmerizing National WWII Museum, and the artist studios along Gallery Row. For local gossip, check out the hip European motorbike shop on Julia Street where Tulane students buy all their Vespas. The Warehouse District is the future of New Orleans, with tons of raw space between downtown and the Garden District, ripe for hot new restaurateurs like chef Donald Link. The James Beard Award winner runs Cochon and the unbearably good Herbsaint, ranked a top 50 eatery in the country. This month, he opens Calcasieu—a private event facility where he’ll serve baked stuffed Gulf oysters with bacon ’n bearnaise for groups up to 160. For some more authentic Creole cooking, we like the duck etoufée at Upperline. Near the Garden District, the fine-dining restaurant occupies an expansive 1877 home, where owner JoAnn Clevenger has been a fixture for over 40 years. She tossed a few back with Tennessee Williams and his posse back in the day, so she’s fun to have at the table.