A Restaurant Guide to New Orleans
Writer’s Note: New Orleans is my favorite city in America. Over the next 18 days and nights, I’ll be here and will share with you what I love about this special place. With the final WSOP Circuit stop of the season now happening at Harrah’s New Orleans (May 8-20), followed by the WSOP National Championship (May 22-24), many poker players and their colleagues will be coming into town, as well. Hope to see you in the Big Easy!
The title of today’s article was originally going to be — “Top Ten New Orleans Restaurants.”
There’s no way to narrow down all the incredible restaurant choices in this fine city to merely a handful. So instead, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite restaurants with some special menu recommendations — all the way from fine dining down to cheap eateries. I’ve also included a section on restaurants that I think are a bit overrated, which should probably be avoided (assuming you share my tastes).
First things first. I can’t stand nouveau cuisine. Hate it! Listen up — I want to eat my food, not stare at it. Too many pretender-chefs seem to think food presentation is more important than the things that REALLY matter such as taste, texture, and temperature. Sticking with the “T’s,” when it comes to dining, nothing beats tradition. Which is why New Orleans is my taste bud’s mistress.
In New Orleans, food is part of the culture and tradition of this city. I love the New Orleans restaurant scene because most of the places are private and/or family owned. Corporations haven’t taken over and ruined everything yet. Food is a reflection of what lives in the Delta — both plants and animals — not just another means of profit. No other city in America has as many old-style family owned and operated restaurants as New Orleans. Here, you’re likely to see the owners either hanging out in the dining room or working the kitchen. To me, that makes this place really special.
Warning: One tip — Don’t dress in shorts and a t-shirt. Many of these places have a dress code or at the very least you will look and feel out of place. People or New Orleans also tend to dress better than normal when going out. Keep this in mind when you’re dining at one of the most expensive places.
In order to appear on the following list, each restaurant selected has to have what I call a “wow” factor. The food, service, and experience must be exceptional. I’ve dined at each of these places more than once, so I know each of these choices is consistently reliable.
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN NEW ORLEANS (DINNER/MODERATE TO EXPENSIVE)
Antoine’s (French Quarter) — My favorite restaurant in the world. However, I must warn you. Not everyone will like this place. It gets mixed reviews. Some people hate it. Imagine going back into the 1930’s. That’s what it looks and feels like at Antoine’s. The incredible French-Creole fine dining institution opened in the 1840’s (that’s not a typo — the 1840’s). During the Civil War, soldiers were housed and fed here. Be sure and sit in the large main dining room, rather than the front. Just about everyone famous has dined here, and there are pictures popes, presidents, and prime ministers on the wall. Speaking of the wall, be sure and walk around into the private dining areas and foyers, which are practically a history museum to New Orleans’ high society. A few years ago, Marieta and I had the waiter give us a lengthy tour of the entire place, which really made it special. As for the food, the trout almondine is unmatched anywhere, except for possibly Galatoire’s. If you dine with a party of two or more, order the Baked Alaska for dessert, which is basically a bowling ball cut in half comprised or light cake and whipped creme. There’s currently a $21 lunch special at Antoine’s (Spring 2013) which is an all-inclusive three-course meal. Warning: Strict dress code (jacket required for men) 15-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. ANTOINE’S WEBSITE
Cafe Degas (Esplanade/City Park) — This is my favorite “locals” restaurant, which is away from the touristy areas, on a stately old street near City Park where the artist Edgar Degas once lived. Located in a renovated house, the atmosphere can best be described as cozy. Exceptional menu, mostly French. Daily specials — open for both lunch and dinner. Recommended: Hanger steak with lemon ice box pie for dessert. NOT WALKING DISTANCE. CAFE DEGAS WEBSITE
Cochon (Warehouse District) — Cochon means the little pig. This place is a gem, popular with just about everyone. Varied menu of Cajun, Creole, Southern, with a countryside French twist. Located inside a converted warehouse. Recommended: Order multiple appetizers and share them and then split a few entrees. You don’t want to miss anything. Very creative menu of items served unlike you’ve ever experienced before. Be sure and try cauliflower mashed potatoes with horse radish. 15-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. Side Note — I’m not a pork eater, but all the pork dishes I sampled were outstanding. Another side note: “Butcher Cochon” recently opened for lunch, which is a smaller, cheaper version of the dinner restaurant. I have not tried this place (nest door) but heard it’s just as tasty. COCHON WEBSITE
Commander’s Palace (Garden District) — A New Orleans institution, this famed restaurant produced two of the world’s most acclaimed chefs — Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Formal Creole dining at its finest. Many of the herbs used in the dishes are grown in a special garden on the roof of the restaurant. Lunch menu is a nice (cheaper alternative) if you don’t want to break the bank. Recommended: Pecan-encrusted gulf fish, with the homemade bread pudding souffle (prepared at table side) for dessert. NOT WALKING DISTANCE COMMANDER’S PALACE WEBSITE
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (French Quarter) — Old style steakhouse, but with proper New Orleans flair. What makes this establishment different from Ruth’s Chris or Morten’s (both excellent, by the way) is the localized experience and greater focus on New Orleans-style cooking. Instead of paying high dollar prices, try and go for lunch (open just a few days). Highly Recommended: Toasted Coconut Cake for dessert which is as perfect as it gets. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. DICKIE BRENNAN’S WEBSITE
Emeril’s (Warehouse District) — Matches the hype. Emeril Lagasse has become a larger than life cook and self-promoter, but his original restaurant hasn’t lost a step. Always packed, reservations are a must. Open for lunch and dinner. Recommendation: Banana cream pie for dessert, one of the best tasting things you will ever put in your mouth. 10-15 MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. EMERIL’S WEBSITE
Galatoire’s (French Quarter) — My second favorite restaurant in the city. Located on busy Bourbon Street, very similar to Antoine’s. White tablecloths, small tables, noisy. Small place, always packed. Incredible food. It’s been open for 100 years and will probably be here for at least another century. Warning: Jacket required/dress code. Recommendation: Trout Almondine. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. GALATOIRE’S WEBSITE
Galvez Restaurant (French Quarter) — One of the best dining views you’ll find anywhere, which overlooks the mighty Mississippi River. Located up on second floor next to the train tracks. Try and go when it opens at 5 pm so there’s enough daylight and you can watch the river traffic. Spainish-themed dishes, but with multiple culinary influences (including Cajun, Creole, Caribbean). Very, very different. This is one of Marieta’s favorite restaurants (she’s European, so that’s really saying something). She gives it a 10. I give it a solid 8. The view and large airy dining room makes this place stand out in a city of stars. Definitely worth trying. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO — better yet, ride the streetcar. GALVEZ WEBSITE
GW Fins (French Quarter) — One of the city’s best seafood restaurants for variety. Flawless food and service. Expensive, but worth every penny. Also has one of the best marketing operations of any privately-run restaurant in the country. I’m constantly reminded about culinary events, wine dinners, special offers, via e-mail. Recommended: Any fish item is a winner. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. GW FINS WEBSITE
Herbsaint (Business Distict/Downtown) — French style restaurant, with excellent variety of seafood, steaks, appetizers, and wonderful appetizers with a local twist. Saw James Carville here once, who lives down the street. 15-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. HERBSAINT WEBSITE
Luke (Business District Downtown) — Advertises itself as a “German” restaurant, but with a Creole-Southern twist. Somehow, all the flavors magically come together in this casual atmosphere, which feels more like a bistro. Highly Recommended: Shark Fin (lunch only) and/or Plat Lyonnaise, which is a fantastic assortment of sausages with German potato salad. Open lunch and dinner — also open for breakfast. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. LUKE WEBSITE
Palace Cafe (Casino Area/French Quarter/Downtown) — Perfect location on Canal Street. Mis-labeled as a cafe, it’s actually a full-fledged restaurant. Indoor and street side dining both optional. Part of the famous Brennan’s family of fine restaurants. Everything here is exceptional, with lunch highly recommended over dinner, since you get the exact same food for less money. Recommendation: Pecan-encrusted trout. To die for. 5-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. PALACE CAFE WEBSITE
Tommy’s Cuisine (Warehouse District) — Italian food with a Creole twist. Wonderful bistro-style place right next to Emeril’s. All the fish dishes are good. I’ve sent many people here, and no one ever complained. Don’t expect southern Italian dishes. I’d describe it as Northern Italian, but instead of the usual light cream sauces, they tend to use Creole-type ingredients and more game. Difficult to describe. Just try it. Recommendation: I’ve tried or sampled a lot of dishes here and everything is great. 10-15 MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. TOMMY’S WEBSITE
One More: Arnauds (French Quarter) — This one barely made the cut. Not quite up to the taste and experience of Antoine’s or Galatoire’s, but with pretty much the same menu. A reasonable alternative to the two mega-giants of great cuisine. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. ARNAUD’S WEBSITE
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN NEW ORLEANS (LUNCH PLACES/MORE AFFORDABLE)
Angelo Brocato’s (Uptown) — This place is magical. For desserts, and nothing else. Opened up in 1905 and still run by the family of an Italian immigrant named Angelo Brocato, everything is still made fresh the way it was back a century ago. Even the equipment used to make these delicacies is from the early 20th Century. Located uptown near City Park (the streetcar from Canal Street takes you there), this is a hole in the wall that hasn’t changed much since doors opened. There are way too many Italian desserts to choose from which are all displayed on see-through refrigerated shelves, including several old-world recipes you won’t find anywhere else. Best of all — they’re cheap. Last time Marieta and I stopped in here, we completely skipped our dinner reservations and instead wolfed down four desserts each. This place is that good. Please don’t let Angelo Brocato’s come to Las Vegas because I’ll gain 100 pounds.
Bon Ton Cafe (Casino Area) — I’ve dined at Bon Ton perhaps 40-50 times. Fabulous food and friendly service. Owner and operated by the Pierce’s, who are always on the premises to welcome you. Open for lunch and dinner, with lunch recommended (11-2 daily) because it’s just as good but cheaper. In a follow up, I’ll post a more in-depth review of Bon Ton, since I’ve been here so many times I’m practically part of the decor. Recommended: Fried Catfish biegnets, which comes with crispy onion rings, a garlic house salad, plus all the bread and butter you can eat (for about $20). 5-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. BON TON CAFE WEBSITE
Cafe Du Monde (French Quarter and Multiple Locations) — My pal “Tiger” said it best when we went here together about 15 years ago. He said, “you could sit here for the next 60 years and at some point you would see EVERYONE in the world come in here at least once.” He’s right. Everyone will come here at eat at least one time. And if you don’t somehow manage the trip on your own, too bad. This isn’t a restaurant really. It’s more of a coffee shop. They pretty much serve only one thing — the famous New Orleans biegnets with chickory coffee. Sinfully delicious. Sit outside under the ceiling fans and listen to one of the street musicians who perform just steps away. A great $8 experience. 10-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO.
Drago’s Seafood (Casino Area) — Probably belongs in the (moderate price) category above, but I’ll list it here since it’s so convenient and it’s also open for lunch. House special is the char-broiled oysters which many describe as an orgasm for the mouth. I like Drago’s but don’t love it. Located inside the Hilton Riverside. 2-MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO.
The Gumbo Shop (French Quarter) — Wonderfully affordable food, with the signature dish being a variety of gumbos. Indeed, a big bowl of gumbo with an appetizer is a can’t miss here. Fine dining quality at affordable prices. GUMBO SHOP WEBSITE
Mother’s (Casino Area) — I used to wonder what all the hype was about. Then I had a meal here, and I’m a convert. Be warned. This place is a dive. But there’s often a line out the door, with good reason. Arguably the best file gumbo in the city is served here. I’m not as high on the Po’ Boy sandwiches as most people, but there are those who say they’re the best. Recommendation: Auntie Mae’s File Gumbo (be sure and get the sausage and chicken, not the seafood gumbo) with a house salad, bread and butter, and a drink for about $16. ONE MINUTE WALK FROM HARRAH’S CASINO. Open lunch and dinner, but closes somewhat early.
GOOD BUT NOT GREAT
Here’s a list of pretty decent restaurants where I’ve eaten, where the food is good but hardly memorable. All of these restaurants would be fine to try once perhaps. But there’s nothing special about them that really makes me want to return:
Atchafalaya — Traditional Cajun in the French Quarter
August — A Besh restaurant which is high-priced, somewhat limited menu, but very good.
Cafe Giovanni — Upscale Italian right off Canal Street. Friday and Saturday night opera singers in the dining room makes this place great, otherwise it’s just good)
Court of Two Sisters — Always busy tourist place in the middle of the French Quarter. Good, but there’s better.
Daisey Duke’s (cheap food) — Dive with lousy service located next to the Marriott. But the food, including the homemade gumbo is excellent. Cheap quick place to eat, with late night menu.
Grand Isle — Used to be better, but slid somewhat. Great mustard salad dressing that I wish I could drink out of the bottle. Abita beer on tap. Good seafood, but nothing spectacular.
Iris — Wonderful small romantic restaurant in the French Quarter. Only complaint was the limited menu.
Jagerhaus — Cheap German restaurant in the French Quarter. Pretty good.
Lola’s — On Esplanade near City Park. Old converted house. Family run. Interesting food, but not as good as Cafe Degas which is nearby.
Manning’s — Usually sports bars and celebrity-owned joints are awful. This one owned by the quarterbacking trio of Mannings — Archie, Peyton, and Eli) is better than expected. Lemon pie for dessert is a killer.
Mia’s Balcony — Wonderful open air restaurant on St. Charles, on the old streecar line. Lots of fun places uptown and this is one of them.
Lakeview Harbor — It’s either in Metairrie, or right on the city line. Located near the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, with lots of great-tasting fried food that’s really bad for you. Who cares?
Nirvana (Indian) — Who comes to New Orleans to eat Indian food? Well, the fresh ingredients here all taste special, and as tough to imagine is it might be, this Indian food comes with a slight twist. Located right on Magazine Street, in the Garden District. Bus line from center of town easily accessible.
Rio Mar Restaurant — Caribbean and Creole cuisine, located in warehouse district. I really like this place and probably would have listed it above, except I’ve only been here once and am not sure how consistent it is.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House (fried chicken) — Featured on the Food Channel and always listed as one of the best local places. Secret fried chicken recipe. Family owned and operated, a local’s favorite. I was not as impressed as some about this place (the side dishes are average), but most people list it as a favorite. Be warned — a dive.
MY LIST OF OVERRATED RESTAURANTS IN NEW ORLEANS
Besh Steakhouse (Harrah’s Casino) — I’m not a fan of Besh’s restaurants. Average food at hyped prices. The steakhouse at Harrah’s should be wonderful but it’s far outshined by Morten’s of Chicago or Ruth’s Chris, both also within a 2-minute walk for the front door. I’ve dined here perhaps 6-7 times with absolutely no lingering memories about anything that made is special. Avoid.
Gordon Biersch Brewery (Casino Area) — Good place to drink, terrible place to eat. Horrible food to the point where complaining to management is justified. Stay away, unless you’re enjoying the beer.
Harrah’s Buffet (Casino) — One word. Mind-bogglingly abominable. Okay, that’s three words. I couldn’t help myself. How and why does this place, which is no better than an $8 all-you-can-eat buffet at a second-rate casino in Downtown Las Vegas, always seem to have a line when thre are at least a dozen excellent restaurant choices within a ten-minute walk? Baffling. This buffet is horrendous.
Landry’s Seafood (Casino Area/French Quarter) — This is one of the few chain restaurants which will be mentioned. Las Vegas location has taken a serious dive the last few years. It’s hardly worth visiting. The New Orleans location has also slid in quality, which now makes this a spot to avoid. I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming in here a few times by friends and associates who must not know good food, and each time I went the place pretty much reminded me of Red Lobster. Nothing wrong with Red Lobster, of course, unless you are in New Orleans and have about 300 better seafood options.
Mulate’s (Warehouse District) — Located right across the street from the convention center, which should tell you everything. Advertises itself as authentic Cajun, but there’s much better elsewhere. Food is okay, but hardly memorable. A tourist trap. Avoid.
The Pelican Club (French Quarter) — Ranked on most lists as one of the best restaurants in the city, but was pretty average in my opinion. Their signature dish flounder was out of stock on the night I visited, replaced by Red Fish. Meal was certainly decent, but not worth the money with so many other excellent dining choices. No “wow” factor.
Red Fish Grill (French Quarter) — Marieta and I once had an exceptional meal here, but they changed the menu and the second experience was a monumental disappointment. How and why they took the pecan pie off the menu should open up a criminal investigation. Used to be the best pecan pie in the world (and I can’t stand pecan pie). I am boycotting this place until they bring back the pecan pie.
Stella! (French Quarter) — Named in honor of the famous Tennessee Williams play and character from A Streetcar Named Desire. One of the most expensive meals I’ve ever ordered, and left hungry. Nothing particularly wrong with the food (quality) or service (exceptional). But unless your idea of great dining is ordering unpronounceable dishes, eating appetizers that can be inhaled in two bites, and paying ridiculous prices for similar food you can get down the street for half the cost, stay away! I wanted to like Stella’s because it opened a few years ago and was “the” new place. Monumental disappointment. Warning: When you see a restaurant self-labeled as “eclectic,” insert OVERPRICED and PHONEY.