Editor’s choice: 12 go-to New Orleans restaurants from our local expert

Photo credit: Denny Culbert for Toups Meatery
Housemade fresh and cured meats, condiments, and bread at Toups Meatery in New Orleans

Falling in love with New Orleans happens at every meal. As a food writer who has covered the hospitality, creativity, and quirkiness that is the city’s dining scene for USA Today, AAA Traveler, and more, my love affair continues to grow. 

Whether it’s the earthy schmear of pâté in a banh mi sandwich, the briny burst of a raw oyster, or a comforting bowl of pork-studded creamy red beans, the romance is real, and deepens with every mouthful. As New Orleans’s pool of restaurants continue to diversify, flavors from a diaspora of cultures take a seat at the table. 

In a city rich with inspired flavors and creative chefs, I can confidently say that these 12 restaurants deliver the goods. These are the New Orleans restaurants I find myself falling for over and over again.

Café Degas (Bayou St. John)

When I can’t decide between indoor or outdoor dining, I head to this atmospheric, best-of-both-worlds French bistro—there’s a tree reaching through the roof in the middle of the dining room. I’m also here to enjoy onion soup, escargot, and steak frites. But pay attention to specials, too: A recent lamb steak au poivre earned raves, and for those enamored by calves’ liver—you know who you are—the chef’s version sauteed with bacon over grits drizzled with Bordelaise is the gold standard. 

Pascal’s Manale (Uptown)

Thomas “Uptown T” Stewart has shucked oysters for more than three decades at Pascal’s Manale. | Credit: Pascal’s Manale

The first thing you see at Pascal’s Manale is the stand-up oyster bar, a throwback to when the restaurant opened in 1913. Seasoned shucker Thomas “Uptown T” Stewart has been here for more than three decades, and it’s where you go for icy cold bivalves—just one of the many reasons this old-school spot has an army of regulars, set on a certain table, where only a specific server will do. Don’t skip the iconic barbecue shrimp, and keep a loaf of hot French bread close for mopping up every morsel. 

Atchafalaya (Garden District)

Dining at Atchafalaya feels like going to a dinner party at a close friend’s house.  The warm welcome starts at the door, where the owners’ heightened sense of hospitality shines through. Chef Chris Lynch brings fine-dining chops to a menu of modern Creole cuisine. Brunch here is epic, as is the bloody mary bar. Ordering a familiar dish like bread pudding and being surprised by the depth in Atchafalaya’s tres leches version with salted caramel and whipped cream brings me pure joy.

Good Catch | Urban Thai Bistro (Central Business District)

Good Catch | Urban Thai Bistro’s menu is filled with Thai-style seafood. | Credit: Good Catch | Urban Thai Bistro

Chef Aom Srisuk always dreamt of having a seafood-centric Thai restaurant, and that wish came true with the January opening of Good Catch. It’s spacious and airy, with a full bar and a large kitchen equipped for deep-frying whole sea bass, which she serves with a spicy bird chile sauce, citrus, and garlic. Clay-pot glass noodles and Gulf shrimp with bacon, ginger, and mushrooms are another specialty you don’t want to miss at this progressive Thai star.

Toups Meatery (Mid-City/City Park)

Chef Isaac Toups is the best kind of extra—loud and proud and committed to bold flavors and primal cuts of meat. The chef grew up in Cajun country, and those rustic roots inform dishes like lamb neck with braised white beans, crispy turkey necks, and mustard-crusted venison loin. His goal, to recreate the experience of sitting around his family’s table, makes this carnivore feel right at home.  

Crescent City Steak House (Mid-City/City Park)

New Orleanians love their beef. After all, this is the city where powerhouse Ruth Fertel started Ruth’s Chris Steak House in 1965. For many locals, though, it doesn’t get better than bacon-wrapped filet sizzled in butter at Crescent City Steak House. Founded by Croatian immigrant John Vojkovich in 1934, the still-family-owned restaurant was the first to serve slabs of prime aged beef in New Orleans. Servers treat regulars like family, confirming Crescent City’s welcome mat is for all.

Sun Chong (French Quarter)

The inventive Asian-inspired dishes at Sun Chong include bao buns stuffed with fried shrimp and pickled vegetables. | Credit: Sun Chong

Sun Chong is a family affair: It’s named for owner Larry Morrow’s Korean grandmother, who still cooks alongside her daughter, Lenora Chong, and chef Christian Green. Plus, the Korean-inspired menu draws from Morrow’s childhood—the bulgogi is his grandma’s recipe. But there are inventive riffs on other Asian flavors I can’t get enough of, too, like the Baco, which stuffs teriyaki beef or fried shrimp into a Chinese bao bun. This vibey spot is another excellent addition to the growing Morrow Group collection.

Lola’s (Mid-City/City Park)

The first time I tasted paella in Spain, the similarities to New Orleans jambalaya were indisputable. But there was something—threads of saffron, different seafood in the mix, bomba rice instead of long grain—that made paella special. Lola’s is the best place to conjure that memory. Paellas are made to order, so there’s time for a sizzling skillet of garlic shrimp or a chilled Andalusian almond soup while you wait. Get the combo, packed with meat and seafood; there’s a vegetarian option, too.

The Grill Room (Central Business District)

Classy and sophisticated, The Grill Room promises a splashy dining experience worthy of a marriage proposal. Expect contemporary Louisiana dishes and extraordinary presentations. Executive chef Vlad Kogan and chef de cuisine Alex Kuzin preside over a modern American menu with dishes like seared duck breast with a pomegranate reduction and short-rib pappardelle with a spiced port demi-glace. The $35 lunch special, a main and three sides, is perfection.

Peacock Room at the Hotel Fontenot (Warehouse District)

 It doesn’t get sexier than the Peacock Room at the Hotel Fontenot with its rich velvets and rolled leather banquettes. | Credit: Cris Molina for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

There is no finer place to woo your beau in New Orleans than the Peacock Room, a drop-dead sexy destination at the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot. Oozing crushed velvet, leather, and feathers, the sultry lounge is an ideal spot to snack on shareables and sip classic cocktails. Chef Sam Peery casts his spell over plates of shrimp and pimento cheese grits and smoky tomato linguine with meatballs. Go on a Thursday for a soundtrack of gorgeous live jazz from husband and wife duo, Da Lovebirds.

MoPho (Mid-City/City Park)

When former Restaurant August chef Michael Gulotta opened the cheekily named MoPho in 2014, the Southeast Asian-Creole mashup made big waves. He’s a pro at fusing flavors and using local ingredients creatively. Gulotta now has three places, including Maypop and Tana. But MoPho will always be special to me, from the jumbo wings drizzled with lemongrass and Vietnamese ginger fish sauce caramel to the hot honey vindaloo chicken sandwich.

Carmo (Warehouse District)

How much fried food and rich sauces can a body eat? Carmo is the antidote to typically decadent New Orleans food, an oasis of global flavors and sustainably sourced, high-quality ingredients. Chefs Dana Honn and Christina do Carmo Honn are inspired by the latter’s Brazilian roots along with other tropical cuisines, resulting in dishes like broken noodle salad, tiradito, and a vegan take on ceviche. Fresh fruit juices, enjoyed with or without booze, sweeten the deal.  

Beth D’Addono is a food and travel writer based in New Orleans. Her latest book is 100 Things to Do in New Orleans Before You Die.

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