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 or the dark crawfish goodness emanating from a perfect etoufee. Here, chefs were rock stars way before The Food Network put locals like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse on the national map. 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. Beignets and chicory-laced café au lait at Café DuMonde. Trout Amandine at Galatoire’s, the epitome of a Creole Palace, staffed by waiters who have tended the same families for generations. And of course oysters, best enjoyed from a seat at the scarred marble oyster bar at Acme Oyster House, where you can watch the pros in action and the fried oyster po'boys, dressed (with the works) are just about perfect. In a town where getting a bad meal is an anomaly, these 10 fantastic restaurants should be on everybody's bucket list.
Creole cuisine is wonderful, but you can't eat it every night. Take a break here at Sylvain, a charming modern Southern gastro-pub in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral. Set in an historic building, the restaurant is all candlelight and burnished copper, a romantic space with a hidden little courtyard. Chef Alex Harrell brings a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to cooking and sourcing the best ingredients from the southern United States, an approach that carries over to the excellent bar program. Try the beet-and-goat cheese bruschetta on toasted bread, the porchetta "po-boy"version of the Philly fave sandwich of pork, broccoli raab and melted provolone. Higher end dishes include a savory roasted pork shoulder and Texas quail with cornbread stuffing, and creamed mustard greens. For dessert, the Abita root beer float is just perfect. (5042658123)
Located in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel on Canal Street, on the edge of the French Quarter and the CBD, Domenica dazzles with chef, co-owner Alon Shaya's regional Italian cuisine and what may be the best thin crust pizza in town. Try a pie topped with pork shoulder fennel bacon and sweet onions or a dish of squid Ink tagliolini with crab, rich with seafood goodness. Shaya gets ingredients from partner John Besh's farm, so the emphasis is on seasonal freshness. Happy hour seven days a week from 3-6 pm is a great deal, with the gourmet pies and drinks half off. (504-648-6020)
Creatively modern just begins to describe chef Phillip Lopez's approach to cooking at Root, the 70-seat Warehouse District space done up with exposed wooden beams and industrial lighting. Lopez, who studied molecular gastronomy in Spain, makes food that is fun to eat, surprising and experimental. Try the daily menage à foie, fried oysters encrusted in smoked cornmeal and topped Manchego foam and Cohiba smoked scallops made with chorizo dust and served in a cigar box. There's a great happy hour 5-7 pm featuring $3 martinis and specially priced nibbles like braised lamb meatballs and sweet tea fried wings. Prepare to be wowed. (504-252-9480)
7 Commander's Palace
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 post-Katrina redo 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 Tory McPhail 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. (504-899-8221)
6 Galatoire's Restaurant
Generations come and go, but Galatoire's on Bourbon Street, with its classic menu of trout meuniere, shrimp remoulade and stuffed eggplant, will never change. Now taking reservations - a plus if you're planning your dining spots ahead of time - Galatoire's is about as New Orleans as it gets. Locals are not only loyal to this bastion of Creole dining, they're loyal to their waiter, and if they're old enough, to their waiter's son. In April 2013, Galatoire's added a steakhouse to its family of restaurants with the opening of Galatoire's 33 Bar & Steak next door to the original Galatoire's Restaurant on Bourbon St. If you only choose one French-Creole restaurant, make it this one. (504-525-2021)
5 Restaurant August
A native of Southern Louisiana, chef John Besh creates extraordinary Creole-influenced French cuisine in an atmospheric 19th century French building aglow with chandeliers, French doors and sexy red leather seating. THe winner of just about every culinary award out there, Besh is a C.I.A. grad who worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe before coming back home. His menu always delights, with creative fare like his B.L.T.--buster crabs, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes and Louisiana rabbit with morels served with sage grits. The award winning boutique wine list is a stunner. A lovely special occasion spot worth gussying up for and if you're feeling flush, get the chef's tasting with paired wine. Expensive, but over the top. (504-299-9777)
4 Irene's Cuisine
Located on the quieter end of the French Quarter, this family/locally owned Creole Italian is a real gem. Follow your nose - you can smell the garlic a half-block away - for an inevitable seat in the piano bar for well-shaken cocktails while you wait for a table - limited reservations are taken, but in general it's first come, first served. Eventually you'll be show through the charming warren of dining rooms to your table, and then the fun begins. 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. (504-529-8811)
3 Bourbon House Seafood & Oyster Bar
Sporting the Brennan pedigree, this Dickie Brennan restaurant is all New Orleans, from its lacy wrought iron balcony seating to its windows overlooking the rollicking crowds. From its bar, featuring more than 90 American whiskeys to its menu of Creole specialties, this restaurant will impress. Specialties, besides a pristine raw bar of Gulf seafood, includes oysters Bienville, catfish pecan and a killer fried seafood platter. Many ingredients are sourced from local purveyors. Frozen bourbon-milk punch a specialty.
The wait staff is over-the-top attentive and caring, able to expertly guide you through the various oyster options and small batch/single barrel bourbon choices. (504-522-0111)
2 NOLA Restaurant
This perennial hotspot is full of Lagasse specialties like Louisiana crab cakes with Creole tartar sauce, cedar plank roasted red fish, and homemade chorizo and pork chops with pecan-glazed sweet potatoes. Locally born chef Josh Lasky, in the Lagasse fold for more than a decade, is the creative force behind Nola's unique blending of ethnic flavors such as Vietnamese with fresh, local ingredients indigenous to Louisiana's Creole traditions.T his is the funkiest of chef Emeril's restaurants, situated in a renovated warehouse with a bright yellow stucco facade, exposed brick wall, large French door windows, and dining on the second floor balcony. Service is always on point, with waiters working in unison to deliver your plates at exactly the same time, with a flourish. (504-522-6652)
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. Working with locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood, COchon focuses on the authentic flavors of Cajun country.
Set in the rustic, yet contemporary interior of a renovated New Orleans warehouse, Cochon is the place to sip a flight of Moonshine, then 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. (504-588-2123)
About Beth D'Addono
Beth D'Addono is a food and travel writer obsessed with flavor, exploring cultures, street music and the city of New Orleans.
After spending years flying in regularly to research stories, attend festivals and eat the city's amazing cuisine, this New Orleanian at heart moved to the Crescent City full time in 2012.
Beth writes about New Orleans and other destinations for outlets including USAToday, AAA Traveler, Wells Fargo Conversations, the Boston Globe, Newsday, Philadelphia Daily News, Taste, Jewish Exponent, Fodor's and others.
She is the author of Must Sees New Orleans (Michelin) and co-author of City Tavern Cookbook (Running Press).
Read more about Beth D'Addono here.
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