FOOD, RESTAURANTS & NEW ORLEANS CUISINE
Food, glorious food – one of the primary delights of the Crescent City. This is a place you can truly find the best food in the world, suited to pretty much any taste. They also have all the fast food and restaurant chains you’ve ever dreamed of . . . but, why? Why would you go to New Orleans and eat the same food you can eat anywhere else? This is one of the culinary capitals of the world . . . so don’t waste a single meal on something mundane!
I think some people may end up eating at familiar places because the plethora of restaurant choices is intimidating, and many of the menu items may be unfamiliar to outsiders. However, I strongly urge and encourage you to step outside your comfort zone just a bit and try something different or new.
The first time I visited New Orleans I may or may not have eaten at a Popeye’s. Hey . . . it was the only restaurant serving local cuisine that I found somewhat familiar. I’d seen it on TV commercials with authentic Cajun accents – so they must have known what they were talking about. I don’t know where you happen to live, but Popeye’s or Bojangles might just serve the best (and only) “Cajun” themed food in your hometown, so it might surprise you to hear that it isn’t necessarily the finest NOLA has to offer. Seriously . . . the local food actually gets better than that. 🙂
I discovered my favorite New Orleans restaurant the first night I visited the city almost 30 years ago – and it is still the first place I go upon my arrival anytime I return. I met a local lady that said her favorite food in the Quarter, and favorite place to hang was a little hole in the wall on Decatur Street called Coops Place . . . and it’s been a home away from home for me ever since. I’ve had everything on their menu more than once, and I can honestly say I’ve never had better Cajun food anywhere else. I particularly like the way they make their gumbo and jambalaya, the way they smoke their meats in the courtyard out back, and how they fry their chicken. My first meal is usually the Coops Taste Plate which offers a little bit of everything (A cup of Seafood Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Cajun Fried Chicken, Red Beans & Rice, and Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya) most of which are my favorite . . . or, my favorite may be the Jambalaya Supreme . . . or maybe the Pasta Jambalaya (with added smoked sausage) . . . or the divine Chicken Tchoupitoulas . . . or maybe the Coop’s Creole Omelet . . . or maybe, well – it’s hard to choose. Thus, I always plan to eat there multiple times during each visit. Besides, one of the main reasons to even visit New Orleans is to sit at the bar and talk to Fay.
Just a word of warning about Coops . . . it is not a family friendly restaurant. No one under 21 is allowed at any time, for any reason. We tried that, it didn’t work. The various bartenders & servers that have worked there over the years have gained a popular reputation for their often hilarious snark – so, don’t act like a tourist . . . whatever that means. If you are from out of town, and wish to sample some cajun & creole specialties in a more family & tourist friendly environment in the French Quarter, you may prefer the Gumbo Shop (however, it’s more expensive, and not nearly as good as Coops. I like the atmosphere, but don’t care for the food much at all.)
There are a lot of places I enjoy in the Quarter, and I’m sure I will neglect to mention them all – but I’ll try my best to be inclusive. One place that comes to mind is the Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur – I’ve had their excellent pasta jambalaya on three occasions, but have not strayed deeper into their menu. We’ve also had good meals at Galatoire’s (the only fine dining restaurant on Bourbon Street – albeit a bit overhyped), and Broussard’s on Conti (just off of Bourbon Street). I really wouldn’t suggest eating anywhere else on Bourbon Street except maybe Cafe Beignet, which is similar to Café du Monde – but with a full menu featuring items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The location is an open-air courtyard called Musical Legends Park, which often features live traditional jazz – a pleasant oasis from an otherwise noisy and crowded street. There is also a Cafe Beignet on Royal Street that is quite quaint and cozy – great locations for breakfast or a quick no-frills snack, lunch or dinner. Fiorella’s on Decatur used to serve up my favorite fried chicken in New Orleans – until Katrina – and then it didn’t. A fire recently gutted the building, and they have since reopened with a whole new look – but I can not vouch for their food as of yet.
I have a friend who swears by Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar located just off of Bourbon Street on Iberville. Despite all the competition, they have consistently been serving up fresh, local seafood for over 70 years in the same location. If you’ve been meaning to try some raw oysters, this is the place.
My wife thinks Sucré is just about the best place in the world for tea, macaroons, chocolate, gelato & divine desserts, as well as their upstairs Salon restaurant. For a fantastic burger or steak & baked potato you can’t do better than Port of Call. Across the street from Port of Call is Buffa’s Bar & Restaurant on Esplanade – “on the border of the Quarter since 1939” – a friendly neighborhood bar with an eclectic menu, fascinating open mics, movie & game nights, and great local music. Yo Mama’s Bar & Grill on St. Peters is a well loved dive – with a peanut butter burger of note. The only places I’ve had “bad” meals are mostly closed now. I don’t want to bad mouth any particular restaurant – I would prefer that Yelp, Trip Advisor or Nola.com do that for me, based on the reviews of others.
There are a plethora of “touristy” restaurants, and I wouldn’t really say any of them are horrible places to eat – they provide a certain ambiance & unique experience, but the food is usually mediocre at best. However, if you are unfamiliar with the standard Cajun & Creole specialties (jambalaya, gumbo, red beans, étouffée, andouille, crawfish, boudin, shrimp Creole, blackened fish, etc.) you may not recognize the difference – kind of like wine . . . until you become a connoisseur, even the cheapest of wines taste pretty good.
As far as touristy restaurants go, The Original Pierre Maspero’s has the appeal of being in one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter (erected in 1788, originally a slave market and later a meeting place for pirates Jean and Pierre Lafitte) – but I can’t really remember anything particular about the food. There is another restaurant on Decatur with a similar name – Cafe Maspero – which typically has long lines . . . but I’m not sure why. I was curious, so I stood in line to eat there . . . once. However, I failed to discover the reason that people cue up outside. The Market Cafe is quite a unique dining experience – the only outdoor patio dining with a live jazz band in the French Quarter. I’ve eaten there several times – breakfast buffet & lunch – and always enjoy myself . . . however, I can never recall what I ate or if I liked it. A lot of tourists make the trek to Mother’s Restaurant in the CBD, I’ve been there 3 or 4 times in an attempt to find out why it comes so highly recommended to the tourist – the atmosphere is unique, and the po’boys are okay . . . however, it is overhyped. here are many other small dives and touristy cafes in the Quarter which I’ve tried – but they tend to come & go, leaving no particular legacy.
There are many fancier places to eat in New Orleans, and a lot of celebrity chefs who have signature restaurants throughout the city – (Emeril, John Besh, Paul Prudhomme, Tory McPhail, Donald Link, Susan Spicer) but unfortunately for my pocketbook, they tend to be a little pricey . . . you pay for the name, ingredients, china plates, prestige, and atmosphere (click on the link to see some of the prices) – as well as the food, which is always excellent. If the price isn’t an issue, then, by all means, go for it! My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed dinner at a couple of the Brennan Restaurant Group locations, but if you’re on a budget there are plenty of other options. I will say that the original Brennan’s Restaurant is not what it once was, and their brunch is not quite the experience it used to be since they renovated and reopened (this is according to those that have eaten there for years). I have no intention of demeaning or insulting the excellent chefs in New Orleans, they are indeed among the best in the world . . . but I’m more of a gourmand than a foodie when it comes to my excursions to NOLA. I’m pretty happy with a smoked sausage on a stick . . . and some hot sauce.
My wife and I love to eat brunch, particularly at unique places – and there are quite a few in New Orleans. One of our favorites is Stanley’s located in Jackson Square, caddy-corner to St. Louis Cathedral. They have some extremely tasty and unique offerings such as the Eggs Benedict Po-Boy, Eggs Stanley, and a killer Omelet Sandwich . . . with the best people watching window seats in the entire French Quarter. I’ve also had good breakfasts at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant on St. Peter & have especially enjoyed the various creole omelets (Rajun Cajun, Jambalaya & Bayou) at Pere Antoine’s on Royal . . . however, I received an uncomplimentary review from someone who dined there more recently. We heard a lot of buzz about Willa Jean, so we made reservations on a very busy Saturday for brunch. I wasn’t really sure what the fuss was about – it wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t particularly unique, just trendy.
If you want to really experience the New Orleans high-life full of southern charm & grace, you can’t really do much better than breakfast at the Criollo Restaurant in the luxurious Hotel Monteleone . . . or the exquisite Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. Both restaurants provide the experience of having been transported to a simpler, more elegant time. Criollo makes one feel like royalty with excellent food and service; and the beautiful, canopied garden courtyard at the Court of Two Sisters is complemented by a gentle breeze, live jazz, and an expansive array of 80 plus items available on their fabulous buffet. I have been criticized for suggesting & recommending such a “touristy” spot in this blog – but hey, I love it. I love the ambiance, the location, the music and the food. So there.
One of our newest favorite places is Atchafalaya in the Garden District. It has a cozy, artsy atmosphere with incredible savory & sweet items for brunch as well as a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar. I had chicken, homemade biscuits & sausage gravy topped with an egg – which sounded a bit boring when I ordered it . . . but it was far from ordinary or boring. Elizabeth’s is a quaint little funky spot in the Bywater where I had one of the most unique dishes I’ve ever had for brunch – boudin ball étouffée & eggs, which was wonderful. My wife had a more traditional breakfast plate and thus did not have the same culinary experience that I had. The location is off the beaten path, but it has a funky folk-art road-side diner appeal. Another excellent place to have brunch is The Ruby Slipper Cafe – with 4 locations and a menu full of unique items, it is definitely high on my list. I’ve eaten there three times now – at the Marigny location – and have been ecstatic over the Shrimp Boogaloo Benedict, The Eggs Cochon, and the Chicken St. Charles, and even their omelets. I could eat there every day.
There are quite a few places to get a Traditional New Orleans Sunday Jazz Brunch, such as Muriel’s, Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Buffa’s, Little Gem Saloon, Commander’s Palace, Mr. B’s Bistro, Brennan’s Palace Cafe, Broussard’s, Veranda Restaurant, The Rib Room, Restaurant R’evolution, Crescent City Brewhouse, The Roosevelt Hotel Blue Room, Ralph’s on the Park, Dante’s Kitchen, The Crystal Room at Le Pavilion Hotel, Brennan’s, Cafe Adelaide, Tableau, Galatoire’s & Cafe Amelie . . . just to name a few. Some of these restaurants offer a jazz brunch on Saturdays as well (you’ll need to check out their website), whereas Atchafalaya has one 5 days a week – Thursday through Monday. The Court of Two Sisters is the only place I know of that offers a jazz brunch every single day! I must admit that I have not had the opportunity to taste, hear or experience many of these brunch opportunities because the Sundays I’ve spent in NOLA have been limited. If you take a look at the online reviews of each location, they primarily proclaim that the food is excellent . . . but you rarely hear any specifics about the music or any mention of who or what type of “live jazz” is actually playing. Thus, it could a piano player, an entire band, or just some dude on the bongos. However, if you want the music featured on par with the food, you can’t beat The House of Blues Gospel Brunch. It is a gospel & brunch extravaganza that takes you to church while you eat . . . in fact, it’s so exciting you may forget about your food.
If you’d like something a little simpler and sweet – there is always the world famous Café du Monde. Chicory coffee and beignets are not just for breakfast though, because Café du Monde is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas. However, if the café is crowded (which it usually is), you can head down Decatur Street to Winks World Famous Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Bistro for their own version of the beignet, as well as donuts, divine buttermilk drops, and many other menu items for breakfast & lunch. You might also meet a movie star since the owner and cook happen to be Dwight Henry, star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and several other films. He has recently opened 2 other locations in the city as well. (UPDATE – I was recently informed Dwight is no longer involved with any of these restaurants, and I’m not actually sure they are still open.)
If you would like to get out of the French Quarter and experience one of the most picturesque spots in the city, Morning Call is a 147-year-old coffee and beignet stand in City Park located under the shade of oaks as it overlooks the bayous in the park. It’s a spot for cafe au lait, beignets, jambalaya, and gumbo which also happens to be open 24 hours a day.
There are other bakery and coffee shops I should mention because I spend a lot of time in these places. They have Wi-Fi and a creative, eclectic atmosphere that just makes one want to write, draw, or play a musical instrument . . . even if you don’t know how to do these things. Two places I have spent many hours on hot afternoons are Café Rose Nicaud on Frenchmen Street, and Café Envie on Decatur; both have breakfast & bakery items, sandwiches, great coffee, and you are guaranteed to meet (or at least see & watch) some very interesting people. Tucked away on Ursulines Avenue is a quaint French Patisserie called Le Croissant d’Or that has the unique charm of a 1950’s café, and some of the best pastries in New Orleans . . . it is also the perfect place to read a newspaper or book (they do not actually have wi-fi). There are several CC’s Coffee Houses located throughout New Orleans, offering hot & cold drinks and a cool place to relax, talk, and plan out the rest of your day.
One essential staple of New Orleans cuisine is the Poor Boy, properly pronounced Po-Boy . . . but you may recognize it by other names such as a sub, hoagie, grinder – or simply a submarine sandwich. However, it’s a little unfair to put an authentic NOLA po’boy in the same category as those other common sandwiches. What makes it unique? There’s just more “stuff”, and it seems to taste so much better! A shrimp po’boy in any other city in the world is usually a half sub with 4 or 5 shrimp, a bit of lettuce and maybe a piece of tomato – in New Orleans, it is a cornucopia of overflowing shrimp, rémoulade sauce, dressed to the max . . . and the bread is crispy on the outside and soft like cotton candy on the inside. If you doubt the difference, you must try one – or several – and there are many places to do it.
The place with the best po’boy in New Orleans is fiercely debated – and I’m not really qualified to throw my opinion in the ring because I only eat them once a year . . . and according to locals, the best places are kept a secret so as not to be overrun by tourists. However, there are 2 restaurants where I admit to having been in po’boy bliss – Parkway Bakery & Tavern located in Mid-City, and Johnny’s PoBoys in the French Quarter. They both tend to be touristy and typically packed because people have heard that these are the places to eat a po’boy . . . so don’t go at peak lunch or dinner hours unless you want to wait in a long line and have a hard time finding a place to sit. Other places that come highly suggested are Mahogany’s Po Boys on Magazine Street, and Domilise’s Po Boys located Uptown on Carrollton. It is impossible to say any shop has the best po’boys in New Orleans, but there are strong claims to that title at each of the places listed above.
Another sandwich that is unique to New Orleans is the muffuletta. Be forewarned – it’s a huge sandwich, and a full muffuletta is enough for two . . . and I say that as a rather fat man who never believes anyone who says that. The home of the original muffuletta is Central Grocery on Decatur – just a small Italian grocer and deli similar to something you’d find in Brooklyn. However, that’s not my favorite place to get one, because they are served cold and wrapped in paper. I like hot sandwiches – and thus I find Napoleon House’s hot version of the sandwich much more to my liking; the heat just wakes up the flavors and melted cheese is always preferable to cold slices. The other place that I hear has a fantastic muffuletta is Cochon’s; I have eaten there, ordering several unique appetizers and small plates, and it was delicious – but I didn’t try the muffuletta – just trying to keep it 100. Actually, the best hot muffuletta I ever had was in Chalmette at a place called Armond’s Eatery – it’s worth the trip to St. Bernard’s Parish. I’ve also been told that Jefferson Parish has a place called Parenton’s Po-Boys offering the best muffuletta and po’boys you’ll ever find, as well as a little gem of a place called Crabby Jack’s; I have not been to either, but it sounds like they might be well worth a trip into the suburbs.
I mentioned the Napoleon House but would like to elaborate a little bit more. This is my absolute favorite place to sit, talk, have a Sazerac, read a book, or write in the French Quarter. It is called Napoleon House because it was actually offered to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile – supporters even hoped for him to take over as leader of the city – but he never made it. The name remains, however, as well as the rich 19th-century atmosphere of the French Quarter. If you want somewhere to chill on a hot afternoon, or to heat up on a cold winter’s day (which I’ve had the opportunity to do twice), you can’t pick a better place to hang out than the Napoleon House.
Speaking of historic places to eat and hang – New Orleans has several exquisite restaurants with historic atmosphere & romantic ambiance still fully intact from a different era. The oldest in the French Quarter is Antoine’s – established in 1840, Antoine’s created many of the French Creole recipes now enjoyed around the world. The chefs have changed of course, but they still offer some of the finest food in New Orleans whilst transporting you back in time. The second oldest restaurant is Tujague’s. We had the privilege of having dinner there last year, and it was truly much more than a mere meal – it was a dining experience. We had the traditional Table d’hôte – 5 courses, and every bite of each course was a blissful culinary journey we won’t soon forget.
There are quite a lot of restaurants on the six-mile stretch of Magazine Street – extending from the CDB to Uptown. I must confess that I haven’t had the chance to try that many of them. We tend to stay in and around the Quarter – but have recently expanded our horizons. Our favorite place we have discovered is District Donuts that has donuts and sliders are to die for. I have had suggestions for many other places, however, such as the classic seafood restaurant Casement’s, a NOLA favorite since 1919; Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar for an eclectic & funky breakfast with healthy options; Shaya for modern Israeli cuisine; Lilly’s Cafe for the best pho in town; A Jewish & Italian Deli called Stein’s Market; for pizza there is Pizza Domenica (which has a great happy hour with half off pizzas from 3-6); for eclectic & exotic burgers there is Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar; if you are in the mood for Indian food there is Nirvana; for Latin-Caribbean food there is Baru Bistro & Tapas; or if you prefer something hip & contemporary there is Bouligny Tavern or Square Root; go back in time for fresh home-cooked options at GG’s Dine-O-Rama or Joey K’s; and for casual fine dining there is Peche Seafood Grill, Le Petite Grocery Restaurant, Lisette’s as well as Coquette – all of which I hear are really quite excellent. Actually, I did have some superb shrimp bisque at Peche just to say I’d been there – but I didn’t have a meal. I must peruse this entire street much more in depth, because there are unique restaurants ranging from fine to casual, apparently offering everything you could possibly want, and even a few notable food trucks. As they say, “get out of the Quarter”. Okay, okay, I hear you . . . but I love it so!
My wife’s favorite restaurant in the world is Muriel’s, and it just happens to be in the French Quarter. It is located on a cozy corner of Jackson Square and is replete with romantic ambiance, historic atmosphere, and exquisite food. We try to go once each year, and almost always get the same thing. They have a Table D’Hote Menu that includes the choice of Appetizer, Entrée, and Dessert – and we get the heavenly Crawfish and Goat Cheese Crepes, the Double Cut Pork Chop (which is the best pork chop I’ve ever eaten in my life), and the divinely sinful Pain Perdu Bread Pudding. I hear everything on the menu is good – but once you’ve had the best, why try the rest? Oh, and they have an awesome ghost story (and ghost room) which you will need to ask your server about.
When I’ve asked locals what their favorite restaurant is in New Orleans, there are two places that come up consistently – but I’m sorry to say we have not eaten at either of them. One is Irene’s Cuisine, for which I’ve heard locals say is one of the only reasons they even venture into the French Quarter. The other is Jacques Imo’s, located uptown next to the Maple Leaf Bar. The reason we’ve never been to Irene’s is that it tends to be pricey, and the French / Italian menu items never seem to appeal to my Cajun craving palate. I’ve always wanted to go to Jacques Imo’s . . . but they have been closed every time I’ve ever visited. They apparently take their vacation the same time we go to New Orleans every year. Brigtsen’s is another uptown location that has come highly recommended. I actually thought I went there once – but I went to Dante’s Kitchen located across the street instead. After a wonderful brunch & high praise to the chef, we walked out the door to discover we had actually gone to the wrong place. I wasn’t upset, however, because it was great.
A wonderful & inspirational place to eat in the Central City is Café Reconcile which has been transforming the lives of young adults (ages 16-24) and the community through the ministry of reconciliation for the past 20 years. They provide free hands on job training & life skills classes, bus passes, uniforms, food, employment counseling, paying jobs, and other support to break the cycle of generational poverty, violence, and neglect in the New Orleans area. The result is a fantastic restaurant focusing on the kind of “soul food” for which New Orleans is known, earning high praise from local and national critics. By dining at Café Reconcile, you help to train the students while supporting their training financially. Oh, and you also get some great food!
I’ve also heard buzz and praise for Sylvain, Angeline, & Tableau (inside Le Petite Theatre) all located on Chartres Street in the Quarter; Bevi Seafood Co. in Metairie, for what some say is the best seafood and po’boys you’ll find in the city; Bacchanal Wine, Mariza & Pizza Delicious – all located in Bywater; the family operated, neighborhood restaurant Katie’s, the Creole Cafe Neyow’s, or the new fine dining restaurant Kin – all in Mid-City; Cajun soul food in the Lower Ninth Ward at Cafe Dauphine; the controversially gentrified St. Roch Market offering eclectic food vendors, stands & produce (and a very unique atmosphere); if it’s burgers you are looking for, then check out The Company Burger on Freret, or Cowbell on Oak, or Bud’s Broiler in Mid-City – I’m sure they all have more than burgers, but that is what was suggested. If you are seeking a no frills, 1930s-era steak house with nothing but meat & sides, try Charlie’s Steakhouse – and for classic fine dining, there is Clancy’s (which is pricey, but has food to die for & a great cozy atmosphere) or Upperline (serving contemporary Creole cuisine) – all 3 of which are near Audubon Park – as well as the excellent Gautreau’s in Uptown for a classic NOLA fix; and Mandina’s for Italian & Seafood . . . but, once again, I have not had the pleasure of trying ANY of these restaurants just yet. I am merely passing on the word of others. Heck, I have never even eaten at Commander’s Palace, and I’m pretty sure that it is a requirement when you go to New Orleans. This probably disqualifies me from saying anything else about food in NOLA, but I shall soldier on within my rather small frame of reference. I guess I just need to come to New Orleans more often and eat just a little bit more each time I do. I’m willing to make that sacrifice for the good of my fellow man.
A few other off-the-beaten-path places that have come to my attention recently are Ba Mien Restaurant – an authentic Vietnamese restaurant located in New Orleans East. Compére Lapin – a Caribbean & Creole restaurant in the heart of the Warehouse District. If you are near the airport, you may wish to seek out Harbor Seafood which they say is “The kind of place that locals love and visitors dream of finding.” Beraca is a Honduran Latin Cafe in Metairie that is receiving quite a lot of praise. Toups Meatery near City Park comes highly recommended for carnivores; the Carrollton Market in the Riverbend neighborhood is known for sophisticated yet simple Southern fare. If you’re seeking Italian, Vincent’s Italian Cuisine has been voted the best Italian food in New Orleans – and they have two locations, one of St. Charles and another in Metairie. West of New Orleans, in Harahan, you will find the highly recommended Seither’s Seafood.
We recently took a drive to Westwego Seafood Market a discovered a cultural & culinary wonderland. It is the place where locals, as well as New Orleans Restaurants, come to buy their fresh seafood each day. We pick up a few pounds of shrimp for an amazingly low price that had just been caught that morning. We put them in a cooler full of ice, drove them back to Georgia, and enjoyed the freshest shrimp I’ve ever had the night we got home. If you are in a place where you can clean and cook your own seafood, I highly suggest taking a morning drive to this market for the cheapest and freshest fish, shrimp and crab you’ll ever find. There are multiple stalls and sellers, as well as a little shop & grill called Market Wego where I had the best crawfish sausage po’boy I’ve ever tasted. If you spend any time in Westwego, you might wish to check out Mosca’s Restaurant, a highly acclaimed local restaurant serving up specialty Italian cuisine and seafood since 1946.
I asked my old friend Adam Richman what his favorite restaurants were in New Orleans since he explores and reviews them regularly for his various television shows. He sent me a list that included John Besh’s Borgne, August & Domenica, Parkway Bakery (which I’ve already talked about), 2 places in Metairie – R & O’s and Russell’s Short Stop PoBoys , and a small storefront on Claiborne that Adam claims has the best wings in the world – Bayou Hot Wings. So, I had to check out the wings so as to weigh this hyperbole for myself . . . and he was pretty much correct. The place is kind of hard to find, and it’s not a sit-down restaurant (although they do have a picnic table in the parking lot), so you’ll need to get them to go – but they are worth the trip. I had been informed by locals, however, that Blue Oak – a BBQ restaurant located inside the bar & music venue Chickie Wah Wah – had the best wings in town . . . so, we tried them, they are smoked and are absolutely amazing. So, for fried wings – try Bayou Hot Wings – but for smoked wings, go the Chickie Wah Wah! (UPDATE: Blue Oak is not longer in Chickie Wah Wah, but has moved to N. Carrollton.)
Since posting this article I’ve had quite a few suggestions provided via Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Linkedin, as well as personal emails – and I’ve added many of the places suggested since my original posting. There were also negative, and even angry, comments about some of the restaurants listed – but I have chosen not to include any particularly negative comments about any specific place . . . because it’s just not nice. I do suggest you read reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Fodors, Zomato, Gambit, Nola.com, or use the Google and search the web for specifics. You can clearly see by the range of reviews that people often have different experiences at the same exact place, and opinions can vary widely on the food itself. Our taste buds may not be the same, and you may hate everything I happen to like. I hope not, but it could happen. If the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten in your life is a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich – you probably won’t dig real Cajun or Creole food . . . and you won’t like many of my suggestions.
A couple of my favorite restaurants are off the well-trod tourist path, located in the 7th Ward. Dooky Chase Restaurant has been in operation since 1941 and has been presided over since 1946 by the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase. They offer a delicious Tues. through Fri. Lunch Buffet (11 to 3) that changes its menu daily . . . and on Friday night Mrs. Chase prepares a special meal for her customers. This is soul food and creole cuisine at its best, and you can’t get much more authentic than with Leah Chase at the helm. The other restaurant of note is the soul food jewel of Treme, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, which offers “America’s Best Fried Chicken” – it says so right on the menu, and as they say in New Orleans “Yeah you rite!”
We stumbled upon a cozy portion of Esplanade Ridge whilst staying at the Degas House – including Cafe Degas, a lovely French bistro serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch . . . and Santa Fe Restaurant serving unique southwestern cuisine with a European flair. They have a very nice covered patio that offers live jazz on Thursday & Sunday evenings.
We had some friends take us to a fantastic Tunisian & Meditteranean uptown neighborhood bistro called Jamila’s Cafe wherein I had Tajine of Lamb which surpassed any sheep I have ever eaten. Seriously, it was wonderful.
If you are looking for the full New Orleans tourist experience in one place – including Creole cuisine, live Dixieland music, authentic New Orleans atmosphere & the cultural appeal of years gone by, there are two particular places I would suggest. One is the Palm Court Jazz Cafe (although it is always closed from June to September) – but entering this restaurant is akin to stumbling upon a 1920’s speakeasy – and the other is the Steamboat Natchez. This authentic 19th century Steamboat offers daily Dinner Jazz and Daytime Jazz cruises with a two-hour cruise along the Mississippi River where you can experience New Orleans’ beauty, a historical tour, French Quarter romance, live music from the Dukes of Dixieland, a visit to the steam engine room, a rather annoying Calliope, as well as Creole food and local beverages (although you don’t have to eat or drink to go on the cruise).
The final place I’m taking you on my culinary tour is Frenchmen Street. This street is not typically a culinary destination, known more for its music, bars and idiosyncratic uniqueness than its food . . . but it also offers a variety of options all quite close to one another in which to grab a bite to eat. If you find yourself in the mood for Cajun / Creole style Soul Food, The Praline Connection is the place to be. The first few times I ate there I thought I had found heaven, but as its popularity has grown . . . the portions grew smaller and the prices grew larger; it’s still good, and I still love their food, but they seem to cater to hungry tourist now more than discerning locals. Mona’s Cafe is a Middle Eastern Restaurant and International Market serving Lebanese specialties and New Orleans most authentic Middle Eastern fare – great falafel and gyros for when I need a change of pace from the constant consumption of Cajun spice.
The Marigny Brasserie is located at the end of the street and offers quite an eclectic menu. I must say that we have had several really excellent dining experiences there, but have also had a couple of really bad ones. Good chefs and consistent quality are incredibly important (take note restauranteurs). The Three Muses have a unique menu consisting of small plates, a cozy environment, and fantastic music – we like the Falafel Crusted Fresh Mozzarella, Tempura Shrimp, and Bacon-Wrapped Bleu Cheese Stuffed Dates. Snug Harbor is definitely a destination for great music and good food, known as one of the best jazz clubs in the world. Snug also happens to be a convenient one-stop shop to eat before or after enjoying one of their brilliant sets of live jazz, as well as offering a cozy bar complete with all the New Orleans specialties.
There are several other restaurants on Frenchmen, such as Adolfo’s, a reportedly fantastic & cozy Italian restaurant located above the Apple Barrel Bar; however, I’ve never tried it. There is also The Maison, Cafe Negril, 13 Monaghan, 30 x 90, Bamboula’s, & Rare Form all of which are restaurants, as well as music clubs, but I can’t really vouch for the food. I’ve probably had some appetizers and possibly a sandwich at a few of these locales, but it was apparently not as memorable as the wonderful music I always encounter. Oh, one more place I forgot to mention – a new place called Dat Dog. I don’t think it is particularly suited to Frenchmen Street because it’s a bit too bright and “touristy” – but, their hot dogs & sausages are truly unique (try the Cajun Crawfish Etouffee dog).
There are many, many more restaurants in New Orleans than I can possibly mention here . . . or that I could have possibly tried in my limited visits over the past 25 years. I’ve tried to recall all the most memorable & unique places, but quite frankly . . . it’s all good. It is hard to go wrong just about anywhere you care to eat in the Crescent City. If you would like to meet up and take me to your favorite place in the city, just watch my facebook feed for the next time I’m in New Orleans and hit me up!
If you’ve found any of these suggestions helpful, then you might like to check out my other blog entries as well:
If I have left out your favorite place to eat in New Orleans, please list it in the comments below . . . I’m always looking for new places to try! Likewise, if you happen to eat at any of the places I’ve mentioned, please let me know about your experience! Tell them that the Jazz Evangelist sent you!
J. Scott Fugate, “The Jazz Evangelist”