Where to Eat in New Orleans

Whether you're craving casual beignets and coffee, a crawfish boil or an elaborate Friday lunch, New Orleans has plenty to offer.

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Sam Hanna

Photo By: Graham Blackall

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

Welcome to New Orleans

There may no other American city that relishes the act of dining as much as New Orleans. It’s there in the iconic dishes of the city itself and its surrounding region of South Louisiana. The po’ boys, the gumbo, the crawfish boils, the ya-ka-mein, the sno balls. Restaurants are places to eat those dishes, sure. They’re also where you go to lose an hour or four, drink too much, eat to excess and sit with what matters in life: good people, good food and a grand time in a city where life and its troubles are always kept in crystalline perspective.

By Scott Hocker

Beignets: Morning Call

No shade to Cafe du Monde, but the beignet experience at Morning Call, located far from the tourist droves in bucolic City Park, is sublime. Rickety canisters of powdered sugar grace each table, for a choose-your-own sugar flurry adventure. There are dripping oaks all around, the beignets are hot and pillowy, and if you’re in need of sweet fortification, order yourself a frozen cafe au lait.

Creative Cajun: Maypop

On paper, nothing about Maypop computes. A semi-fine-dining restaurant where Cajun meets Italian meets Chinese meets Indian meets Southeast Asian. Don’t think too hard. Just eat. The bibb salad with chaat-style seasoning pops with so much flavor, we know someone who ordered two of them, one after the other. Be sure to have pasta, which might be semolina fusilli with shrimp, coconut cream and tomato jam, or spicy lamian noodles with blue crab and sausage. During weekend days, there’s a dim sum–style menu with absurdly tasty dumplings and savory pancakes.

Southern for Everyone: High Hat Cafe

High Hat bills itself as a restaurant inspired by the Mississippi Delta. That would be a reference to the area in the northwest of the state of Mississippi where the blues were born. Hot tamales are a fixture in the region, and they’re on the menu at High Hat, pliant and porky and served with a side of drippings. The fried catfish is probably the finest in New Orleans city limits, and if you’ve been partying your way through the City That Care Forgot, get yourself a pimento cheese burger and a side of braised greens to steady yourself until your next adult beverage.

BBQ Shrimp: Liuzza's by the Track

Say it out loud: “BBQ Shrimp.” It’s the most famous dish at this low-key restaurant near the Fairgrounds. Loads of peeled shrimp are swamped in a buttery sauce rife with pepper and loads of bright notes, then the lot is stuffed into a hollowed out roll. It acts like it’s food for one person but it’s sufficient for two. Eveything here is on point though: the gumbo, the turtle soup, the po’ boys. It feels like New Orleans: easygoing, polite and reliably delicious.

Sandwiches & Beyond: Turkey and the Wolf

To call Turkey and the Wolf a sandwich shop is like calling A Clockwork Orange a movie about teenagers. Chef Mason Hereford and his merry band of cooks play fast and loose with the rules of sandwich-dom. The freewheeling open-all-day spot is fun, it’s kitschy and, most important, it all works. The sandwiches pop with flavor and the non-sandwiches are a riot of culinary inspiration. If the tacos inauthenticos and fried chicken pot pie are on the menu, get ’em. Actually, just get anything, and everything.

Boiled Seafood: Bevi

Crawfish boils are the pastime of southern Louisiana between March and June. Anytime the region’s famed mudbugs are plump, locals throw together a party revolving around tables loaded with the fresh-cooked crustaceans plus corn, sausage, potatoes and a load of high-intensity Creole seasoning. Bevi sources fine crawfish, along with crabs, shrimp and most any other local shellfish, then cooks them well and serves them on big trays. Getting your hands covered with shellfish debris as you crack and scrape your way to a meal is a surefire way to try on life as a New Orleanian.

Hummus and More: Shaya

This is what happens when a chef adept with pizza dough and wood-burning ovens turns his attention to the food of his lineage, Israrel. The pita is revelatory: Charred, light and buoyant. It's an optimal messenger for the silky hummus and any of the small dishes, like red-pepper puree, thick yogurt of wood-roasted okra.

Revamped Diner: Marjie’s Grill

The meat-and-three methodology rules during lunchtime at this Southeast Asian–influenced diner. You pick a protein — maybe fried catfish with herb-coriander salad or smothered chicken — then you choose one to three sides, like coal-roasted sweet potatoes with earthy cane syrup or smashed cucumbers with green garlic and chiles. Then you go to town and thank your blessings you came here. Come dinner, the menu is strictly a la carte; large-format dishes such as grilled pork shoulder steak with sweet chile sauce rule the room. The flavors are big and bold; the vibe is chill and easy. Marjie’s is an insider’s spot that welcomes all.

Roast Beef Po’ Boy: R&O’s

There are po’ boys nearly everywhere in New Orleans. For good reason: They’re reasonably priced, filling and about as egalitarian as a local food can be. Fried seafood po’ boys get much of the love, but consider the unsung hero of po’ boy land: the roast beef po’ boy. Here in the first suburb west of New Orleans proper is R&Os, home of the finest roast beef po’ boy with gravy that can be. You’ll want yours “dressed,” which means finished with tomato, shredded lettuce and mayo. It’ll be a messy eating experience. Worth every dribbly elbow.

Southern Comfort Food: Rosedale

If you didn’t have the address in hand, you’d be forgiven for thinking you weren’t in the right spot to eat at Rosedale. It used to be an abandoned police station. These days, it oozes with character and makes for an ideal place to have a beer and a snack. The food is a motley collection of dishes that reference Mexico (guacamole and seafood cocktail), the Mediterranean (chicken thighs with tzatziki) and the other side of the Mississippi river. Best of all might be the shrimp Creole, plopped on a plank of battered and fried eggplant and served with perfectly fluffy rice.

New-Wave Southern: La Petite Grocery

It’s a joke at La Petite Grocery that every table orders crab beignets; some tables even do so before they order their drinks — they’re that good. Craggy and delicate and served with malt aioli, they’re a sublime entry to the world of Justin Devillier’s cooking. From there, choose your own path. The turtle Bolognese comes topped with a fried, soft-boiled egg; the fish mains are always solid; and the burger is legendary.

Fried Chicken: Willie Mae’s Scotch House

Yes, the fried chicken at Willie Mae’s is as good as you’ve heard. Or if you haven’t heard, now you know: It’s worth a journey. Broaden your dining interests though while you’re dining here. The butter beans are outstanding, as are the green beans. At Willie Mae’s, the fried chicken may be king but there’s room for others in this court.

Creole Civil Rights Icon: Dooky Chase’s

Get the dank, delicious gumbo at this Tremé legend, home of many a mid-20th century civil rights meeting. Do not — under any circumstances — add hot sauce without tasting it first though. If you do, the restaurant’s charismatic doyenne and chef, Miss Leah Chase, might well appear in the dining room and chastise you just like she did President Obama when he pulled the same move. Her reasoning: All the Creole cooking food at her and her late husband’s New Orleans icon is well-seasoned by the kitchen. Come for the lunch buffet or dine on Friday evenings to experience the à la carte menu.

Breakfast: Brennan's

If you’re doing breakfast right in the Crescent City, you’re doing it leisurely, in a charmed setting with astute service and superb food. That likely means you’re doing it at Brennan’s. The French Quarter institution fell into disarray for a number of years until the kitchen was brought back to relevant life by Slade Rushing. You’re going to want a milk punch to start the day correctly, and eggs, of course. Perhaps Eggs Hussarde, with poached eggs, hollandaise, Canadian bacon and a red wine reduction?

Seafood: Pêche

There may be no more reliable, perfect place to eat seafood in New Orleans than Pêche. The sourcing comes from local waters — to the extent that we’ve heard that the restaurant has its own battery of fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. Order raw oysters, yes. But also order shrimp toast, wood-oven–grilled whole fish with salsa verde and all the side dishes, but especially the white beans with bacon and Brabant potatoes. One sleeper hit: the smothered catfish. It’s a dish that tastes deep and true, like the homey flatlands of Cajun Louisiana.

Tiki: Latitude 29

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is the reigning godfather of the current Tiki movement. He’s written books, he’s unearthed drinkable treasure, and now he has his own bar, in the Bienville House Hotel. You want it strong and shareable? Order the Snake Versus Mongoose. You want it clean and rum-forward? Try the Navy Grog. You want it fruity and kooky? The namesake Latitude 29 is yours for the taking. The staff here takes what they do seriously. This being the fantastical world of Tiki, though, nothing is ever too serious at Latitude 29.

Sno Balls: Hansen’s Sno Bliz

Fair warning: Hansen’s is only open in the afternoon. And usually only in the warm months. Now that those details are out of the way, know that in a city obsessed with sno balls, that feathery shaved ice at Hansen’s is some of the best in town. They have been around since the 1930s. They make their own syrups, and the correct approach is always to choose one of the cream flavors. Gild it from there with your choice of toppings. This is your sno ball. Do as you like.

Fried Catfish: Middendorf’s

You could order regular fried catfish at this destination-worthy, oversized restaurant on a patch of land between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. That would be a mistake, though. It’s not because the well-seasoned crust and flaky fish is bad. Far from it: It’s near perfection. The reason is that Middendorf’s is the home of the magical alchemy that birthed thin-fried catfish, the institution’s signature preparation. Impossibly slight planks of catfish are battered and fried. It’s like eating catfsh air. If that air were perfectly seasoned, fried impeccably and worth driving for.

Friendly Fine Dining: Herbsaint

This might be the finest all-occasion fine-dining restaurant in New Orleans. First, it’s open all day during the week. Second, Chef de Cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb’s cooking is precisely what you want to eat, anytime and every time. It’s a little French, a little Italian and very South Louisianian. Duck confit with dirty rice; planks of beef with anchovies; shrimp callaloo; coconut custard pie: There’s no wrong dish at Herbsaint and no wrong time to eat here.

Caribbean-Southern: Compère Lapin

This genius Central Business District restaurant from Chef Nina Compton tastes precisely how New Orleans could — and should — taste today. A native of the Caribbean island of St Lucia, Compton inflects her deeply personal cooking with breezy verve and rigorous technique. Conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartar sauce. Dirty rice arancini. Curried goat with cashews and sweet-potato gnocchi: No other restaurant in the country feels like Compère Lapin. It’s that far ahead of the curve in the most-delicious way.

Fancy: Clancy’s

A meal at Clancy’s, hidden on a mellow residential corner far upriver in well-heeled Uptown, feels like the quintessential New Orleans experience. Not in the tourist-y way: In the sense that Clancy’s could not exist anywhere but New Orleans. The servers wear tuxedos, the menu is handwritten, the tables are sheathed in white tablecloth, the restaurant is two roomy stories, and the food is classic and beautifully executed. Cold, hard fact: Too many classic New Orleans restaurants serve mediocre food. Clancy’s nails every dish, whether it’s a composed crab salad, fried oysters with Brie, or a veal chop with roast tomatoes. Don’t skip dessert. There are almost always rum raisin and peppermint ice creams to finish.

New-Wave Vietnamese: Mopho

First things first: The pho at Chef Michael Gulotta’s restaurant is not at all authentic. Nor does it pretend to be. But it is rich and bright, hefty with dark, deep flavors, whether you choose beef, chicken or vegetable broth. The sandwiches, a cross between banh mi and po’ boys, are equally inauthentically enticing. Gulotta and his crew are a curious bunch. Sometimes there are South Indian pancakes on the menu well worth a try. There’s a rotating daily special for each day of the week, and you will do right by choosing it. Vindaloo fried chicken with coconut waffles on Tuesdays; cochon de lait on Saturdays. Every day is a winner at Mopho.

Middle-Eastern Fresh: 1000 Figs

At some point when visiting New Orleans, you'll likely need freshness (and badly). This breezy Levantine-inspired second-story restaurant solves that need. The falafel are crisp and airy, much of the flatbreads are made in-house, the salads are bright and sharp, and the kitchen waves meat like a gift, not a weapon.

The Best of the '90s: Bayona

The ’90s are alive and well and delicious at this French Quarter groundbreaker. Its founding chef, Susan Spicer, has a steadfast palate that merges what appear to be the unlikeliest influences across not just an entire menu but even in one dish. Signature dishes, like the goat cheese toast with Madeira mushrooms, and the sweetbreads du jour with their daily changing preparation, deserve their iron-clad presence on the menu. In truth, there’s no wrong answer at Bayona. Maybe you can’t truly call a restaurant born in 1990 “timeless.” In the case of Bayona, thought, it might well be accurate.

Friday Brunch: Angeline

Alex Harrell made quite the name for himself as chef of the moody, mellow bistro Sylvain. At Angeline, his food is somehow even better than it was at Sylvain. Harrell’s cooking at this breezy French Quarter restaurant is deeply, broadly Southern, but dig deep and you see the South Louisiana thread start to glow. There’s Gulf shrimp all over the menu, the house-made charcuterie plate bursts with proteins from local land and sea, and the easygoing, civilized brunch is probably the best in New Orleans — a city loaded with good brunch options. Do it the New Orleans way, and come for Friday brunch. You’ll blink after a few cocktails and some damn fine biscuits, and it’ll be time for dinner.

Destination Vietnamese: Ba Mien

New Orleans East is home to a true Vietnamese enclave, with excellent Vietnamese restaurants, including Ba Mien, perhaps the most-exceptional in the neighborhood. Sure, there’s pho and bun (noodle salads). They’re great. But Ba Mien also showcases lesser-known Vietnamese specialties, such as banh hoi, pressed tangles of rice vermicelli, and nem nuong khanh hoa, grilled minced pork skewers with green mango and lettuce for wrapping.

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