Travel

6 Inspiring New Orleans Restaurants at the Top of My Vacation Eating List

From Creole fine dining to sustainably sourced seafood.

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December 26, 2018
Photo by Eric Gross/Flickr

We've partnered with OpenTable to highlight some of our favorite restaurants across the country, from neighborhood gems making a difference in their communities to the inspiring spots we're excited to travel for. Like us, OpenTable is proud to support restaurants making a difference with their Open Kitchen initiative. Here, we share our picks for New Orleans.


I have been hearing people talk about how much they love New Orleans—the food, the jazz, the history, that unmistakable architecture—for what seems like, well, forever. I don't know what took me so long, but after years of just hearing about it, I'm finally going to get to experience it for myself. After the holiday rush, my parents (plus our little black Maltese-Poodle, Lucy) and I will be making the drive from South Florida (say a prayer for me) all the way up to the Big Easy to spend a few days eating as much as humanly possible. But since I'm a planner when it comes to any vacation, I've already got a lineup of uniquely NOLA spots to visit all mapped out.

With some help from the Food52 team and some internet sleuthing, I discovered a few spots that are not only doing great work in the kitchen, but also outside of it—which makes me that much more excited to support them. I'm talking restaurants that emphasize sustainability and local ingredients over what's easiest to come by, support the communities they call home outside of serving a good meal, or are owned or operated (in many cases, both!) by inspiring female chefs.

Below, check out the list of feel-good New Orleans eateries I plan to visit during my trip. Did I miss anything I can't leave the city without trying? Tell me about them in the comments!

Seaworthy

It wouldn't be a trip to the Gulf Coast without trying a bit of the local catches. That's why I'm heading to Seaworthy, which exclusively serves wild-caught and sustainably harvested oysters, as well as local fish. I plan on pairing up a few dozen fresh Louisiana oysters and ceviche with the bar's special punch of the day; it's the perfect pre-dinner or lunch bite.

The Country Club

Set in the Bywater, "a vibrant, artsy neighborhood," according to Food52 team member, Mollie Doherty, The Country Club offers up one of NOLA's most fun ways to spend a weekend morning: drag brunch. Swing by on a Saturday or Sunday (you will definitely need a reservation) for a full Bloody Mary bar, classic brunch options with a local twist, and a drag show Mollie guarantees you'll be raving about for months on end.

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Compère Lapin

Up near the top of my list is Compére Lapin, which is led by Chef Nina Compton, who became the first black woman to win the James Beard Award for the South's Best Chef this year. The menu draws inspiration from her Caribbean roots and local ingredients, as well as the city’s culinary heritage. One menu item I’m eyeing: spiced pig ears with a smoked aioli.

Brennan's

Opened in 1946, this classic French Quarter spot supports a number of local non-profit organizations throughout the year. It's also the birthplace of Bananas Foster (I'll have three, please) and considered a New Orleans fine-dining landmark (it's casually housed in an 18th-century mansion). I've already made a reservation here for brunch (it fills up fast!), and I've got my eye on the decadent Eggs Cardinal (lobster with black truffle hollandaise, anyone?) and the Cajun Bloody Mary with pickled okra.

Bayona

Chef Susan Spicer has been cooking creative, globally inspired cuisine (like Mississippi rabbit roulade and grilled teriyaki squid) in this popular French Quarter spot for almost three decades. She's also one of the city's most inspiring—and badass—chefs. Back in 2010, she filed a class-action lawsuit against BP in response to the negative economic and environmental effect of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Toups Meatery

Born and raised in Rayne, Louisiana, the chef behind Toups Meatery—Isaac Toups—is at the forefront of modern Cajun cooking. His family has called South Louisiana home for over 300 years, so the food (in-house cured meats and Gulf shrimp, for starters) is not only deeply rooted in Cajun traditions (and heavily influenced by both of his grandmothers), but the ingredients are also sourced from local vendors.

In partnership with OpenTable, we're excited to share some of our favorite tried-and-true restaurants that are doing right by the community. For more delicious recommendations around the country, stay tuned for our locals-approved picks for the Bay Area and New York City. But before you plan your big night (or breakfast, lunch, or brunch!) out, don't forget to make a reservation using OpenTable—there's nothing worse than putting your name on a two-hour waitlist.

Photo by Eric Gross/Flickr.

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Erin Alexander is the Assistant Editor of Partner Content at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

42 Comments

jodyrah December 30, 2018
I am a local. My two cents: . I would choose Herbsaint over Bayonna, Commander’s Palace for lunch in the garden room. Toups Meatery and Compere Lapin, Meh. Try Maypop for lunch or brunch b/c the hot fried chicken in vindaloo is outstanding and not on the dinner menu. Dont’t miss their fried crispy oysters with bourbon barrel soy aioli. Go to Willa Jeans for a breakfast cornbread loaf you will not soon forget. Lilette for an all appetizer tasting meal. Best to order two of the mushroom toasts b/c you wont want to share. Brigtsen’s will give you a true taste of local cuisine. I’d make a meal of his apps . They are all excellent. Manolito for rum cocktails. Thanks for visiting. Cheers and Bon Appetit!
 
jodyrah December 30, 2018
FWIW, The food at Emeril’s eponymous flagship just tastes good. Smoked exotic mushrooms on pasta, andouille crusted drum, giant pork chop have been on the menu forever for a reason. Oh and the banana cream pie. Portions are generous.
 
Lisa W. December 29, 2018
I live in NOLA and I totally agree with most of your list - personally I'd put Compere Lapin at the top, followed closely by Bayona, Toups (both the original Meatery in Mid-City, and Toups South in the Food and Beverage Museum), and Brennan's.

I'd also add: Bywater American Bistro (Nina Compton's new place in the Bywater), Clancy's (a true locals place), Herbsaint, Gabrielle, and Brigtsen's - just to name a few.
 
Nola B. December 29, 2018
Such an admirably beautiful city when you can't POSSIBLY have a big enough stomach and appetite to eat up all its options!
 
Jessica F. December 29, 2018
I love NOLA and eat my way through every time I’m there. But you are missing something very special on your list, Bacchanal. Trust me on this.
 
Nola B. December 29, 2018
Yessssssss!!!!! The cheese, wine, cocktails and food are AMAZING....but it's the experience itself that is otherworldly. Such a heartwarming and unique place.
 
Nola B. December 29, 2018
Wife and I literally just left Jacques Imos 10 minutes ago and yet Bacchanal sounds likena reasonable decision! :)
 
Allison S. December 29, 2018
I have to add Mother's, Galatoires, and Gautreau's...
 
Lisa W. December 29, 2018
Yes! to Gautreau's and Galatoire's (although their food has fallen off a bit). I'd skip Mother's this weekend - WAY too many tourons in town.
 
Julie G. December 28, 2018
I think this is a spot on list to hit classics & new joints. It’s always impossible to narrow down a New Orleans restaurant list because there are truly so many amazing spots you could eat out every night for a year and still not cover everywhere, but you’ve done good research to hit some real gems with a good variety that includes 5 star food at each place, but still get variety and uniqueness with each meal. Be sure to have a drink at the Carousel bar in the Monteleone for fun, a late night cafe au lait & beignets at cafe dumonde to avoid the lines and have a perfect dessert, and hit up Frenchman street for late night drinks & music.
 
Author Comment
Erin A. December 29, 2018
Thank you, Julie! And totally agree—this list is just a small sampling of the places I’m hoping to check out in the short time (only four days!) I’ll be here. We’re actually staying at the Monteleone and I can’t wait to have a drink or two at the Carousel Bar. Thank you for your other recs!
 
Lisa W. December 29, 2018
I live in New Orleans and 1) if you're not already in town today (the 29th), be aware that the Quarter will be closed to incoming vehicles after tonight; 2) When you go to the Carousel Bar, ask for Marvin - one of the very finest mixologists in town. If he's there and it's not too crazy busy - he'll make a special cocktail for you; 3) Have a wonderful time and be patient, there's a LOT of visitors here for the holiday weekend, the Saints game, and the Sugar Bowl. ;^D
 
Nola B. December 27, 2018
A fairly hidden gem in the Quarter that has NEVER disappointed: The Green Goddess!!!!! Not so much a visual spectacle as it is a foodie wonder!!!!!!
 
Julie G. December 28, 2018
This closed down a few years ago - unless it popped back up somewhere that I missed and if so let me know b/c I agree the food was out of this world.
 
Nola B. December 29, 2018
Green Goddess?!?!?!? No, it is still open.
 
Author Comment
Erin A. December 29, 2018
It is indeed open! We arrived today and went there for lunch and it was absolutely fantastic.
 
Gee December 27, 2018
Another New Orleans native here. Anyone from New Orleans would be glad to tell you that this list looks like the restaurants who were able to pay to be featured. No real food on this list at all.
 
Eddie B. December 27, 2018
"No real food"??????? Hmmm. Brennan's. Toup's. Compere Lapin. Bayona. Nah, no "real food" here.
 
Bee December 27, 2018
Just because Brennan’s has been around for decades DOES NOT mean the food has ever been on point. Ate there for my prom-should have gone to Dooky Chase instead or the Court of Two Sisters or the frickin Praline Connection back then circa 94. The food choices aren’t what they once were unfortunately but don’t send people to foolishness!
 
Eddie B. December 27, 2018
Let's agree that food is COMPLETELY subjective. I've been to Brennan's 3 times since it reopened and it was absolutely terrific all 3 times. "Foolishness"?? Hardly. But you're entitled to your opinion.
 
Bee December 27, 2018
Absolutely entitled to my opinion as you are to yours. Didn’t know you worked for Brennan’s my bad lol! I’m kidding! Anyway, this was fun!
 
Julie G. December 28, 2018
Ya gotta disagree big time, there’s great food on this list.
 
Lisa W. December 29, 2018
Brennan's has been totally renewed with a fabulous new chef and it's absolutely stellar! I was just there for lunch last month. Court of Two Sisters is the place that's tired and needs some refreshing.
 
Bee December 26, 2018
So confused....a New Orleans native here...did you all talk to any native New Orleanian? For real New Orleans fare especially if you can’t eat at one of My relatives home: Try Morrow’s, Deanie’s, Cafe Du Monde, Dunbar’s, Commander’s Palace, Copeland’s....c’mon!
 
Maureen S. December 26, 2018
You gotta eat at Port of Call. Best burger for sure!
 
Eddie B. December 26, 2018
Love POC, but don't come to NOLA to eat a hamburger...
 
Bee December 27, 2018
Exactly lol
 
Lisa W. December 29, 2018
Ugh. Way better burgers at many other places in town. Buffa's just up Esplanade for one.
 
jodyrah December 30, 2018
Definitely not Buffas.
 
Lisa W. December 30, 2018
Why not? As opposed to where? Certainly not POC, I mean I can get a wannabe Hurricane, and basic baked potato anywhere.
 
jodyrah December 30, 2018
Buffa’s food is awful. Would not go back if it were free. I don’t drink Hurricanes or care about the baked potato. POC is all about the burger. Restaurant R’Evolution’s bar burger and Company Burger are good as well.
 
Lisa W. December 30, 2018
Well, I haven't had bad food there myself - but I will admit that it can be inconsistent. For me, the POC burger just isn't big or good enough to merit waiting in that line of nitwit tourists.

I haven't had the scratch to eat at R'Evolution yet - but I will agree that Company Burger is excellent. Also, over by where I now live in Lakeview - Backyard Burger is seriously delicious.
 
jodyrah December 30, 2018
You have to be at POC about 10 mins before they open or late afternoon to avoid the line.
 
Nola B. December 26, 2018
Jacque Imo's is one helluva restaurant. I go EVERY TIME I'm in town...I'll be there in 2 days!!!
 
Eddie B. December 26, 2018
Yep, we LOVE Jacques-Imo's!!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. December 29, 2018
Just arrived today and I think we might check out Jacques-Imo’s tonight—thank you for the great recommendation!
 
Nola B. December 29, 2018
My wife and I are on our way Jacques Imo's right now!!!! On the St Charles street car presently. Got ourselves some wonderful pre dinner drinks at Delachaise! God bless Nola in these deranged times!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. December 29, 2018
That sounds amazing—enjoy!!
 
Eddie B. December 26, 2018
Please tell me you're joking...you're coming to New Orleans to eat and NOT going to Commander's Palace?? What a waste. :-(
 
Linda K. December 26, 2018
totally Agree...Commanders, However; She missed DRAGO'S Grilled Oysters, They are still The BEST !!!
 
Eddie B. December 26, 2018
Have you tried the char-grilled oysters at New Orleans Food and Spirits or Frankie and Johnny's?? Easily as good as Drago's, in my opinion :-)
 
jodyrah December 30, 2018
Try the gold standard: GW Fin’s cold smoked sizzling oysters.