Dining culture is so popular and critical to the lifeblood of New Orleans, it’s said you could eat in a different restaurant every meal of every day for a year and never have to repeat yourself. And they would all be good. But there are some establishments that are time-honored institutions, even if they go back only a few years, and will mostly likely continue to have some serious influence on the local dining landscape for years -- or centuries -- to come. Here, then, are the most important eateries in a city filled with amazing cooking and service.
The 17 Most Important Restaurants in New Orleans
Housed in a glorious Garden District mansion, the impact of the Palace on the New Orleans dining cannot be overstated. Heavy hitters like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme once presided over its famous kitchen, and current James Beard Award-winning chef, Tory McPhail, is helping the place stay fresh and relevant while still paying homage to the classics. And did we mention the outstanding teams of service?
Friday lunch at Galatoire’s downstairs, of course, is a quintessential New Orleans tradition, going all the way back to 1905. Don’t forget to wear your white linen and seersucker after Easter, and definitely don’t miss the Turtle Soup au Sherry and oysters en brochette, among other amazing Creole classics.
At 175 years young, Antoine’s is the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and is still owned by relatives of its founder, Antoine Alciatore. While snooty New York Times food writers (*cough* Pete Wells *cough*) may see old Grand Dame classics like Antoine’s to represent a “Jurassic Park of Creole food,” what they don’t understand is this is our indigenous cuisine. We love it, and it ain’t going anywhere, buddy. And thank heavens for that.
Yet another Creole Grande Dame that easily warrants a spot on this list is Arnaud’s, New Orleans fine dining in top form. When stopping by, don’t forget to stop by its French 75 Bar for a brandy crusta at the hands of master mixologist Chris Hannah. Also don’t forget those pillowy soufflé potatoes, the best bar snack in all of creation.
Opened in 1932, Charlie’s might not be the fanciest steakhouse in the Crescent City, or even the most well-known, but what Charlie’s does right is the “New Orleans-style steak,” which is essentially a large cut of beef flash-broiled at an insanely high temperature, then brought to your table on a hot platter sizzling in butter. Charlie’s is such an old Uptown institution, it doesn’t even offer menus when you sit down. If you’re going there, you’d better have a good idea of what you want. And what you want is a medium-rare ribeye and a stack of onion rings, ya heard?
Two words: fried chicken. While many locals swear by their Popeyes seriously, Willie Mae’s is largely agreed to have the best fried birds in town. Skeptical? The James Beard Foundation named the place an "American Classic” in 2005. That’s some damn good chicken!
There’s always going to be some debate on which place in New Orleans makes the best po-boy in town, but really, that’s all just whistlin’ Dixie. In fact, Domilise’s sandwich shop makes the finest po-boys in town. Hands down. The key, other than the fact that it's a family-owned and operated restaurant that spans generations, is that it batters and fries every shrimp, oyster, crab, or catfish to order, resulting in the crispiest, hottest, most perfect seafood po-boys in the city.
The “Old Pink Lady” might have gone through a dramatic hiatus and ownership battle recently, but the shakeup seems to have made a once almost-staid institution a real buzzworthy restaurant once again, thanks to Chef Slade Rushing and always-inventive barkeep Lu Brow. Like Commander’s, Brennan’s is currently doing a fine job playing the old hits while dreaming up new ones.
It seems every oyster shack in town these days is broiling up its bivalves. This wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for Drago’s, inventor of the charboiled oyster, a magical single bite or two dozen oysters drowned in their shells with herbed garlic butter perfect for French bread dipping, and set ablaze. Bonus: it even has its own fire truck!
This old-school Italian and seafood joint in Mid-City doesn’t seem like an impressive place, but believe us, this place is important. So important, in fact, that the New Orleans Times-Picayune staff won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism because of its coverage of Mandina’s demise and revival after Hurricane Katrina. Accolades aside, you want to go to Mandina’s for the trout or grouper amandine the size of your head, or a giant soft-shell crab that would probably eat you if it hadn’t been lovingly deep fried.
Dating back to 1913, this place pretty much invented or at least popularized barbecue shrimp, which has less to do with barbecue than it does with black pepper and a whole ton of butter. Get ready to be elbow-deep in those gorgeous, buttery monsters if you’re headed that way.
Dooky Chase’s Chef Leah Chase is a towering legend of classic Creole cooking. All you need to do is try her gumbo. Or just ask Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom have paid Chase’s a visit while in New Orleans.
Chef Donald Link might be best known for his restaurants like Cochon Butcher and Pêche, but those never would have happened if it wasn't for Herbsaint, his flagship. It’s more fine-dining oriented than his other ventures, but the execution isn’t any less fantastic. Jumbo Shrimp with Tasso-Stewed Collard Greens and Grits? Um... yes please.
Recognize the name John Besh? Well, if you do, it has to do with the fact that his first restaurant in New Orleans, August, was and continues to be a smashing success. Without it, you’d never have encountered that great head of hair and charming smile on Food Network. Also, without it, New Orleans would not have Lüke, Borgne, Domenica, PIZZA Domenica, and the recently opened and unbelievably good Shaya, all restaurants under his umbrella. And, man, what a tasty umbrella it is.
Susan Spicer might not be on all the food TV shows ever, but she doesn’t need to be; she is, without doubt, one of the finest chefs cooking in New Orleans today, and a veritable army of local cooks has learned the craft of Louisiana cuisine under her expert tutelage. If Chef Spicer is a food queen, then Bayona -- located in a 100-year-old French Quarter cottage -- is her castle. And man, is it one you want to visit.
Looking at this list, you’re going to see a lot of 100-year-old fine-dining beasts. Root and its sister restaurant, Square Root, are not that. Chef Phillip Lopez daringly introduced New Orleans to molecular gastronomy, and even locals set in their old ways were quick to appreciate his whimsical take on cuisine, from cigar box-smoked scallops to foie gras cotton candy with Pop Rocks. Root and Square Root are clearly the cutting edge of modern food in the Big Easy.
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1. Commander's Palace1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans
2. Galatoire's209 Bourbon St, New Orleans
3. Antoine's Restaurant713 Saint Louis St, New Orleans
4. Arnaud's Restaurant813 Bienville St, New Orleans
5. Willie Mae's Scotch House2401 Saint Ann St, New Orleans
6. Brennan's417 Royal St, New Orleans
7. Drago's Seafood Restaurant3232 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie
8. Mandina's Restaurant3800 Canal St, New Orleans
9. Pascal's Manale Restaurant1838 Napoleon Ave, New Orleans
10. Dooky Chase's Restaurant2301 Orleans Ave, New Orleans
11. Charlie's Steakhouse4510 Dryades St, New Orleans
12. Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant701 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans
13. Restaurant August301 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans
14. Domilise's Po-Boys5240 Annunciation St, New Orleans
15. Bayona430 Dauphine St, New Orleans
16. Root1800 Magazine St., New Orleans
17. Square Root1800 Magazine St, New Orleans
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.
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.
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!
Known as a "Grande Dame" resto in New Orleans, Arnaud's has been serving Cajun and Creole fare in the French Quarter since 1918.
The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House is the best in the United States. No joke: it was dubbed such by the Travel Channel and Food Network, and also won the James Beard Award for “America’s Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region.” Tucked away the Treme neighborhood, the cozy spot features all the accoutrements of a beloved local haunt -- memorabilia mounted throughout, news clippings chronicling the success of the family-owned business (which has been open since 1957), homey environs -- and it’s worth noting that there’s always a line out the door, regardless of weather. It’s a walk-ins only spot, so be prepared to wait -- but the soul food here is so satisfying, and it’s entirely worth it.
Located in the French Quarter, Brennan's is without a doubt one of the most important and iconic eateries in the city. Dubbed the “old pink lady” due to its fanciful pink and green decor, the menu boasts cajun classics that meet a modern interpretation. On the menu, you can expect to find "Brennan's Classics" which include the Jackson salad (quail eggs, bacon, housemade blue cheese & French dressings) and the Lamb Rack Mirabeau, which comes with glazed root vegetables, braised endive, pearl onions, and lamb fat béarnaise.
Home to locally renowned charbroiled oysters, this 400-seat restaurant offers an extensive seafood menu that includes classics like Drago's Original Charbroiled Oysters and Mama Ruth's Gumbo. Pro tip: Once you're done ravaging your herbed garlic butter-smothered oysters, wipe up every last oily drop with the restaurant's French bread.
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.
Look for the brightly glowing neon cursive on Napoleon Avenue, follow the tantalizing scent of Cajun spices, and voilà: you’ve arrived at Pascal’s Manale, a cozy Uptown joint where shellfish reign. Blending bold Creole flavors with Italian influences, the kitchen serves heavy-hitting favorites like frutta del mare drenched in homemade marinara sauce and the house specialty: Pascal’s Barbecue Shrimp, a local legend for its hefty portion and spice-obsessed butter sauce.
The history of this cozy Treme spot is just as interesting as the authentic Creole flavors it serves up: perfectly crispy fried chicken, shrimp Clemenceau, and hearty, zesty seafood gumbo. Helmed by Chef Leah Chase -- known to locals and notable folk like President Obama and Beyoncé as the “Queen of Creole” -- the spot’s storied past covers its tenure as a po-boy and lottery shop in turned, as of 1941, beloved restaurant and community outpost for live music, local artwork, and civil rights. It’s the perfect option for a relaxed yet refined lunch during the week, and we suggest making a reservation -- it’s no secret that Dooky Chase’s is a Big Easy institution, and seating fills up fast.
Opened in 1932, Charlie’s Steakhouse keeps it classic and simple. The restaurant doesn't have a menu, but rather serves four steak options: T-bone, strip, rib eye, or filet, all served with sides on sizzling dented metal trays that are scorching hot. This old-fashioned spot has a casual ambiance and overall laid-back setting, so you can really cut deep into those steaks without worrying.
James Beard award-winning Herbsaint is the flagship restaurant of Chef Donald Link, who gained notoriety for some of his other restaurants such as Cochon Butcher and Pêche. This fine-dining establishment located in the Warehouse district mixes French and Italian flavors into its Southern dishes. Its selection of small plates create the perfect opportunity for sharing, and the elegant atmosphere paired with the impeccable service will have you coming back to try the whole menu.
Grab your nicest suit or cocktail dress and head to this Central Business District establishment for an elegant night out for fine dining. Chef Josh Besh gained national fame from his appearances on Food Network and Bravo, but this flagship restaurant put him on the culinary map in New Orleans. Try the famed gnocchi with blue crab and black truffles, but only after you pick the perfect glass or bottle from the restaurant's extensive wine list. If you want the most complete (and expensive) culinary experience, opt for the prix fixe degustation meal.
No one does po-boys like Domilise's. The Uptown spot has been owned by the same family for over 100 years, which accounts for the consistently good eats and veritable Southern hospitality that has brings regulars back time and time again. While you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu, we suggest you stick to the seafood and opt for a fried oyster or catfish po-boy. If the handpainted sign overhead isn't enough of an indication that you've arrived at this cozy, yellow house on the corner, the steady line of regulars waiting for a table likely will.
The flagship restaurant of Chef Susan Spicer is a French Quarter mainstay, drawing inspiration from various countries and flavor profiles to create a robust menu of high-end items like veal sweetbreads with lemon-caper, grilled escarole with golden beets, and fennel sausage-stuffed rabbit. Diners can pair their dinners with a white tablecloth setting, or opt for the popular outdoor courtyard, which eschews folded corners for casual metal tables and a breezy, leafy atmosphere.
Chef Phillip Lopez uses traditional culinary techniques to generate his modern American flavors, filling a menu with sections labeled "Socials", "Beginnings", "Principals", and "Endings" which all fall under the category of "delicious".
Run by Executive Chef and Owner Phillip Lopez, Square Root is the sequel to the outstanding and innovative resto Root, and it centers on a modern kitchen design, where contemporary culinary techniques are the main attraction and an eclectic menu will keep surprising you as you try more and more of it.