The culinary scene in the Big Easy is going off like a neutron bomb right now, with the old restaurants being invigorated and the new ones bringing flavors and textures that one wouldn’t think possible a decade ago. But who's responsible for this? Who's bringing their kitchen game? Which new Orleans chefs should everyone know about? Well, we're glad you asked...
Restaurants:Herbsaint, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, and Peche Seafood Grill While he may have cut his chops in California, Chef Link trained under Susan Spicer at Bayona (see below), and eventually made his way back to New Orleans to open Herbsaint and a few other amazing restaurants you may have heard of. Also, his catering vehicle is a classic rock-style band van known as “Pig Slayer.” Get the fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly at Cochon. Or the muffaletta at Butcher. Or pretty much anything that comes out of any of his kitchens.
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Restaurant:Brennan’s When the “old pink lady” reopened after a brief and semi-scandalous hiatus, Chef Rushing was tapped to help the gal’s kitchen. And thank goodness for that: Rushing is doing a masterful tightrope walk of keeping to heralded traditions (bananas Foster, anyone?), while also cultivating a more modern culinary approach.
Restaurants:Bayona and Mondo If you've ever watched the New Orleans-based HBO series Treme, you might like to know that the character of Chef Janette Desautel was loosely based on Chef Spicer, whose importance to the NOLA culinary scene can never be overstated (she also appeared on the show as herself, which was pretty cool, not to mention training several of the actors in kitchen skills). The pizza at Mondo in Lakeview is divine, but don’t miss her hallmark garlic soup and fried sweetbreads at Bayona, based in a 200-year-old French Quarter cottage and now celebrating 25 years in business.
Restaurants:Domenica, PIZZA Domenica, and Shaya An Israeli-born, Philly-bred chef cooking Italian and Jewish food in New Orleans? It seems too fantastical to be true, but such is the story of Alon Shaya, who trained under John Besh only to open up the much-lauded Domenica, then PIZZA Domenica, and now the insanely popular -- and insanely good -- modern Israeli restaurant, Shaya. Go there, but only if you want the best pita bread, hummus, and lamb you’ve ever had in your life.
Restaurant:Meauxbar The newly reopened Meauxbar wouldn’t be as fantastic as it is without the ever-inspiring cuisine of Chef Essig, who incorporates everything from escargots with Herbsaint and bone marrow, a killer goat cheese tart, spaetzle with meaty bolognese, and an unstoppable French onion grilled cheese into her menu. Go there, but be warned: you will definitely want -- drumroll please -- “meaux.”
Restaurant:Borgne Sometimes, it takes a New Orleans native to truly understand our indigenous cuisine. Chef Brian Landry at Borgne, does exactly that, and more. This menu isn’t just chockablock with amazing oyster, shrimp, crab, and fish dishes (all local, fresh and in season, naturally), but he ups the ante with crowd pleasers like bacon jalapeño duck poppers, smoked pork empanadas, and crab-boiled turkey necks.
Restaurant:Patois Another native New Orleanian who trained under Susan Spicer, Chef Burgau made some serious waves with his menu at Patois, and those waves continue to ripple. It’s difficult to go wrong with Burgau’s classic French cuisine with a decidedly local twist. Seriously: who wouldn’t want boudin-stuffed fried chicken wrapped in crispy chicken skin and served with braised greens and chicken gravy? No one, that’s who.
Restaurant:Coquette Raised in NOLA and trained under John Besh (seeing some similarities here), Michael Stoltzfus killed it out of the gate when he opened Coquette, based in a gloriously elegant Garden District building. Chef Soltzfus regards his kitchen as a “culinary playground,” and it’s certainly one you’ll want to play on. Duck with smoked peanuts and Mexican Coke? We’ll play with that one any day.
Michael David Gulotta
Restaurant:MoPho It’s hard to believe that it took this long for an intrepid New Orleans chef to mash up Louisiana cuisine with Vietnamese, but Michael Gulotta did exactly that when he left a tony position as chef de cuisine at John Besh’s restaurant August in order to open MoPho, which debuted to almost instant acclaim. Look for the crispy P&J oysters with pickled bleu cheese and “MoPho mayo,” and don’t forget to check out its cochon de lait, from a whole pig it roasts every Saturday.
Restaurant:Gautreau’s “You must be crazy to open up a fish restaurant in New Orleans!” one might think. Well, one might be thinking correctly, but not so when it comes to Gautreau’s, especially at the hands of star chef Sue Zemanick, who could likely go toe-to-toe with heavy hitters like Eric Ripert when it comes to the fruits of the sea. If you want an absolutely perfect plate of gulf seafood, Gautreau’s is the place to beat.
Restaurant:Peche Seafood Grill Here’s a concept: study live-fire cooking all around the world for several years, then open up a restaurant with a giant, wood-fired hearth as the centerpiece of the kitchen, on which you’ll cook everything. Donald Link (see above) and Ryan Prewitt nailed that one with Peche, which has been receiving raves and awards since seemingly day one, including Beard awards for Best Chef: South and Best New Restaurant. The commitment to fire and locally sourced seafood is impressive, as you’ll be able to tell in the whole grilled fish, the raw bar, and the unbelievable deep-water Royal Red shrimp.
Restaurant:Purloo Before opening the pan-Southern restaurant Purloo in the glorious new Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Chef Hughes operated it as a weekly pop-up, designing a new menu each week, sourcing the ingredients, and cooking with a skeleton crew for delighted local diners. That’s dedication. Luckily, it all payed off with Purloo’s new permanent location, which is definitely worth seeking out, if only for the “Lowcountry boil w/ shrimp, clams, blue crab, baby potatoes, Conecuh sausage, lemon and cayenne broth."
Restaurant:Angeline If it wasn’t for Chef Harrell’s work at French Quarter staple Sylvain, there wouldn’t be the most marvelous chicken sandwich this side of creation, the ambitious “Chick-Syl-vain.” Harrell’s recent departure from Sylvain and his opening of the new restaurant Angeline turned more than a few heads, and for good reason. His simple, but layered Southern cuisine is some of the best in town.
Restaurant:Toups’ Meatery For the carnivorously inclined, you can’t go wrong with Mid-City’s Toups’ Meatery, an emporium of all things meaty and delicious, with an upscale Cajun bent. Chef Toups, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Amanda, lovingly refers to their business as being about “foie gras and flip flops,” daringly skirting the line between comfort and sophistication. The meat board is out of control, as is the bone marrow with escargots, which offer the option of using the marrow bone as a whiskey luge. Naturally, it’s a glorious place.
Restaurant:Maurepas Foods It wasn’t easy for Chef Michael Doyle to convince a bank that his concept for a “low-cost, laid-back, fine dining-quality” restaurant in the 9th Ward was a winner, but thank goodness he did, because Maurepas Foods is a knockout. With excellent flavors and always seasonal ingredients at wallet-friendly prices, there’s little not to love there. Especially the goat tacos. Mmmmmm... tacos.
Restaurant:Boucherie Named after the Cajun practice of killing, butchering, and cooking a whole pig in a single day, Boucherie takes South Louisiana cuisine to elegant heights, while still staying rooted to the flavors of the region. We have Chef Nathanial Zimet to thank for that. Boucherie, which has its roots as a “K&B purple” food truck, delivers on all levels.
Restaurants:La Petite Grocery and Balise You might recognize Chef Justin Devillier from food programs like Top Chef, but you would be better off knowing him for his food, which deservedly wins consistent raves. La Petite Grocery never fails to satisfy with its blue crab beignets and turtle bolognese with soft-boiled, fried egg, and the newly opened Balise, a more masculine counterpart to LPG’s softer side, that promises similarly enjoyable delights.
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