Nothing is black and white in New Orleans, whether you’re talking food, music, politics or history. Visitors might find talk of Creole cuisine confusing, what is it exactly? Is it the same as Cajun? Both styles of cooking share French roots and many of the same ingredients. Beyond that, it’s a matter of country style vs. city-style, rustic and hearty fare vs. rich, sophisticated preparation.
To understand Creole cuisine, first, understand its roots. Creoles were city folk originally from Europe who settled in New Orleans. Primarily French and Spanish, Creoles hailed from wealthy families and brought their own chefs from Madrid, Paris, and other European capitals.
These chefs adapted classic cooking techniques to incorporate unfamiliar ingredients like mirliton, crawfish, pompano and snapper. Add into the equation the culinary influence of the enslaved Africans who served in these households, the influence of Choctaw Indians and immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Germany and a diverse gumbo of dishes emerges.
The bastions of Creole cuisine, restaurants that have served visitors and locals in New Orleans for decades, if not centuries, are woven into the very fabric of New Orleans culture. These are places where dinner is a meal not to be rushed. Dress up a bit and sit back and relax, you’re about to savor a seminal New Orleans experience.
Located in the French Quarter, and operated by a branch of the famous Brennan restaurant family, the venue is one of the city’s original gourmet bistros. The Gumbo Ya-Ya, one of the kitchen’s signature dishes, is worth the trip in itself, a flavor-filled bowl brimming with chicken and andouille sausage. Executive Chef Michelle McRaney, well-versed in Creole cuisine, prides herself in using only the freshest local ingredients. Because of this, her menu undergoes changes regularly, an act welcomed by the regular patrons. For entrees, look to the Barbecued Shrimp and Braised Rabbit, two dishes which you’ll be remembering long after dinner is done.
Recommended for Creole because: With its French Quarter location and low key vibe, Mr. B’s is a local fave.
Beth’s expert tip: Mr. B’s is one of the few Creole restaurants that will seat you without a reservation.
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 Creole because: Chef Albert Singleton started as a bus boy and is now a chef/partner at Sbisa, leading one of the finest French Creole kitchens in town.
Beth’s expert tip: Ask for a table on the balcony for a wonderful city view.
Antoine’s deserves a do-over to celebrate its historic 180th anniversary year – 2020 was anything but a party. Nevermind, the oldest continually operated restaurant has undeniable pedigree – Oysters Rockefeller originated here in 1889, and the menu hasn’t changed much since. Expect rich French Creole cuisine and Gulf seafood including tasty fried oysters on buttered toast with foie gras. Local gents still wear jackets for dinner, but it’s not required. Diners can enjoy choices like potato souffle or Poulet Rochambeau, a boneless half-chicken served with a creamy cheese sauce AND tangy bearnaise sauce. Their reasonably priced lunch special is a favorite among locals. Be sure to check out the bread pudding when it comes time to choose dessert.
Recommended for Creole because: Serving traditional Creole fare for more than 180 years, Antoine’s menu and Mardi Gras themed private rooms add up to a true New Orleans experience.
Beth’s expert tip: Don’t skip the oysters Rockefeller, they were invented here.
Opened as a grocery store in 1898, Mandina’s morphed into a full-service restaurant in 1932 and is still family operated. The prices are low, and the environment casual and unpretentious. The menu consists of the same New Orleans specialties, like oyster and artichoke bisque, red beans and rice, fried seafood and po’boy, that have been served there for more than 90 years. The trout amandine and the turtle soup are favorites. This quaint dining room serves scrumptious Italian and Creole fare, such as veal Parmesan, turtle soup and shrimp etouffee. The atmosphere is laid-back and the decor on the rustic side in a good way.
Recommended for Creole because: Ample portions, downhome service and excellent Creole fare make Mandina’s a winner.
Beth’s expert tip: Lunch is a lively affair if you can’t get in for dinner.
Another historic restaurant that got gypped out a birthday milesone – Broussard’s turned 100 in 2020. Now in the Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts portfolio, the old girl is looking better than ever. The A-team here includes chef Jimi Setchim, who has manned kitchens including Bourbon House and Palace Cafe. Broussard’s is a grand restaurant of historic proportions, with dishes like baked crab gratinee and oyster and mushroom pan roast. The kitchen’s smartly imagined modern French-Creole cuisine is among the best in town. The classically informed cocktails at the Empire Bar landed Broussard’s on Esquire’s best bar list.
Recommended for Creole because: Chef Jimi Setchim brings smartly imagined modern French Creole cuisine to the table – and there’s a gorgeous courtyard.
Beth’s expert tip: There’s a special three course $45 menu available Thursday through Saturday.
Trenasse is a real sleeper, a gem at the Intercontinental Hotel on St. Charles Avenue smack dab on the Mardi Gras parade route. Nothing stodgy about the modern Creole eatery, with its warm, inviting setting and chef driven menu. Named for a trail in the marsh that leads to the best fishing, no surprise that seafood dishes elevate to lofty heights. Chef Matt Farmer leads the kitchen,, delivering a concise menu of Southern specialties. Oyster lovers can slurp them raw or try a range of savory grilled options, from Bienville to topped with pancetta and gruyere.
The restaurant offers a powerful good brunch – with bottomless mimosa! that go mighty well with any of the Trenasse Benedicts.There’s gulf to table grilled or blackened fish and a Louisiana crawfish pie in the flakiest of crusts.
Trenasse is part of the Word of Mouth Restaurant Group founded by chef/owner Jim Richard, who hails from Lafayette. He has a few Florida spots too including Stinky’s Fish Camp, the reason why Stinky’s seafood stew is on the menu.
Recommended for Creole because: Trenasse flies under the radar but is worth discovering for its modern Gulf-inspired cuisine and excellent service.
Beth’s expert tip: There’s valet parking available out front if you want an easy option.
Arnaud’s offers some of the Big Easy’s best Creole food and a threefold of dining options. Enjoy jazz in the Jazz Bistro, a romantic dinner in the main dining room, or cocktails in the French 75 Bar. The classy joint is located just steps from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Their proprietary remoulade blend that adorns their shrimp Arnaud and crab cakes is a must. Arnaud’s opened for business more than a century ago in 1918 and has been owned and operated by the Casbarian family since 1978. Second-generation owners Katy and Archie Casbarian run the storied restaurant along with their mother Jane. Ask about the Mardi Gras museum upstairs.
Recommended for Creole because: Arnaud’s is a New Orleans classic and its location just off Bourbon Street adds to its convenience.
Beth’s expert tip: Be sure to have a drink in the renowned French 75 bar off of the main restaurant.
Removed from the usual downtown tourist traffic, this classy Uptown dining room’s a hit with the locals. The skilled waitstaff, clad in tuxedos, deliver plates of Nouvelle Creole cuisine and introduce the impressive wine and scotch collection. Once you dig into one of the kitchen’s specialties, like fried oysters with brie, smoked softshell crab piled high with crabmeat or the paneed veal, you’ll understand why the restaurant’s so busy. The former bar and po-boy shop has been a white-tablecloth eatery since the 80s, a favorite of locals who want a Galatoire’s experience without crossing Napoleon, never mind Canal Street. First timers often say a meal at Clancy’s is like crashing a private club.
Recommended for Creole because: Clancy’s is a local favorite but off most tourist’s track.
Beth’s expert tip: The voluminous wine list is one of the best in town.
New Orleanians are not only loyal to this traditional bastion of Creole dining, but they’re also loyal to their waiter, and if they’re old enough, to their waiter’s son. Generations come and go, but Galatoire’s, with its classic menu of trout meuniere, shrimp remoulade and stuffed eggplant, remains timeless. If you only choose one French-Creole restaurant, make it this one for Friday lunch, a storied champagne-soaked tradition at this Creole Palace that lasts until dinner. These regulars don’t only want the trout amandine, they ask for their waiter by name at a place where the staff has tended to the same families for generations.
Recommended for Creole because: Galatoire’s is where New Orleanians have been celebrating milestones since 1905.
Beth’s expert tip: Online reservations are now accepted for dinner.
When Tory McPhail decided to head west to be closer to family and start his own restaurant group, there was no question that Med Bickford was going to be Commander’s first executive chef. Promoted from chef de cuisine, Bickford continues to respect traditional Creole cuisine without being limited by its constraints. Sticking with local and sustainable product whenever possible, she conjures dishes like Louisiana chanterelle gnudi with preserved chard and housemade buttermilk ricotta – stretching boundaries while still delivering the gumbo, turtle soup and prime steak that customers clamor for. Commander’s offers one of the most diverse wine selections in the city – thanks to “wine guy” Dan Davis, who isn’t a bit stuffy and happy to help.
Recommended for Creole because: This is a bucket list restaurant that is part of New Orleans dining culture.
Beth’s expert tip: Reservations are required at the turquoise Palace on Washington Ave.