The Country Club may just be the best kept 40-year-old secret in New Orleans. Located in a stunning circa 1884 Italianate manse in Bywater, the restaurant resort celebrated four decades with a slew of changes, all of them great. Top of the list is new executive chef Chris Barbato, formerly chef de cuisine at Commander's Palace. Barbato has reinvigorated the locally-inspired menu, with its nod to Italian-French and Creole-Southern heritages, with dishes from barbecue shrimp and grits to Chateaubriand, jumbo sea scallops and Louisiana speckled trout. Long known for its free-wheeling back courtyard chilled and heated saltwater pool scene, The Country Club has been spruced up inside and out with eye-popping murals by local artist Cindy Mathis and artwork from Louis St. Lewis, and a lush redo of the outside space, including the addition of an outdoor kitchen for poolside nibbles. Guests can pay a day rate to swim and lounge or pay an annual membership for unlimited privileges. Locals may recall that the pool was once clothing optional. That is no longer the case. Drag brunch on Saturdays is a hoot, with the crowd usually dominated by gaggles of lively bachelorette parties. Reserve well in advance, as the two seatings tend to fill up quickly. It's all great fun, but chef Barbato's food is the real star here. Don't miss his truffled mac-n-cheese and the debris and eggs is to die for. This place feels like being on vacation. What's not to love about that?
Recommended for Lunch because: Global flavors and a lively bar scene add up to a terrific Bywater lunch.
Beth's expert tip: Reserve your place at drag brunch on Saturdays well in advance, as the two seatings tend to fill up quickly.
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.
Recommended for Lunch because: Cochon is one of the best restaurants in town for any meal, and lunch is a good deal.
Beth's expert tip: If Cochon is tough to get into, enjoy the same piggy goodness at the more casual Butcher next door.
Step a few hundred feet inside the oak tree lining of Audubon Park and you will stumble upon the Audubon Clubhouse Cafe. The cafe is not just for golfers, as it is open to the public five days a week. They serve breakfast, lunch and drinks those days. Choose to eat indoors in the Acadian-style home, or outdoors to immerse yourself in one of the city's most beautiful green spaces. The Clubhouse Cafe is accessible by foot by following the park's walking path, or by car through the Magazine Street entrance (right across from the zoo). Make time for a walk in the park before or after your lunch.
Recommended for Lunch because: What a lovely spot to enjoy lunch, Wednesday through Sunday.
Beth's expert tip: Don't be worried that you need to golf to eat here. Plenty of non-golfers will be in here sizing up the brunch buffet.
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.
Recommended for Lunch because: Centrally located in the Marigny, this Thai spot offers great lunch deals.
Beth's expert tip: The design of the Marigny location is a stunner.
The shadow that Antoine's casts in New Orleans can't be underestimated. The oldest continuously operating restaurant in America, Antoine's is still run by its founding family. In honor of its anniversary, guests can order a special five-course classic menu that serves up an edible history of French Creole dining, dishes like soufflé potatoes, oyster Rockefeller and seafood gumbo. The decor is spaciously elegant and, even though Antoine's still prints its menu in French, the staff is more than eager to help. Check out Antoine's in the French Quarter (between Bourbon and Royal) during your New Orleans stay. Post dinner you'll be calling the Mississippi the Seine.
Recommended for Lunch because: The oldest restaurant in New Orleans is open for lunch Thursday through Monday.
Beth's expert tip: Jackets are no longer required at this culinary institution, but you still might want to dress to impress.
Chef Eric Cook is creating plenty of buzz at Gris-Gris, his welcoming 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 Lunch because: Chef Eric Cook's first restaurant is an oasis of flavor in the Lower Garden District.
Beth's expert tip: Ask to sit on the balcony for a lovely view of Magazine Street.
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 gourmet plate lunch for just $23. A choice of mains like shrimp tacos with red cabbage and pico or crispy chicken with Creole mustard jus and three scrumptious sides from a list that might include honey glazed carrots and truffle mac and cheese.
Recommended for Lunch because: This lovely second floor dining room is one of the best restaurants in town.
Beth's expert tip: You won't believe how much food you'll get with the $23 plate lunch deal.
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.
Recommended for Lunch because: This place is an institution for lots of reasons, and Friday lunch is one of them.
Beth's expert tip: Make a reservation as Galatoire's is as popular with locals as it is with tourists.
With tasty Southern cuisine at reasonable prices, this Bywater neighborhood standby is popular with locals and visitors alike. Weekend brunch earns a wild fan base for its copious portions of grillades and grits - think smothered steak and red neck eggs, poached and topped with fried green tomatoes. On the sweet side, you might find Bananas Foster stuffed French toast or homemade and biscuits with butter and honey. If there is a wait, head upstairs to the bar for a mimosa or veg-enhanced Bloody Mary, the perfect jump start to a fun-filled New Orleans day. Come hungry and prepare to be wowed by the charming setting, friendly service and downhome savory eats.
Recommended for Lunch because: This solid Bywater eatery serves a super tasty breakfast and lunch menu six days a week.
Beth's expert tip: Weekend brunch kicks off early at this Bywater fave and the closer you arrive to the 8 a.m. kickoff, the shorter you'll have to wait.
Value on a menu comes two ways - the sticker price and/or what you get for your money. At Katie's in Mid-City, where Scot Craig is chef/owner, the massive portions of Creole-Italian draws armies of regulars for lunch, brunch and dinner. Make a meal out of swoon-worthy (and way rich) savory beignets including the crawfish beignet oozing crawfish, cheddar, mozzarella and jalapenos. Every dish is easily enough for two, from the gooey lasagna to the cochon de lait po-boy piled high on a buttered, lightly toasted Gendusa roll smothered with Creole mustardy slaw. Service is friendly and the welcome is genuine.
Recommended for Lunch because: Such a great local's spot and so popular you may have to wait for a table.
Beth's expert tip: If you're seeking a quieter meal, ask to be seated upstairs.