It takes many interlocking elements to make you fall in love with a place, but if I could condense it to one thing, it'd be sno balls. At least where New Orleans is concerned. I'd argue that nowhere in the Western Hemisphere does shaved ice receive more respect, and though the beignet may be the city's dessert icon, sno balls are its everyday treat. Any city that treats its "low-brow" frozen desserts this way is a place I want to call home some day.
What makes the New Orleans sno ball so good? The people here understand just how thoroughly you need to souse it with sugar syrup to make it work. The best New Orleans sno balls (cf. Hansen's, natch) shave the ice so fine it really is like snow, and they go heavy on the syrup. That syrup melts the fluffy ice just enough to create an almost elastic, sorbet-like texture that melts smooth on the tongue but offers some resistance to the teeth. Skimp on the syrup and you get wet clumpy ice, but the necessary amount does wind up too sweet for some.
If you want to get the proper sno ball experience without compromising your insulin balances for the rest of the day, Beaucoup Juice on Freret Street is a must-visit. The shop has that New Orleans kind of funk: bare concrete floors, good music on the stereo, and psychedelic wall murals that, upon closer inspection, double as menus.
Beaucoup Juice makes fruit and vegetable juices from as-local-as-possible produce, with flavors "influenced by Mexico, Brasil, and of course Louisiana" (so says the wall—trust the wall). But on a hot, muggy day, nothing beats the sno balls ($3 small, $4 medium, $5 large).
The flavors are something of a sno ball revelation: bright and clean and really not that sweet at all. You really taste strawberry in the strawberry lemonade, and the pineapple mint is tropical and bright, with real-deal shreds of mint leaf that stay with you after the last slurp. Most sno ball syrups are painfully, delightfully artificial (I don't know what nectar is, but I like it); but it's a totally different game at Beaucoup Juice, wholly delicious in its own way.
What gets me about this place is that they fundamentally redefine the sno ball flavor experience without mucking up its texture. The chewiness and smooth-melting qualities you want are still there, just without all the extra sugar. Though the ice isn't quite as fluffy as what you'll find at Hansen's, it's still superior to the city average, and a beautiful thing in its own right.
If it's your first visit to New Orleans, don't visit Beaucoup Juice for your first sno ball. It'll throw off your baseline and the sugar-shocked offerings elsewhere will leave you dazed and confused. Better to make it your second or third, and then again for your fourth or fifth. You will find excuses to return to Freret Street.