New Orleans’ 31 Best Restaurants (Slideshow)
July 23, 2014
There are few cities where the eatin’ is better. These are the Best Restaurants in New Orleans
31) Maurepas Fine Foods
Owner and chef Michael Doyle’s belief that Southern food is both inclusive and hip is demonstrated by Maurepas’ often lengthy wait time for a table and the stellar reviews from locals and restaurant critics alike. The chef sources most of his ingredients from local farms and food purveyors, and therefore tends to make vegetables and other produce the stars of the menu — an uncommon occurrence in most Sothern eateries. The spotlight on produce shines bright in dishes such as the strawberry salad with crème fraiche, corn bread gremolata, and molasses vinaigrette, and the truly Southern wilted greens with pickled butter beans, oatmeal gnocchi, and a parmesan broth. As a sign that Doyle doesn’t take himself too seriously, the name “Maurepas” itself is a play on words, as in French Cajun it can be translated to “bad food.” However, judging by his strong local fan base and glowing reviews from out-of-towners, this could not be further from the truth.
In May 2011, chef Nathanial Zimet was shot three times and critically wounded during an attempted robbery, but the New Orleans culinary community rallied around him; his kitchen staff kept the restaurant open, and some of his customers and colleagues threw financial benefits, local restaurants and breweries donated their goods, and other businesses donated portions of earnings and even servers’ tip to help finance his recovery. This overwhelming show of support speaks to the high regard in which the New Orleans restaurant community holds Zimet and his restaurant, Boucherie. He focuses his staff on technique and execution, which is reflected in a menu that includes fennel-braised pork belly with honey garlic butter pretzel spaetzle and candied fennel seed mustard, Saint Louis-style Niman Ranch ribs with watermelon salad and crispy fried shallots, and applewood smoked scallops with fried green tomato, toasted squash gribiche and smoked scallop white bean sausage.
There’s no other restaurant quite like Mother’s, which has stood guard since 1938, when the skyscrapers that surround it on Poydras street were still low-slung rooming houses and waterfront taverns. Folks line up daily to try the offerings from this institution, and the po’ boys, gumbo, beans and rice, and jambalaya are some of the best around. The best way to sample the best the menu has to offer is by ordering the Ferdi Special, a po’boy packed with baked ham, roast beef, gravy, and that magical substance known as debris, the shredded beef that’s a byproduct of the slow-roasting beef. It’s nothing short of legendary.
You’ll be seeing a lot of John Besh on this list, and with good reason: he’s quite possibly the reigning king of New Orleans fine dining at the moment. At Lüke, his homage to the grand Franco-German brasseries once popular in New Orleans, he demonstrates just how French-inspired lots of Creole fare is. French brasserie classics like shellfish platters, moules frites, roast duck, and croque-monsieur share the menu with a French crawfish boil (with black truffle and cream), crab and shrimp etoufée, boudin noir, seafood gumbo, and crispy frog legs, elevating Creole and French classics to heights typically reserved for the grand old New Orleans restaurants, like Antoine’s. Not surprisingly, in most cases Besh and executive chef Matt Regan do it better than the old guard, whose stars have, for the most part, been coasting by for decades.
27) The Joint
Opened in 2004 by Jenny and Pete Breen, The Joint has made a reputation for itself in both the New Orleans culinary community and the national barbecue scene. It was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives in 2008 and it’s easy to see why, as their menu includes a half rack and whole rack of ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, and locally sourced Cajun sausage, Chaurice, which is delivered fresh and smoked on site out back behind the eatery. With classic Southern sides like cole slaw, potato salad, and mac and cheese, and the fact that the most expensive menu item — a full rack of ribs plus two sides — is only $27.95, one can understand why The Joint has been pleasing locals and visitors alike for the past ten years.
26) Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse
This French Quarter power broker staple is located in a clubby, basement-level space, and is a regular hangout for the city’s wheelers and dealers and high-rollers. With a swanky bar and six private dining rooms, Dickie Brennan’s serves USDA Prime steaks with a creative New Orleans twist; the 6-ounce house filet is topped with fried oysters and béarnaise sauce, the barbecue rib-eye is topped with Abita beer barbecue shrimp, and any steak can be topped with jumbo lump crabmeat or Danish blue cheese. That’s not to say that you should avoid unadorned steaks; the 16-ounce strip is seared in a cast-iron skillet, and just might be New Orleans’ finest steak.
This destination serves chicken liver and soft-shell crab po’boys, a delicious spin on local tradition. Mahony's claims to be the "finest restaurant" in New Orleans, and the shop prides itself on Southern hospitality and both new and traditional takes on the classic Louisiana sandwich.
Located in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, MiLa chefs Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing heavily emphasize the produce and foodstuffs they source from regional farms, marrying traditional Southern classics with fresh and unorthodox ingredients. Their menu focuses on clarity and refinement, with the goal of creating dishes that allow the flavors of these natural ingredients to shine, such as squash blossom tempura with a blue crab and crème fraiche filling under tomato vinaigrette, and Vadouvan spiced monkfish served with a cassoulet of okra, tomato, and fingerling potato.
23) La Petite Grocery
Executive chef and co-owner Justin Devillier is a decorated member of the New Orleans restaurant scene; in 2008 he was singled out as the “Chef to Watch” by The Times-Picayune, and in 2009 the New Orleans City Business Culinary Connoisseurs named him one of the city’s best chefs and also recognized La Petite Grocery as the “Best Neighborhood Restaurant.” All fanfare aside, Devillier has stayed the course and kept this neighborhood staple’s focus on serving Louisiana classics with an Italian, inventive twist, such as saffron fettuccini with gulf shrimp and field peas, turtle Bolognese with sherry, parsley, and a fried soft boiled egg, and paneed rabbit with spaetzle, wilted greens, and sauce grenobloise.
At a time when some the most celebrated restaurants in the country boast a casual and relaxed atmosphere, Gautreau’s remains unapologetically fine and formal. Chef Sue Zemanick is the star of this culinary show, as for years she has garnered critical acclaim: in 2008, she was included in Food & Wine’s "Top 10 Best New Chefs" and was named "Chef of the Year" in New Orleans Magazine; Zemanick participated in Bravo's Top Chef Masters Seriesin 2011 and2012, and was a guest judge on Top Chef New Orleans in 2013; in 2009, 2010, and 2011 the chef was a James Beard Award finalist for "Rising Star Chef," and a 2012 James Beard Award finalist for "Best Chef — South" — an award she actually won this year. Her menu is a mix of classic American and French dishes with signature New Orleans flavors added to the mix, like crispy sweetbreads with crawfish tails, brabant potatoes, braised greens, and spicy beurre blanc; wild mushroom crepes with goat cheese, tomato confit, and ramp vinaigrette; and seared pork chop served with mustard jus, cornbread, turnips, and cabbage-celery seed slaw.
Chef and co-owner Michael Stoltzfus grew up on a 140 acre working dairy farm on the eastern shore of Maryland, which may explain his regionally-sourced menu that changes with the seasons and includes fried gulf shrimp with chili jam, horseradish, and scallions; pork with sweet corn, chanterelles, sweet peppers, and scallions; and striped bass served with heirloom tomato, cashew, and butter lettuce. Both the chef and his restaurant have received accolades from the critics, including a 27 out of 30 in the Zagat Guide, inclusion in The Times-Picayune’s “New Orleans' Top 10 Restaurants” for 2012 and 2013, a spot on Southern Living’s “100 Best Places to Eat Now” in January 2014, and Stoltzfus was named Chef of the Year in 2013 by New Orleans Magazine.
20) Parkway Bakery
Located in Mid-City New Orleans, this local favorite is renowned for their version of the southern classic: the po’boy. The Wall Street Journal, Travel and Leisure, and The Food Network are just a few who have recognized the establishment as serving the best po’boy in town, with Travel and Leisure claiming that there’s “nothing better, nowhere else." All of the sandwiches come “dressed” with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise, with some of the protein choices being fried oysters, charbroiled hamburger, golden fried catfish, and smoked alligator sausage. There are some excellent vegetarian options as well, such as the golden grilled cheese, and the Parkway Caprese, comprised of tomatoes and mozzarella, topped with virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, and salt and pepper.
Since the beginning of the last century, the space on the corner of Annunciation and Webster has been either a restaurant, bar, or both, and since the 1940’s it has been the home Clancy’s. Originally a typical po’boy eatery and local watering hole, it underwent a transformation in 1983 when it was sold to new owners outside of the original family. As one of the first Creole bistros in the city, Clancy’s revolutionized the New Orleans dining scene with a menu boasting sweetbreads with Marsala and mushrooms, crawfish and corn soup, crabmeat Carondelet salad, and sautéed veal with fried oysters and a crystal Hollandaise sauce.
18) Dooky Chase
Since 1941, Dooky Chase has been a Treme Creole landmark, all thanks to the now 91-year-old chef and owner, Leah Chase. Her unique breed of down-home Creole cooking has made this restaurant a must-visit, and when it was nearly destroyed in Hurricane Katrina the whole community pitched in to help rebuild. It doesn’t get much better than her gumbo, crab cakes, crab soup, fried oysters, and red fish Orleans, and the homey, friendly atmosphere is unrivaled.
It’s rare that one food item puts a restaurant on the map, but at Drago’s, which has one location in Metairie and another in the Hilton Riverside, it’s all about the Charbroiled Oysters. The menu claims that this is “the single best bite of food in New Orleans,” and that’s actually not too far from the truth. Freshly-shucked Gulf oysters hit a ripping hot grill before being topped with a thick butter-based sauce kicked up with garlic, Pecorino, cayenne, white pepper, lemon juice, and parsley, and it all combines into a buttery flavorbomb for the ages. You might as well order your second dozen as soon as your first one arrives, and ask for some extra bread to mop up the sauce while you’re at it.
At this point, Emeril Lagasse can be resting on his laurels, content in his standing as the country’s most well-known New Orleans chef with a roster of 13 restaurants from Orlando to Las Vegas, but at his flagship New Orleans restaurant, the one that started it all, he’s still pushing boundaries and serving stunningly delicious New Orleans fare thanks to David Slater, his chef de cuisine since 2008. Lagasse’s famous barbecue shrimp is still quite possibly the city’s best, and one bite of dishes like the whole truffle-fried chicken for two, Andouille-crusted drum, and grilled pork chop with caramelized sweet potatoes, tamarind glaze, and green chile mole will tell you everything you need to know about why Lagasse is as renowned as he is.
15) Red Fish Grill
Ralph Brennan’s casual seafood spot has made a name for itself on Bourbon Street not just as a respite from the party outside the front door, but as one of the best places in town to sample the finest Gulf seafood, cooked according to classic Cajun and Creole recipes. You’ll want to start with the seafood sampler, bursting with BBQ blue crab claws, Gulf shrimp and tasso fritters, and Creole marinated Gulf shrimp, then go for the signature wood-grilled redfish, served with tasso and wild mushroom Pontabla potatoes, sautéed Louisiana jumbo lump crabmeat, and lemon butter sauce. But it’s not all about the bells and whistles here; fresh local redfish, pompano, amberjack, catfish, shrimp, and other seafood can be simply grilled with salt and pepper. At Red Fish Grill, it’s really all about the fish.
Jack Leonardi’s style of cooking is big, bold, and undeniably delicious, and at Jacques-Imo’s (which is a play on his name), his brand of “real Nawlin’ food” is the center of the action at a restaurant and bar that also turns into a nightly party. The lengthy menu is chock-full of near-perfect interpretations of Cajun classics, from shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake to fried green tomatoes, blackened redfish, fried chicken, shrimp creole, stuffed catfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and BBQ shrimp. It’s gutbusting fare, for sure, but when washed down with some Abita and possibly shared with the tables around you, it’s the harbinger of a rollicking good time.
Chef Susan Spicer was one of the pioneers of locally-sourced “slow food” in New Orleans, and for the past 23 years she’s been holding down one of the city’s most consistently good restaurants, Bayona. She draws influence from everywhere from the Mediterranean to Asia, with standout dishes including grilled shrimp with black bean cake and coriander sauce, veal sweetbreads with sherry mustard butter, and wild Alaskan salmon with choucroute and Gewürztraminer sauce. Located inside a 200-year-old French Quarter house, the restaurant also has one of the city’s nicest courtyards.
12) The Camellia Grill
Founded in 1946, this Carrollton landmark is nothing short of legendary. Undoubtedly one of the world’s finest diner-style restaurants, the crowds line up on a daily basis not just for the retro charm and friendly service, but for legendary chocolate pecan pie, double-scoop “freezes,” gigantic omelets, perfect griddled 6-ounce burgers, waffles, and “Whole Meal Sandwiches.” While it’s quite possibly the best breakfast place in town, the best time to go is late at night.
The conversation about New Orleans' best po'boys is a serious enough one to have set The Times-Picayune's own restaurant critic Brett Anderson on one of the city's most cherished endeavors: to find the best roast beef po'boy. Sure, that meant hitting up places like Mother's and Parkway, but it was at Domilise's on the unimpressive corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle streets at the end of a trolley ride fairly far west of Bourbon Street where you can find one of New Orleans' best. The quintessential light bread characteristic of the genre topped with supremely thin-sliced roast beef, dressed with a touch of Creole mustard, and covered with gravy will certainly get tongues wagging. Consider Anderson's own words: "I’m prepared to defend these propositions: If a template for a classic New Orleans po’boy joint exists, it’s Domilise’s."
10) Willie Mae’s Scotch House
You haven’t truly had fried chicken until you’ve had it from Willie Mae’s, a legendary restaurant located in New Orleans’ Fifth Ward since 1956. Look around the two no-frills dining rooms and you’ll see nothing but fried chicken, even though other offerings, like smothered veal, are available (and delicious). But if it’s your first time there, take a cue from the regulars and other pilgrims. The chicken, perfected by 100-year-old Willie Mae Seaton and today safeguarded by her granddaughter Kerry, is, simply put, otherworldly. Fried to order, the crust is shiny, craggy, light, not greasy, and shatteringly crisp and crunchy, coming away cleanly as you take a bite without dragging the rest of the breading with it. Underneath, the chicken is impossibly moist and juicy. We almost lost Willie Mae’s after it was destroyed during Katrina, but the community banded together to rebuild the restaurant exactly as it was before.
Short for South of Bourbon, SoBou is the Commander’s Family’s “saloon”-style restaurant, focused on elevated bar food and great cocktails. One look at the menu tells you all you need to know that this place is all about having a great time: crispy boudin balls, “The Fries” with pickled okra mayo, sweet potato beignets, flash-fried chicken drumettes, a surf and turf with smoked cochon de lait and fried oysters, and a burger topped with a fried egg, duck bacon, and a ”foie gras ice cream float.” And oh, yeah — between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, martinis are 25 cents. Did we mention it’s just about impossible to leave this place without having a great time?
This Central Business District gem serves cutting edge modern American fare under the helm of chef and co-owner Philip Lopez, who opened the restaurant in November 2011 to near-universal acclaim. His menu is all over the map, in the best way possible; the legendary charcuterie board includes everything from beef heart bresaola to cochon de lait porchetta and Catalonian-style butifarra, appetizers include aloo gobi and sweet tea country-fried chicken wings, and entrees include Cohiba-smoked scallops, black lacquered duck, and Korean short rib clay pot. Root’s menu isn’t just one of the most eclectically adventurous in New Orleans, it’s one of the most adventurous anywhere.
Chef Donald Link is the latest in a long line of world-class chefs to hone his chops in New Orleans, incorporating the city’s flavors and vitality into his cooking. Link is also the man behind the now-legendary Cochon. Herbsaint is his more upscale (yet still fun and accessible) modern bistro; French and Italian-inspired yet still classically Southern. Standout dishes include butter-poached Gulf tuna with pickled chilies and mint, jumbo shrimp with tasso-stewed collard greens and grits, and slow-cooked lamb neck with saffron fideo and tomato confit.
Chef Alon Shaya (recently nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef — South) serves some of America's best pizza at John Besh Restaurant Group's New Orleans restaurant Domenica (Italian for "Sunday") in the renovated and historic Roosevelt Hotel. You’ll have a hard time choosing between the 17 pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven. Just look at the photos — the slightly imperfect circles ringed with light, puffy, and black-blistered crusts, the center of the pie sauce-speckled and beautifully topped with stellar (and fun) ingredients like cotechino (sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind), bacon and eggs, apple and pecans, mortadella, spicy lamb meatball, roast pork shoulder, and duck with sweet potato — ordering just one pizza is a tough call. So don’t. Order Domenica’s most popular pie, the Margherita (tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella), then wild-card your second and third choices with the Tutto Carne (fennel sausage, bacon, salami, and cotechino), the Roasted Carrot (with goat cheese, red onion, Brussels sprouts, beets, and hazelnuts — wow!), or give the clam pie a shot.
A serious cult favorite since it opened in 2006, Cochon is the domain of pork-loving chef Donald Link, proprietor of the popular Herbsaint and winner of a James Beard Award for his Real Cajun cookbook. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions from his grandparents, Link serves dishes like “fisherman’s style” oven-roasted gulf fish, catfish courtbouillon, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, rabbit and dumplings, and the namesake cochon, slow-roasted Louisiana pig with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins.
4) Peche Seafood Grill
Donald Link’s top entry on our ranking, Peche demonstrates that the chef can glorify fish just as well as he does pork. Named one of Bon Appetit’s Top 50 New Restaurants in 2013 and the home of James Beard Award winner for Best Chef — South Ryan Prewitt, the restaurant is centered around a coal-burning open hearth. The daily whole grilled fish — whatever it is — is always a smart choice, but the traditional classics, like smothered catfish, shrimp and corn bisque, and the seafood platter certainly don’t get overlooked.
John Besh is one of the most interesting and ambitious chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery shows his love for, and understanding of, French, Italian, and high-level American cuisine; much of it interpreted with a New Orleans lilt. His dishes also always incorporate the finest local food that the Gulf has to offer; for example, his roasted Gulf dorado with house cured lardo, crisp farro, and Swiss chard, or his Chappapeela Farms tête de cochon with crispy pig tail and house pickles.
A Bourbon Street landmark, Galatoire’s has been serving classic Creole, New Orleans style cuisine for many generations. The immense menu has changed little over the past century-plus and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, oysters en brochette, seafood okra gumbo, a variety of seasonal fish and shellfish, chicken Clemenceau, and black bottom pecan pie for dessert. Anyone can get good cooking here, but go with a regular if you can; that way you'll be guaranteed good service (regulars have their "own" waiters) and maybe a taste of something not on the menu.
1) Commander’s Palace
A slice of New Orleans dining history — it opened in 1880 — this culinary landmark has long been collecting accolades for everything from its service, to its wine list and its "haute Creole" cuisine. Two of its alumni, it might be noted, are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse,but with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens for over a decade, Commander’s Palace is still going strong. Come hungry and ready for such dishes as the foie gras and candied pecan beignet with foie gras infused café au lait or satsuma and Grand Marnier lacquered quail with bacon-braised Vidalia onions.