New Orleans has a reputation for its amazing culinary heritage, but unlike other towns that are almost slavishly devoted to the latest food fads and the private lives of their celebrity chefs, the Crescent City has always closely guarded its traditions.
Many of the finest restaurants have scarcely changed in more than a century, and that includes everything from the menu to the dress code. From old-school Italian joints to the grandest of Grande Dame affairs, here’s your guide to the most classic, quintessential restaurants in NOLA.
Jean Galatoire founded this Bourbon St institution in 1905, and it continues to be one of the best places to eat (and to be seen) in New Orleans. This is the place to bust out your finest suit and enjoy some turtle soup au sherry, eggs Sardou, or baked oysters.
Another historic fine dining institution in the Vieux Carre, Arnaud’s has been offering classic Creole fare since 1918. Aside from housing the famous French 75 Bar -- where you’ll find cocktail master and historian Chris Hannah -- you can’t help but be charmed by its Old-World elegance. And that's not to mention live Dixieland in the Jazz Bistro, a fantastic brunch, and dishes like Shrimp Arnaud, Crab Claws Provencale, Oysters Bienville, Crawfish O’Connor, Crabmeat Karen, and other fantastic French Creole dishes named after people (or places).
Let’s just start by saying that oysters Rockefeller -- a dish so rich, it was named after the wealthiest man in the entire country, and maybe recorded history -- was invented at Antoine's. And, you know, good ol' Antoine’s still looks pretty decent for being 174 years old. With a whopping 14 different dining rooms and tables draped in perfectly starched white linens, it’s pretty much what everybody thinks about when they think about classic New Orleans restaurants, and everyone from Bill Clinton to Brad Pitt to the Pope has dined there. Escargots a la Bordelaise? Ecrevisses Cardinal? Cotelettes d'agneau grillées? Check, check, and check.
Claiming the spot as second-oldest restaurant in the Big Easy (1856, to be precise) is Tujagues, which, given its placement on Decatur St near Cafe Du Monde and its gigantic, iconic sign, is pretty hard to miss. A meal here shouldn’t be missed, either -- you can get a traditional shrimp Creole, BBQ shrimp, veal chop, or lamb loin, as well as the famous brisket with Creole horseradish sauce. It also bears noting that the place houses one of the most iconic bars in the country (don’t ask for a stool -- it’s stand-up only), and invented the Grasshopper cocktail, which is delicious, and contains no actual grasshoppers.
Though it dates back to 1920, Broussard’s recently reopened after a lengthy hiatus, and it’s not just back in business, it’s back to its old, pre-Prohibition form, and absolutely killing it. The restaurant’s logo is a bee, the very same as Napoleon Bonaparte’s personal symbol. You also might note that, in addition to the glorious dining room, Broussard’s is home to the lavishly renovated Empire Bar, where you’ll find legendary barman Paul Gustings, who will shake you a pitch-perfect Ramos Fizz, among other important New Orleans tipples.
Another NOLA classic recently reopened and reinvented is Marti’s, which sits opposite Armstrong Park in the Quarter. It might not be quite as old as the above spots, but that doesn’t make it any less beloved. The fare has been updated as well, offering old favorites like Gulf fish amandine; as well as a Mississippi rabbit prepared two ways; seared foie gras with smoked salt, green tomato jam, and white balsamic; and a giant “Grand Plateau Fruits de Mer”, which is basically a tower of every chilled seafood you can imagine. It’s glorious.
Not all classic New Orleans restaurants live in the French Quarter. Uptown in the Garden District, right across from Lafayette Cemetery No.1, is the famous Commander’s Palace. You might recognize the former head chef’s name: Emeril Lagasse, who helmed the Palace’s kitchen in the '80s, long before “Bam!”. These days, Chef Tory McPhail has that job, and isn’t doing so bad, if you count James Beard awards as any measure of job performance. And if you’ve never had your post-dinner coffee filled with booze and lit on fire in front of you, make sure to order the café brûlot.
It might be the youngest classic on this list, having recently opened its doors adjacent to the famous Le Petit Theater, but Tableau has quickly become one of the city’s new classics. If you like al fresco dining, it also has one of the best balcony spots in the city, with a perfect view of Jackson Square. As for the food, expect new, refined takes on Grand Dame dishes like oysters en brochette, crabmeat Ravigote, shrimp remoulade, and one of the best crème brûlées in town.
Just because you’re not a 100-year-old French Quarter Creole queen doesn’t mean that you aren't just as fiercely beloved by the natives. Sebastian Mandina opened up an Italian grocery at the turn of the 20th century, and it’s been an institution ever since, even if it's an un-fancy one. Go for the Italian fare like veal and eggplant Parm, and if you really want to get serious, order the Gulf fish (or soft-shell crab) meuniere or amandine.
You might have to drive a bit to get to Mosca’s, but when you get there, you’ll know why you spent that gas money. Mosca's has been serving hot, garlicky goodness to hungry New Orleanians since the mid 1940s. Local celebrities and politicians alike are known to frequent the joint, which specializes in family-style dishes like spaghetti bordelaise, Chicken a la Grande, and Oysters or Shrimp Mosca. Pro tip: if it’s got the name of the restaurant in the name of the dish, it’s probably worth ordering.
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1. Galatoire's209 Bourbon St, New Orleans
2. Arnaud's Restaurant813 Bienville St, New Orleans
3. Antoine's Restaurant713 Saint Louis St, New Orleans
4. Tujague's823 Decatur St, New Orleans
5. Broussard's Restaurant & Courtyard819 Conti St, New Orleans
6. Marti's1041 Dumaine St, New Orleans
7. Commander's Palace1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans
8. Tableau616 Saint Peter St, New Orleans
9. Mandina's Restaurant3800 Canal St, New Orleans
10. Mosca's Restaurant4137 Highway 90 W, Avondale
Established in 1905, Bourbon Steet fixture Galatoire's is all about re-creating old-timey antebellum New Orleans ambiance through classic French Creole cuisine. Jackets are required dress code when dining at this high-end traditional establishment. However, you won't feel overdressed; the waiters are all suited in tuxedos. With more than 2,000 square feet of luxurious space, Galatoire's has three floors: the first being the main dining room, the second (able to accommodate over 250 people) meant for larger special events, and the third is home to a smaller private dining area.
Arnaud’s is a decades-old French Quarter staple that embodies the French Creole style in architecture, décor, and, of course, food. Inside the red building lined with innumerable French windows and a second-story balcony ornamented with mint green railing and shutters is a dining room straight out of a southern novel, with potted palm fronds, mosaic tile floors, and opulent chandeliers. Come for dinner or for the jazz brunch, where a jazz trio will serenade you while you decide among the menu’s Cajun and Creole items, from gumbo to crab cakes to shrimp remoulade.
Opened in 1840, this classical and elegant St. Louis Street restaurant features 14 uniquely-styled dining rooms in which to enjoy French-Creole cuisine. It is in its 5th generation of family ownership, passed down from founder Antoine Alciatore. Dinner is an elegant and delicious ordeal, and you'll be dining where dozens of famous people have feasted before you, their photos now lining the walls. There's room for 700+ guests all dressed in formal attire so, what can we say, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in NOLA, a fact evidenced by a timeless, extensive old-school menu that focuses around traditional Creole fare. The place also houses one of the most iconic bars in the country, and invented the minty post-dinner Grasshopper cocktail, which is delicious, and contains no actual grasshoppers.
This resto plates seafood, a variety of savory meat options, and a number of vegetarian dishes, while offering an extensive wine list in an upscale and picturesque setting. It is also features the Empire Bar, which is run by notable mixologist Paul Gustings, who makes some of the best drinks in the city.
This modern bistro went under in 1988 but is back from the dead to serve a menu mainly featuring flavors of southwestern Europe.
Executive Chef Tory McPhail was named the 2013 Best Southern Chef by the James Beard Foundation, so there's a good chance you'll enjoy his Cajun fine dining.
Tableau captures all the magic and pizazz of the French Quarter: bistro-style balcony seating overlooking Jackson Square, situated in a historic townhouse spanning 3 stories and decorated with gilded fleur-de-lis and crystal chandeliers for optimum class. Another outpost in Dickie Brennan’s Southern dining empire, the kitchen serves authentic French fare with bold Creole flair, resulting in standout dishes like creamy crawfish au gratin and craft beer-spiked barbecue shrimp and grits -- both of which can be paired with several selections from their curated wine list.
This Canal St destination for Italian fare and creole seafood is renowned for its pink building as much as it is for its turtle soup and fried trout. The brick- and wood-accented space enforces a family-friendly atmosphere, and on any given night, you'll see tables packed with multiple generations of cajun lovers indulging on signature oversize portions of fried fish.
Despite being off the beaten path, this West Bank outpost has a solid flock of local regulars and “in the know” tourists. The family-style eatery serves Italian comfort food in an old school setting, with standout dishes ranging from hearty and garlic-obsessed spaghetti bordelaise and the signature Oysters Mosca (crispy baked oysters served in a succulent white wine and herb sauce).