mkgallery names essential New Orleans restaurants to visit now, from John Besh’s regional flagship to the porky Cajun Cochon. Plus: exceptionally varied doughnuts from a trio of police officers and the bar that put New Orleans cocktail culture back on track. » mkgallery’s Full New Orleans Travel Guide
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New Orleans Restaurants: Insider Picks
Until recently most of the Italian restaurants in New Orleans served red sauce by the truckload. With the 2009 opening of the terrific A Mano, the city’s Italian-food scene has become a lot more interesting. Chefs Adolfo Garcia and Joshua Smith shop at the Crescent City farmers’ market and cure their own meats for a decidedly local, artisanal approach to dishes like the Buccatini all’ Amatriciana prepared with house guanciale, tomatoes, Pecorino and chile. Photo courtesy of Cochon.
At this excellent Cajun in the Warehouse District, chef Donald Link creates modern, extremely porky versions of the rustic country food he grew up with. There’s homemade bacon in the fried oyster sandwich (served with a chile mayo), pan-fried pork cheeks with roasted corn grits and the restaurant’s eponymous dish, cochon du lait (suckling pig), a crisped disc of braised pork served with turnips and cracklings. The casual next door “swine bar,” Cochon Butcher, serves sandwiches and sells homemade charcuterie to go.
Former August sous chef Mike Stoltzfus and fiancée Lillian Hubbard opened Coquette in 2008 in an intimate Garden District space (there’s only one row of tables in the narrow first floor dining room). In a city of excess, Stoltzfus keeps his daily-changing menu elegant and simple with dishes like the tempura-fried Gulf shrimp with grapefruit and olives. Photo © Tom Verisco/Besh Restaurant Group.
Alon Shaya, formerly of Besh Steak, partnered with John Besh on this homey Italian restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel. Shaya worked in Italy for a year to develop the menu, which includes house-made salumi, pasta, and pizzas—like the Cotechino topped with oven-dried tomato, scallion and pork sausage—which are baked in a Pavesi wood-fired oven with a rotating stone deck. “Ours is the only one of its kind in America,” Shaya says. The restaurant also makes an excellent version of the lemony Italian after-dinner drink Limoncello.
In a funky little French Quarter with copper-pressed wallpaper ceilings and fuschia-colored chairs, chef Paul Artigues cooks local takes on global dishes; for instance, “Louisiana Bangers & Mash,” is a spin on the hearty British dish, featuring Louisiana duck sausage served on mashed sweet potatoes with cane syrup. Drinks include tweaked versions of the classics, including the Pear 75, a Champagne cocktail mixed with Oregon pear brandy, Austrian apricot liqueur and ginger syrup.
New Orleans Restaurants: Splurge
Susan Spicer has been cooking her refined mashup of Louisiana and European food—sautéed salmon with choucroute; smooth, slow-cooked cream of garlic soup—out of this color-blocked French Quarter cottage for over two decades. The patio out back, gently lit with candles and accented with fruit trees, is among the most serene s to dine in the city. In 2010, Spicer opened the more casual Mondo in Lakeview, serving global comfort foods such as Chinese braised duck.
Before he was a household name, Emeril Lagasse was the chef-owner at this Warehouse District restaurant, serving a supercharged take on Louisiana cuisine. The kitchen is currently run by chef de cuisine David Slater, who still serves some of his boss’s signature items, like the fiery, creamy barbeque shrimp and grilled homemade Andouille sausage. Photo © Thomas Schauer.
Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing are Southern chefs who met in New Orleans, made their names in Manhattan, then returned to Louisiana to create food that combines a Southern sensibility with New York sophistication. MiLa is best known for its “deconstructed” oyster Rockefeller, but the bar menu features small plates that are every bit as ingenious, like coconut shrimp beignets, a combination of two classic fried foods.
New Orleans–born Aaron Burgau got his start working with some of the city’s most progressive chefs, such as Susan Spicer of Bayona, before he opened this intimate corner restaurant in Uptown in 2007. His personal interpretation of Creole food, such as a fennel-crusted pan-fried rabbit with purple hull peas and corn-and-roasted-poblano succotash, feels simultaneously novel and familiar.
John Besh’s eponymous restaurant group owns and operates several restaurants in the city, including the Franco-German brasserie Lüke and this, Besh’s flagship. The setting is formal and plush, and the cooking is technically complex, matching regional dishes with European technique, as in a potato gnocchi with local blue crab and truffles. The lunch prix fixe, three courses for $20, is an excellent value. Photo courtesy of Stella! Restaurant.
At this decade-old French Quarter restaurant, chef-owner Scott Boswell draws from his Louisiana roots as well as global influences for exquisite dishes like a deviled egg with caviar and champagne gelée. Boswell also runs the casual comfort food Stanley on Jackson Square in the French Quarter, where long lines form for the delicious, hearty breakfasts.
New Orleans Restaurants: Classic
Photo © Alexander Barkoff.
Brigtsen’s has been a New Orleans favorite since it opened in 1986, thanks to the passion that Frank Brigtsen and his wife, Marna, have for traditional Creole and Acadian cooking. Most of the menu is filled with true only-in-Louisiana dishes, like panéed (breaded and pan-fried) rabbit with a Creole mustard sauce, and oysters Bienville, an ultrarich oysters Rockefeller variation topped with a béchamel and shrimp sauce. Photo courtesy of Casamento’s.
Locals adore this little oyster-centric restaurant on Magazine Street not just for its lived-in feel and historic cred—it’s been around for more than 90 years—but for its Louisiana oysters, which are served raw, fried, stewed and more. The famous Oyster Loaf is a tottering pile of fried oysters tucked between thick slices of buttery pan bread.
Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme are just two of the legendary chefs who have run the kitchen at this stately Garden District classic. The current chef is Tory McPhail, who creates Creole dishes like a dome-shaped pastry filled with oysters poached in absinthe, artichokes, bacon and cream. Among the longtime menu standbys: the sherry-spiked turtle soup and the extraordinarily popular bread-pudding soufflé, flavored with raisins and topped with a silky bourbon sauce.
Not much has changed at this Bourbon Street institution since Frenchman Jean Galatoire opened it over a century ago. The tile-lined downstairs dining room is filled with New Orleanians in seersucker suits, while the kitchen still turns out well-made French-Creole classics like shrimp remoulade and crawfish etouffée in season during spring. Photo courtesy of Gautreau’s.
This restaurant in a quiet Uptown neighborhood has long been a proving ground for talented chefs—with more mkgallery Best New Chefs (including John Harris, Mat Wolf and Larkin Selman) than any other restaurant in the country. Sue Zemanick, a Best New Chef 2008, serves modern American dishes like pierogies stuffed with wild mushrooms and potato, topped with caramelized Vidalia onion–spiked crème fraîche. But one of the most popular, and long-standing, menu items is the most simple—the perfectly done roast chicken, served with natural jus, green beans and garlic mashed potatoes, which owner Patrick Singley insists remains exactly the same no matter who the chef is.
When Mother’s opened its doors in the 1930s, owners Simon and Mary “Mother” Landry cooked up po’boy sandwiches for longshoremen. Now locals and tourists alike order at the counter from the dizzyingly large menu, which includes the original po’boys, like the Debris (bits of roast beef soaked in gravy), along with dishes like Mae’s Filé Gumbo, prepared with chicken and andouille sausage and named after Oda Mae Peters, who ran the kitchen for over 22 years.
New Orleans Restaurants: Best Value
Photo courtesy of Mahony’s.
It’s no longer rare for highly trained chefs to open sandwich places, so it was only mildly surprising when Ben Wicks left his chef de cuisine job at the well-regarded RioMar to open this Uptown po’boy shop in 2008. Wicks’s sandwiches combine family recipes and fresh local ingredients, like never-frozen Gulf shrimp. On a road trip around the country in search of regional American dishes, New York City star chef Andrew Carmellini tried almost every po’boy on the menu here. His favorite: the fried-oyster remoulade.
The basic ingredients for the muffuletta sandwich are ham, salami, provolone or Swiss cheese and olive relish, served up on a massive semolina roll. At this small Italian grocery in Old Metairie, an outstanding version of the classic can be made with delicious extras like prosciutto and mortadella, and are even bigger than most served in the city.
New Orleans Bakeries, Breakfast Spots & Dessert
It sounds like the beginning of a joke—but three New Orleans police officers launched this Mid-City doughnut shop. Dennis Gibliant, Ronald Laporte and Brandon Singleton offer more than 50 varieties, as well as other desserts, like glazed-doughnut bread pudding and doughnut ice cream sandwiches.
Ever since it opened in 1862 in a landmark building in the French Quarter, this sprawling 24-hour café has served the same dark-roast coffee with chicory (which softens the bitterness) and beignets, square, French-style doughnuts served warm with a generous coating of powdered sugar. Photo courtesy of La Divina Gelateria.
There are now three outposts of this gelato shop, which sources local dairy, fruit and honey for flavors like Honey Sesame Goat’s Milk and Crème Brûlée. The small list of panini include a Muffalino, a pressed take on the New Orleans classic sandwich, the muffuletta.
New Orleans Bars
When Neal Bodenheimer opened Cure in 2009, he officially ushered New Orleans, a historic cocktail town where the quality of the drinks had slid, into the modern cocktail era. In a renovated firehouse 15 minutes from the French Quarter, bartenders turn out perfect Sazeracs and an always-changing list of more complex and creative drinks, many using housemade bitters.
Star chef John Besh counts this Bourbon Street as one of his favorites for a classic cocktail in the French Quarter: “It’s a lot of fun to have an aperitif there before a meal, and it’s a staple place on big days, like Mardi Gras,” he says. Generations before Besh have also loved the corner bar, which still retains its original decorative marble fountains. Its signature Absinthe House Frappe (Herbsaint, anisette and soda water, served over a flurry of crushed ice) was a favorite of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Sazerac Bar at the historic Roosevelt hotel originally opened in 1923 and soon after became a regular haunt of Louisiana’s colorful governor Huey P. Long—he even dodged a bullet there (or so the legend goes). The bar was remodeled in 2009 keeping its vintage look, with Art Deco etched glass and Paul Ninas murals of New Orleans. The drink to get, of course, is the namesake Sazerac (rye whiskey, bitters and an absinthe rinse) and other New Orleans classics, like the Ramos Gin Fizz.