As most Americans know, my hometown, New Orleans, is a major culinary capital. I grew up here and have always appreciated local cuisine. In fact, I am finally learning how to perfect gumbo which has taken years. When people ask me about my favorite restaurant, I can never say one. There are too many. But, these are my favorite places. Dining at any of these establishments is considered a HUGE treat for me. I love them all and for different reasons. It’s not just about the spectacular food but it’s the whole experience-food, atmosphere, amusement, people, etc.
I send this out all the time to friends of friends, so send me an email to let me know if something was particularly good.
Here you go in no particular order:
Uptown on Magazine Street This is a bistro with excellent American cuisine with a French flavor. It’s upscale and sleek but housed in an old building so it’s certainly not modern. Not extremely local in terms of flavor (no gumbos, jambalaya etc.) but it serves incredibly good food. Always packed and rather swanky. Saturday lunch is the high society day for antique shoppers.
Galatoire's (French Quarter)
Best to go on a Sunday night when it is mostly locals. Friday lunch if you want a drunken fiesta. On Sunday brunch and dinner, it’s ours. This is one of the last holdouts of an old, French Quarter establishment; dressy, blazer required, bustling, fun, strong drinks and authentic high-end creole food. This is the place to go for true, Creole cuisine. Also, Friday lunch is the biggest scene in town. Expect swizzling drinks and platters of food among a LOT of filled tables with dressed up drunks. I rarely go on Fridays because I have to work and don’t have three hours to linger. It’s also deafening but if you have not experienced a Friday lunch, it’s rather a must. Personally, I prefer Sundays.
Herbsaint (Central Business District)
Expect a mélange of Louisiana cuisine done with style and finesse. Easily walkable from the Canal Street end of the French Quarter. On St. Charles Avenue in the downtown area. Great gumbo, excellent gnocchi, good frog legs, and best duck confit in the city. Small, intimate, and modern in feel. Always crowded but weekday lunch is the real scene.
Uptown in a residential, tree-lined street. Beautiful inside and probably the most romantic of places. Dim lights and a one-room bistro. I adore this place. Wonderful food and a great wine list. You can opt for a simple roasted chicken on one hand or seared foie gras with berry preserves on another. The cuisine is innovative. This is where you go for great Continental inspired food mixed with the most exceptional Louisiana seafood imaginable. The crowd is definitely local with a smattering of visitors who have discovered it. Like Clancy’s, it’s a social scene and customers generally know one another. Any dinner at Gautreau’s for me is a treat.
Clancy's and Patois (Uptown)
I put these two together because both restaurants are right down the street from one another. This is near my neighborhood in the heart of Uptown New Orleans. Both are fantastic and two of my favorites in New Orleans.
Now, Clancy's is not a place I would recommend to people looking for a nice, quiet dinner. It is loud, jam-packed, social, and bawdy. People usually go in big groups and booze it up all night long. I love the food and you get the real, Louisiana experience. Great veal, soft shell crab, smoked seafood, sweetbreads, and lemon icebox pie. Waiters have been there for years and they work the large crowds like meeting old friends. The bartender, Garth, is one of the most famous in the city. It is fun to eat at the bar and talk to all the locals. This is the most social of all New Orleans restaurants (next to Galatoire's) and feels like a country club since everyone knows everyone. People table hop and visit one another all night so keep in mind, it would not be an intimate, quiet dinner. If you are up for some fun and great people watching, this is the place.
Patios which is just across the street and down a ways is similar. It has a rather loud bar but the atmosphere is quieter yet less formal. This is in an old house with hardwood floors and a rather casual atmosphere. The food is fabulous. Really great creole dishes and brunch is the best in the city. They bring out house-made brioche which is a meal in and of itself. Gumbos and soups are good as well as the game. The rabbit is the best in town. I really love this place and have never been disappointed.
Commander’s Palace (Garden District)
Four years ago I would not have put this in my top list because I found the food substandard and way too pricey. Boy, has that changed. Something has happened in the last two years and the place is on fire. Everyone else keeps talking about it. The restaurant is gorgeous. Service is impeccable and now the food matches the glamor. I have been three times in the last five months and at all times, my meals were excellent. I cannot wait to go back. Brunch is the big thing but dinner is exceptional too. Lunch is the bargain though and always packed.
La Boca (Warehouse District)
If you’re visiting from out of town, I’m sure the last place you want to dine is a steakhouse. But if you’re ever fed up with trout amandine and turtle soup and need a good steak, this is the place. Man, the food is good. I don’t know what they do to make steaks taste this fine but I think it’s the best I’ve had. And, the side dishes are not standard fare. Expect creativity.
La Petite Grocery (Uptown)
One of the best places uptown. My favorite is to dine at the bar where the bartenders really know their craft and where everyone is your friend by the end of the night. I rarely leave without having the rabbit and pasta. The cuisine is a mix of Louisiana/Southern/French and the food is exceptionally good. It’s dressy but not stuffy. The lighting is dim and golden, giving it the feel of a European brasserie. Also, the staff wins the friendly award.
Company Burger (Uptown)
I know. A burger place on the list of favorite restaurants but I go here way too much and love it. The cheeseburgers are supreme. Fries are golden crispy on the outside and soft inside. I hate pickles but love these homemade ones. The bread is as soft as a cotton ball. No pretense at all. It’s fast and just moan-inducing.
This place has now made its way into my top list. I love this place. Everything about it is good. The cool, long bar, the nice linens, the modern art, the tall windows. This elegant old house serves fabulous food with friendly service. It’s basically the perfect small New Orleans bistro. Never a disappointment and since it is a little bit under the radar compared with Cafe Atchafalaya (certainly on the tourist/concierge list), you can usually sneak in for dinner at the bar. I like this place so much and the food is so creative that it’s becoming a favorite of mine. And fortunately for me, it’s not on the foodie lists yet.
Emeril’s (Warehouse District)
Yes. Emeril’s. Locals may call BS on my including Emeril’s in my top list but I love this place. Granted, it was a big 80s sensation and it became as famous as Tavern on the Green in NY but funny, whenever I go, I see locals. Lunch is fun and happy. The food is also excellent. It’s also got a great bar for dining and it’s always entertaining to meet people from all over, to see people there from all over the country who are excited to be at the famous Emeril’s. The staff is overwhelmingly attentive.
Another tiny little, unassuming cottage in the middle of the Carrollton area with sensational food. As small as it is, I never feel cramped. The prices are remarkable when one thinks of food this good. The style is a mélange of European meets Louisiana with all kinds of innovative ingredients. It’s extremely casual and attracts a young, rather hip crowd who go for the food and prices. Yes, it’s CHEAP when you consider how good it is.
Outside of Galatoire’s for Creole and Jacques-Imo’s for Cajun, this is one of the best places to go for authentic Louisiana food. The traditional Creole menu is going out of style a bit. Antoine’s used to THE place but the menu has almost cut out the old stylish dishes for good. At least Upperline serves the real thing-turtle soup, gumbo, grillades and grits, and gulf fish amandine. The Cane River shrimp is excellent and the roasted duck is by far the best in the city. I love the quirky Caribbean-like atmosphere with the funky artwork and windows overlooking tropical gardens.
Domenica (Downtown and now a pizza place uptown)
Located downtown near Canal Sreet. Also, located inside a HOTEL, heaven forbid. But this is not your every day, Marriott chain restaurant. John Besh owns this establishment and hired one of the most famous chefs in the city to prepare the menu. Smart decision. This is where you get Italian food. Pizzas are sublime, pastas incredible, and desserts magnificent. I cannot rave enough. Also, the happy hour with half priced Italian wine and pizza is the bargain of the city.
Saffron (Uptown New Orleans)
This is a new restaurant to New Orleans and is one of my favorites. It is also one of the hardest restaurants in which to get a reservation. The food is inspired by Indian cuisine with a lot of creole influences as well. Its lively, fun, aesthetically pleasing, and serves incredibly good food. It's always a treat.
Marjie's Grill (Mid City)
I am not going to go as far as to say this is a "Hole in the wall" or a "Dump" but you don't go here for the white tablecloths and the wine list. You go for the FOOD! And, man oh man is this food good. I don't know what kind of magic these people have but it's extraordinary who these chefs can take family simple ingredients and make them taste this good. It's not in the most visited areas of the city so not a walkable location but the extra effort getting there is worth it.