New Orleans Restaurants - Favorite Picks
Recovery Status for Fall 2006:
New Orleans is well on its way back to re-claiming its place as a fully functional tourist destination. The recovery was aptly demonstrated with decisions to hold Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations in Spring 2006 as usual, as well as by Tulane's "miracle" graduation ceremony that featured past Presidents Bush and Clinton. In fact, all five New Orleans universities—Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, the University of New Orleans, and Dillard—have reopened
All but a few of the 13 airlines that serviced the City are shuttling flights in and out of the City. Taxis, bus service and the street care are functioning. Touro, Tulane and Charity hospitals have all been reopened for months. It is reported at the close of summer 2006 that 103 out of 140 metropolitan area hotels are open, with over 70% of the original 38,000 hotle rooms available. Of these rooms two-thirds are open to visitors, while the remaining third is contracted to various agencies. Ninety percent of downtown hotels are open, however, the Fairmont and the Ritz Carlton continue to be closed for renovation. Both are expected to re-open by the end of the year. Remediation contractors in all the restored hotels conduct room-by-room assessments against EPA standards. After remediation work is completed, the clearance process includes visual inspection, as well as sampling for airborne fungal spores and ongoing monitoring. Restaurants are re-opening daily with any of the famous chefs back in their aprons, including Paul Prudhomme, Susan Spicer Donald Link and John Besh. Before any establishment serving food can be reopened it is examined by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for compliance with all regulations regarding water safety and food handling. To give you a better sense of the situation you should call ahead to your hotel and favorite restaurants to be sure they are ready for you or check on the site here for opening status. Air and water are safe for visitors (government air testing results). Harrah's Casino, the convention center and Riverwalk are open, as are museums including Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, the National D-Day Museum and the Aquarium of the Americas.
Listed here are the some of the best restaurants in town where regular people go for fine food on regular occasions, some more expensive, some less, but all on the A-list. To see more expensive, expense-account-category restaurants click here; and good bargain-priced places are on this page. Don’t forget the “must visit” restaurants Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace that have a special write up on the restaurant overview page. If you want to read about hotels or about fun things to do in town, don't miss the Executive Summary page.
Restaurant August - Located across the street from the rear entrance of the Windsor Court Hotel, Restaurant August has won my heart as one of the best in the City. Their $20 price fixe lunch menu is a delight of choice, culinary skill and value. August accomplishes that great New Orleans feat of taking an old property (an 18th century warehouse one block from Canal Street) and shining it to a high gloss while retaining original fixtures that give the place a resonance of history and quiet grandeur. To this winning approach add renowned Chef John Besh (a Louisiana native who trained at the Grill Room across the street), and a contemporary French menu that never fails to make the appropriate nod to local ingredients and cuisine. The tasting menu at $50 ($85 with wine) is a true cosmopolitan delight, but you may just as easily overhear somebody at the varnished, hardwood bar ordering Veuve Clicquot in a “go cup.” The main dining room isn’t as large as you might imagine for a former warehouse, but there is a private room that can accommodate 20 to 100 guests. There is also an outdoor patio for dining al fresco. 301 Tchoupitoulas St. (at Gravier St.) 504-299-9777. Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday. Major credit cards.
NOLA – The famous TV chef Emeril Lagasse (see listing for Emeril’s and Delmonico restaurants) opened his second New Orleans restaurant in 1993, well before he had televisions gigs. NOLA is the common local abbreviation for New Orleans, Louisiana and true to its name, NOLA is in the midst of the French Quarter, across the street from Napoleon House bar and around the corner from K-Paul’s restaurant. (For true Emeril fans, in 1997 Emeril also bought, refurbished and reopened the old Delmonico restaurant on St. Charles Avenue that had tired from a century of service in the hands of other owners.) NOLA is a sleek restaurant, but more conventional in its décor than Emeril’s flagship restaurant on Julia Street, and NOLA is not quite as well-known nor as difficult to reserve. NOLA is a great choice for a visitor who wants consistently great, imaginative renditions of local cuisine. To describe Emeril’s eclectic cuisine the best tool is example. Here are a couple of dishes from a dinner menu: “Rosemary-grilled filet mignon brochettes with Emeril’s creamy barbecue gulf shrimp, crispy potato pancake and tasso smothered french beans - $17”; or “wild mushroom pie with balsamic cream sauce marscapone sun-dried tomatoes fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts - $20”. The layout is split-level with exposed brick lending a traditional touch while a glass panel elevator communes with the modern age. A wrap-around kitchen is exposed to full view by the patrons. There is a bar for customer seating next to the wood-fired pizza grill. 534 St. Louis Street. 504-522-6652 - www.emerils.com. Major credit cards. No lunch Sundays.
Jacques-Imo's Cafe - This madhouse, Creole/Caribbean soul food restaurant is superb fun and a superbe value. It's couple of doors down from the famous Maple Leaf Bar in Carrollton. At a 27 (out of 30) for food, the Zagat Restaurant survey puts Jacques-Imo's shoulder to shoulder with fanciest places intown. The room is small, the wait can be long and the theme is casual. Still, Jacques-Imo rates some of the best food in town and the local New Orleans secret is rapidly escaping to a wider audience. Excellent for a casual night out in sequence with a visit to the Maple Leaf. The location off of Carrollton requires some transportation assistance, but the trip can be accomplished via streetcar, getting off at Oak Street, a few blocks after Riverbend. 8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, LA 70118. 504-861-0886. Dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday.8324 Oak St. (S. Carrollton Ave.).
Dick and Jenny's - Possibly one of the best Creole-French restaurants in New Orleans at any price, Dick and Jenny's is also delightfully inexpensive and unpretentious.. It's just an uptown cottage with a game staff and party spirit. The food rating for Dick and Jenny's in the Zagat's guide is higher than both Galatoire's and Commander's Palace. The location makes it a little bit of a trick, but with this much going for it, you should work out the cab ride and have some fun. 4501 Tchoupitoulas Street (at Jena), New Orleans, LA 70130. 504-894-9880.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen – Through the 1980s the portly Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme was to be seen on all the network talk shows demonstrating his technique for blackening redfish. Thanks to Paul, the ocean stock of redfish has been sadly depleted, but the world supply of Paul’s signature Cajun spices seems undiminished. For over twenty years K-Paul’s on Chartres Street has enjoyed long lines every lunch and dinner. The décor and theme in this 1834 structure is a kind of Cajun roadside tent restaurant with local specialties and an indulgence for out-of-town visitors. (It used to be the wait staff would patronizingly stick a colored star on your cheek after dinner to signify if you had finished your vegetables.) The restaurant service has always been a little too casual for the prices charged, but the food is consistently one of the most enjoyable examples of local cuisine in town. Originally, K-Paul’s accepted no reservations and cash only. Gradually, American Express was accepted and in the late 1990's, the dining room was completely refurbished in a more formal style and the reservation book was opened. Most recently they have done away with lunch altogether. The food at K-Paul’s remains the draw. For a long, leisurely meal where the service counts, K-Paul is not as accommodating as some competitors. 416 Chartres Street. 504-524-7394 - www.kpauls.com. Major credit cards. Closed Sunday.
Herbsaint - With huge windows taking in the street cars coming down St. Charles Avenue, Herbsaint is a relative newcomer co-founded by Bayona's Susan Spicer and Donald Link. It is a place that has everybody talking. The menu is all over the map, with classics as well as originals and a general description of "American-French." The namesake, Herbsaint, is the locally produced creme d'anis that replaced absinthe when absinthe was declared illegal. Accordingly, there are New Orleans ties that show in every dish. The group at my table pronounced both the frog legs appetizer and the duck confit main course "the best we've ever eaten." There is only one, main room with a small, servicable bar, so reservations are important. 701 St. Charles Avenue. 504-524-4114.
Bayona – Bayona’s best credential is the number of New Orleans natives who swear by this French Quarter restaurant. National reviewers are also impressed. It is perhaps ironic that so many New Orelanians rate Bayona at the top of the list of local restaurants because the menu selections are not traditional Cajun/Creole. Chef Susan Spicer is originally from Key West, Florida and she counts French cuisine as her main influence. Chef Spicer's newer creation, Herbsaint, has more menu variety and takes more chances than Bayona, but if you like a safe bet with menu standars, this place is at the top of the list. Bayona is located in an old Creole cottage on quiet Dauphine Street, just one block north of the most traveled part of Bourbon Street. Bayona has the modern charm, service and grace associated with a world-class restaurant. The cuisine is eclectic international/Mediterranean with a faint nod to Louisiana tradition. The dining rooms are small and not lavish, but they have a tidy, finished look appropriate for either casual or jacket and tie dinner (jackets for men are not required). There is a lush and stunning courtyard that lights up with great effect at night. 430 Dauphine Street. 504-524-4455. Major credit cards. Closed Sunday.
Brigtsen’s – Frank Brigtsen is not as nationally known as Emeril Lagasse, but in New Orleans he one of the most respected chefs and restaurateurs. He is a former student of Paul Prudhomme (see listing for K-Paul’s) who holds with traditional Cajun/Creole style and offers probably the best uptown menu of this school of cuisine. Brigtsen’s is known more for delicate combinations of flavors rather than the make-you-cry spiciness of some local recipes. Open since the late 1980s, Brigtsen’s restaurant is similar to some other locally famous uptown restaurants because it is located in an older building broken up into a series of dining rooms (see Gautreau’s and Clancy’s). But more than any other restaurant featured in this survey, Brigtsen’s retains a homey, casual feel so much so that dining at Brigtsen’s can remind one of Thanksgiving day at the home of some obscure relative. The restaurant is situated in a crook of the levee at the farthest uptown reaches, beyond the riverbend where the St. Charles Street car veers off into Carrollton. The uptown location attracts lots of local clientele, but Brigtsen’s is also a shrine to traditional New Orleans cuisine that draws diners from all over the nation. It is possible to make it to Brigtsen’s using the streetcar, but you should have carefully mapped out directions; a better plan is to arrange for transportation. 723 Dante Street. 504-861-7610. Visa, MC, AE accepted. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Gautreau’s – This small local gem (pronounced “go’ troes”) was constructed from an old pharmacy in the heart of the uptown Garden District on Soniat Street. The house prescriptions are now dispensed from liquor bottles that line the back wall of the lively main dining room. The tables are filled mostly with indigenous New Orleans citizens adding an interesting local color. Gautreau’s is more formal than the other similar gourmet uptown restaurants in this review that have been constructed from older buildings (see Brigtsen’s and Clancy’s). The proprietors have polished the old pharmacy to a deep, varnished gleam with elegant embellishments of flowers and glass. The food is avant-garde French/American with North African/Mediterranean accents, but the usual clientele is straight out of New Orleans. Example dish from the daily menus: Lamb shank with orzo pasta, feta cheese, olives and tomatoes. Gautreau’s has no sign out front to mark it. To find the restaurant from St. Charles Avenue, locate Soniat Street, which crosses at the distinctive Latter Memorial Library – an unmistakable landmark mansion donated to the City in memory of a fallen WWII soldier. Soniat is a couple of blocks up Soniat in the opposite direction as the library is situated on St. Charles. 1728 Soniat Street. 504-899-7397. Major credit cards. No lunch. Closed Sunday.
Clancy’s – Clancy’s is another local favorite built from a stylishly peeling old house in an uptown residential section near Audubon Park (see also Gautreau’s and Brigtsen’s). Locals simply love Clancy’s, which may be due to the beguiling New Orleans combination of sophistication and a rustic physical charisma. The neighborhood is vintage residential New Orleans. Clancy’s is broken into a number of small, casual dining rooms and exudes a lively, down-home feel, fortified by a modest bar and lots of local patrons. Locals prize the food at Clancy’s and the menu offers an excellent combination of culinary traditional Cajun/Creole and modern flair. Portions are modest (as is the plain dinnerware), but the staff retains the skill and attention of a top-flight restaurant. The dessert options tend not to be as lavish as those found at other top-rated New Orleans restaurants. For the traditional food, for the local color, for the neighborhood, it is worth some exploration to find Clancy’s. Transportation arrangements are definitely required for the uninitiated, but the distance from main points in town is not great. 6100 Annunciation Street. 504-895-1111. Visa, MC, AE accepted. Closed Sunday; no lunch Monday and Saturday.
Upperline - The Upperline restaurant is a very personalized, local restaurant near the Garden District in uptown New Orleans. The owner, Jo Ann Clevenger, has made the Upperline a quirky favorite, dishing out familiar Cajun/Creole dishes in casual surroundings that are heavy with the owner’s personal tastes. The restaurant is 50 yards from an uptown strip mall on Prytania (only a block from the St. Charles streetcar line). The restaurant property secludes itself from the pedestrian surroundings with overflowing potted plants, flowers painted on bright yellow walls, and frame after frame of vibrant local artwork. Despite the fanciful décor, the food is taken seriously with some of the best duck dishes in a town where duck is a favorite. 4413 Upperline Street. 504-891-9822 - www.upperline.com. Major credit cards. Dinner only, Wednesday-Sunday.
Pelican Club – The Pelican Club is in the heart of the French Quarter, but walking inside this restaurant is more like visiting a popular restaurant in New York. The cuisine, liveliness and casual flair are certainly indebted to New Orleans. The menu spans a considerable spectrum - from Asian to the tradition of Southern Louisiana. Jambalaya and a special Louisiana bouillabaisse are usually on the menu. There are three different dining rooms in this old townhouse a block from Bourbon Street. The walls are adorned by the work of local artists. The food is highly ranked and the restaurant is one of the most popular in town, but the Pelican Club is probably more valued for its liveliness and inventive spark than for its contribution to traditional regional cuisine. 615 Bienville Street. 504-523-1504. Major credit cards. No lunch.
Irene’s Cuisine – Deep in the French Quarter, beyond Jackson Square, is this local favorite Italian restaurant with unmistakable Creole trappings. There is a large Italian American population in New Orleans, but Cajun/Creole cuisine tends to overshadow the Italian restaurants. This is not the case with Irene’s. It is consistently rated one of the favorite restaurants in New Orleans. The cooking is spicier, richer in garlic than most Italian, so Irene’s cannot be accurately called "traditional". Big gulf shrimp and elaborate desserts betray a New Orleans heritage. Irene’s is small and crowded and no reservations are accepted. 539 St. Phillip Street. 504-529-8811. Visa, MC, AE accepted. Closed Sunday. No lunch served.
Christian’s – Christian’s is not easy to find out in Mid-City, but the unique location and remarkable flair with French infused Cajun/Creole cooking make it a required listing here. Christian’s is aptly set in an old church, with stained glass windows and a bar in one of the former chapels. The church has been further solemnized by formal dining fixtures and service that makes for a truly unique dining experience. The New Orleans menu has traditional showstopper dishes like soft-shell crab, Creole bouillabaisse and an oyster en brioche recipe purportedly lifted from Galatoire’s. Transportation/directions are helpful. 3835 Iberville Street. 504-482-4924. Major credit cards. Closed Sunday. No lunch Monday and Saturday.
Tujague’s – Tujague's, under the unmistakable neon sign on Decatur Street a few blocks beyond Jackson Square in the French Quarter, is one of the oldest but least known of the old line New Orleans dining rooms. Tujague's is strictly traditional and unpretentious. The mirror over the bar hung in a Paris bistro from the mid-1700's until it was shipped to Tujague's in the 1870's (Tujague’s bar is worth a visit in its own right). The restaurant has very small dining rooms and is somewhat tired in its decor. The dinner menu consists of three five-course options; your choices are recited aloud by the waiters (lunch consists of three course options). The staples of this offering include the shrimp remoulade, marinated beef brisket and bread pudding with bourbon sauce (Tujague specialties), soup, garlic steak, a traditional poultry dish and a Cajun/Creole seafood dish of one sort or another. The relative quiet and freedom from choking crowds lends an additional appeal. 823 Decatur Street. 504-525-8676. Major credit cards.
Pascal’s Manale - Pascal’s is an Italian restaurant on Napoleon Street in uptown New Orleans that has a singular distinction: This restaurant is credited with inventing the New Orleans “barbecue shrimp”. Although this 50-year-old recipe is imitated all over town (arguably with better results in some restaurants), the mystique of the original invention holds. The traffic from pilgrimage to Pascal’s Manale by many in-the-know tourists makes reservations important. The other dishes on the menu are serviceable, but if you come all this way for a plate of pasta then you are poorly counseled. 1828 Napoleon Avenue. 504-895-4877. Visa, MC, AE accepted. No lunch served on weekends.
Rico’s Bucktown Café – Out on Lake Pontchartrain north of the city proper, George Rico runs a traditional Creole restaurant that is worth the ride. George is famed in New Orleans as the former maitre d’ of Commander’s Palace (he worked his way up from busboy in the 1970s). If you have never seen the lake and have a chance to make the trip, Rico’s Bucktown is a great way to soak in a certain local flavor that is hard to come by in other way than living in New Orleans until you stumble onto Rico’s. If you happen into George Rico behind the bar, tell him Ernie Svenson sent you and you’re glad to be there. 200 Hammond Hwy. (Lake Ave.) Metairie, LA, 70005. 504-219-0770. No credit cards.
Other Brennan Family Favorites: Mr. B’s Bistro, Palace Café and Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse – Across from the beautiful Monteleone Hotel at a vital French Quarter intersection, Mr. B’s is the Brennan family’s answer to fast-paced, bistro-style dining (see Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s). Mr. B’s is well regarded and the menu holds with Cajun tradition, but the bistro approach is at the expense of formal dining elegance. Mr. B’s Bistro, 201 Royal Street. 504-523-2078. Major credit cards. Palace Café is located right on Canal Street on the fringe of the French Quarter at the site of an old music store (the original sign is still on the top of the building). At Palace Café the chefs are pushing classic Cajun/Creole recipes to new contemporary levels (see listings for Emeril’s and NOLA which take the same approach). The Canal Street location makes for great views through the picture windows. Palace Café - 605 Canal Street. 504-523-1611. Major credit cards. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse is right in the Quarter. The traditional steak and chop menu is modified here in favor of garlic rubs and blackening in the Cajun/Creole school. The five dining rooms have the traditional old club feel of a steakhouse. Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, 716 Iberville Street. 504-522-2467. Major credit cards.
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Last update: 9/5/2006; 8:34:54 PM.