What to Get Instead of Roses This Valentine's Day
Make-your-own poke bowls and Asian fare
The Hawaiian raw fish dish craze hit New Orleans with considerable Big Easy flair. Housed in a converted double shotgun house on bustling St. Claude Avenue, this casual counter-serve spot can serve as a place to grab a quick solo lunch or as a Friday night date destination. Peruse the chalkboard for specials or design your own poke bowl with a base of white or brown rice, seafood or tofu, and toppings including sesame oil, wakame and fried onions. Refreshing, light and completely customizable, Poke Chan’s fare fills a need New Orleanians never knew they had.
Celebrity chef Nina Compton’s newest offering
Compere Lapin owner, 2018 James Beard Award nominee and Top Chef alum Nina Compton chose the Rice Mill Lofts, a stylish, five-story masonry warehouse that’s been converted into apartments, to open her second restaurant. From its open kitchen, Compton, husband Larry Miller, and former Compere Lapin sous-chef Levi Raines serve up thoughtfully sourced, seasonally driven fare including tuna toast with tuna bresaola, garlic, tomato and avocado mousse and farro risotto with Maitake mushrooms and minted breadcrumbs.
Farm-to-table breakfast fare in the 'burbs
Jefferson residents no longer need commute to Bywater for their fix of fresh-squeezed juice, organic chia pudding, or hummus-avocado sandwiches. This mural-painted, decidedly groovy cafe fills the bill nicely. From the berries in the house-made granola parfait to the yard eggs on the avocado toast, everything is locally sourced -- and delicious.
Wood-fired pizza, plus small plates
The latest offering from Theresa Galli and Gavin Cady of 1000 Figs fame (if you’re looking for killer falafel and pita bread, go there) and baker Kate Heller of Leo's Bread, this cheerful, modern Mid-City restaurant is dominated by a massive wood-burning oven. But don’t fear the flames; they produce some of the lightest, chewiest California-style pizza this side of the Mississippi River. Bread baked in the pizza oven’s leftover heat, small plates and salad round out the light, simple, and excellent menu.
Budget-friendly breakfasts (and more) in an airy cafe
Sometimes it feels like the last thing Bywater needs is another subway-tiled, avocado toast-serving spot, and then this happens. Paloma serves Latin and Caribbean-tinged fare with a health-conscious edge all day, but the breakfast (available from 8am to 3pm daily) is where it really shines: think chorizo biscuits, horchata chia pudding, and sweet potato tacos (all delicious, all under $10). It’s the latest project from the folks at Birmingham’s Revelator Coffee, and it’s helmed by chefs Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez, two of Nina Compton’s proteges.
Sizzling meats and seafood grilled tableside, Korean style
High-backed, tufted booths, a chrome palette, and blue blacklights give this Metairie eatery the sleek ambiance of a Vegas nightclub, and the garlic cloves, doenjang, and salty bean paste give it the flavors of a classic Korean barbecue joint. Spicy marinated chicken, beef tongue, jumbo shrimp, pork belly, and squid are among the meat offerings -- pick your preferred protein and grill it to perfection at your table. Vegetarians, have no fear: the menu also features tofu dishes, kimchi fried rice, and vegetable bibimbap.
Sophisticated Southern fare in a charming Vieux Carre environment
Thrillist named Alex Harrell chef of the year in 2016, and since then, he’s continued to go full throttle at Angeline. His seasonal menus win for their deceptive simplicity, while courting complex flavors inspired by Spanish and Italian cuisine. The crispy smoked pork cheeks, Georgia clams with wild boar sausage, and roasted gulf oysters are outstanding starters, while the lamb leg & boudin noir and gulf shrimp and corn flour bucatini are entrees you can't miss.
Global street food that warrants a drive to the Northshore
Across Lake Pontchartrain, the Northshore is starting to up its culinary game. Chefs Carl Schaubhut and Jean-Pierre Guidry, formerly of the kitchens of Cafe Adelaide and Commander's Palace, have brought an Asian-Latin fusion to Covington that has locals lining up out the door, and inspiring waves of New Orleanians to take that trip across the Causeway. The eponymous "bacos" are Asian-inspired tacos served in bao, and that's just the start of the tasty crossovers on this menu. Plus, the cocktail list, created by Lu Brow of Brennan’s (and formerly Cafe Adelaide), is well worth checking out.
The best spot for slow-cooked meats and vegetarian-approved sides
Blue Oak BBQ has gone from pop-up spot to brick-and-mortar to smoked meat champion, taking home the top prize at the Hogs for the Cause cook-off competition in 2018. It's not doing anything wacky and "inventive," but of course, that’s not what real American barbecue is about. The Blue Oak "low-and-slow" game is on point, with excellent ribs, smoked wing and sandwiches (the Doobin Lubin, a pulled pork and house smoked sausage sandwich, is a solid choice), plus delicious sides (go for the roasted Brussels sprouts and thank us later).
Affordable, globally accented Emeril Lagasse place to make you yell, "BAM!”
Named for Emeril Lagasse’s daughter, Meril is a globally influenced small-plates restaurant where every dish is under $20. Enjoy fresh pastas, grilled meat and fish, and items from the wood oven like roasted Louisiana oysters and a variety of flatbreads. There’s also a menu of tasty snacks like crispy turkey neck, Louisiana Cajun caviar, and shaved Iberico ham.
Petite seafood and steak destination with a raucous drag brunch
Tucked between Cane & Table and Molly’s at the Market on lower Decatur (near the French Market), Trinity is a beautiful space with gorgeous food by chef Michael Isolani and cocktails by Adam Orzechowski. Oysters are available in a variety of ways (the smoked deviled egg preparation is particularly unique), and the rest of the menu is built of seasonal options like duck fat hushpuppies, fried redfish brandade, and Gulf Coast frutti di mare.
Sustainably sourced Gulf seafood in a 19th-century Creole cottage
Adjacent to the Ace Hotel, Seaworthy serves oysters from the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast from when it opens at 4pm for happy hour. Try the chilled lobster tail, smoked sturgeon brandade, or steamed littleneck clams, or opt for a seasonal caviar. There are non-pescetarian options as well. Seaworthy gets extra points for being open until 2am and serving food until 1am.
Inventive, award-winning sandwiches and more
Call it a humble sandwich shop. Call it stoner food. Just don’t call it anything less than a serious culinary reckoning. Former Coquette chef de cuisine Mason Hereford’s graffiti-adorned, punk rock sandwich joint was named best new restaurant of 2017 by Bon Appétit magazine. Ingredients like “Dorito dust” and fried bologna are scattered through the menu, which includes non-sandwich offerings like fried chicken pot pie and a wedge salad with everything bagel seasonings. Don’t miss the deviled eggs with dill and chicken skin cracklins, and the vanilla soft-serve with toppings like date molasses and tahini.
Sicilian fare from a third-generation Italian, plus courtyard dining
The southern Italian/Sicilian food made by Nick Lama evokes a rustic vibe with local ingredients and a homestyle touch. The charred octopus is a must-try, and the chef specializes in hearty Italian dishes with proteins like lamb, lobster, and pork belly, and a salad menu that may be the most delicious in town. It changes seasonally, so check specifics online.
Come to gape at the raftered former church. Stay for the seasonal Louisiana fare.
Housed in a refurbished church, Vessel features an altar-like dark wood bar and stained glass windows. The fresh coastal dishes here are complemented by creative cocktails (some served by the carafe) and a large-format beer list that evokes a friendly, communal dining experience. You'll find housemade pasta dishes like spicy lamb sausage tagliatelle, and desserts like Isot chile Valrhona chocolate cake.
Classic New York-style slices in a casual dining spot
What started as a weekly pop-up is now a Bywater institution. Giant, foldable, New York-style slices, perfectly greasy garlic knots, tangy Caesar salads, and housemade pastas round out the menu. Try the eggplant parmigiana pizzas, or the tagliolini with whipped goat cheese. Grab a table inside or sit outside, under the string lights. Selections change daily, but all menu items are as delicious as the pizza parlor’s name promises.
Southern fare done with a sophisticated hand
Located in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Isaac Toups’ second restaurant expands his repertoire from Cajun-focused food to dishes from all over the South. Using Aaron Franklin’s original smoker -- a donation to the museum -- Toups provides smoked leg of lamb, foie gras, goat, and other meats. The second Sunday of each month brings a four-course, off-menu brunch with offerings ranging from pancake battered smoked sausage to sourdough biscuit churros -- plus bottomless mimosas and cocktails by beverage director Bryson Downham.
Elevated farm-to-table fare in a classy, circa-1880s building
This neighborhood bistro’s excellent farm-driven dishes garnered chefs Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus a nomination for Best Chef: South from the 2018 James Beard Foundation. Essig’s brunch program (think bacon dashi with duck confit or house-smoked country ham) as well as her "put yourself in our hands" five-course blind tasting for $70 a person are excellent reasons to visit.
Central Business District
Sample Louisiana-accented Southeast Asian fare at this MoPho spinoff
Michael Gulotta’s fusion culinary empire expands into this CBD eatery in the Paramount Building where the menu draws influences from Asian, French, Italian, and Louisiana cuisines. Expect fusion dishes like homemade rice bean noodles with andouille Bolognese, cured speckled trout with the eponymous maypop fruit vinaigrette, and duck confit crépinette sausage. Pro tip: Check out the weekend afternoon dim sum service on both Saturday and Sunday, from 11am until it runs out.
Elevated New Orleans cuisine meets bar food and handcrafted spirits
A new concept for New Orleans, this spot is much like your basic brewpub, but instead of beer brewed on-site, it specializes in spirits. The Cajun/Southern-influenced menu is more diverse than typical bar fare, with dishes like buttermilk Cornish hen, a pickled pork rueben, and blackberry glazed ribs. You can get several cocktails on tap, like a cucumber Vodka Collins, Bee’s Knees with house gin, or Lula’s special Planter’s Punch.
Small and large plates tailored to the profiles of local and regional brews
Freret Beer Room is a beer-focused restaurant that explores the intersection between food and beer flavor profiles. With a farm-to-table ethos and one of the best beer lists in the state, this place is to beer as neighboring Bar Frances is to wine. Chef Charles Vincent has created an ever-changing menu with a few staples such as the house gumbo made with chicken, andouille, and okra and the Prince Edward Island mussels served with a smoked oyster and tomato aioli instead of a broth (ask for an extra piece or two of grilled bread to sop everything up), and the cheese board, seasonal vegetable sides, and desserts are unsung heroes of the diverse menu.
Seafood-heavy spot for Delta fare with southeast Asian flavor profiles
A casual eatery on Broad Street just up from Tulane Ave, Marjie’s Grill incorporates southeast Asian street food and bar snacks with Louisiana-sourced ingredients. Lunch is a terrific “meat and three” plate featuring sweet and spicy, head-on wok cornmeal fried shrimp with chili-beer butter or slow-grilled pork shoulder with a green garlic chili marinade, and sides like coal-roasted sweet potatoes and braised mustard greens. The dinner menu branches out a bit with a mix of fried and grilled plates, and everything is incredibly high-quality and affordable.
Petite, pastel café serving pastries, meat pies, coffee, and espresso drinks
This sleeper of a coffee shop and bakery went viral on local social media for a hot minute thank to its sweet and savory pastries cooked from scratch every day. Expect chocolate chip scones, cakes topped with buttercream and cream cheese frosting, and cinnamon pinwheels along with kolache, meat hand pies, and sausage rolls. The Station also has a vast coffee program, free Wi-Fi, and books to borrow, so you can truly spend a day here.
Traditional Mexican fare in a basic, BYOB setting
This inexpensive, no-frills Mexican joint is the closest you’ll get to the real thing without going south of the border. Fresh ingredients meet home-style recipes for mouth-tingling Mexican fare that doesn’t skimp on the heat. Cactus tacos, tortas, and tostadas Mexicanas are among the standouts. Pull a chair up to the Mexican soap opera on the flat-screen TV; pour yourself some tequila (this spot is BYOB) and enjoy.
Cozy mainstay for Creole-Italian fare
Sometimes it seems that the finer the fine dining restaurant is in New Orleans, the louder its patrons talk (or sing, or yell). Judging by the decibels of the diners, Irene’s Cuisine is top-notch -- and that’s before you taste the Creole-Italian food. Start with Oysters Irene (baked in-shell with romano, pancetta, and pimento), then tuck into a lightly battered soft-shell crab or lamb a la Provence. You’ll reek of garlic afterward, but so will everybody else in your happily sated party.
Regional, seafood-heavy fare in a weathered 19th century setting
Housed in a chandelier-adorned Uptown mansion built in 1883, Cavan boasts a menu that’s commensurate with its decadent surroundings. Chef Nathan Richard’s regional menu draws from his Thibodaux roots, thanks to dishes like boudin tater tots, salmon poke tacos and crawfish Bolognese. A weekend late-night happy hour menu runs from 10pm to midnight and features $5 snacks, cocktails, and wine.
Louisiana cuisine, deftly reimagined
Anyone who’s patronized a certain genre of Louisiana seafood joints will recognize DTB as a member of that storied, down-to-earth lineage, but its menu’s refinement betrays chefs Carl Schaubhut and chef de cuisine Jacob Hammel’s fine-dining background, and their modern approach pays off. Fried cornbread with ham hock marmalade, shrimp and grits carbonara and fried mushroom boudin balls -- mais oui, cher!
Laid-back locals’ spot for seafood
Trendy, it’s not. But Jack Dempsey’s has thrived for more than 30 years by catering to its loyal crowd of old-school Yats, who often wait an hour for a table to open up (a bar and slot machines in the waiting area help pass the time). Hung with Saints memorabilia and George Rodrigue prints, the dining area welcomes patrons who aren’t afraid to get messy: decapitating boiled crawfish, tearing soft-shell crabs asunder and washing it all down with frosty mugs of Abita Amber. Specials include stuffed shrimp and crab au gratin. Macaroni and cheese, fried mushrooms and onion rings are solid sides -- but be warned. Portions are massive, and everything lands heavy.
Contemporary and raw seafood in wood ceiling–beamed space
Donald Link’s restaurant group has claimed more than half a dozen James Beard awards, and Link is again a finalist for Outstanding Chef in 2018. Peche is a standout in his roster, which includes Cochon, Cochon Butcher and Herbsaint. There, you’ll find an oyster bar and just-plucked-from-the-Gulf seafood roasted over a live fire. Did the cuisine inspire Solange to relocate to New Orleans? We may never know, but she and the rest of the Knowles clan have been spotted dining here.
Grand dame of Creole dining on Bourbon Street
Since 1905, this elegant Creole institution has beguiled palates with classics like shrimp remoulade, seafood okra gumbo, and filet mignon. A long, boozy Friday lunch at Galatoire’s is a local tradition, but no matter how raucous things get, the business-casual dress code never relents (that’s collared shirts for men and jackets starting at 5pm).
Creole flavors underpin Indian classics
Indian food lovers in NOLA, rejoice! Saffron has filled the void, providing New Orleanians with inventive versions of this woefully neglected cuisine. Southeast Asian and Louisiana flavors bring nuance to Indian staples in chef Arvinder Vilkhu’s dishes, which include curried seafood gumbo and ginger-laced oysters. Finish the meal with saffron-cardamom ice cream with rose syrup and pistachios.