New Orleans is one of our favorite places on earth. The spirit of this city represents everything that makes life worth living: good food, good people, good music, and an appreciation of the fact that life is short, so we all might as well enjoy ourselves while we’re here. And yes, sometimes that means taking a full beer along for the taxi ride to dinner.
If you’ve made a trip to the Big Easy before, you know that sorting through all of the excellent New Orleans restaurants while also avoiding tourist traps takes some skill. That’s why we’re happy to present this list of places we find to be essential to a successful visit, ranging from classic and legendary to exciting and new.
At the end of the day, there’s really no wrong way to eat in this town, other than to confine yourself solely to the French Quarter. Get out into the city amongst the local residents. They’re very nice, and they’ll certainly feed you well.
When you head to New Orleans, you’ll hear all about the gumbo, the po boys, the oysters, and all that jazz, but one of the best single items you can eat in this city is the fried chicken at Willie Mae’s. Located in the heart of the Treme, this place is old school NOLA at its very best. It closes at 5pm daily, so make sure you get there early. The waits can also be upwards of two hours, but we’ve found the most success hitting it at about 4pm. Results may vary.
A modern take on Creole food with a focus on – you guessed it – meat. Toup’s is the new-ish kid on the block for all things animal, and it’s also a really fun place to hang out and drink pitchers of cocktails (yes, that’s an option). You want to eat all of the cured meats, deviled eggs, the pork chop, the burger and their signature BBQ goat.
You could go to an old school New Orleans institution like Commanders Palace or Galatoire’s to class up your Cajun experience (both are worth a trip), but we always find ourselves at La Petit Grocery for a proper meal instead. La Petit Grocery is the new best all around restaurant in New Orleans not named Cochon, where Justin Devillier, a former standout from Top Chef NOLA, is the chef. It’s a a modern take on fine dining in an incredible room that will make you want to stay there all night. The food is absolutely tremendous, and there are two things to make sure are on your table: blue crab beignets and pasta with turtle ragu.
What was once a fantastic, weird little wine shop is now fantastic, weird little wine shop that also serves excellent food. Bachanal is the perfect spot for a super chill day hang, away from the madness of the French Quarter. Order a bottle of wine and some food at the cashier inside, and wait for your meal to be delivered out in the garden. Bacchanal turns up at night too, with live music and a cool local crowd. This one is a must visit.
Every trip to New Orleans should include some heavy oyster eating, and Casamentos is the spot to do it. This place has been an institution on Magazine Street for over 90 years, and is pretty much what oysters and fried seafood heaven looks like. Go hard on the bivalves (and ask for the special sauce), make sure to get some soft shell crab if its in season, and don’t even think about leaving without tackling the fried oyster loaf sandwich. Just know that Casamentos closes when Gulf Oysters are out of season, from the end of May to the beginning of September. Plan your trip accordingly.
NOLA is the birthplace of many a classic cocktail (see, Sazerac), and the city is home to a large number of excellent bars and restaurants that serve such a thing. It’s also home to a bunch of places that serve gasoline in a Slurpee cup. Sylvain is one of the former type establishments, a civilized oasis right in the heart of the craziness of the French Quarter. This is one of our happy places for a laid back cocktail away from all the madness. You’re drinking something shaken or stirred here, not frozen garbage.
We like to call this our favorite breakfast spot, even though it’s usually more like lunch with eggs. Either way, in this town your first meal is often your most important. Located in the beautiful Garden District, Surrey’s is only open during daytime hours. Their migas are excellent, as are the pancakes, shrimp and grits, and fresh juices. Keep it in your back pocket for the first meal of the day, whenever that ends up happening.
A visit to this legendary New Orleans restaurant means eating inside Jacques’ house, an eccentric fella who you will no doubt meet when you dine here. Waits are long and it’s only open for dinner, but Jaques-Imo’s is a party, and it’s an essential New Orleans 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 ready to tackle Godzilla, the biggest soft shell crab you’ve ever seen, laid out across a bed of fried green tomatoes.
Elizabeth’s is famous for one thing – praline bacon. But all of the other breakfast and brunch food at this classic Bywater restaurant is damn good too. Get in a cab or an Uber and take a quick trip to this part of town for a daytime meal. Elizabeth’s also recently started serving dinner, and it’s great for that too.
There are a lot of things we love about New Orleans. The people, the music, the food, ordering drinks from the bar “to go.” However, there is one thing in particular that draws us back to the bayou like a giant, delicious magnet from the south – the desire to have another meal at Cochon. Bottom line, if you’re planning one meal in New Orleans, it should be at Cochon. And make sure you get your own order of wood fired oysters. You will not want to share.
Located next door to the restaurant, Cochon Butcher is the place to get a sandwich that will blow your mind. Here you can sit down and 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. Make time for this.
The most recent addition to the Donald Link family of restaurants, which also includes Cochon and Cochon Butcher, Peche is their shrine to the sea. The room is amazing, a warm, inviting space that’s built for big groups (take note, bachelor and bachelorette parties). It’s not nearly as good as Cochon is (or La Petit Grocery, for that matter), but it’s definitely worth a stop in for a drink and a bite before you move on to your next destination.
John Besh is a celebrity chef, but he’s a celebrity chef from Louisiana, and his restaurant August is one of the best examples of Southern French fine dining you can find anywhere. We love coming for Friday lunch, when the three course prix fixe only costs $20.15.
Located inside the W New Orleans, Sobou serves dressed up, Creole-style grub. They also have beer taps on nearly every table, from which you can serve yourself, making this place Perfect For large group dinner. So if you’re rolling deep and need a centrally located, cool spot to eat a meal before you lose three or four people for good to this town, this is your move.
If you’ve got “eating all the po’ boys” on your itinerary, Parkway Bakery better be on your list. Note that fried oysters sandwiches are only served on certain days, so if that’s what you’re looking for, check in advance to make sure you swing by at the right time. Hell, this was where Obama came to have lunch when he was in town, so you know it’s good. We’re betting he didn’t have to wait in line.
A tiny shack that’s legendary for their po’ boy sandwiches, and is another must visit if you seek such a thing. It’s off the beaten path all the way out in West Riverside, but it’s worth the trek and can be worked into a visit to Magazine Street if you plan to head in that direction (you should). The half fried oyster, half fried shrimp is 100% the move there.
If you’re looking for a real local type experience, look no further than this up and coming stretch of Feret Street in Uptown. Located near Tulane and Loyola, this area is loaded with good new bars and restaurants, our favorite being Wayfare. Wayfare is a great spot for a laid back lunch with a nice bottle of wine and some cured meats, which they make on site. They’ve also got a great lineup of sandwiches and sides, rounding out a gluttonous daytime meal.