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.

FlickrChelsea Marie Hicks

Commander’s Palace

Garden District
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?

Flickr/Peter Clark (edited)

Galatoire’s

French Quarter
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.

Flickr/Robert

Antoine's Restaurant

French Quarter
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.

Courtesy of Sara Essex Bradley

Arnaud's Restaurant

French Quarter
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.

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

Charlie’s Steakhouse

Uptown
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?

Flickr/Krista

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

Treme
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!

Flickr/Krista

Domilise's Po-Boys

Uptown
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.

Brennan's Restaurant

Brennan's

French Quarter
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.

Flickr/lulun & kame

Drago's Seafood Restaurant

Metairie
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!

Flickr/Charles E. Martin

Mandina's Restaurant

Mid-City
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.

Flickr/_Wiedz

Pascal’s Manale Restaurant

Uptown
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 Restaurant

Dooky Chase's Restaurant

Treme
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.

Flickr/Robert

Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant

CBD
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.

Flickr/Robert

Restaurant August

CBD
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.

Flickr/Robert

Bayona

French Quarter
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.

Root

Root/Square Root

LGD
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 Palace 1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Garden District)

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.

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2. Galatoire's 209 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

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.

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3. Antoine's Restaurant 713 Saint Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

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!

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4. Arnaud's Restaurant 813 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 70112 (French Quarter)

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.

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5. Willie Mae's Scotch House 2401 Saint Ann St, New Orleans, LA 70119 (Mid City)

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.

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6. Brennan's 417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (French Quarter)

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.

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7. Drago's Seafood Restaurant 3232 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie, LA 70002

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.

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8. Mandina's Restaurant 3800 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70119 (Mid City)

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.

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9. Pascal's Manale Restaurant 1838 Napoleon Ave, New Orleans, LA 70115 (Uptown)

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.

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10. Dooky Chase's Restaurant 2301 Orleans Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119-5025

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.

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11. Charlie's Steakhouse 4510 Dryades St, New Orleans, LA 70115 (Uptown)

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.

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12. Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant 701 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Central Business District)

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 PĂŞche. 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.

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13. Restaurant August 301 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Central Business District)

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.

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14. Domilise's Po-Boys 5240 Annunciation St, New Orleans, LA 70115 (Uptown)

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.

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15. Bayona 430 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70112-3406 (French Quarter)

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.

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16. Root 1800 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70130 (Central Business District)

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".

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17. Square Root 1800 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Garden District)

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.

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