New Orleans – Eat and Drink
So many new restaurants have opened since Katrina, it’s hard to keep track. I like to split the dining category up into “old school” and “new school.” You don’t want to miss New Orleans’ classics, like gumbo, fried oyster po’ boys, red beans and rice, grits and debris, barbecue shrimp, fried chicken or crawfish etouffee, but young chefs are also making their mark with modern (and somewhat lighter) versions of New Orleans dishes. New Orleanians are fiercely loyal to their favorite restaurants and my family is, too. We have our traditions: Galatoires for lunch every Friday we’re in town, mornings at Satsuma or Croissant D’or. We’ve had the same two waiters, Imry and Harold, at Galatoire’s for forty years (and now Harold’s son, Billy), and for many years we had our own table at Emeril’s. We still manage to pack in a few meals at new hotspots on every trip. But my father is very particular about food. Often, when I announce a new restaurant I want to try, he’ll say “no, that one’s no good.” He’s not a big fan of Maurepas, even though it’s one of my favorites, but he loves Old Arabi Eats, a fantastic hipster spot out in St. Bernard Parish. We used to eat oysters by the dozen at Acme, but he’s given up shellfish. He’ll go to Cochon if I drag him, but he doesn’t eat meat (they have plenty of vegetarian options, too). His favorite restaurant in the city is Borgne, John Besh’s seafood restaurant (the food is stellar, but it feels like a cafeteria to me), or Mosca’s (an Italian eatery in Avondale, where nothing has changed since 1946!). We are the sort of family that plans lunch while we’re eating breakfast (Cake Cafe is also a favorite), so it always makes for an interesting “discussion.”
Everyone has their favorite spot for Creole or Cajun or French, or po’ boys or gumbo. It took me a long time to narrow it down, but here’s my list (see map at the bottom of this article):
Galatoire’s: Get dressed up (jackets for men), go for lunch and make SURE to sit downstairs with the locals. Eat whatever your waiter tells you, but start with a Milk Punch, crabmeat maison, soufflee potatoes, fried eggplant and oysters on brochette for appetizers and move onto trout amandine. If crawfish is in season, have the etouffee, and don’t miss Cafe Brulot for dessert. Don’t bother going for Friday lunch, unless you’re willing to get in line at 8:30 am. No reservations. Probably my favorite restaurant in the world, and it’s not all about the food.
Brennan’s: a mammoth and expensive renovation and installation of acclaimed chef, Slade Rushing, have restored Brennan’s to its former glory. There are plenty of Brennan family restaurants in New Orleans, but this is still the destination for classic New Orleans style brunch (and it doesn’t have to be Sunday) of Eggs Sardou and Bloody Marys.
Commander’s Palace: gorgeous and classic uptown Creole fine dining. An authentic old New Orleans experience. Emeril got his start here.
Antoine’s: Go for the $20 prix fixe lunch and 25 cent martini. It’s a steal, mainly to sit in the 175 year old restaurant and enjoy the service of waiters who go back generations. Make sure to snoop around in the 14 dining rooms. It’s a museum of food.
Parkway Tavern for shrimp or roast beef po boys.
Casamento’s for fried oyster loaf (closed June, July and August).
Mother’s for breakfast of biscuits, grits and debris (the bits and ends of roast beef in gravy). You won’t eat for the rest of the day.
Acme Oyster House for a freshly shucked dozen or two (I like the gumbo here, too).
The Gumbo Shop is a good stop in the Quarter for a quick bowl of gumbo (vegetarian varieties available) and a look at the 20’s era murals of Jackson Square.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House has THE best fried chicken. I know because we tried Dooky Chase and Willie Mae’s back to back during our crazy Chowzter weekend foodfest and Willie Mae’s won. Crisp, spicy and piping hot, served with rice and beans and corn bread. Get in line.
Leah Chase, at 92, is still in the kitchen at venerable Dooky Chase. If you’re looking to taste a variety of New Orleans classics, head here for the lunch buffet and feast on red beans and rice, hot sausage, gumbo and fried chicken.
Liuzzas: There are two. We go to the one that is NOT “by the track”, for their famous onion rings and giant frosty goblets of beer (for some reason the only place I ever drink it). A local neighborhood, non-touristy joint, known for enormous plates of seafood, Italian specialties and po’ boys.
Sammy’s Food Service: Well off the beaten tourist path, but worth the trek to Gentilly (2.5 miles from the Quarter) you’ll find Sammy’s Food Service and Deli. You’ll also find a line, as New Orleanians head here for their award-winning roast beef po’ boy and New Orleans classics, served up BIG. Do not pass up Seafood Mirliton or any of the sides, from broccoli rice casserole and smothered squash to jambalaya and candied yams. Finish up with a slab of doberge. This is the real deal.
Cafe du Monde: likely the most famous spot in New Orleans, save a morning (or late night, open 24 hours) for cafe au lait and beignets.
Morning Call: my preferred venue in City Park for an annual beignet extravaganza.
Maurepas: Small plates (like beets with farro, anchovy butter and tangerine) with New Orleans ingredients reimagined, are the calling card of Maurepas. I love it here.
Sylvain: a cozy nook in an ancient building in the French Quarter, the menu is a mix of small plates and big dinners, or take a seat at the bar and have a burger. I love the Gulf Shrimp Pirloo with popcorn rice, sweet potatoes and pork belly. The Southern Antipasti featuring an assortment of housemade pickles and charcutuerie is a fun starter. Have a sazerac here and if it’s a nice night, eat in the courtyard.
Cafe Reconcile: This is a non-profit organization that trains at-risk youth in the restaurant industry and is a must, not only for their fantastic gumbo, but to support their essential mission.
Bayona: Susan Spicer’s classic restaurant was one of the first of the modern bunch when she opened 24 years ago. A leisurely lunch in the courtyard is the way to go.
Herbsaint: When I asked Susan Spicer who had the best gumbo in New Orleans, she said it was Donald Link’s at Herbsaint. Enough said.
Bacchanal: How do you describe Bacchanal? A wine shop with great food and live music? An outdoor dining experience? Night club? I dunno, but I love it here. Buy your bottle from the well-stocked shop featuring unusual wines from small producers, and head either out to the courtyard or upstairs to the bar for lunch or dinner. From cheese plates to a crispy pork shoulder with barley and sage, this is a Bywater don’t miss.
Cochon, Peche and Butcher: Chef Donald Link’s empire is ever expanding, which is a good thing. Cochon might be my favorite for it’s experimental menu and modern take on classic Cajun cooking. If you’d like to try fried alligator, boudin, local gulf fish with lima beans or smothered greens on the side, head straight here. Peche is devoted to fresh fish and Butcher’s over-the-top sandwiches and sides make for a big lunch (good to share).
Dante’s Kitchen: New Orleans restaurants rarely use the term “farm-to-table” because they’ve always eaten locally and seasonally down there: it’s creole tomato season, or satsuma season, or milliton season. Dante’s Kitchen is the closest thing, for their way with local vegetables and small plates. Far uptown but worth the trek.
Lilette: One of my favorite places for an elegant and French(ish) lunch. A lovely respite if you’re shopping Magazine Street
Sucre: Now nationally famous for their chocolates, it’s a welcome stop for a gelato, macaron or pastry on Magazine.
Pop-ups: New Orleans loves a pop-up. Killer Po’ Boys in the back of Erin Rose Bar in the French Quarter has been there long enough that I don’t think you can call it a Pop-up anymore…pork belly po’ boy? Find it here.
Best of the rest: Franklin, Meauxbar, Luke, August, Cafe Degas…Yes, absolutely go, you will have a wonderful time, but there are only so many days and so many dinners.
Haven’t been, but heard good things: Coquette, Boucherie, Restaurant R’evolution, Angeline (from the chef at Sylvain), Mopho.
I usually skip breakfast, unless of course I’m staying at The Soniat House (I live for their biscuits and cafe au lait), but if you must: Croissant D’or, Spitfire Espresso Bar, Elizabeth’s, Cake Cafe, Satsuma and Pagoda Cafe.
Napoleon House: I hate to say I grew up here, but I grew up here. This is a don’t miss for a Pimm’s Cup in an ancient crumbling bar. Particularly atmospheric on a rainy afternoon. If you must eat, have the gumbo or share a muffuletta.
Bar Tonique: I guess you could classify this place as a dive from the looks of it, but the drinks are fantastic. They focus on historic craft cocktails and make all their own juices, bitters and mixers. A favorite.
French 75: If you can bear the cigar smoke, this classic bar is a must for a French 75 and service by bow-tied, white-jacketed, expert bartenders.
Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone: Hop on the Merry Go Round and enjoy your cocktail while taking a spin.
Hermes Bar at Antoine’s. While technically not an old bar, it acts as if it is. Vitrines of Mardi Gras ephemera line the walls, and if Mike is behind the bar, he’ll tell you where to eat in New Orleans. Share an Oysters Foch Po’ Boy. Free appetizers at happy hour.
The Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt: A classy spot for a Sazerac and to ogle the 1930s era Paul Ninas murals.
Jean LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop: this is the oldest bar in the US (1722) and worth seeing for the history and ancient vibe, but NOT one of my favorite hang outs.
Music and Nightlife: There’s live music every night in New Orleans. Head to Frenchmen Street and walk in and out of the clubs until you find something you like. Pick up a Gambit or Offbeat to see who is playing where, or check online at www.bestofneworleans.com or NOLA.com.
Click here for our list of New Orleans hotels.
Click here for our list of things to do and shopping in New Orleans.
Fried Chicken at Dooky Chase
Roast Beef Po’ Boy at Parkway
Appetizers at Galatoires: Oysters on Brochette, Crabmeat Maison and Shrimp Remoulade
Cafe Brulot, Imry and Robert Tannen at Galatoire’s
Creole Tomato Salad at Maurepas
A perfect Sazerac at Sylvain
Cafe Reconcile’s Seafood Gumbo
Sammy’s Roast Beef Po’ Boy
Sides at Sammy’s
Cocktails at Tonique
Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde
Mike, serving a French 75 at Hermes Bar
My dad, Robert Tannen, claims to have invented the Oysters Foche Po’ Boy at Antoine’s.