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Gentle on the Wallet in the Big Easy

November 29, 1998|ARTHUR FROMMER

The key to getting bargains in New Orleans is to reserve early, because even out of high season this is a popular convention town and rooms can be tight when you wouldn't expect it. Most of the budget choices are outside the French Quarter, such as the Econolodge East, telephone (504) 254-9140, where a family of four can stay for $49 a night, and the Best Western Westbank, tel. (504) 366-5369, where rooms with two double beds go for $65 a night.

In the Quarter--and with a little more character--the 19th century LaSalle Hotel, tel. (800) 521-9450 or (504) 523-5831, has white pillars, wrought-iron balconies and old-fashioned but amenity-laden rooms starting at $29 without bath, $58 with.

In the hostel category, try the Marquette House, tel. (504) 523-3014, affiliated with Hostelling International. Rates for dorm-style digs are about $11 per night for members and about $14 for nonmembers, and private rooms start at $28 (for members, without private bath). Or try an outfit called Bed & Breakfast Inc., tel. (800) 729-4640, which can find you atmospheric lodgings for as little as $46 nightly.

One can see from some of the waistlines hereabout that New Orleans is a major gourmand grazing ground. Eating prices range from astronomical to dirt cheap. During the day, sample the "po-boys" and "muffalettas"--the local versions of sub sandwiches--for $5 or less at French Quarter spots like Johnny's Po-Boys (511 St. Louis St.), Central Grocery (923 Decatur St.) and the 24-hour Quartermaster Deli (Bourbon and Ursulines streets).

For hot meals, Coop's Place, 1109 Decatur St., tel. (504) 525-9053, has a tavernesque feel and serves a stomach-stuffing "taste plate" of gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp Creole, fried chicken, red beans and rice for $9.75. Other substantial combo plates go for about $7.

Or check out the lovely French country atmosphere at La Madeleine, tel. (504) 568-0073, right on Jackson Square, where besides baked goods and sandwiches you can get meals such as grilled chicken breast with rice or potato for $5.25.

Buffa's, Esplanade and Burgundy streets, tel. (504) 945-9373, a dark, unpretentious neighborhood joint with a colorful clientele, will feed you a full dinner for as little as $4.95 (for red beans and rice served with sausage, corn bread, vegetable and salad).

Rich in history, this city's also rich in inexpensive guided walks. For $14 per person, Historic New Orleans Walking Tours, tel. (504) 947-2120, squires guests around the Quarter and the Garden District, throwing in aboveground cemeteries and voodoo temples along the way. Original Gumbo Walking Tours, tel. (504) 558-0063, focuses on the Quarter's history and architecture three times a day for $15. Tours from Absolutely Fabulous, tel. (504) 482-2259, and Friends of the Cabildo, tel. (504) 523-3939, cover much the same ground daily, at similar prices.

Except for popular times such as Mardi Gras, typical advance-purchase round-trip air fares to New Orleans on, say, Continental Airlines, tel. (800) 525-0280, run as low as $240 from L.A.

The package route can be even more of a bargain. Southwest Airlines Vacations, tel. (800) 423-5683, has midweek departures from various cities with two nights at the Comfort Inn Downtown and airport shuttles, priced from $357 per person from Los Angeles.

For more information, as well as the Louisiana Coupons booklet with discounts on more than 40 lodgings, restaurants, shops and attractions, check with the Visitors' Bureau, tel. (800) 672-6124 or Internet

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