A FOODIE’S GUIDE TO SOME OF THE BEST MEMORY-MAKING DINING SPOTS IN A CITY KNOWN FOR GOOD TIMES AND GOOD EATS
WITH ITS RICH HISTORY of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean cultural influences, New Orleans has always been a foodie-friendly town. That hasn’t changed, even when Hurricane Katrina rained on the parade in 2005. The broken levee flooded many of the city’s most beloved restaurants, severely cut into tourism numbers, and sent chefs and servers elsewhere in search of steady work.
More than a decade later, NOLA’s restaurant scene has rebounded, and then some. The 2015 U.S. Census Bureau reported an 11 percent growth in New Orleans restaurants, even though the city’s population remains smaller than before Katrina. Beloved favorites such as Commander’s Palace and Dooky Chase’s rebuilt and came back stronger than before. Entrepreneurial chefs such as Donald Link, John Besh and Alon Shaya found success by combining classic traditions with modern flair.
With an estimated 1,400 restaurants in the Big Easy, you could write an entire book about the city’s thriving food scene. Instead, use this as a guide to some of the city’s culinary highlights when you visit, then explore on your own. Ours are listed in alphabetical order.
813 Bienville St. | 504.523.5433
You’ll find Arnaud’s in the French Quarter at the intersection with Bourbon Street. This elegant spot serves classic Creole cuisine in lovingly restored turn-of-the-century dining rooms. A NOLA staple since 1918, its main dining room offers a romantic experience, while the more casual Jazz Bistro features a live Dixieland jazz trio that goes table-to-table. The menu’s a bit old-fashioned, but service and quality are top-notch. Try the Café Brûlot for dessert: With coffee, lemon and orange rind, clove, cinnamon sticks and orange curaçao flamed with brandy, it’ll warm you in more ways than one.
417 Royal St. | 504.525.9711
A fine dining tradition since 1946. Brennan’s reopened in 2014 after new owners completed a $20 million renovation. The pink building’s eight posh dining rooms celebrate Old World opulence, but chef Slade Rushing’s menu combines Creole tradition with contemporary influences. Breakfast here is arguably among the city’s best. Try the Eggs Hussarde, which features English muffins topped with coffee-cured Canadian bacon, hollandaise and marchand de vin (red wine reduction) sauce. Don’t leave without having the bananas Foster, invented here by founder Owen Brennan in the 1950s.
930 Tchoupitoulas St. | 504.588.2123
Most New Orleans cuisine is rooted in Creole tradition, but Cochon CEO/executive chef Donald Link pays homage to his Cajun roots. He and chef/co-owner Stephen Stryjewski use locally sourced pork, produce and seafood to craft a meaty menu rich with sumptuous Southern flavors. Entrees such as smoked ham hock (with pinto beans, apples, sage and jalapeño buttermilk) and braised beef short rib will please any red-blooded carnivore. For a taste you won’t find anywhere else, start with the fried boudin balls, an inventive twist on a Cajun classic.
1403 Washington Ave. | 504.899.8221
The grande dame of New Orleans’ culinary scene. Commander’s Palace was established in the Garden District in 1890 and is best known, perhaps, for producing such iconic chefs as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. It’s widely considered among the best upscale restaurants in the country. Executive chef Tory McPhail won the prestigious James Beard Award for best chef in the South in 2013. Its refined jazz brunch is legendary, with such delectable dishes as Shrimp & Tasso Henican, Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict and to-die-for Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé with whiskey cream sauce.
DESIRE OYSTER BAR
300 Bourbon St. | 504.553.2281
Part of the Royal Sonesta Hotel. This upscale raw bar’s 2015 redesign makes the most of its location at the happening intersection of Bourbon and Bienville. Oversized windows provide prime people-watching, while the antique mirror and granite counter draw attention to the fully stocked bar. The real action at Desire is on the side, where a nimble-fingered team shucks fresh oysters at lightning speed. Whether you like ’em raw or char-grilled, they’re the stars here. But the shrimp and grits, fried green tomato Benedict with crawfish hollandaise, and Creole Trio (jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo) are all solid.
DOOKY CHASE’S RESTAURANT
2301 Orleans Ave. | 504.821.0600
Opened in 1941, this landmark in the Treme neighborhood is home to Leah Chase, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” and the inspiration for the character Tiana in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Dooky Chase’s was integrated early and became a civil rights movement meeting place in the 1960s. It also houses one of the finest private collections of African-American art in Louisiana. Open just four days for lunch and Friday night for dinner, it draws rabid crowds for Miss Leah’s famed fried chicken, gumbo and Shrimp Clemenceau, and her peach cobbler is divine.
808 Bienville St. | 504.581.3467
This NOLA spot focuses primarily on seafood. GW Fins features an upscale, elegant change of pace from typical French Quarter fare. Tenney Flynn (who earned chef-of-the-year honors from New Orleans Magazine in 2004 and 2011) offers a fresh-caught seasonal menu that changes daily. There are some exceptional staples, however, including grilled Scottish salmon with a smoked jalapeño glaze, lightly seared yellowfin tuna with Asian vegetables and sticky rice, and divine “scalibut,” starring halibut and sea scallops over lobster risotto with sugar snap peas and pea shoot butter.
401 Poydras St. | 504.523.9656
Serving down-home Southern style fare since 1938. This iconic joint almost always has a line out the door, a line at the counter, a wait for food to come to the table … you get the picture. What Mother’s lacks in style it makes up for in comfort food substance, with its self-proclaimed “World’s Best Baked Ham,” succulent fried chicken, and such NOLA classics as Mac’s filé gumbo, Jerry’s jambalaya and crawfish etouffée. If you don’t mind it messy, try the famous Ferdi special po’boy, piled high with ham, roast beef and au jus gravy. Do not leave without sampling the bread pudding with brandy sauce.
IF YOU GO
- Driving distance: 470 miles (about 6.5 hours).
- How to get there: Take I-85 south to Montgomery, Ala.; I-65 south to Mobile, Ala.; then I-10 west to New Orleans.
- Estimated cost: We stayed at the Maison Dupuy in the French Quarter, where rooms average $139 per night. With upscale meals, a three-day weekend would cost $700-$1,000. Other lodging options in the area include the Dauphin Orleans Hotel, the Royal Sonesta Hotel and many more.