Magical Meals

A dining guide to New Orleans

May 28, 2011


After Hurricane Katrina, some people wondered if New Orleans was worth rebuilding and said, “Sure the food is good, but can’t you just take the recipes and start all over in another city?” But to understand why generations of people have found dining in New Orleans such an enchanting experience, you really must understand the culture of this city. The food in its own right is amazing, to be sure. But it is not just about the food. It is also the music, the history, the architecture, the creativity, and the quirky, gracious people that make eating in New Orleans an experience unique to this magical city.

And I should know. I am married to “The Man Who Ate New Orleans.” My husband is on a quest to eat at every independently owned restaurant within the city limits. In the five years that we have lived in New Orleans, he has eaten at about 700 so far, and has just a handful left. What started as a desire to sample a wide variety of cuisine turned into an amazing journey and exploration of the fascinating culture and history of New Orleans.

Through this experience I have truly come to love and appreciate the amazing variety and creativity that makes up New Orleans cuisine. In compiling this list of restaurants to recommend, the most difficult task was deciding what to leave out.

New Orleans is truly a city of neighborhoods, so that is how I have organized our tour. I have limited the field to the seven areas closest to the convention center and most accessible by walking, streetcar, or public bus. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau may also be helpful for obtaining local maps and other information.

Dining attire in New Orleans is generally very casual at all but the fanciest spots. For dinner, particularly with larger groups, I’d recommend calling ahead for reservations. A few places are cash-only and have been noted as such.

Price estimates are per person for an entrée and do not include appetizers, desserts, beverages, or sales tax.

$ Under $10

$$ $10–$20

$$$ $20–$35

$$$$ $35 and up

Warehouse District

Stretching from Magazine Street to the river, and from Race Street to Poydras. This is the area in which the convention center is located. Adjacent to the port, this district was largely old warehouses, repurposed now as funky music clubs, bars, apartments, and eateries. There are about 40 restaurants here, in a range of styles and prices.

A Mano
Handmade pastas, house-cured salami, and the finest locally grown herbs make this a favorite with locals. This is rural Italian food at its very best. 870 Tchoupitoulas. 504-208-9280. L Fri., D Mon.–Sat. $$$.

American Sector
Chef John Besh is a true hero in this city, aggressively investing in new ventures after Katrina when weaker souls nervously hedged their bets. His newest, located inside the astounding National World War II Museum, manages to be modern and hip, and yet still echo the 1940s design vibe. Creative offerings include a muffuletta (a local Italian sandwich) made with artichokes instead of olives. Sometimes my family will come by here at night and get the Peppermint Pattie desserts to go and eat them on the patio outside. 945 Magazine St. (enter on Andrew Higgins Drive). 504-528-1940. L, D daily. $$.

Cochon Butcher
House-cured meats and killer sandwiches make this a casual favorite. 930 Tchoupitoulas. 504-588-7675. L daily, D Mon.–Sat. $$.

Chef Adolfo Garcia believes in keeping things simple, letting the excellent, fresh ingredients stand for themselves. The resulting light, Spanish-influenced, seafood-centric dishes are just so good. This is probably the city’s favorite place for tapas. 800 S. Peters. 504-525-3474. L Mon.–Fri., D Mon.–Sat. $$$.

Central Business District (“American Sector”)

The Central Business District, or CBD, is the high-rise downtown area roughly contained by Route 10, Route 90, Canal Street, and the river, with a portion of its riverside carved out for the Warehouse District. Historically this had been called the American Sector, to distinguish it from the formerly French part of town. Of the 80 restaurants in this neighborhood, here are a few gems:

When chef Donald Link won the James Beard Best Chef Award for the South in 2007, some people wondered why it took so long to honor him. One meal here should have sealed it. Gourmets swoon over things like the duck leg confit and the crab meat and watermelon gazpacho, but I love the simple gumbo, made with a dark roux. 701 St. Charles Ave. 504-524-4114. L Mon.–Fri., D Mon.–Sat. $$$.

Alsatian French dishes, with some German and Northern Italian touches. This place has a sophisticated but fun feel with antique ceiling fans, tin ceilings, and inlaid wood floors. The cochon de lait sandwich (a juicy local pork dish) and the oyster salad with avocado just might convince you to move to New Orleans. 333 St. Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. B, L, D daily. $$$.

Chefs Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing are a husband-and-wife team from Mississippi and Louisiana, respectively, so the restaurant’s name is a hybrid of their home states. She was named the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2004. The five-pouched-oyster appetizer is amazing, and the vanilla bean rice pudding is the best I have ever eaten. And at $20, the three-course lunch is a bargain. 817 Common St. (in the Pere Marquette Hotel). 504-412-2580. L Mon.–Fri., D Mon.–Sat. $$$.

French Quarter (“Vieux Carre”)

Settled in 1718, this is the first neighborhood of New Orleans. It is contained by Esplanade, Canal, Rampart, and the river. There are more than 130 restaurants here, and most are excellent (but beware of tourist traps in this hood).

Acme Oyster House
I never liked oysters until moving to New Orleans. But people around here prize their salty bivalves, and ever since I gave them another try at Acme I’ve been hooked. Acme is just about everyone’s favorite, though, so get here early or prepare to wait in a very long line. My family loves the chargrilled oysters—placed directly in the coals and cooked in their shells. A dozen never seems enough, but I also sop up lots of the cheesy butter with the great French table bread. The raw oysters are first-rate also. The best seats in the house are at the marble countertop bar, where you can get a close-up view of the shucker’s floor show. 724 Iberville. 504-522-5973. L,D daily. $$.

Antoine Alciatore founded his restaurant in 1840, shortly after arriving from France. Today it is still run by his descendants, making it the oldest restaurant in America owned by a single family. Six U.S. presidents, a pope, and countless celebrities have dined here. The menu used to be entirely in French, but recently they started accommodating Americans with some English translations. Required eating is the Oysters Rockefeller, which was invented here in 1889. Antoine’s also invented my all-time-favorite egg dish, Eggs Sardou. 713 St. Louis. 504-581-4422. L, D Mon.–Sat., jazz brunch Sun. $$$$.

Founded in 1918 by a French native, this is a shrine to golden age French Quarter restaurants that still delivers a great meal. Start at the French 75 bar with its eponymous champagne-based signature cocktail. After your meal, ask to have the flaming café brûlot made in front of you; it is high performance art. 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. D daily, jazz brunch Sun. $$$$.

Café Amelie
I love the courtyard, which is one of the city’s very best. The food is excellent also. 912 Royal. 504-412-8965. L, D Thu.–Sat., brunch Sun. $$$.

Café Du Monde
No menu here—just great coffee and the best beignets (French donuts) in town. Café Du Monde is one of the rare places loved by locals and tourists with the same intensity. A century before most cities had coffee shops, this was a place to drink café au lait and hold court on the patio for hours at a time. 800 Decatur. 504-525-4544. Open 24/7. $. Cash only.

Central Grocery
This is the place where Sicilian immigrants invented the muffuletta in 1906. The lines can be long, but they move fast. The sandwiches are worth the wait, and always served to-go. 923 Decatur. 504-523-1620. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Tues.–Sat. $.

Clover Grill
Where else but New Orleans can you find a gritty little dinner where the waiters dance and sing show tunes? 900 Bourbon. 504-598-1010. Open 24/7. $.

Croissant d’Or
New Orleans has a lot of truly wonderful patisseries, but this is my favorite. The setting is unbeatable, with stained glass and ancient painted plaster crown molding. Still intact are the 19th-century green mosaic tiles on the sidewalk outside differentiating the “ladies’” entrance from the “gentlemen’s.” 617 Ursulines Ave. 504-524-4663. B, L Wed.–Mon. $.

Green Goddess
I’m normally with Fran Lebowitz: “Brown rice is ponderous, chewy, and possessed of unpleasant religious overtones.” But this place makes me want to go vegetarian more often! (Although it does have some great meat dishes too). After a few days of heavy New Orleans food, full of rich creams and butter, you may want a light cleanse at this place. 307 Exchange Place. 504-301-3347. L Wed.–Mon., D Thu.–Sun. $$.

Louisiana Bistro
This is a small, unassuming place with an utterly forgettable name, but you will never forget your meal here. For the three-course “Feed Me!” the chef asked us a few questions and then we trusted him to surprise us. He brought crawfish beignets, swordfish over greens with pot liquor, and buffalo short ribs—truly amazing. 337 Dauphine. 504-525-3335. D Wed.–Sun. $$$.

Napoleon House
This restaurant has been run by the Impastato family, who make some solid comfort foods, since 1914.
The building dates from 1797, and was once offered as a refuge for Napoleon Bonaparte. (He never made it.) 500 Chartres. 504-524-9752. L Mon.–Sat., D Tue.–Sat. $.

Palm Court
A real-deal jazz club. Think Preservation Hall, but more lively. After more than 20 years in business, the owner, Nina Buck, still dances, talks, and emcees all night. The music is better than the food, but we loved the extra-spicy bread pudding. 1204 Decatur. 504-525-0200. D Wed.–Sun. $$.

Stanley looks out onto the back of gorgeous Jackson Square, and offers some of the finest breakfast food anywhere. A favorite is the Eggs Stanley: two eggs over Canadian bacon and five plump fried Gulf oysters, on a toasted English muffin with hollandaise sauce. 547 St. Ann St. 504-587-0093. B, L, D daily. $$.

Verti Marte
Last year, this deli burned down, and people all over town stayed home from work to mourn. Now reopened, it looks like just a modest corner grocery, a little gritty, in a residential section of the Quarter. But it serves some of the best sandwiches on earth. 1201 Royal St. 504-525-4767. Open 24/7. $.

Garden District

Between Louisiana and Jackson Avenues, and St. Charles and Magazine. This neighborhood was built mostly in the 1830s through 1890s, and is still largely preserved. John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, and others call this home because of its charm, including its restaurants. A few standouts:

Bulldog Pub
Fifty beers on tap, a great courtyard, and some mean chili cheese waffle-fries. 3236 Magazine. 504-891-1516. L Fri.–Sun., D daily. $.

Commander’s Palace
This perennial top table in New Orleans deserves its reputation with tourists and locals alike. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both got their starts here. The owners spent roughly $6 million on renovations and improvements before reopening a year after Katrina. The restaurant has operated in the same building since 1880, but was bought by the famed Brennan family in the 1960s. I have never had better service or food anywhere else. 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. L Mon.–Fri., D daily, jazz brunch Sat.–Sun. $$$$.

La Divina Gelateria
The best gelato in the city, and excellent Italian sandwiches too. 3005 Magazine. 504-342-2634. L, D daily. $. A French Quarter location at 621 St. Peter serves gelato made here, with lunch and dinner daily, and breakfast Friday–Sunday.

Lower Garden District

This neighborhood is a little grittier than the Garden District, and a bit closer to the convention center. It starts at Jackson Avenue and ends at Race.

Juan’s Flying Burrito
The most creative, edgy Mexican joint in the city. The bacon azul quesadilla rocks (but is extra-rich with blue, jack, and cheddar cheeses, beef, mushrooms, and onions). 2018 Magazine. 504-569-0000. L, D daily. $.

The best breakfast spot in the city, with a great juice bar too. I usually get the egg sandwich on the city’s best bagel. My husband gets the pain perdu—French toast made with French bread and often injected with a flavored whipped cream. 1418 Magazine. 504-524-3828. B, L daily. $. Cash only.

Faubourg Marigny

Downriver of the Quarter, starting at Esplanade.

Praline Connection
A real neighborhood café with authentic New Orleans dishes for over 20 years. There’s a dedicated praline shop as well, just next door. 542 Frenchmen. 504-943-3934. L, D daily. $$.

Snug Harbor
One of the best jazz clubs in America also serves the city’s best burgers. 626 Frenchmen. 504-949-0696. D daily. $$.


Between Broadway and Louisiana Avenue, and from the Mississippi River to Claiborne Avenue. The home of Audubon Park and Tulane and Loyola universities, this neighborhood has architecture dating mostly from 1870 to 1920. In addition to the eateries, you will want to find time to enjoy the unique shops and boutiques along Magazine Street.

Bouligny Tavern
Though it calls itself a tavern, this is primarily a fine wine bar. Two-time James Beard nominee John Harris opened this next door to his excellent Lilette, making this sort of the Uptown version of the French 75/Arnaud’s pairing. The small plates are crazy good. 3641 Magazine. 504-891-1810. D daily. $$.

Creole Creamery
The best ice cream shop on the planet. Try the balsamic strawberry, the Creole cream cheese, or the chocwork orange. 4924 Prytania. 504-894-8680. Noon–10 p.m. Sun.–Thu., noon–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat. $. Cash only.

Dick and Jenny’s
The real reason to come here is the bold Creole dishes. But the decor is also notable: To raise start-up money, the founders made individualized plates that still decorate the walls for their first customers. You could spend all night looking at this dinner-plate Louvre. 4501 Tchoupitoulas. 504-894-9880. L Tue.–Fri., D Mon.–Sat. $$$.

Ignatius Eatery
Our all-time-favorite casual place for authentic New Orleans food. Get the best roast beef po’ boy in town, with a side of the bacon and sour cream potato salad. 4200 Magazine. 504-896-2225. L, D Wed.–Mon. $$.

La Boulangerie
An authentic French bakery, with pastries and breads unmatched this side of Paris and first-rate soups too. 4600 Magazine. 504-269-3777. B, L daily. $.

In NOLA they used to call an oyster po’ boy a “Peacemaker.” The story goes that if a husband stayed out late and was afraid his wife would be angry when he came in, on the way home he would get her a big, juicy oyster po’ boy as a peace offering. The Mahony Peacemaker would calm my anger any time, with whole bacon slices, cheddar, and fried oysters. It’s Mardi Gras in your mouth. 3454 Magazine. 504-899-3374. L, D Mon.–Sat. $–$$.