The Most Classic New Orleans RestaurantsAll 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.
This guide will help you find overstuffed po’boys and life-altering etouffee. Those famous beignets? Yeah, we’ve got thoughts about them, too. Below are the most essential classic restaurants that are just as vital to any trip to New Orleans as touring a cemetery or ending the night with an inexplicable amount of beads. Been there, done that? Here's our guide to the top spots in New Orleans.
Dooky Chase is a family-owned restaurant that used to be run by the late Leah Chase, a.k.a. “The Queen of Creole Cuisine.” That’s a massive title for anybody to hold, but you’ll see exactly why it was warranted: the restaurant does excellent gumbo, shrimp clemenceau, red beans and rice, and some of the best fried chicken in the city. Come for a fun weekday lunch, where you can sip on a spiked lavender lemonade or strawberry wine spritzers. They’re only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday (and it gets packed both nights), which is another reason we tend to stick to lunch.
There are a bunch of New Orleans restaurants where you can walk in and feel like you’re in another time period. Brigtsen’s is one of them, and they also have both some old-school Creole dishes and a Victorian cottage vibe. That means you’ll see things like veal sweetbreads, red snapper amandine, pan-roasted pork chops with debris gravy, and broiled Gulf fish with lemon crab sauce. Make a reservation for an anniversary dinner where you’ll hear the knowledgeable waiters talk extensively about what makes Gulf fish delicious.
Arnaud’s is located right off Bourbon Street, but it’s about as far removed as you can get from that tourist trap of a street. This classic New Orleans restaurant has been serving up great food, cocktails, and live jazz since 1918. The best time to come here is for their lively jazz brunch when they do a three-course, prix fixe with dishes like grillades and grits, eggs sardou, and shrimp arnaud. You should also make time for Arnaud’s French 75 Bar for a sazerac or an Old Fashioned.
Gautreau’s biggest draw is their garden, which is the perfect atmosphere for a sort-of fancy dinner. Their menu is just as appealing, with its combo of French bistro dishes and food that takes inspiration from all over the world. You’ll find asado lamb ribs with arepas, red snapper with Chinese egg noodles, and a good ol’ plate of roast chicken, haricots verts, and mashed potatoes. We’d also like to pass a law that makes it illegal to come here without trying their caramelized banana split served with warm banana bread, butterscotch, and chocolate sauce—it’s the restaurant’s most iconic dessert and has been on the menu for years. Just know you’ll definitely need a reservation to eat here.
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 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.
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 prioritize for dinner is La Petite Grocery, a bistro that does modern takes on Creole fine dining. While the whole menu is excellent, the blue crab beignets and pasta with turtle ragu are especially good.
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 and gumbo. If morning drinking is something you’re interested in, make sure to try the brandy milk punch. And if you don’t feel like battling the horde of bachelorette parties that flock to Brennan’s earlier in the day, dinner is also a great option. Save room for the bananas foster, which is set aflame table-side and falls in the category of foods that you should probably not recreate at home.
Casamento’s started serving oysters on Magazine Street more than 100 years ago and has barely changed since. Come here for lunch and stick to the bivalves, especially the fried oyster loaf sandwich, but also throw in some soft shell crab if it’s in season. As a forewarning, Casamento’s closes when Gulf oysters are out of season, which is from the end of May to the end of September, so plan your trip here 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 tuxedos, 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. This place is just a ton of fun, partly because of the all-over-the-place crowd: you’ll probably see New Orleans judges in seersucker suits, society ladies, tourists, and plenty of bachelorette groups.
There are certain things you have to do at least once in New Orleans, like hear a brass band, walk (quickly) 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 catfish courtbouillon. But really, it’s all about the oysters. Sure, you can add more small plates like fried alligator or beef pie with horseradish, but a better option is to just get 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 putting together a list of lunch options for your trip, make sure to include Cochon Butcher towards the top.
Eating at this legendary Uptown spot is as much of 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. Hang at the bar while you wait to be seated—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 going to be an option?
Pêche is a seafood place run by the same team as Cochon, and it takes fish as seriously as its sibling does pork and oysters. 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 for an equally classic experience.
Cafe Du Monde is as vintage as New Orleans gets. And while it’s one of the most touristy spots in the city, it’s been serving coffee and beignets in the same location on Jackson Square since 1862. The long, unorganized line and near-guarantee of showing up in the background of someone else’s vacation photos is worth it—the beignets are always hot, generously caked in powdered sugar, and make for a satisfying snack in between all your other eating plans.
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 Wednesdays and Thursdays) and the roast beef with gravy, though the surf and turf with fried shrimp 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.
TEMPORARILY CLOSED BUT STILL LEGENDS
Beignets, oysters, and gumbo are all on the Mt. Rushmore of New Orleans’ greatest dishes, and 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 lunch around 3pm. They’re temporarily closed because of a fire, but you can order their chicken for nationwide shipping.
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 eat 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 they’re constantly churning out muffulettas, so the line moves quick. They’re currently under construction, but you can still get their muffalettas next door at Sidney’s Wine Cellar, and other spots around town. They also ship nationwide.