In the hierarchy of New Orleans meals, lunch and brunch are equally critical. A person needs energy to handle a full day of this vivacious city, and a plate full of fried chicken and red beans and rice can be that necessary fuel.
The tradition of enjoying a good mid-day meal can be traced back to early New Orleanians who lived to enjoy a bowl of gumbo and a glass of sweet tea on their sprawling Victorian front porches. Fast forward to today, and the experience is similar at fancy spots like Commander's Palace and Galatoire's.
If you don't mind a siesta after you eat, catch some of the best soul food in town at Li'l Dizzy's on leafy Esplanade Avenue, an easy walk or bike ride from the French Quarter. Fill a plate with steaming fried chicken and sides, and be prepared for an inevitable food coma.
Drinking is as important as eating during any New Orleans meal, and the local joints know this. Bars will be staffed as early as they open, ready to pour an old favorite or concoct something new. Finally, at least once, line up early for lunch at Galatoire's on a Friday, an esteemed tradition that draws hordes of locals to one of the loudest, most protracted afternoon parties in town.
Compere Lapin (pronounced kom-pare la-pan) means "brother rabbit," a reference to a mischievous rabbit featured in the Caribbean folk tales chef Nina Compton read as a kid. Drawing on the story's themes of exploration and play, Compton designed a restaurant that features a mix of inventive flavors drawn from the New Orleans table, Compton's Caribbean roots, her French culinary training and deep experience with Italian cuisine. After even just a few bites, it's not hard to conjure Compere Lapin's island roots. Small plates, which pair insanely well with the bold drinks program designed by beverage director Ricky Gomez, include the likes of conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartar sauce and roasted jerk corn with a citrus aioli. Flavors are exotic, tropical and tinged with just the right amount of heat. Brunch dishes including bruleed grapefruit, coconut French toast and goat Bolognese over cavatelli are delish.
Cochon chef co-owner Stephen Stryjewski, winner of the 2011 James Beard Foundations "Best Chef South" award, pays homage to the old style Cajun Boucherie at this must-eat Warehouse District restaurant. Order a moonshine-based cocktail and dig in to platters of housemade charcuterie, including boudin, andouille sasuage, smoked bacon, and head cheese. Local seafood also stars in succulent crawfish pies and roasted gulf fish "fisherman" style, along with comfort foods including spoon bread with okra and tomatoes, roasted oysters and suckling pig. Stryjewski sources locally wherever possible and buys seafood and frogs legs from nearby Gretna and Des Allemands, Louisiana. Try the black-bottomed brown butter banana cream pie for dessert.
Located in the fab Loews Hotel, the Brennan family-run Cafe Adelaide is named for colorful Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner of big sister restaurant Commander's Palace. You'll be happy starting with the bacon and cornmeal crusted fried oysters, and the shrimp and tasso corndog with five pepper jelly is like nothing you'll ever taste at a country fair. The menu is served at the Swizzle Stick bar next to the restaurant, a tasteful homage to Adelaide Brennan, also known as "Queenie" and "Auntie Mame," who did her share of living the good life. The restaurant recently adopted an All American approach to its wine list, with some 200 selections derived from North, South, and Central America.
Although Marjie's Grill on South Broad grew out of a love story, it's not a hearts and flowers kind of place. On their first Valentine's Day, chef/owner Marcus Jacobs and partner Caitlin Carney were featuring an Offal Valentine's Day menu, with organ meats in the spotlight to inspire canoodling. The pair, who met working together at Herbsaint, opened a sunny little spot on the busy South Broad corridor just off of Canal Street, a savory, homey place where flavors are bold, ingredients are local and "garbage" fish like Sheepshead are proudly featured. A shrimp special arrived fried whole, with chef Marcus encouraging the eater to start with the head."That's where all the fat is." Lunch is a flat out bargain, with a meat and one ($12) or two ($15) sides drawn from a changing menu that might include marinated roast pork shoulder or smothered chicken with tomato gravy with an eye-popping root vegetable salad or braised cabbage. Flavors lean towards the East, as in Southeast Asia, inspired by a three month trek the couple took through Laos. The restaurant's interior is sparkly for a reason. Carney loves glitter and before the restaurant was named for her mother, the couple ran a pop-up called Sparklehorse Grill. The luster lives on. Marjie's is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Thai hot is only for the very brave at Suko Thai, a Thai eatery with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and dishes some of the best Thai cuisine in town in a setting that will soothe and delight. Everything is good, from the pad Thai to curries as fiery as you like and stir fries perfumed with Thai basil. Service is most accommodating and gluten free is the order of the day, since flour isn't a common ingredient in Thai cooking. Instead, rice noodles and steamed white and brown rice are options on the side. There's an inventive menu of tropical cocktails and imported beers.
Located in a green, historical renovation of an 1891 Greek Revival home on Oretha Castle Haley, the quickly changing arts corridor in Central City, Casa Borrega is a fantastic little taco bar. Besides a great selection of margaritas, the menu dishes authentic street food, the kind you'd find in Mexico City. The ceviche is delish, same for trios of tacos stuffed with te likes of tequila marinated lamb and chorizo. The special appetizer the night of our visit was a relleno from heaven. Portions are large, so start by sharing an entree unless you're famished. More vegetarian than vegan, you'll find fresh, healthful takes on Mexican dishes and plenty of veg to keep you smiling. Snag a seat in the outdoor courtyard if the weather permits. Live music is featured most weekends, from Cuban and salsa to flamenco.
St. James Cheese Company is a gourmet artisan cheese shop that also happens to do a very good lunch/light dinner. Located on Prytania in the Garden District and in the Warehouse district at 641 Tchoupitoulas close to the convention center, St. James is a locals' fave with good reason. Besides all things fromage, including regular cheese tastings, this beloved cheese shop features sandwiches like duck confit banh mi, classic Cuban, burrata salad, charcuterie, and even a cheese bar for nibbling and small bites. Wine and beer is also served, and if you're in a rush for one or the other, there are two lines, one for ordering from the menu, the other for the cheese case. Thursdays through Saturdays they host a happy hour where visitors can pair cheese plates and wine/beer for discounted dollars. This place is a cheese lover's dream.
Inviting and elegant, this hotel dining room is a jewel in the Windsor Court Hotel's crown. Adorned with flowers, graceful chandeliers, rich materials, and focal-point murals, the Grill is New Orlean's one of only two Mobil Four Star-accredited restaurants. The cuisine changes seasonally but features incredible dishes like grilled foie gras and lobster, panko crusted veal chops, and a Gulf seafood stew. Monday through Saturday you can order a meat and three gourmet plate lunch for just $19.84, a nod to the hotel's opening. Add $2 martinis made with Tito's Vodka or Plymouth Gin and you may not go back to work.
New Orleanians are not only loyal to this traditional bastion of Creole dining, they're 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 seafood-centric menu focused on in-season fish and shellfish treated to artful preparations like trout meuniere, shrimp remoulade and oysters Rockefeller. Not only can your order well known local fish like drum, redfish and pompano, you can also get the sweet goodness of sheepshead and lemon fish if the waters are right. This French Creole palace is a definitive New Orleans experience, but remember, gents need a jacket after dark.
Silk Road has come a long way since the days when it was a ramshackle neighborhood joint called Schiro's. Situated in the Marigny rectangle, the newly renovated restaurant, with its eye-popping art and handsome bar, is a hidden gem, polished beyond expectation. Chef Ganesh Ayyengar pays homage to his homeland with red curries from the South of India, along with spicy vindaloos popular in the west and tikka masala creamy with ghee. Heat can be adjusted to your taste, with a choice of chicken, or veg, all value priced. There's a super veg platter (tamarind chick peas, lentils, curried seasonal vegges) and also a slew of local faves like blackened drum and jambalaya.Chef Ganesh has a deft touch with a wide range of dishes, but be sure to order the lemongrass crab bisque, a silky rich soup that is simply outstanding.