901 Louisiana Ave.
Few dishes come roaring off the menu to grab your attention, and the cottage setting looks like an easy-going neighborhood bistro. But as the food arrives, robust flavors and artful precision reveal a balanced and energetic modern American restaurant in action. Though some Creole flavors from the restaurant’s earlier iterations remain in play (namely the “free-form” crab ravioli), chef Christopher Lynch’s tuna crudo finished with radish and spicy peanuts, the beef tartare laced with mustard seed and the daily changing gnocchi speak more to the current pulse. If the menu undersells things a bit, those who know this chef’s style already trust it intuitively. The musical weekend brunch is boisterous as ever; the weekday brunch is a more mellow edition.
Dinner daily, brunch Thu.-Mon. $$$$
4330 Magazine St.
It’s easier than ever to find oyster bars and specialty oyster menus around town now, but coming to Casamento’s still feels special. Approaching a century in business, it’s more than a neighborhood institution — it’s a pilgrimage destination for oyster lovers. Oysters are served raw and ice cold, bobbing in a milky stew, fried in cast-iron pots and stacked on Texas toast for oyster loaves. The small, narrow room, encased in tiling, and the family-run ethos of Casamento’s all feel like a throwback to an earlier age. For those in thrall to the Louisiana oyster, of course, the appeal here is timeless.
Lunch Tue.-Sat., dinner Thu.-Sat. (closed seasonally in June, July and August) $$
1403 Washington Ave.
This mansion-turned-culinary landmark has many rooms, enough to house the grandeur and indulgence of Creole cuisine and also the spirit of fun and innovation that are just as essential. Take a tour (even a self-guided one) from the spread of dining rooms, through the hurly burly of the enormous kitchen, past the stand-up bar and out to the patio to get a full sense of the big show put on daily here. Note the service style that is formal and attentive but not obtrusive or stiff. And take some time with chef Tory McPhail’s always-changing menu, which honors house standards while holding a position on the shifting contemporary frontlines too. A progression through the now-staple shrimp Henican appetizer, a recent entree of boudin-stuffed quail fragrant with coffee and pecans and the indispensible bread pudding soufflé traces Commander’s modern signature.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$$$
2800 Magazine St.
As ambitious and original as any restaurant in New Orleans, Coquette is also as approachable as any upscale neighborhood bistro. Chef Michael Stoltzfus’s way with modern American cuisine can be as subtle as a brushstroke of cream under leeks vinaigrette and bold as miso-onion caramel laced over pork and pickled broccoli. Cocktails take a modern turn, and the desserts are equally complex and compelling. This is a place to experience something unexpected, with high artfulness on the plate but also a genuine sense of comfort and welcome in the room. No wonder the bar always seems lined with solo diners and staff from other restaurants dropping in to see what’s new.
Lunch Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$$
Joey K’s Restaurant & Bar
3001 Magazine St.
As the restaurant scene has grown increasingly diverse, places like Joey K’s increasingly show their value as real-deal New Orleans eateries. It is especially clutch given its location in a hot area where new casual restaurants are likely to work more current trends than the lamb shank, Creole lima beans and ham or liver and onions that reside here on a weekly blackboard rotation. The appeal gets down to easy meals at a good value with local flavors of shrimp remoulade, fried artichokes and onion rings. And it reaches up to slightly more elaborate dishes, like trout with shrimp and crabmeat, that are still in step with the neighborhood restaurant spirit.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $$
La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine St.
Gorgeous, high-aiming and consistent, La Petite Grocery has been a solid recommendation through the various chapters of its decade-plus history. The epoch that began as chef Justin Devillier took the reins has put it at the top of the list. His menu has been predominantly Creole, with shades of classic French, though lately he’s been working with more rural Southern flavors too. So, chowchow dresses the griddled octopus, the roasted chicken gets a moat of ham broth, bread pudding is a side dish and the seafood stew drenches lump crabmeat, shrimp and clams in potlikker. As always though, the very Creole crabmeat beignets are a must-have first course.
Lunch Tue.-Sat., dinner daily, brunch Sun. $$$$
3637 Magazine St.
Plenty of bistros have stood the test of time over the past decade or so, some evolving as they go, others settling into a comfortable familiarity. What’s extraordinary about Lilette is that it looks and feels just as it did when chef John Harris first opened here in 2000 but also looks and feels in step with the moment. The menu has changed, though newer additions like a shaved mushroom salad and grilled Hawaiian fish with fennel and grapefruit are true to a style that balances bold flavors and subtle touches. At once bustling and intimate, Lilette is a romantic setting for special dinners and fills a niche for Uptown bistro lunch appointments. Next door, the connected Bouligny Tavern makes a compelling argument for stretching the night.
Lunch Tue.-Sat., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$$
1813 Magazine St.
Despite an influx of new spots for pho, some still swear that the definitive noodle house specialties reside in the Vietnamese enclaves of the West Bank and New Orleans East. But Lilly’s plants a counter argument in the middle of the Lower Garden District, and a quick dash from the CBD. The pho broth is rich but not oily, the garnish plates are abundant and vividly fresh and the short menu makes room for a number of house specialties, like strawberry spring rolls and the optional addition of quail eggs in your soup. As small and spare as a coffee shop, it’s a quick and comfortable spot for newcomers to learn the ropes and pho fanatics to get their fix.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $
Mr. John’s Steakhouse
2111 St. Charles Ave.
Different occasions draw us to the steakhouse, most jovial, some ceremonial. Trimmed in dark woods and white tile and with windows framing a view of St. Charles Avenue streetcars, Mr. John’s is an appropriate stage for any of them. But most of all it’s the kitchen’s reverential way with the steak itself that recommends the restaurant when you have a craving for serious red meat. Cut in house (name your thickness if you’re willing to pay) steaks arrive perfectly cooked, robustly peppered and sizzling theatrically on hot plates. That’s the sign of a New Orleans steakhouse, as is the more-than-respectable sideline of crabmeat, shrimp and fish across the rest of the menu.
Lunch Fri., dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$$
739 Jackson St.
This cinderblock bunker of an Irish Channel eatery does not look like much from the outside and the dining room of card tables and folding chairs follows suit. Fortunately, looks don’t count for much in the barbecue game and pit master Rob Bechtold truly brings it where it matters. The burnt ends are probably the best example — ugly, craggy and absolutely delicious hunks of smoked brisket bursting with flavorful fat. Sides are creative and always changing; sauces are of the vinegary variety. The purplish smoke rings across all of the meats are the beauty marks that barbecue aficionados will want to look for here.
Lunch Wed.-Sat. $
Stein’s Deli & Market
2207 Magazine St.
It’s common to see chefs from around the city dropping in to this deli and food emporium for some exotic product the Stein’s crew has tracked down. More common still is a snaking lunchtime line of people after the bedrock pleasures of pastrami stacked high between rye, soft hoagie rolls filled with Italian meats and vinaigrette and, on the right day, specials like roast pork with bitter rapini (Thursdays). There’s little elbow room, but lots of character and the flavors resonate deeply for the types of sandwich cravings that po-boys just don’t answer. Head to the back room to gaze over the city’s best beer selection. The brew is sold for take-away only, though you can guzzle all the Dr. Brown’s soda you want on the spot.
Breakfast and lunch Tue.-Sun., early dinner (closes at 5 p.m.) Tue.-Fri. $
Square Root/ Root Squared
1800 Magazine St.
The avant-garde approach that established chef Phillip Lopez at his original Warehouse District restaurant Root plays out in his multifaceted next project in two distinct styles. In cinematic terms, there’s the grand epic downstairs, and the riveting series upstairs. The main act is at Square Root as a set-price, set-menu extravagance served through a dozen or so small tastes of intricately conceptual dishes. If for a taste of gonzo gastronomy, for bragging rights or for nothing more than the photos, devoted foodies will want to plunk down, abide the rigid format and take the ride. Upstairs, the integrally related Root Squared is a much more accessible proposition. It’s a high-style tavern with a wrap-around balcony and its own menu that is extensive, imaginative and compelling enough to stand up with most other dining experiences in town. The cocktails keep pace with the kitchen, the meat and cheese plates are best-in-class and it’s easy to put this one in regular rotation.
Dinner (and late night for Root Squared) Tue.-Sat. $$$$$