It’s the rare visitor who doesn’t come to New Orleans to eat. In this town, people are passionate about the details of a great meal, whether it’s the hue of the roux, the size of the Gulf shrimp in the remoulade or the dark crawfish goodness emanating from a perfect etouffee. Here, chefs were rock stars way before The Food Network put locals like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse on the national map, in fact, way before the Food Network, Lena Richard set the bar high as the first black woman with her own cooking show back in 1949.
Mecca for foodies, New Orleans is a bubbling feast of traditional Creole French fare and creative chefs using Gulf seafood and local ingredients in classic and innovative ways. Crackling with an effusive gumbo of culinary history and cocktail culture, New Orleans is arguably the best place to eat in America.
So, where to start? There are some seminal bites you can’t live without, including beignets and chicory-laced café au lait at Café du Monde. trout Amandine at Galatoire’s, and of course, oysters, best enjoyed from a seat at the scarred marble oyster bar at Acme Oyster House. But dig deeper and these 10 dining experiences will please and satisfy. In a town where getting a bad meal is an anomaly, these 10 fantastic restaurants should be on everybody’s bucket list.
Bananas Foster is a must eat dessert and the best place to get it is where it was first flamed, the redone Brennan’s. A theatrical presentation of caramelized banana fragrant with cinnamon and plenty of rum, it’s a treat that never goes out of style. Like Brennan’s itself, a gorgeously redone grande dame on Royal with a lovely courtyard garden, a lovely place to sip a glass of bubbly or a craft libation – try the French 417, Brennan’s take on a French 75 made with pomegranate liqueur. Chef Ryan Hacker has kept many of the Brennan’s classics along with a strong showing of modern Creole and even globally flavored dishes. Nothing cheap about this place, and the dress code is business not casual, but it’s all part of the experience.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Perfect service, a fab bar scene and the best “breakfast” in town, Brennan’s is superb.
Beth’s expert tip: Even if you don’t want to drop a bundle, you must experience the bird-themed bar for a cocktail.
The turquoise and white awning is the first sign of good taste at this flagship of the Brennan family, housed in a gorgeous Victorian mansion in the Garden District since 1880. Sporting a decor that combines whimsy with elegance, Commanders is a dressy spot, no shorts or t-shirts and jackets are preferred – but not required – for gents at dinner. The kitchen, where Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme started and chef Meg Bickford now presides, delivers Haute Creole specialties including oysters with absinthe and skillet seared gulf fish. From your first sip of a Sazerac to your last crumb of bread pudding soufflé, you will enjoy Brennan family hospitality at its best. A
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: This is an iconic New Orleans eatery, the shining star in the Brennan family crown.
Beth’s expert tip: Two-course lunches are $20-$23, best enjoyed with 25 cent martinis at lunch – “only” three to a customer.
Nina Compton brings her generous spirit and natural warmth to every plate of inventive island meets New Orleans and Mediterranean cuisine at Bywater American Bistro, the second restaurant she and her husband Larry Miller opened after settling in Nola to open Compare Lapin in the CBD. This neighborhood spot – which like all New Orleans restaurants pivoted every which way in the past difficult year, feels personal to Compton, and it is. She lives upstairs and is invested in making Bywater her home. She has a loyal following, with good reason. Comfort dishes like crawfish pot pie, puffing up fetchingly in a cast iron skillet, olive-rich antipasto salad and semolina gnocchi resonate with flavor, same goes for specialties like curried rabbit with coconut rice and peas, which speaks to her Saint Lucian roots, same for a half jerk chicken with semolina dumplings. Crispy pork belly is wonderfully matched with a ginger-spiked carrot puree and nips of pickled mustard seed. A fab bar program and a stylish setting makes this restaurant beyond inviting.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Nina Compton is a James Beard Award winning chef and a champion for hospitality workers in New Orleans.
Beth’s expert tip: Chef Nina often brings pop-up chefs in to collaborate with – find out whose in the kitchen on social media.
Walk up to Saint-Germain in its unassuming little bungalow on St. Claude Avenue in Bywater, and you might think you were in the wrong spot. The Sugar Park sign that graces the front of the people harks back to the neighborhood spot that used to live on this busy little stretch of road, which includes neighbors Reds Chinese and Domino bar. But inside, you’ll find a sweet bar on one side and a cozy dining room on the other, the brainchild of Drew DeLaughter and chefs Blake Aguillard and Trey Smith, whose resumes include the likes of Michelin three-star restaurant Saison in San Francisco and Bayona, Restaurant August and Mopho in New Orleans.
There are two experiences here, one is nibbling and drinking wine and cocktails at the bar, with possible options $10-$15 a fried chicken sandwich, garden salad and fried calamari. Make a reservation in the dining room for something really special, a prix fixe chef’s menu that changes a few times a month and includes a vegetarian option the third weekend of every month. The menu mixes global flavors, technique and texture in dishes like hearty morel mushrooms stuffed with boudin noir and scallop sashimi in a delicate grape juice. Dessert often features Japanese kakigori-style shaved ice which might appear in a rootbeer float along with homemade vanilla ice cream. Prices hover in the $100 pp range, with wine pairings an additional $50 or so. Not cheap but expectations are met and exceeded, which feels and tastes great.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Innovative European fare meets Asian and Creole flavors at this chef-driven restaurant in Bywater.
Beth’s expert tip: Wednesday only the bar is open, not the dining room, making it a quiet retreat for drinks and nibbles.
Chef Eric Cook is creating plenty of buzz at Gris-Gris, his welcoming new spot in the Lower Garden District. Cook, who has worked in kitchens from Commander’s to the American Sector and Bourbon House, works his magic creating stellar versions of local comfort dishes, including an ethereal version of his mom’s chicken and dumplings (when was the last time you saw that on a menu?) and a daily gumbo simmered to a dark and smoky essence. The oysters BLT is a revelation of perfectly fried juicy oysters alternating on the plate with candied pork belly on a sheen of tomato jam. Eat at the bar to watch the open kitchen in action. Gris-Gris also boasts the Samedi Room, one of the most unique special event spaces in the city, a two-floor kitchen/dining/sitting room with outside balconies overlooking the city. Very special.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: This wonderful newish place in the Lower Garden District delivers authentic Southern flavor.
Beth’s expert tip: Weekends are busy so plan on dinner during the week for a relaxed dining experience.
This is Cajun meets Creole cooking at its best. Brigtsen’s chef/owner Frank Brigtsen is legendary in the region and his culinary prowess superb. Trained with chef Paul Prudhomme for seven years, chef Brigtsen sources many of his ingredients locally, with daily menu specials that are always a good idea. You won’t be disappointed by the roast duck or blackened tuna, but don’t miss the rabbit and Andouille gumbo, shrimp and grits and pulled pork with pepper jelly glaze. Brigtsen’s is a quick streetcar ride uptown from the French Quarter. Chef Brigtsen has garnered many awards including Best Chef Southeast from the James Beard Foundation.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Brigsten’s is one of the shining examples of surviving and thriving in the New Orleans restaurant scene.
Beth’s expert tip: If you streetcar/ride share to Brigtsen’s, plan to spend the evening in the Riverbend/Carrollton area, a charming neighborhood.
The reopening of Cafe Sbisa, the century-old brasserie on Decatur Street, is big news on lots of fronts. Closed for a year during the pandemic, it reopened in March, a tribute to chef/co-owner Albert Singleton’s grit and vision. The place is an atmospheric stunner, with original wood, intimate balcony and patio dining and a staircase that harks back to a golden age. Singleton, who worked his way up from busboy to chef until Katrina devastated the restaurant, is back in the kitchen, a partner with owner Craig Napoli, whose seafood business assures the freshest gulf catch on the seafood-centric menu. Outstanding French-Creole cuisine including the likes of blue crabcakes and an amazing turtle soup laced with sherry is served under the watchful eyes of a bawdy George Dureau mural – which somehow survived the mold that bloomed after the flood. Enjoy the likes of crawfish beignets, pasta jambalaya and barbecue shrimp on the second floor balcony overlooking the luscious bar. So happy this place made it through.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Cafe Sbisa is one of the few fine-dining restaurants in New Orleans with a Black chef at the helm as co-owner.
Beth’s expert tip: Ask for a table on the balcony for a wonderful city view.
Swine is fine at Cochon, where chef Stephen Stryjewski (partnered here with chef Donald Link) pays homage to the old-style Cajun Boucherie with the hand crafting of boudin, andouille, smoked bacon, and head cheese. With newly appointed chef de cuisine Bret Macris in the kitchen, a menu of locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood, delivers authentic flavors of Cajun country.
Set in the rustic, yet the contemporary interior of a renovated New Orleans warehouse, Cochon is the place to tuck into a succulent crawfish pie and roasted gulf fish “fisherman” style, along with comfort foods including spoon bread with okra and tomatoes, roasted oysters and suckling pig. Try the chocolate peanut butter pie for dessert.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: The James Beard Award-winning restaurant is an altar to all things swine, and it’s not to be missed.
Beth’s expert tip: Try Cochon’s nontraditional grilled oysters, some of the best in town, done with a compound chili butter.
Built in 1883, the Columns gorgeous Italianate setting and stellar bar (order a Ramos gin fizz) has a new owner and a new chef and the place is better than ever. Jason Seidman bought the mansion with the idea of sprucing up the old gal, not making dramatic changes. Stoltzfus, who worked at Restaurant August before opening Coquette in 2008, brings his fine dining chops and trademark attention to detail to Columns’ new menu. Working with chef de cuisine Paul Terrebonne, the emphasis is on shareable plates and lighter options.Flash fried speckled trout is moist and flakey, served with cauliflower and a turnip tartar on the side. Orders of French fries fly out of the kitchen, hot and fried to order, a ketchup and a dijonnaise dipping sauce on the side. Tuna crudo is stellar, adorned with Louisiana citrus. Really everything is great and the whole experience is wonderful.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Under new ownership, this old gal has been beautifully restored with new chef Michael Stoltzfus working culinary magic for an upgraded dining experience.
Beth’s expert tip: Pick a nice day and do brunch on the expanded patio facing St. Charles Avenue.
In its new location close to Canal Street in the French Quarter since 2018, this locally owned Creole Italian is a real gem. Follow your nose – you can smell the garlic a half-block away – and take a seat at the spacious bar for well-shaken cocktails while you wait for a table. The charming warren of dining rooms invites, as does the gorgeous outside courtyard, an addition in 2020. Settle in for a treat, from house made pasta topped with soft shell crab in a divine cream sauce to an assertive osso buco and the wonderful duck St. Phillip lacquered with a raspberry-pancetta demi-glace. Service is exceptional, as is the bread pudding du jour and the ricotta cheesecake.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Irene’s is the epitome of Creole Italian cuisine and fine service.
Beth’s expert tip: If you can’t get a reservation online, definitely call when the restaurant opens at 5, since there are usually tables set aside for walk ins.