The Best Classic New Orleans Restaurants
All the must-try places and essential meals for any visit to the Big Easy.
New Orleans is a city known for its Creole food, bar and nightlife scene, and lengthy, dressed-up lunches with multiple rounds of martinis and turtle soup. The food here is deeply tied to the region’s history of French, West African, and Caribbean influences, and there are so many excellent places in town that it’s tough to have a bad meal. But you’re here because you want the best po’boys, life-altering etouffee, and to actually know if those famous beignets are worth the wait (they are).
Whether it’s your first time in town or just want to branch out a little further past the French Quarter, these are all the classic spots that are just as vital to your visit as touring a cemetery or ending the night with an inexplicable amount of beads.
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La Petite Grocery
One of the best free things you can do in New Orleans is walk through the Garden District on Magazine Street. The whole stretch is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops, so you can snack and drink as you go. But one place you’ll want to save room for is La Petite Grocery. It’s a modern take on Creole fine dining and while the whole menu is excellent, we’re especially big fans of the blue crab beignets and pasta with turtle ragu. If you make it in for brunch instead, make sure to get a Bloody Mary, which comes topped with shrimp, crab, and pickled vegetables, and is basically a meal by itself.
Willie Mae's Scotch House
Beignets, oysters, and gumbo are all on the Mt. Rushmore of New Orleans’ greatest dishes. The fourth spot is reserved for the fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Located in the Treme, this place is vintage NOLA at its very best and feels more like you’re eating in someone’s house than an actual restaurant. It closes at 5pm daily and waits can be upwards of two hours during the lunch rush, so we recommend going for a late afternoon snack around 4pm.
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Commander’s Palace opened in the 1890s and is the quintessential New Orleans restaurant. This Garden District landmark serves all of the local staples, like turtle soup, gumbo, and barbecue shrimp, and it’s a great option for when getting a little dressed up sounds fun. If you want to drink 25-cent martinis while doing so, though, make a reservation at Commander’s for lunch, when you can get two courses for under $30 and a few cocktails that will collectively cost you less than a dollar. Depending on how you feel afterward, check out the historic Lafayette Cemetery across the street—this is one of the few instances when pregaming a trip to a cemetery makes complete sense.
Central Grocery Co.
The po’boy might be the most famous sandwich in New Orleans, but the muffuletta—a giant Italian sandwich that can easily feed four people—is a close second. You can find it across the city, but it was invented at Central Grocery in the French Quarter and that’s where you should go for one. This Italian specialty shop looks like it’s from another century, which makes sense since it opened in 1906. There’s always a lunch crowd, but the muffulettas are constantly being made so the line moves quick.
Editor’s note: Central Grovery Co. is currently under construction. You can still get their muffalettas next door at Sidney’s Wine Cellar.
If you only have brunch once in New Orleans, it should be at Brennan’s. This place opened more than 70 years ago and is known for both its excellent service and classic food, like eggs benedict, gumbo, and a crawfish omelette. Make sure to try the brandy milk punch as well, if morning drinking is in your future. If you don’t feel like battling the plethora of bachelorette parties that flock to Brennan’s earlier in the day, then come for dinner instead. Make sure to save room for the bananas foster, though, which is set aflame table-side and is something you should not try to make in your kitchen at home.
Toups Meatery in Mid-City serves modern Creole food with a strong focus on all things meat. Foie gras, wagyu steaks, and chicken confit are all on the menu, along with local staples like boudin balls and plenty of Gulf seafood. If you’re with a group and want to do it right though, start with one of their cocktail pitchers and the Meatery Board, which includes a variety of housemade fresh and cured meats.
photo credit: Erwin Kuhn
Casamento’s started serving oysters on Magazine Street more than 90 years ago and has barely changed at all along the way. This is a situation where you should really stick to the bivalves, especially the fried oyster loaf sandwich, but make sure to get some soft shell crab if it’s in season, too. As a forewarning, Casamento’s closes when Gulf oysters are out of season—from the end of May to the beginning of September—so plan your trip accordingly.
Friday lunch at Galatoire’s is a New Orleans rite of passage and the best way to kick off a long weekend. To do it right, you need to sit in the downstairs dining room, which requires getting in line on Bourbon Street before it opens at 11:30am. You can make a reservation, but there’s no guarantee of being seated on the first floor other than just showing up early. Once you’re in, it’s basically an upscale party where the servers wear tuxes, drinking is definitely encouraged, and you can eat old-school classics like shrimp remoulade and gumbo until you’re ready for a post-lunch nap.
There are certain things you have to do in New Orleans, like hear a brass band, walk down Bourbon Street, and get at least one to-go beer or cocktail. Eating the wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter at Cochon is also on that list. This spot in the Warehouse District opened more than a decade ago and serves great modern cajun food, like fried boudin and a massive pork shank topped with chicharron, but really it’s all about the oysters. Order enough that you don’t have to share, along with a few small plates if you need something else. Or just more oysters.
Located next door to the restaurant, Cochon Butcher is the more laidback, sandwich-centric version of its sister spot. Here you can enjoy things like one of the city’s best muffulettas, a grilled cheese bacon melt, and something called Le Pig Mac, which is basically a double decker pork burger with special sauce. If you’re making a list of lunch options for your visit, make sure to include Cochon Butcher towards the top.
Eating at this legendary Uptown spot is as much a party as it is an actual meal. The waits are long and it’s only open for dinner, but Jacques-Imo’s is an essential experience that you should have at least once in your life. By the time you get a table, you’ll be good and buzzed, and very ready to try out the alligator sausage cheesecake and some shrimp etouffee. If you’re only eating with one other person, ask for the table in the back of the pickup truck parked out front, because when else is that ever going to be an option?
Pêche is a seafood place run by the same team as Cochon and it takes just as high quality of an approach to fish as its sibling does to pork. The large, open space, along with the seafood platters and whole grilled fish, makes this spot in the Warehouse District ideal for big groups (take note bachelor and bachelorette parties). However, you can also come solo or with a date and just grab drinks and oysters at the bar.
Cafe Du Monde
Whether you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up or a post-bar snack at 3am, Cafe Du Monde will be open. This place has been serving coffee and beignets in the same location on Jackson Square since 1862. It’s about as vintage New Orleans as you can get, and while it’s one of the most touristy spots in the city, the coffee and beignets—which are available 24/7, every day except Christmas—are worth showing up in the background of people’s vacation photos.
photo credit: Erwin Kuhn
Superior Seafood And Oyster Bar
When you want to sit down for a long lunch and eat an ungodly amount of oysters, hop on the St. Charles streetcar and take it to Superior Seafood in the Garden District. With lots of exposed wood and tie-clad servers, this place has a kind of high-end throwback feel, but is still casual enough to just walk into when you pass by and find yourself craving seafood. Besides oysters, the barbecue shrimp and blackened fish napoleon topped with crawfish etouffee are both great for sharing.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
Po’boy shops in New Orleans are as common as the discarded beads you’ll find on the street post-Mardi Gras. There are endless options, but if you want the best, head to Parkway Bakery in Mid-City. This corner sandwich shop is more than a century old and has been feeding everyone from local musicians to presidents since they first opened. The two standout sandwiches are the fried oysters—only available Mondays and Wednesdays—and the roast beef with gravy, though the surf and turf with fried shrimp and roast beef is a great way to satisfy any meat-and-seafood cravings you may have. Make sure to get yours dressed (lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles) and ask for some spicy mayo made with Crystal hot sauce.