In the Where to Eat: 25 Best series, we’re highlighting our favorite restaurants in cities across the United States. These lists will be updated as restaurants close and open, and as we find new gems to recommend. As always, we pay for all of our meals and don’t accept free items.
Modern New Orleans Creole
Restaurants that last a long time go through phases, and Brennan’s has gone through more than most. In the mid-20th century, it helped put New Orleans on the culinary map. The sprawling, opulent, coral-pink restaurant in the French Quarter has been on a roll since Ralph Brennan, a descendant of the restaurant’s founder, reopened it in 2014. There is a clean-lined sheen to the chef Ryan Hacker’s curried crab roulade, turtle soup and Gulf fish amandine, interspersed with welcome innovations like the cochon de lait with roasted peanuts and pickled peaches. If the strategy sounds familiar — a historic restaurant with one foot in the past, the other in the present — that’s because it is. What sets Brennan’s apart? It’s fun.
417 Royal Street, New Orleans; 504-525-9711; brennansneworleans.com
Cajun, New Orleans Creole
Frank Brigtsen spent his early professional years learning that Louisiana food outside his native New Orleans — notably the Cajun food of his mentor Paul Prudhomme — was also worthy of attention. The result is a fusion cuisine that rarely crosses state lines, and it has been on display at the restaurant Mr. Brigtsen has run with his wife, Marna, since 1986. Brigtsen’s is a white-tablecloth restaurant in the literal sense, but inhabiting an unpretentious Uptown cottage, near a bend in the Mississippi River. Dishes like butternut shrimp bisque, puppy drum amandine and roast duck in pecan gravy merge Cajun cuisine and urban Creole cooking in a style that has become as uniquely New Orleans as James Booker’s slippery rhythm and blues.
723 Dante Street, New Orleans; 504-861-7610; brigtsens.com
Modern Caribbean, Italian
New Orleans is as much the northernmost outpost of the Caribbean as it is a city of the Deep South. Nina Compton has proved that adage for nearly a decade, by simply cooking what she knows. Ms. Compton is from St. Lucia. At Compère Lapin, which opened in 2015, the food of the chef’s youth takes center stage, while the Afro-Caribbean voice at Bywater American Bistro, her newer restaurant, is part of a larger chorus of influences. Meals here proceed from a tête de moine tart to a spicy seafood stew with fry bread, or from cantaloupe-coconut gazpacho to chicken fra diavolo to sweet-potato churros. The food speaks to Ms. Compton’s range.
2900 Chartres Street, New Orleans; 504-605-3827; bywateramericanbistro.com
New Orleans Creole
In New Orleans, “neighborhood restaurant” is a genre widely understood to meet expectations of affordability and informality, with a strain of vernacular cuisine headlined by red beans, gumbo and Gulf seafood po’ boys. Café Reconcile has been a reliable purveyor of this cooking for decades, but it has never been as consistently delicious as it is under the current chief culinary officer, Martha Wiggins. After years working in upscale restaurant kitchens, Ms. Wiggins was drawn to the social mission of Reconcile, which is staffed in part by students learning life skills on the job. So, your lunch helps support an honorable enterprise. If you’re planning a visit around daily specials, pay attention to Thursday’s shrimp with white beans and Friday’s smothered turkey necks.
1631 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, New Orleans; 504-568-1157; cafereconcile.org
Restaurateurs elsewhere drop seven figures to conjure what’s found all over the lower French Quarter: barrooms that seem sprung from cracks in the sidewalk, left to age for decades in the humidor of New Orleans. Cane & Table makes the most of one such space by not following a Bourbon Street model. It is an erudite saloon worth visiting for its food alone. Its owners made their name running excellent cocktail bars. Alfredo Nogueira, a seasoned New Orleans-born chef, mines his Cuban heritage on a menu that matches well with the drinks. Crab croquetas, coctel de camarones and arroz con pollo are all the better enjoyed in surroundings that evoke old Havana, or the French Quarter as many locals wish it still were.
1113 Decatur Street, New Orleans; 504-581-1112; caneandtablenola.com
It’s a measure of New Orleans’s singular character that even its steakhouses have personalities, none more so than Charlie’s. The family of Charlie Petrossi, who opened the restaurant in 1932, is no longer involved, but a group of new owners, which includes local chef and restaurateur Aaron Burgau, have mostly left this no-frills joint alone. There is no cowboy iconography here, and no leather booths. There is also no menu. Simply pick a cut of steak, a salad dressing and a starch, and say yes to the onion rings. With Neil McClure in the kitchen, the steaks have never been better. Pro tip: Start your meal down the block, at the oyster bar at Pascal’s Manale, the workplace of the city’s best-known shucker, Thomas Stewart.
4510 Dryades Street, New Orleans; 504-895-9323; charliessteakhousenola.com
New Orleans Creole, Plate Lunch
The busiest day at Chicken’s Kitchen is the first Tuesday of every month, when customers start lining up as early as 7:45 a.m. (doors open at 10:30) for stewed oxtails. But there is always a line at this takeout-only restaurant, where the menu changes daily. On Wednesdays, crowds form for clamshell containers of smothered turkey necks and braised greens, on Thursdays for blackened catfish and crawfish hush puppies. The restaurant is named for its owner, Marlon Chukumerije, a New Orleans native known as Chicken, who taught himself to cook by watching his grandmother, his mother and the Food Network. And it’s well worth a trip to Gretna, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.
629 Derbigny Street, Gretna; 504-244-2536; chickens-kitchen.com
Your romantic vision of a New Orleans restaurant is a sophisticated joint, perched at the corner of a residential street. It’s not fancy, though the tables are covered in pressed linen. The menu is Paris-at-the-mouth-of-the-Mississippi, the wine list biased toward Burgundy. It is not quiet. You’ve imagined Clancy’s, the paradigmatic Uptown New Orleans bistro. The restaurant has been the life project of Brad Hollingsworth since the 1980s. Brian Larson, Clancy’s co-owner and chef (and Mr. Hollingsworth’s stepson), runs a kitchen that has mastered a blended repertoire of French-Creole standards (turtle soup, shrimp rémoulade), idiosyncratic house signatures (sweetbreads du jour, fried oysters covered in melted Brie) and happy marriages between butter and fresh Gulf finfish. Everyone gets lemon icebox pie for dessert. So should you.
6100 Annunciation Street, New Orleans; 504-895-1111; clancysneworleans.com
South Louisiana is the world capital of Cajun restaurants, but don’t assume there are a lot of other Cajun restaurants like Cochon. Few others deliver the high standards of quality and service found at this restaurant, opened in 2006 by the chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski. The meat pies, boudin balls and rabbit and dumplings all resemble dishes found in the truck stops and plate-lunch places of Cajun country. At Cochon, these dishes are turned out with notable technical proficiency, and in the company of charcuterie and wood-fire cooking, bringing to mind the smart, unapologetically rustic restaurants of Tuscany or the East Bay. Note that the same andouille deepening the flavor of Cochon’s gumbo is found next door, alongside other house-cured meats, at Cochon Butcher.
930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, 504-588-2123; cochonrestaurant.com
Modern New Orleans Creole
Starting in the 1970s, the restaurateur Ella Brennan collaborated with a series of chefs — notably Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse — to create a modern, unstuffy version of New Orleans cooking she called haute Creole. That history is a reason Commander’s is famous. A bigger reason is the sense of occasion at this turquoise mansion in the Garden District. Many diners leave with a taste for new things, be they tasso-stuffed shrimp with pepper jelly, 25-cent (not a typo) martinis at lunch or seersucker. In 2020, Meg Bickford became the latest interpreter of the kitchen’s by turns classicist and bodacious aesthetic, and the first woman executive chef of what has long been a woman-owned restaurant. It’s a vital chapter in the story of one of New Orleans’s most consequential cultural institutions.
1403 Washington Avenue, New Orleans; 504-899-8221; commanderspalace.com
Senegalese, New Orleans Creole
The chef Serigne Mbaye created Dakar NOLA to help diners understand the crucial role that enslaved laborers played in creating New Orleans cuisine, and connect that history to the city today. Together with his business partner, Afua Richardson, Mr. Mbaye achieves this goal by serving a tasting menu that underscores the debt New Orleans cuisine owes West African and Caribbean antecedents. The chef explains what slavery has to do with this during the meal. He also revels in local ingredients, especially seafood, in dishes that blend the flavors of Senegal, where he was raised, with techniques honed in upscale American restaurants. After courses of soupou kanja (an okra-crab soup similar to gumbo) and jollof rice (reminiscent of jambalaya), it’s difficult to tell where the West African influences end and the New Orleans influences begin.
3814 Magazine Street, New Orleans; 504-493-9396; dakarnola.com
New Orleans Creole
Leah Chase took over Dooky Chase’s in the 1940s, when segregation was still in place, transforming what her in-laws had first opened as a po’ boy shop into an elegant Creole restaurant. Ms. Chase died in 2019 at 96, but Dooky’s lives on in the hands of family members, including her grandson Edgar Chase IV, the restaurant’s executive chef, and her great-granddaughter Zoe Chase, who is being groomed to replace her. New Orleans society, particularly its Black political establishment, still descends on the art-lined dining rooms in the Treme neighborhood for weekday lunches and the week’s two dinner services, on Friday and Saturday. The menu is deep with New Orleans Creole standards, some increasingly rare, like shrimp Clemenceau. The fried chicken and gumbo are famous for a reason.
2301 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans; 504-821-0600; dookychaserestaurants.com
In New Orleans, where so many menus draw connections between place, plate and heart, earnestness is the most common denominator. Mason Hereford’s restaurants, by contrast, stand out for their insouciance. Like the chef’s very popular sandwich shop, Turkey and the Wolf, Hungry Eyes is basically a loose assortment of things he likes, including batched cocktails and the 1980s. Those themes define Hungry Eyes — a partnership between Mr. Hereford, his wife, Lauren Agudo, and Phil Cenac, the restaurant’s head chef — and somehow yield great ideas for food, like caramelized pastrami lettuce wraps, pan-roasted calamari curry and a deliciously ingenious dish of artichoke hearts that are cooked and served like broiled oysters.
4206 Magazine Street, New Orleans; 504-766-0054; hungryeyesnola.com
Po’ Boys, New Orleans Creole, Cajun
There is no such thing as a single best po’ boy in New Orleans, but the ones at Liuzza’s by the Track, which is basically a barroom with a menu, are consistently excellent. (Consider going for roast beef with horseradish.) But the kitchen pays as careful attention to the rest of the dishes as it does to the sandwiches. The best examples are the Creole and Cajun stews that often appear as daily specials, and one of New Orleans’ beloved gumbos: a brothy version filled with shrimp that are cooked to order, which prevents them from going mealy in the pot. It’s seasoned so well you won’t need hot sauce but may require a draft beer, served in a frosty goblet the size of a young pumpkin.
1518 North Lopez Street, New Orleans; 504-218-7888; liuzzasbtt.com
French-sounding dishes are easy to find in the French Quarter. But restaurants whose food closely resembles what you ate on your last trip to Paris have never been that common. MaMou is a French restaurant as much as it is a New Orleans one. While there are nods to local tradition — Gulf fish court-bouillon, red beans in the cassoulet — the chef Tom Branighan owes more to Fernand Point than to Paul Prudhomme. Braised celery hearts carrying thin slices of smoked beef tongue are a representative (and exquisite) menu mainstay. The talents of Mr. Branighan and his business partner, Molly Wismeier, one of the city’s top sommeliers, are well matched. High spirits course through this neighborhood, but rarely coexist with such high refinement.
942 North Rampart Street, New Orleans; 504-381-4557; mamounola.com
Wilfredo Avelar made news in 2019 when he quit his job as a top chef with Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant group to join his father, Carlos, making tortillas in a suburban strip mall. The business was a dream for Carlos, who immigrated to New Orleans from El Salvador in the 1970s. Wilfredo kept his hand in the kitchen, cooking pupusas and birria tacos a few days a week. That side hustle has expanded into a full-service restaurant that serves those specials daily, along with outstanding baleadas, shrimp ceviche, fried Honduran tacos and yuca con chicharron. Fresh tortillas are still available for purchase, along with Carlos’s fresh,fiery salsa.
5050 West Esplanade Avenue, Suite C, Metairie; 504-644-2624; mawinola.com
It’s only a half-hour’s drive from downtown, but it feels much farther than that after you cross the river, and even more so once your car wheels crunch the gravel in Mosca’s parking lot. Lisa Mosca, a third-generation owner, is the manager; Mary Jo, her mom, is in the kitchen. Since 1946, their family has authored a type of Creole-Italian food unique to this almost-rural roadhouse restaurant. The menu isn’t big, but the portions are, and the must-orders — crab salad, baked oysters, housemade sausage, meatballs and red gravy — are numerous, so be sure to bring a lot of friends. Don’t listen to anyone says you need to decide between the chicken a la grande and the chicken cacciatore. You’ve come this far. Order both.
4137 U.S.-90 West, Westwego; 504-436-8950; moscasrestaurant.com
Paladar 511 is a favorite of locals, particularly those who remember when you had to travel to the other coasts to find Italian cooking so light on its feet. For much of the last century, eating Italian here meant choosing from a roster of red-gravy pastas and butter-sauced finfish. This self-assured trattoria is where to go for vegetable-centered antipasti and maybe some tuna crudo in charred green tomato aguachile, before deciding whether the occasion calls for Neapolitan pizza, fresh pasta, roasted meat or some combination of the above. Opened in 2015, Paladar has settled into its role as a stylish neighborhood canteen in the Faubourg Marigny, just downriver from the Quarter, that happens to serve the most consistently excellent Italian food in town.
511 Marigny Street, New Orleans; 504-509-6782; paladar511.com
When it opened 10 years ago, Pêche joined the American oyster-bar new wave. It also proved that a great Louisiana seafood restaurant didn’t have to traffic heavily in étouffée or beurres blanc and noisette. The clean, forthright flavors of menu mainstays like the catfish in chile broth and grilled whole Gulf fish draped in salsa verde seem to echo the minimalist aesthetic of the raw bar, whose offerings you should seriously consider. Nicole Mills, the chef de cuisine since 2019, has maintained the high standards set by the chef-owners Ryan Prewitt, Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski (see also Cochon, above). How is it that steak tartare is a can’t-miss dish at a seafood restaurant? It’s served on toast spread with oyster aioli.
800 Magazine Street, New Orleans; 504-522-1744; pecherestaurant.com
For the first time in recent memory, New Orleans’s Caribbean restaurant scene is dynamic enough to justify debates over who is serving the most flavorful jerk or callaloo. Everything on Queen Trini’s compact menu ranks high. The sunny, welcoming neighborhood cafe feels like it’s been in Mid-City for ages, even though it opened just last year. The restaurant all but single-handedly created a local market for doubles, the curry chickpeas served on flatbread in the streets of the chef-owner Lisa Nelson’s native Trinidad. And the fried fish served on coco bread with plantains, pineapple and hot sauce should be on your list of must-try New Orleans sandwiches.
4200 D’Hemecourt Street, New Orleans; 504-345-2058; queentrinilisa.com
Great Israeli cooking is nothing new in New Orleans. Alon Shaya, who co-owns Saba, introduced it a decade ago at his first Middle Eastern restaurant, Shaya, which he is no longer involved with. The food at Saba, overseen by the chef de cuisine, Marie Guevara, is representative of what got diners hooked. Try the meticulously crafted salatim (tabbouleh tossed with toasted pecans, field-pea tzatziki) and hummus bowls (get the one with blue crab), or platters of peach fattoush, harissa-rubbed roast chickens, turmeric-scented Louisiana shrimp sitting atop beds of labneh. And, of course, order the fresh-from-the-oven pita that should come with two warnings: Don’t eat too much, and don’t touch too soon.
5757 Magazine Street, New Orleans; 504-324-7770; eatwithsaba.com
Not long after Saffron Nola opened in 2017, it already felt as if it had been around a long time. Much of this is because the owners — the executive chef Arvinder Vilkhu; his wife, Pardeep; and their children, co-chef Ashwin and Pranita — are first-time restaurateurs who happen to have a lot of experience. They’ve been serving their New Orleans-influenced Indian cuisine for decades, through their catering company. Ingredients like ginger and turmeric meld with blue crab, roux and okra in Saffron’s curry seafood gumbo. The dish also exemplifies the quality on display nightly at this refined neighborhood bistro, from the cocktails to the service to the aloo chaat, which is theatrically assembled at the table.
4128 Magazine Street, New Orleans; 504-323-2626; saffronnola.com
Tasting Menu, French
Saint-Germain is the most culinarily ambitious of New Orleans’s next-generation tasting-menu restaurants. It’s in an old pizza joint — the sign still hangs out front, confusingly — that the chefs, Blake Aguillard and Trey Smith, treat as a kind of gallery for their often-thrilling, foundationally French experimentation. The tasting menu begins at the long bar with edible miniatures — a slice of seared Hokkaido scallop, say, topped with fermented jalapeño, held by creamed leeks to what tastes like a high-thread-count tater tot. The breadbasket contains improbably light cornbread pancakes served with aged butter that tastes like Camembert. You’re also welcome to drink natural wine on the back patio, but note that Wednesdays feature an expanded bar menu, highlighted by one of the country’s great crudité plates.
3054 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans; 504-218-8729; saintgermainnola.com
Soon after Secret Thai opened in 2018, word began circulating in New Orleans that the spiciest food around was now found outside the city, in neighboring St. Bernard Parish. This is still undoubtedly true, although the restaurant’s reputation for spice — customers request their heat level, from one to five — overshadows what’s special about the food. The restaurant’s chef, Panlada Tan, opened the restaurant with her family after moving from Los Angeles. Standout dishes like khao soy, po thak and shrimp massaman curry are dynamic for reasons that go well beyond chiles. The pad gang daeng, a dish of crisp fried fish topped with eggplant curry, is itself worth the trip to this strip-mall restaurant.
9212 West Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette; 504-345-2487; secretthaichalmette.com
No country’s food has had a greater impact on New Orleans restaurants in recent decades than Vietnam’s. The culture blending began in the 1970s, as immigrants fleeing war settled in South Louisiana, and is most obviously manifest in the regional proliferation of Viet-Cajun crawfish and banh mi, which some locals still call “Vietnamese po’ boys.” Tan Dinh is arguably the best of the many Vietnamese restaurants on the West Bank, a stronghold of the local Vietnamese American community. The menu sticks mainly to traditional dishes but ranges far beyond the crowd-pleasing nước chấm chicken wings and pho. The owner, Quoc Trieu, represents a new generation at a family restaurant that stands apart for deep cuts like salt-and-pepper frogs’ legs, claypot-cooked catfish steaks and roasted quail.
1705 Lafayette Street, Gretna; 504-361-8008; tandinhnola.com