The Locals' Guide to French Quarter Restaurants

Avoid the tourist traps at these 10 local favorites in New Orleans' most-popular neighborhood.

Photo By: Alex Harrell, Rush Jagoe, Kevin O'Mara, and Andrew Strenio

Photo By: W Rush Jagoe V ©William Rush Jagoe V

Photo By: Alex Harrell, Rush Jagoe, Kevin O'Mara, and Andrew Strenio

©Kevin O'Mara

10 Non-Touristy Gems in the French Quarter

It’s easy to fall into the trap of the French Quarter’s neon-signed bars in pursuit of juleps and middling Cajun food, but if you’re craving a more local experience, head to these 10 favorite spots.

Angeline

You can’t have Southern brunch without grits, and Chef Alex Harrell won’t disappoint there, but he takes it one step further with crispy boudin sausage, a pan-fried egg and red-eye gravy atop creamy, bar-raising grits. Originally from Alabama, Harrell is rooted in Southern cooking traditions, but he might throw in an Italian-ish twist from time to time, such as the Mississippi rabbit leg inspired by veal milanese (breaded, fried and smothered in tomato gravy) with spoonbread. Or the housemade linguine studded with sweet lumps of Louisiana blue crabs, bottarga, fresh mint, serrano peppers and crab butter. 

Angeline

Meauxbar

Chef Kristen Essig cooked around town for years, most notably for big-name Big Easy chefs Emeril Lagasse and Susan Spicer, before deciding to step out on her own. Meauxbar’s menu is a crowd-pleaser, pivoting from playful and adventurous — escargot in bone marrow that doubles as a liquor luge for a shot of Herbsaint — to serious French comfort, like a classic hanger steak au poivre. Reservations are available and advised, since the dining room fills up fast. Those with a case of late-night munchies on Fridays or Saturdays can drop by for dinner, which is served till midnight.On Sunday nights, the bar serves Yak-a-Mein, a local comfort food and proven hangover cure. It’s a vaguely Asian noodle soup with meaty ingredients that vary based on market options, but it always comes with onions, a soft-boiled egg and sambal paste.

Meauxbar

Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe

If you’re craving soul food or some good ol’ Creole cooking, it doesn’t get more authentic than Li’l Dizzy’s, just a short walk from the Quarter in the Tremé neighborhood. Owner Wayne Baquet comes from a long family tradition of hospitality: His great-aunt Ada opened one of the first African American-owned restaurants in Tremé, and his father’s restaurant was a staple in the 7th Ward neighborhood. Baquet opened Li’l Dizzy’s in 2005 before Katrina, and was able to rebuild it after the storm. Li’l Dizzy’s has become the go-to standard for Sunday brunch, gumbo and fried chicken. Their daily all-you-can-eat buffet is the way to go if you don’t want to miss a bit, and they also do daily specials and po’ boys a la carte.

Li'l Dizzy's Cafe

Sylvain

Named after the first opera ever performed in New Orleans, Sylvain retains its reverence to local tradition but also doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a low-key, friendly vibe, with one of the most-enchanting back courtyards in the Quarter. The high-low menu pairs unpretentious Southern cooking with skilled execution in dishes like beef cheeks with potato puree, sweet onions and local peas. The best bar bite is the “Chick-Syl-vain” Sandwich: a fried chicken breast modeled after that of a certain fast-food chain. The Sazerac is also particularly good. 

Sylvain

Cleo’s

It’s easy to walk right past Cleo’s and never know what you’re missing. Situated in a 24-hour convenience store, this Middle Eastern joint is a popular lunchtime spot for office workers in the Central Business District and for chefs and bartenders coming off late-night shifts. Aromas of grilled chicken and lamb skewers waft through the shop. Like any solid Middle Eastern eatery, Cleo's does a mean mezze platter with falafel, parsley-studded tabbouleh, hummus, grape leaves, labneh and plenty more (enough for two hungry folks) for $10. It’s one of the best under-the-radar spots, no matter how late you pop in. 

Cleo's Mediterranean Cuisine & Grocery

Compère Lapin

While a contestant on Top Chef, Nina Compton fell in love with New Orleans. A native of St. Lucia, she stuck around to open Compère Lapin, which pays homage to the Caribbean flavors of her childhood. Conch croquettes and deep-fried pig ears are some of the best bar dishes, which can be paired with refreshing riffs on classic drinks, like a Pimm's Cup or a daiquiri (the non-slushy kind). If you’re brunching, try the boozy bananas Foster milk shake. At dinnertime, it’s all about the goat curry, spiced with cinnamon and served with sweet plantain gnocchi. 

Compère Lapin

Buffa’s Lounge

Right off Esplanade Avenue, this local favorite features nightly music, a killer Sunday jazz brunch and down-home red beans that keep folks coming back for more every night. A true neighborhood institution with some of the friendliest servers around, the front bar is open 24/7/365. The crowd is a mix of late-night carousers, Saints fans eating “Buffa-lo Wings” on game days and music lovers jamming to solid live bands. It’s also a spot where you can check some New Orleans specialties off your list: boudin balls, alligator balls, jambalaya, shrimp creole, blackened redfish and crawfish etouffee. 

Buffa's Bar & Restaurant

Cane & Table

Duck into this Caribbean-vibing gem in the heart of the Quarter, and you’ll immediately feel transported. From the fresh pineapples on the bar to the daily rotating punch in a giant glass bowl, it’s a breath of tropical air off teeming Chartres Street. The menu includes very snackable curried jerk cracklins, peas and rice cooked with plenty of andouille, and full plates of miso-glazed Gulf shrimp. Weekends bring an all-you-can-drink brunch: Choose either migas, yucca duck hash or pork and poached eggs to go with your bottomless tiki drink.

Cane & Table

Cosimo’s Bar

If you want to go where everyone knows your name — or at least where everyone else knows everyone else’s name — look no further than Cosimo’s. Beloved by locals for its dirt-cheap nightly specials (Blackened Chicken Cheesesteak Po’ Boy Mondays! Taco Tuesdays!), dog-friendly policy and killer happy-hour deals, Cosimo’s is rightfully crowded around the clock. One signature drink is the Bloody Ugly, a Bloody Mary garnished with pickled green beans. Since this is New Orleans, it’s served in a plastic to-go cup, so you can take it on a stroll or stay with the crowds on days when the Saints game is on. 

Cosimo's Bar

Wink’s

Beignets from Café du Monde are justifiably high on the New Orleans bucket list, but there’s more fried dough in town, particularly buttermilk drops. A New Orleans original, these sublime fried orbs have a crisp, glazed shell with soft, cakey innards. Flavors rotate daily, with specials like coconut or chocolate with pralines in addition to the can’t-miss classic glazed, which are ideal with a cup of coffee. And if you’re in a Mardi Gras state of mind, Wink’s sells king cakes year-round. 

Wink’s Bakery & Bistro

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