On the Road Eats: New Orleans City Guide

Take a bite out of the Big Easy with these sizzling selections from Food Network stars.

By: Erin Cassin

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Culinary Magic in the Crescent City

Boasting a plentiful mix of fine dining and casual cafes, New Orleans is home to distinctive Creole and Cajun cuisines (think po’ boys, gumbo and muffulettas) that bring food lovers back to the bayou year after year. We’ve got the scoop on the best spots to visit for tried-and-true Big Easy classics as well as innovative riffs on the region’s traditional dishes. Let the good times — and the good eats — roll.

Cafe Beignet

When in New Orleans, Alton Brown wakes up and strolls over to Cafe Beignet on Royal Street for — you guessed it — the namesake beignets. The chefs here prepare a perfect rendition of New Orleans’ take on a doughnut. The dough is made fresh daily, then allowed a longer-than-standard rise time of three hours, which is the key to its light and airy texture. After a dip in the deep fryer and a blizzard of powdered sugar, it’s ready to be devoured. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Alton suggested pairing the pastry with a cup of the chicory coffee, which has just the right amount of bitterness to counter the sweet beignet. Dunk the beignet in coffee, savor and repeat.

Go to: Cafe Beignet

Junction

For some of the best burgers in town, head to this beer bar, where the grass-fed meat is sourced from owner Lloyd Miller’s nearby cattle ranch. Miller and Chef Abe Lemoine have dreamed up more than a half-dozen variations on the basic burger, all with railroad themes inspired by the bar’s proximity to the train tracks. Both Michael Symon and Scott Conant were won over by the Hawaii Consolidated when they stopped by on Burgers, Brew & ’Que. Paying homage to Hawaii’s sugar cane-hauling railway, the burger riffs on some of the state’s signature flavors. The patty is seasoned with a brown sugar-laced dry rub and coated with mounds of Monterey Jack cheese, then topped with Canadian bacon, pineapple juice-spiked teriyaki sauce and housemade pineapple jam.

Go to: Junction

Brennan's Restaurant

Starting the day with a cocktail just seems like the right thing to do in New Orleans. And at Brennan’s Restaurant, a morning nip is practically a prerequisite. This grand dame of the New Orleans dining scene has served boozy breakfasts since the early ’50s, drawing locals and tourists alike. One menu favorite is the Brandy Milk Punch, a New Orleans brunch staple with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Pair the cocktail with spiced barbecued lobster or decadent Eggs Sardou nestled in creamed spinach. Even dessert comes soaked in spirits, as Brennan’s is the birthplace of Bananas Foster. The preparation involves a dramatic finale of flaming rum, which left Duff Goldman entranced when he stopped in for dessert on Sugar High.

Go to: Brennan's Restaurant

Galatoire's Restaurant

This New Orleans stalwart provides a sophisticated reprieve from Bourbon Street’s frenetic party scene. The dining rooms are elegant, with chandeliers and mahogany, the waiters wear tuxedos and the menu features French-Creole favorites. “Galatoire’s is that classic, old-school New Orleans restaurant,” explained John Besh, a regular patron and a devotee of the Soufflé Potatoes. A menu staple for more than a century, the Soufflé Potatoes begin with thinly sliced russet potatoes, which are fried at three different temperatures until they puff into airy bite-size pillows. They’re tossed with salt and served with a creamy bearnaise sauce for “the most-perfect bite of food” as John declared on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Order shrimp remoulade and banana bread pudding to complete the meal.

Go to: Galatoire's Restaurant

Cochon

Set in a converted warehouse, Cochon specializes in the Cajun flavors Giada De Laurentiis calls "real comfort food." Many of the hearty dishes served here, like the fried alligator with chile-garlic mayonnaise, incorporate local game. “Honestly, if they didn’t tell you it was alligator, I’d think it was chicken,” Giada confessed on Giada’s Weekend Getaways. Another standout dish is the rabbit and dumplings, a warming stew laced with savory herbs and served in a cast-iron skillet.

Go to: Cochon

Walker's BBQ

Shrimp and oysters get a lot of attention as po’ boy fillings, but Walker’s BBQ swaps out seafood for French-Louisiana cochon de lait (suckling pig). Owner Wanda Walker uses pork butt as the main ingredient, seasoning it perfectly, smoking it over white hickory and creating a crisp black bark that Troy Johnson savored on Crave. To build the sandwich, a traditional po’ boy baguette is sliced in half, slicked with a spicy Cajun sauce and stuffed with the smoky pulled pork and creamy coleslaw. What started as a crowd favorite at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival back in 2000 now draws locals and tourists year-round to this tiny smokehouse.

Go to: Walker's BBQ

Antoine's Restaurant

History is at the heart of this French-Creole restaurant, where the menu has remained largely unchanged for more than 100 years. It was here in this kitchen that the dish Oysters Rockefeller was created in 1889, and the same closely guarded recipe is still used to this day. A rich, buttery sauce — containing at least four different greens — is piped onto oysters on the half shell, which are then baked in a specially designed oven until browned on top. Bobby Flay declared the resulting dish a “culinary masterpiece” on Top 10 Restaurants with Food Network Magazine. The combination of indulgent menu items (which include Eggs Sardou, Baked Alaska and the brandy-spiked coffee known as Cafe Brulot), impeccable service and luxurious surroundings has continued to draw diners to Antoine’s for nearly two centuries.

Go to: Antoine's Restaurant

Brown Butter Southern Kitchen & Bar

This casual restaurant tucked away in a Mid-City strip mall offers a creative Southern-inspired menu that stretches beyond the expected Big Easy staples. The name Brown Butter alone gave Michael Symon high expectations when he stopped by on Burgers, Brew & ’Que … and the Brown Butter Brunch Burger did not disappoint. This indulgent burger features a short-rib and brisket patty blanketed in Brie cheese and smothered with bacon onion jam, which Michael lauded for its “smokiness, sweetness and acidity.” The patty is nestled on a bun slicked with garlic aioli, then topped with a sunny-side-up egg to add to the richness. Pair it with thin-fried pickles for added tangy enjoyment.

Brown Butter Southern Kitchen & Bar: Brown Butter Southern Kitchen & Bar

Central Grocery

The muffuletta sandwich at this small Italian market clocks in at a whopping 3 pounds, and eating one is a rite of passage in New Orleans. It takes a sturdy loaf to stand up to all those imported cold cuts, so Central Grocery sources bread from local bakeries that is made specifically to support the hefty meat filling. To build the muffuletta — which is Alex Guarnaschelli’s first meal whenever she arrives in town — a sesame seed-studded loaf is sliced in half, brushed with olive oil, then layered with Swiss cheese, provolone and slice upon slice of mortadella, capicola, Genoa salami and more cold cuts. It’s finished with a housemade olive salad to create a briny flavor that ties the sandwich together. “This is firing on all cylinders,” Alex declared on Guilty Pleasures.

Go to: Central Grocery

Drago's Seafood Restaurant

When Croatian immigrant Drago Cvitanovich opened the first Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in 1969, his kinship with the local Croatian fishing community helped him secure the freshest oysters in the region. Many decades later, Drago’s has grown to three locations and cemented its reputation for the very best shellfish by continuing to source from local fishermen instead of a distributor. Though the menu offers several oyster preparations, the charbroiled option is the undisputed crowd-pleaser. “They’re smoky, garlicky, cheesy, creamy and just beautiful,” enthused Adam Gertler on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Freshly shucked oysters are doused with a garlic-butter mixture and sprinkled with parsley, Parmesan and Romano cheese while being grilled over an open flame. Drago’s son Tommy invented this dish in 1993 and it has been drawing the crowds ever since, with as many as 900 Charbroiled Oysters served daily.

Go to: Drago's Seafood Restaurant

La Petite Grocery

James Beard Foundation Award finalist Justin Devillier’s clever takes on traditional local flavors have garnered him a loyal following of fans, including John Besh, who loves Devillier’s signature Blue Crab Beignet. John likened the appetizer to “a bite of New Orleans” when he joined Michael Symon at the restaurant on Burgers, Brew & ’Que. Chef Devillier transforms this fried-dough staple (which is traditionally served alongside coffee as a sweet morning snack) by incorporating blue crabs. To make the bite-sized beignets, Devillier combines the crab with chive-and-shallot-laced mascarpone, then rolls the mixture into balls and coats them in beer batter to create a crunchy, golden outside that gives way to a creamy, crab-studded filling. “This is like the world’s greatest crab cake,” Michael declared. He’s also a fan of the LPG Cheeseburger, which features a coarsely ground beef patty topped with onion marmalade, melty Gruyère cheese and house-brined pickles.

Go to: La Petite Grocery

Arnaud's

Soft candlelight and great cocktails make this New Orleans fixture a favorite with couples: There’s even a mezzanine in the main dining room called Lovers’ Lookout. A popular date-night dessert is the Bananas Foster, a local invention with a dramatic tableside presentation. Perfect for two, the dish consists of halved bananas that are sauteed in a caramel sauce made from brown sugar and creme de banane liqueur, then doused with a healthy pour of Jamaican rum for a tableside flambe presentation. A spark-inducing dash of cinnamon adds to the theatrics, as the bananas are torched until a delicate, crisp shell caramelizes around the fruit. They’re served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, resulting in a dessert that had Geoffrey Zakarian singing its praises on Top 5 Restaurants. He called the dish a “silky, sugary and spirited treat with a temperature combination that will make your toes curl.”

Go to: Arnaud's

K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen

Aarón Sánchez started his career in the late Chef Paul Prudhomme’s kitchen, and he still raves about the blackened redfish (aka Blackened Louisiana Drum) that this restaurant helped popularize as a quintessential New Orleans dish. The redfish is seasoned with a proprietary blend of black, white and red peppers, then blackened in a cast-iron skillet to form a spiced coating. The contrast of the flaky fish and its seasoned crust will make you feel like you’re “levitating,” Aarón said on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Crowds flock to K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen for the Cajun and Creole cooking that put the restaurant on the map, so reservations are nearly mandatory.

Go to: K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen

Cane & Table

Set near one of the oldest ports in the nation, this restaurant — housed in a Creole-style cottage — draws upon New Orleans’ culinary heritage for its menu. As Michael Symon said, they’re “creating local cuisine through a scope of Caribbean flavors.” The tropics shine through in dishes like the Crispy Rum Ribs, which are seasoned and grilled, then braised in a mixture of three-year-aged Guyanese rum, poblano peppers, onions, ginger and garlic. After a three-hour turn in the oven, the tender meat is dipped in buttermilk and a house-blend flour to ensure an extra-crunchy crust once fried. Sweet papaya chutney and spicy chile-packed sambal add even more flavor. “It's not traditional barbecue, but I will eat this all day long,” Michael declared on Burgers, Brew & ’Que.

Go to: Cane & Table

Jacques-Imo's

This lively restaurant is as over-the-top as the City of New Orleans itself, with its kitsch-filled dining room, charismatic owner and decadent menu stuffed with inventive Creole updates. On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Adam Gertler described a well-known menu item here as “one of the most shocking, weird-sounding, bucket o’ crazy appetizers” he’s ever come across. A savory spin on traditional cheesecake, the recipe “makes a left turn at salty-ville,” explained Adam, as onions, peppers, smoked Gouda, Gulf shrimp and alligator andouille sausage join the standard cream cheese mixture. The mixture is spooned onto a crust of panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan and Romano cheese, then baked until the dish reaches a quiche-like consistency. It’s served with a spicy tomato Creole sauce for kick.

Go to: Jacques Imo's Cafe

Elizabeth's

New Orleans can offer quite the late-night celebration. When it’s time to recover, Rahm Fama recommends a hearty country breakfast at this down-home Southern restaurant that’s a favorite with locals. The meaty centerpiece of this order is a succulent pork loin that is smoked on-site. Chef Bryon Peck uses heritage-breed Berkshire pork, which has rich marbling to ensure maximum flavor, as Rahm discovered on Meat & Potatoes. The meat is hit with a spice-laden dry rub, then smoked over pecan wood until a thick, zesty bark — or crisp crust — forms. Finished with a sausage-studded gravy and served with praline bacon, sunny-side-up eggs and cheese grits, this plate is the perfect remedy for a night of excess.

Go to: Elizabeth's

Katie's Restaurant

Open since 1984, this Mid-City neighborhood fixture was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, when 7 feet of water wiped out most of the inside. Hard work and dedication got the restaurant back and better than ever, and it reopened in 2010 with a marker out front showing the high-water mark. Inside, Creole-Italian dishes like a gooey three-cheese crawfish beignet keep the locals returning. There’s also an outsize take on the traditional po’ boy so large it had Guy Fieri exclaiming, “What human eats that?” Named the Barge, the two-to-four-person sandwich packs fried oysters, shrimp and catfish onto an entire loaf of French bread. Those with even more room should opt for the Brooklyn-style Atchafalaya pizza, topped with shrimp, oysters, crawfish and crab cake.

Go to: Katie's Restaurant

Bon Ton Cafe

Between the graciously unhurried vibe, the old-school decor and the menu of local classics, the Bon Ton Cafe feels like a throwback to another era. The unpretentious look belies its stellar reputation for serving some of the city’s best authentic Cajun cuisine since opening in the ’50s. John Besh can’t get enough of the Crabmeat Au Gratin, which he raved about on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. This dish features delicately flavored Louisiana blue crab. “When you pair the sweet and the briny with the creamy cheese, it hits everything,” John exclaimed. Make a full meal by teaming it with gumbo, crawfish bisque and bread pudding with the house whiskey sauce.

Go to: Bon Ton Cafe

Dong Phuong Bakery and Restaurant

There are po’ boys aplenty to choose from in New Orleans, but few places offer Dong Phuong’s take: a Vietnamese riff on the Big Easy classic. Locals and tourists alike venture to eastern New Orleans for a Vietnamese Po’ Boy (aka banh mi sandwich). Choose from more than 15 variations or go for the owner’s favorite, Vietnamese Sausage. “It’s a great variation of a po’ boy if I’ve ever seen it,” declared Rahm Fama on Meat & Potatoes. This sandwich brings together housemade garlicky pork sausage in fresh-baked French bread, slicked with mayonnaise and a mixture of hoisin sauce, pate and peanut butter. The sandwich is finished with a mound of toppings, which include jalapeno peppers, pickled carrots and daikons, fresh cilantro and a cucumber spear.

Go to: Dong Phuong Bakery and Restaurant

Evangeline

The focus is local at this cozy spot owned by husband-and-wife duo Tony and Rhonda Miller. The Millers not only source fresh ingredients from nearby markets, but also offer more than a dozen craft beers made by regional breweries. Even the name of the restaurant has a Louisiana connection: Evangeline is a Cajun folk hero. It doesn’t get more local than Chef Jim O’Shea’s updated take on a traditional grits dish, which features the state’s official crustacean: crawfish. Cheesy, tomato-laced grits form the base of this indulgent dish, which comes loaded with succulent crawfish and a creamy yet spicy sauce that Michael says will “wake you up in the morning and put you to bed at night.”

Go to: Evangeline

Mother's Restaurant

This Big Easy fixture is known for its top-notch comfort food, classic po' boys and available-all-day breakfast favorites. There's often a line out the door, but the bread pudding alone is worth the wait, as Sunny Anderson explained on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The kitchen riffs on the classic bread pudding recipe by adding fruit cocktail (yes, the same syrupy concoction that comes in a can at the supermarket), so that you get a taste of peach, cherry or pear in every spoonful. “It’s just moist on top of flavor, on top of decadence,” Sunny said. Omelets filled with crawfish etouffee or Creole shrimp add local appeal for those seeking something savory.

Go to: Mother's Restaurant

Joey K's Restaurant & Bar

Housed in a charming century-old building, this family-owned restaurant offers home-style dishes bursting with Big Easy flavors, such as jambalaya and oyster po’ boys. The Shrimp Magazine is one crowd favorite that earned rave reviews from Guy Fieri, who was ready to list “the 90 reasons” he is a fan of the dish on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The shrimp are coated in seasoned flour, then sauteed with artichoke hearts and diced ham in “a hot tub of butter,” Guy joked. Basil, green onions and garlic kick up the flavor for the mix, which is served over angel hair pasta. “Every ingredient that went in there, I dig,” Guy enthused.

Go to: Joey K's Restaurant & Bar

Liuzza's by the Track

In a city known for its fiery Cajun and Creole cuisines, tongue-tingling dishes abound, but the gumbo at this neighborhood stalwart really stands out by combining the two culinary traditions. The resulting dish is “the absolute hottest and most-delicious gumbo out there,” Geoffrey Zakarian declared on Top 5 Restaurants. For this distinctive stew, a spice-laden savory stock is combined with a robust Cajun-style roux, okra, chicken thighs and andouille sausage. Tangy crushed tomatoes and steamed shrimp add Creole flavor to the dish, which comes served over a mound of rice. The gumbo is worth a journey, but locals pack in regularly for the po’ boys as well.

Go to: Liuzza's by the Track

High Hat Cafe

Though it only opened in 2010, High Hat Cafe has already woven itself into the fabric of the neighborhood, with its menu of Louisiana staples that give it the feel of a longtime fixture. On Burgers, Brew & ’Que, Michael described the Fried Oyster Remoulade Po’ Boy as the “most crispy, savory and preeminent po’ boy in the entire city.” Gulf oysters are coated in a cornmeal dredge, deep-fried, then tossed in a housemade remoulade that forgoes the traditional mayonnaise base in favor of vinaigrette for a tangier taste. The oysters come nestled on a classic po’ boy loaf (airy on the inside and crunchy on the outside) that’s slicked with mayonnaise and topped with lettuce and tomato. “If you’re going po’ boy, you better go po’ boy here,” Michael advised.

Go to: High Hat Cafe

Bayona

Pass this restaurant while wandering the French Quarter and you may think you’ve happened upon a cheery fairy-tale cottage. Behind these walls, however, you’ll find a trio of cozy dining rooms and a bustling kitchen helmed by James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Susan Spicer, who has been drawing crowds with her New American fare since 1990. The menu rotates daily, but keep an eye out for the Cream of Garlic Soup, which Simon Majumdar raved about on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. “You’re getting so many flavors, and I think that’s what makes it one of the great soups — probably in the world — that I’ve ever tasted,” Simon declared. Spicer caramelizes fresh cloves of garlic, then slow-cooks them with sliced onions for optimal flavor. Follow the soup with fried oysters or a smoked-quail salad with bourbon-molasses dressing, ideally eaten on the beautiful patio.  

Go to: Bayona

Restaurant August

This flagship restaurant of James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef John Besh offers contemporary French cuisine in a grand 19th-century space with massive crystal chandeliers, mahogany panels, antique mirrors and polished wood floors. Many of the dishes incorporate local ingredients for a decidedly New Orleanian twist, including handmade potato gnocchi tossed with blue crab. This dish is a favorite of Aarón Sánchez, who raved about it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Served in a rich, vermouth-spiked sauce, the dish is studded with Pontchartrain blue crabs and truffles, which add earthy, briny flavors to every bite. Crawfish tartlets, an elevated shrimp etouffee and best-in-class banana pudding help round out the Southern appeal.

Go to: Restaurant August

Upperline Restaurant

This artsy restaurant — housed in a 19th-century townhouse — is a short streetcar ride from the bustling French Quarter, but it feels a world away from those tourist-thronged streets. Here you’ll find a homey spin on Creole fine dining, complete with a menu of dishes that Simon Majumdar describes as made “with a lot of love.” On The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Simon raved about the half duckling, which is seasoned with garlic, mustard and soy, then slow-roasted. A quick turn under the broiler ensures a perfectly crisp skin ideal for dipping into the accompanying garlic-port or ginger-peach sauce.

Go to: Upperline Restaurant

Casamento's Restaurant

At this classic NOLA establishment, the raw oysters are a tradition, as Guy Fieri found out on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. In 1919, original owner Joe Casamento shucked the first oyster at his then newly opened restaurant. Nearly a century later, diners are crowding in for the raw oysters offered by third-generation owner CJ Gerdes. With as many as 3,000 oysters served here in a day, they’re shucked at a startlingly quick pace (as quickly as one every six seconds) to keep up with the demand. The oysters are accompanied by an array of condiments like ketchup, horseradish and hot sauce, but any way you eat them you’re sure to taste the “fresh, vibrant flavor” that had Guy hooked. Casamento's Restaurant is also known for its fried-oyster sandwiches (think mounds of fried oysters on a slab of buttery bread), fried shrimp and soft-shell crab.

Go to: Casamento's Restaurant

Johnny's Po-Boys

As the name suggests, traditional Louisiana sandwiches are this old-school restaurant’s main draw. A family-owned New Orleans fixture, Johnny’s Po-Boys has been slinging hearty Southern sandwiches since 1950. Its namesake po’ boys can be customized with a dizzying array of fillings. Opt for golden-brown morsels of fried shrimp nestled into the house baguette-style slab of French bread. Order it “dressed, baby” for an extra charge and the kitchen will add lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. The muffuletta is another fixture, and one Scott Conant called “perfect” on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. For this sandwich, a 12-inch, seed-studded Italian bun is piled high with ham, mozzarella cheese and salami, then topped with a bright mix of olives and pickled vegetables.

Go to: Johnny's Po' Boys

Big Fisherman Seafood

Crawfish is a local delicacy so beloved in Louisiana that it was named the official state crustacean in 1983. Restaurants throughout New Orleans tout their crawfish boils, but this no-fuss seafood market is a go-to spot for locals, as Alton Brown and his crew found out on Feasting on Asphalt Waves. To keep up with demand, sacks upon sacks of the crustaceans are delivered fresh daily by local fishermen. A whopping 150 pounds of crawfish at a time are then boiled in a vat of broth seasoned with red pepper, garlic and other Big Easy flavors. The market is a bit off the beaten path and does not offer seating, so plan to take your haul to go.

Go to: Big Fisherman Seafood