The Restaurantgoer: Dining in New Orleans

The following post can also be found in the annual meeting supplement, both online and handed out during the meeting.

The restaurants and eating houses of New Orleans are famous, and deservedly so! The typical…restaurant is a bare room with pine tables and a sanded or saw-dusted floor. Not much for looks are they, but the food they serve is most delicious.
—John Martin Hammond (1916)

Kolb’s Restaurant, New Orleans, ca. 1900. Courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum/1994.003.35.05.

There is no shortage of splurge-worthy restaurants in the Crescent City, from the venerable Galatoire’s to John Besh’s flagship, Restaurant August. Meeting attendees on a budget, however, need not feel deprived—just as it was a century ago, New Orleans is known for mouthwatering meals on the cheap. Pick up a po-boy at a corner store and picnic alongside the Mississippi or enjoy a plate of red beans and rice at a local watering hole.

The centrality of food in New Orleans can be gauged by the popularity of a long-running radio show focused on cuisine. Food entrepreneur and restaurant reviewer Tom Fitzmorris talks with callers about dining out and cooking from 4:00– 7:00 p.m. each weekday on 1350-AM. And check out Poppy Tooker’s Louisiana Eats! at WWNO-FM, the blog Blackened Out and the web site Eater NOLA.

For an evocative look at New Orleans food culture, grab Sara Roahen’s Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table. Those interested in the history of the city’s foodways may wish to delve into New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, which explores such culinary mainstays as gumbo, shrimp remoulade, and Oysters Rockefeller. The book was written by members of the New Orleans Culinary History Group, which has also assembled an online New Orleans culinary bibliography.

Restaurant Suggestions

The listings below are far from comprehensive. Instead, they reflect some of our favorite places. For fine-dining strongholds and a wider range of choices, check out the Times-Picayune‘s restaurant reviews and Ian McNulty’s reviews at the alternative weekly Gambit. You’ll find a cornucopia of information and reviews at Tom Fitzmorris’s web site. Food truck fans should look at NOLA Food Trucks.

Vegans and vegetarians may want to consult the Happy Cow directory, the blog Vegan New Orleans , and Vegan New Orleans on Facebook.

Within Walking distance

Check a map to determine whether these locations fit your definition of walking distance.

Mena’s Palace, 200 Chartres St., 504-525-021. No reservations. 7 a.m.–3:00 p.m., Sunday until 1:00 p.m. Inexpensive. A neighborhood-style restaurant, a rarity in the French Quarter. Classic New Orleans food, including red beans and rice, roast pork with oyster dressing, and po-boys.

K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, 416 Chartres St., 504-596-2530. Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Monday–Saturday, 5:30–10:00. Moderate lunch, expensive dinner. Paul Prudhomme, who helped propel the Cajun food craze in the 1980s, established this restaurant in 1979. Lunch is quick and delicious. Don’t miss the sweet potato pecan pie.

Napoleon House, 500 Chartres Street, 504-524-9752. Monday, 11:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Tuesday–Thursday, 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. Inexpensive. Loads of atmosphere in this 1814 building. Traditional New Orleans dishes (gumbo, po-boys), plus salads, panini, and a cheese board. Many locals swear allegiance to the Napoleon House’s muffuletta—a New Orleans sandwich of deli meats, cheese, and olive salad—which is served warm, in contrast to most places. You can also order a vegetarian version.

Johnny’s Po-boys, 511 St. Louis St., 504-525-8037. No reservations. 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Inexpensive. You have to love a place with the motto “Even our failures are edible”! One of the largest po-boy menus in town, plus such local standards as red beans and rice and gumbo.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St., 504-265-8123. Sunday–Thursday, 5:30–11:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.–midnight. Moderate/expensive. Reservations recommended. Named after the first opera performed in New Orleans (and North America), André Grétry’s Sylvain, this atmospheric restaurant near Jackson Square serves up high-end cocktails and such dishes as garlic sausage with black lentils and braised beef cheeks.

Bayona, 430 Dauphine, 504-525-4455. Lunch, Wednesday–Saturday, beginning at 11:30; dinner, Monday–Saturday, beginning at 6:00. Reservations are essential—book early. Expensive. This French Quarter restaurant is a fixture on the city’s best-restaurant lists. Award-winning chef Susan Spicer offers a seasonal menu that incorporates Mediterranean and Asian influences and a thoughtful wine list with affordable choices.

Drago’s, 2 Poydras St., Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel, 504-584-3911. 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. No reservations. Moderate/expensive. Drago’s is operated by a Croatian family with deep ties to Louisiana’s Croatian oystering community. The Cvitanoviches opened their first restaurant more than forty years ago; this newer location serves up the same sort of food that made original place popular—grilled shrimp pasta, grits and grillades, and fried seafood platters. Drago’s is best known for its addictive garlicky charbroiled oysters—if you don’t want to spring for full meal, think about indulging in a half-dozen at the bar.

Grand Isle, 575 Convention Center Blvd., 504-520-8530. 11:00 a.m.–10 p.m., until 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Moderate. A modern version of a classic Louisiana seafood restaurant, offering such dishes as oysters on the half shell, duck debris po-boy, chicken and andouille gumbo, and shrimp and grits.

Domenica, 123 Baronne Street, Roosevelt Hotel, 504-648-602. 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. Reservations recommended. Moderate. Part of the John Besh empire, this stylish Italian restaurant serves up house salumi, thin-crust pizza, pasta, and much more. A daily happy hour (3:00–6:00 p.m.) offers half-price pizza (try the Gorgonzola with apples, speck, and pecans), cocktails, wine, and beer.

René Bistrot, 700 Tchoupitoulas St., Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel, 504-613-2330. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 6:00–9:00 p.m., until 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.Expensive. Lorraine, France, native René Bajeux has been a celebrated part of the New Orleans dining scene since the late 1990s. Enjoy house charcuterie, onion soup, Basque seafood ragout, and other French standards.

Rouses, 701 Baronne Street, 504-227-3838. 6:00 a.m.–midnight. This upscale grocery store is part of a regional chain. A well-stocked deli and a variety of prepared foods, including well-seasoned boiled shrimp and other local specialties, make takeout a cinch, or you can eat inside the store near the gelato bar. Pizza, burritos, and sushi are prepared to order 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. This is also a good place to stock up on coffee with chicory, hot sauce, and other local items, and you’ll find a nice selection of cheese, wine, beer, and liquor. If you’re in the French Quarter, you might seek out a more compact Rouses at 701 Royal Street.

Farther afield

A short cab ride, or for some, an ambitious walk.

RioMar, 800 S. Peters St., 504-525-3474, . Monday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 6:00–10:00 p.m. Reservations recommended. Moderate/expensive. RioMar blends Spanish and Latin American influences. Don’t miss the excellent ceviches. The lunch menu is tapas-only.

a Mano, 870 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-208-9280. Friday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Monday–Saturday, 6:00–10:00 p.m. Reservations recommended. Moderate/expensive. Chef Adolfo Garcia’s a Mano (“by hand” in Italian) offers regional Italian specialties, including house-cured salumi. Don’t miss goat if it’s on the menu.

Cochon, 930 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-588-2123, 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Reservations are essential. Moderate/expensive. Here, you’ll enjoy James Beard Award-winning chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewiski’s dressed-up version of rustic Cajun country food. As the name suggests (cochon is French for pig), pork reigns supreme. But you can’t miss with the seafood, chicken, and rabbit, either. If this is your kind of food, you’ll want Link’s splendid cookbook, Real Cajun.

Cochon Butcher, 930 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-588-7675. 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., until 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, until 4:00 p.m. Sunday. Inexpensive. Limited seating. Just around the corner from the restaurant Cochon, you’ll find this meat market and sandwich shop. Not much here for vegetarians, but if head cheese and boudin are your idea of heaven, step right up.

Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Ave., 504-524-4114. Monday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m. Reservations recommended. Moderate/expensive. Chef Donald Link’s first restaurant offers a blend of Louisiana, French, Spanish, and Italian cuisine, resulting in dishes like duck confit and dirty rice and pork belly with Cajun risotto. A well-thought-out wine list makes a good pairing easy.

Central Grocery, 923 Decatur St., 504-523-1620, no web site. Tuesday–Saturday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. No reservations. Inexpensive. Limited seating. The menu at this Italian grocery contains one food item—the muffuletta. This oversized sandwich, consisting of ham, salami, provolone cheese, and olive salad on a sesame-topped round Italian loaf, was invented here in the early 1900s.

Coop’s, 1109 Decatur St., 504-525-9053. 11:00 a.m.–till. No reservations. Inexpensive. Outstanding rabbit and sausage jambalaya plus a typical menu for a bar/restaurant hybrid in New Orleans—burgers, shrimp and oyster po-boys, and red beans and rice. As the web site says, “Our snarky bartenders asked us to tell you we don’t take reservations, and due to the presence of video poker machines only those 21 and over are allowed in the restaurant.”

Mona’s, 504 Frenchmen St., 504-949-4115, no web site. 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., until 11:00 p.m. Friday–Saturday and 9:00 p.m. Sunday. No reservations. Inexpensive. Middle Eastern fare—very good, quick, and handy for bar-hopping and music on Frenchmen Street. BYOB.

Yuki, 525 Frenchmen St., 504-943-1122. Sunday-Thursday, 6:00 p.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday, until 2:00 a.m., Sunday, 6:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. No reservations. Inexpensive. This izakaya (Japanese pub) offers tasty small plates, such as spicy octopus and onigiri (rice balls), and more filling dishes, like udon soup, along with a nice selection of shochu and sake. Sashimi is on the menu, but no sushi rolls. Fabulous atmosphere, with Japanese movies projected on the brick wall and regular appearances by first-rate French accordionist Norbert Slama.

Three Muses, 536 Frenchmen St., 504.-298-8746. Kitchen hours, 5:00–10:00 p.m., until 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday. No reservations. Moderate. Arrive early (doors open at 4:00) for a seat at this popular live music/small plate venue. Excellent food from well-regarded chef Daniel Esses; look for lamb sliders.

Adolfo’s, 611 Frenchmen St., 504-948-3800, no web site. 5:30-10:30 p.m. No reservations; arrive early to avoid a long wait. Moderate. Regulars flock to this hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant for the cannelloni, oysters Pernod, and Gulf fish. If you have to wait, you’ll do so outside or at the Apple Barrel bar on the first floor. Either place is a great way to take in the Frenchmen Street scene.

Maurepas Foods, 3200 Burgundy St., 504-267-0072. Thursday–Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.–12:00 a.m. No reservations. Moderate. Avoid the dinner rush at this popular new local-foods-centric eatery. Creative cocktails and vegetable dishes are favorites at this restored corner store in the Bywater neighborhood.

Elizabeth’s, 601 Gallier St., 504.944.9272. Tuesday–Saturday, 8:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., 6:00-10:00 p.m., Sunday, 8:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Inexpensive/moderate. Best known for Saturday and Sunday brunch, Elizabeth’s motto is “Real Food, Done Real Good.”

The Joint, 701 Mazant St., 504-949-3232. Monday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m. No reservations. Inexpensive. Sample everything from ribs and pulled pork to brisket and chicken at this tasty barbecue eatery.

Even Farther Afield

Longer cab rides / bus or streetcar rides; see www.norta.com for bus and streetcar routes.

Coquette Bistro & Wine Bar, 2800 Magazine St., 504-265-0421. Tuesday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m., dinner every day 5:30–10:00 p.m., Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Reservations are essential. Magazine St. bus, #11. Expensive. Chef Michael Stoltzfus serves up a local, seasonal menu in this 1880s building.

La Petite Grocery, 4238 Magazine St., 504-891-3377. Tuesday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner every day 5:30–9:30 p.m., Friday–Saturday until 10:30 p.m., Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Reservations are essential. Magazine St. bus, #11. Expensive. Enjoy French-influenced dishes in this former corner grocery.

Casamento’s, 4330 Magazine St., 504-895-976. Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Thursday–Saturday, 5:30 p.m.–9:00 p.m. No reservations. Inexpensive. Magazine St. bus, #11. Old-school, prime spot for raw and fried oysters. Limited menu.

Dick and Jenny’s, 4501 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-894-9880. Tuesday–Friday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday, 5:30 p.m.–10:00 p.m., until 10:30 p.m. Friday–Saturday. Reservations recommended. Moderate/expensive. Modern New Orleans cuisine; the gumbo du jour is a safe bet.

Magasin Vietnamese Café, 4201 Magazine St., 504-896-7611. Monday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–3:45 p.m., 6:00–9:00 p.m. No reservations. Magazine St. bus, #11. Inexpensive. An example of the new generation of Vietnamese restaurants in New Orleans, this casual, stylish spot serves up pho, spring rolls, banh mi, and rice dishes.

St. James Cheese, 5400 Prytania St., 504-899-4737. Monday–Wednesday 11:00-6:00, Thursday–Saturday, 11:00-8:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00-4:00. No reservations. Inexpensive/moderate. Just one block from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. A serious cheese shop that serves first-class sandwiches, salads, and cheese and charcuterie boards, with a well-chosen wine and beer list.

Patois, 6078 Laurel St., 504-895-9441. Wednesday–Thursday, 5:30-10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m., Friday lunch, 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Reservations are essential. Expensive. One of those places where every course is outstanding. Since its establishment in 2007, this bistro consistently lands on the city’s top-ten lists.

Brigtsen’s, 723 Dante St., 504-861-7610. Tuesday–Saturday, 5:30-10:00 p.m. Reservations are essential. Expensive. St. Charles Avenue streetcar, exit Maple Street. Traditional New Orleans food served in a 19th-century house. You won’t go wrong with roasted duck or seafood, or anything else for that matter.

Boucherie, 8115 Jeannette St., 504-862-5514. Tuesday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m., 5:30–9:30 p.m. St. Charles Avenue streetcar, exit Jeannette Street. Reservations recommended. Moderate. This restaurant began as a food truck. Innovative dishes using local ingredients. If we were Michelin, we’d award this place a best-value Bibendum icon.

Ye Olde College Inn, 3000 S. Carrollton Ave, 504-866-368. Tuesday–Saturday, 4:00–11:00 p.m. Moderate. Dating back to the 1930s, this restaurant has undergone a transformation in recent years. Traditional dishes are supplemented by more modern culinary creations, all prepared with ingredients from the inn’s farm and other local providers. After dinner, you can head to the owner’s famous live-music venue/bowling alley next door, Mid-City Lanes.

Mandina’s, 3800 Canal St., 504-482-9179. 11:00 a.m.–9:30 p.m., until 10:00 p.m. Friday–Saturday, Sunday 12:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. Inexpensive/moderate. Canal St. streetcar, stop at Scott St. Locals treasure this classic Creole-Italian restaurant. Read about how the owners brought it back to life after Katrina’s floodwaters in Brett Anderson’s James Beard Award-winning series at blog.nola.com/brettanderson/mandinas_rising.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern, 538 Hagan Ave., 504-482-3047. Wednesday–Monday, 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. No reservations. Inexpensive. Savor po-boys in this 19th-century building overlooking Bayou St. John. Try Parkway’s well-regarded roast beef po-boy (called “poor boy” here, following the original terminology), or any of the other options, which include some vegetarian choices.

—Karen Trahan Leathem (Louisiana State Museum) and Michael Mizell-Nelson (University of New Orleans) contributed essays to New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories (2009) and are members of the New Orleans Culinary History Group. They are members of the Local Arrangements Committee. The title of this essay is inspired by Walker Percy’s novel he Moviegoer, in which the character Binx Bolling goes to a New Orleans theater whose marquee reads, “Where Happiness Costs So Little.”

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