Even if you're an avowed carnivore, you can't help but fall in love with the delectable goodness of New Orleans gulf seafood. Be it fried or broiled, swabbed with sauce or grilled over an open wood fire, the seafood we get in these parts is some of the best around. Fueled by commercial fishing enterprises large and small that troll the gulf for the top catch, area restaurants deliver seasonal fish, shrimp, oysters and soft shell crab in all manner of creative ways. Shrimp etouffee, soft shell crab po-boys, oysters raw and broiled and jambalaya are just a few of the local favorite dishes, made, not just in restaurants, but at home, shared over a crowded dining room table or enjoyed out back, picnic style.
The restaurants on this list cross all boundaries, starting with neighborhood po-boy joints where oysters are flash fried to savory perfection and stuffed into soft French rolls, best enjoyed "dressed". Then there are the white tablecloth Creole palaces, places where trout and red fish swim in seas of buttery sauces piquant with lemon. And places where the chefs prefer to let the flavor of the fish swim to the surface, choosing to offer local catch simply grilled and fragrant with wood smoke.
Mr. B's is a New Orleans seafood hot spot located on the celebrated food corner of Royal and Iberville in the French Quarter. So well thought of they were able to publish their own cookbook, Mr. B's has served signature dishes like gumbo ya ya and barbecue shrimp plates to New Orleans customers for decades. This bistro's atmosphere is a mix of casual and chic, and Food & Wine magazine pronounced it the best for business lunch. Whether you are here for business or pleasure, Mr. B's and an excellent staff are ready to impress. Sunday brunch is an especially festive occasion.
Grand Isle is the strip of land off mainland Louisiana known for its amazing fishing. Grand Isle Restaurant, with its menu of fresh local seafood and vintage photos channeling the same gulf goodness as its namesake. Situated on busy Fulton Street, Grand Isle spotlights the talent of chef Ryan Haigler, a South Carolina native who's come light years from his Waffle House beginnings. With a resume that includes working with Sean Brock in Charleston, Tom Colicchio in New York and Emeril in New Orleans, Haigler lassos a lot of flavor in gulf specialties like smoked fried oysters with garlic aioli and a version of grilled oysters with havarti and tasso that is completely off the hook. The smoked drum chowder with roasted corn is another treat, and you can't miss with anything seafood. But Haigler handled the butcher program for Delmonico for two years, so don't overlook steak specials or the winning combo of confit pork cheek and baby clams served with crunchy popcorn rice pilaf. This is a relaxed yet surprisingly sophisticated option just steps from Canal Street and the Convention Center.
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.
Eating oysters and fried seafood at Felix's is a seminal New Orleans experience - the place is loud, lively and a bit slipshod, but the seafood is delish. Besides freshly shucked bi-valves, you can feast on char-grilled, Bienville and Rockefeller, along with fried everything, all kinds of po-boys and delicious crab claws. Felix's stays open til 10 or 11 depending on the night, giving visitors a later night option to get their seafood fix. The service is always friendly and prices reasonable enough to inspire return visits. The place has been dishing fresh seafood for more than 70 years, a testimony to quality for sure.
While most New Orleans seafood restaurants take a hyper local approach to filling in the catch of the day, chef Tenney Flynn at GW Fin casts a global net. The restaurant impresses with quality and variety, including fish caught in waters around the world. Chef Flynn's menu changes daily, depending on what's fresh and seasonal, but you might feast on King crab from Alaska, sea scallop crudo with local caviar and Scottish salmon with jalapeno glaze. The philosophy is simple at this upscale establishment: let the seafood's natural flavors shine. The wine list shimmers with crisp whites guaranteed to enhance the your catch of the day.
The Bourbon House is an authentic New Orleans seafood restaurant, with its dining room windows looking out onto the riotous Bourbon Street. Inside, the atmosphere is classy and quieter, with the menu including only in-season Gulf of Mexico offerings. The wait staff is over-the-top attentive and caring, able to guide you through the various oyster options and small batch/single barrel bourbon choices. The Bourbon House is home to the New Orleans Bourbon Society which is a club dedicated to the appreciation of fine bourbons. If you're into fish with or without shell and like the darker libations, this is your spot.
Polished elegance isn't a bellwether of the restaurants in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods in New Orleans. Which is why The Franklin really stands out in the crowd. Intimate and inviting, this restaurant lives in New Orleans but would be at home in any big city. Chef Baruch Rabasa forgoes traditional New Orleans fare for a menu that is both modern and French inspired. Most of the small plates are intriguing, like the grilled baby octopus with harissa and a fetching humachi crudo with avocado. Try fried oysters with a luscious remoulade on the side, or simply raw and gorgeous. There is an interesting (and pricey) wine list as well as a fine array of craft cocktails.
Just in case you needed one more reason to cross the 24-mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, Ox Lot 9 in the suave Southern Hotel in Covington does the trick. The love child of chef/co-owner Jeffrey Hansell and his wife, co-owner and general manager Amy Hansell, Ox Lot 9 is a sprightly addition to the eclectic Northshore dining scene. This simply sophisticated Southern bistro spotlights chef Hansell's deft homage to Gulf Coast ingredients, including many a Valentine to fresh local seafood. Hansell adds his own Southern twist to dishes like bouillabaise with the addition of okra, local red fish and shrimp, and poached oysters in Pernod and cream tucked into puffed pastry so good they should be against the law. A well informed wine list and brilliant array of craft cocktails add allure to this destination restaurant.
The giant fish hanging in Donald Link's industrial-chic Warehouse District eatery says it all. This place is all about local and line-caught seafood, most of it cooked on an epic wood fire grill. James Beard Award-winning chef/partner Ryan Prewitt delivers intriguing dishes like spicy ground shrimp and noodles, local beer battered fish sticks and one of the best grilled whole redfish you'll ever eat in your life, a beauty flavored with a lemony, herbaceous salsa verde. Reserve early and often, Peche accepts reservations by phone and online. No fish story here - this temple of seafood goodness is the real deal.
This oyster palace in the upper French Quarter, a mainstay of briny bivalves since 1910, is a favorite seafood eatery for both visitors and locals. Acme regularly shucks more than three million oysters per year, best appreciated from a seat at the scarred marble oyster bar. Slurp down as many as you are able, but save room for an order or two of the chargrilled oysters, smoky and hot off the fire. An expanded dining area post-Katrina keeps the line moving outside, but you can usually expect to wait for the chance to tuck into specialties like oyster Rockefeller soup, jambalaya and fried softshell crab.