What you’re getting: Roasted cauliflower; formaggi; stracci with oxtail ragu and fried chicken livers
Boy, this was a tough one, given all the killer Italian options in the Big Easy. But before Alon Shaya played from the heart with his crazy-popular and award-winning namesake restaurant, he headed up the best Italian in town. From the wood-fired pizzas to the handmade pastas and lovingly aged salumi, you simply can’t go wrong here.
French: La Crêpe Nanou
What you’re getting: Moules marinière with pommes frites; pan-seared veal sweetbreads with lemon caper beurre blanc; crêpe aux Écrevisses
It sounds weird to say it, but there aren’t a lot of really French French restaurants in New Orleans. Plenty of old-school French Creole, but not necessarily straight-up continental. Crêpe Nanou goes there. And you should go there, too.
Mexican: Casa Borrega
What you’re getting: Oaxacan-style tamales; tacos cochinita pibil
Finding a decent dark mole in NOLA used to be something of a real challenge (plenty of Tex-Mex, very little Mex-Mex), which is what makes makes Borrega so special. It's only a few months old, and already the finest Mexican joint in town.
Thai: Banana Blossom
What you’re getting: Pineapple curry; tom yum soup
For the very best in Thai, you need to get your butt in the car and head to the West Bank, because Banana Blossom is just killing it.
French Creole: Commander’s Palace
What you’re getting: Shrimp Henican; turtle soup
Again, this is a difficult one, especially since the Grand Dames of NOLA cuisine have been around for a century and longer, serving our wonderful, indigenous cuisine. But Commander’s stands out for its supreme service, its history of cultivating remarkable local chefs (Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, Frank Brigtsen, Greg Sonnier), and current chef Tory McPhail’s fantastic tightrope walk between classical and modern creations. Just don’t wear shorts.
Chinese: Bao & Noodle
What you're getting: Cumin-braised lamb with hand-pulled blang blang noodles; fried steamed buns; "strange flavor peanuts"
For ages, it seemed the only Chinese game in town was Five Happiness. And it's still a solid choice for all your kung pao, lo mein, and moo shu needs, as are venues like Jung's Golden Dragon and Chinese Kitchen (portions!). And while Red's Chinese does a fantastic job at "modern Chinese," we have to give this one to the recently opened Bao & Noodle, which takes humble Chinese fare to the next level, while still remaining casual, wallet-friendly, simple, and incredibly delicious.
What you’re getting: Sushi a la carte, including ankimo (monkfish liver) and chutoro (fatty tuna belly)
This was a terribly tough call, but if you’re looking for the best sushi New Orleans has to offer (and you’re not headed to Kanno in Metairie), look no further than Horinoya. The quality of the fish and extreme attention to traditional detail reveal the mastery of Chef Komei Horimoto.
Ethiopian: Cafe Abyssinia
What you’re getting: Yebeg Tibs; doro wat; veggie combo
Well, there are basically only two choices in town when it comes to Ethiopian, but we think Cafe Abyssinia has a slight edge on Nile Cafe. The portions are outstanding, the spices just right (not for the weak!), and of course there’s more injera than you can shake a stick at. Not that you’d do such a silly thing, but still.
Cajun: Toups’ Meatery
What you’re getting: The Meatery Board; crawfish boulettes; BBQ goat
It’s a strange thing that New Orleans doesn’t have a whole ton of Cajun restaurants, but sticks more to Creole (similar, but distinctly different). But if you want the real deal and more, get thee to Toups' in Mid-City for some fried boudin balls, cracklins, a killer meat board, and the best lamb’s neck in town.
Argentinian: La Boca
What you’re getting: Steak, obviously. Also, the chorizo de la casa.
There are plenty of classic steakhouses in NOLA, but La Boca does Argentine beef like nobody’s business. From outside skirt cooked with the “skin,” to T-bones and ribeyes, you can’t go wrong with carnivorous pleasures at this palace of bovine decadence.
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern: Shaya
What you’re getting: Hummus with seared scallops; ikra; shakshouka; slow-cooked lamb with whipped feta, walnut, and cherry tabouleh
This one is an absolute no-brainer, and not just because Alon Shaya and his love song to Israeli cuisine recently walked away with a well-deserved James Beard Award. You really need to eat his hummus and pita (and then literally everything else on the menu) to see why it’s the hardest-to-snag reservation in town.
What you’re getting: Wild mushroom flatbread; paella; cochon frites
Like Mexican, there aren’t a bevy of options in NOLA when it comes to authentic Spanish food and tapas, but Salú does the job admirably. Plus, the combination of paella and live music (on Thursdays) is a decidedly pleasurable one.
Korean: Little Korea
What you’re getting: Bulgogi; kimchi; fresh pineapple soju
Also known to longtime residents as the “Korean Taco Bell,” it’s a great thing that we now have a solid Korean option Uptown and not another fast-food joint. It might not be fancy, but there’s a reason you’ll see Korean visitors and expats alike headed there for an authentic taste of home. And the friendly service doesn’t hurt, either.
What you’re getting: Sisig; lumpia; lechon kawali; halo-halo
Okay, so it’s the only game in town. Sadly, NOLA doesn’t have the biggest Filipino population in the country. And we say “sadly,” because that fact will make you cry when you experience what Chef Cristina Quackenbush turns out of her kitchen, from authentic lumpia to cool halo-halo. Try the pork face. You’ll be glad you did.
Food truck: La Cocinita
What you’re getting: Carne asada “burri-tacos” with added avocado & fried egg and a Mexican Coke
Okay, this one is a seriously tough call. We love Crêpes à la Cart, Foodie Call, Frencheeze, and all our other homegrown food truck options here, but if put into the ring in a Battle Royale, we’ll put our money on (and in) that fantastic red taco wagon. It’s exactly what you want out of a food truck: fast, cheap, easy, and delicious, and also often conveniently located outside of popular bars.
What you’re getting: 12oz broiled prime Delmonico steak; 40oz ribeye for two
La Boca might win when it comes to Argentine steaks, but for a classic steakhouse experience, it’s difficult to choose one (and we tried), but we’re going with the Chophouse. From the Florida stone crabs to the prime-grade Delmonico steak, you won’t leave unhappy. Or hungry.
Bywater and Riverbend/Black Pearl
What you’re getting: Green breakfast sandwich; roasted pear and Brie melt; coffee
This Bywater coffee & juice joint (with a Riverbend location) is a longtime favorite with the herbivore set, and while it has oodles of veggie options, it has meat on the menu as well (even bacon!), which makes it our favorite kind of vegetarian restaurant.
Vietnamese: Pho Ga Quang Minh
What you’re getting: Pho ga; pho tai
Oh man... how do you choose the best Vietnamese in a city just loaded to the gills with Vietnamese restaurants? Answer: it ain’t easy. But the deeply satisfying chicken broth (pho ga) at this Marrero joint gets our vote not just for its outstanding menu and complexity of flavors, but also because there are roasted ducks hanging up for all to see, which is always a good sign when you’re headed out for Viet cuisine.
Diner: Ted’s Frostop
What you’re getting: Roast beef and grits; double Lot-O-Burger with cheese and bacon; waffle fries; draft root beer
New Orleans doesn’t have a bounty of classic diners, and where we do, you’ll often hear of Camellia Grill. But the grill’s reputation has been slipping in recent days (an ownership change and lawsuit don't hurt), and though places like Slim Goodies Diner do fantastic breakfast specials, Ted’s Frostop is a damned New Orleans institution, and we’re calling it tops.