813 Bienville St.
Change is in the air at Arnaud’s as the next generation of family owners make their mark on the historic restaurant. But the changes don’t feel sweeping, and that feels apt. A round of revamped dishes have added options around the edges to what remains a trove of definitive French Creole tradition. This is still a place where meals start with airy soufflé potatoes and end with bananas Foster prepared tableside. The warren of rooms and corridors and two separate bars seem as likely a backdrop for a Victorian mystery as for dinner. It’s a fascinating place to explore and a grand setting to come dressed up to play the part.
Dinner nightly, brunch Sunday. $$$$$
430 Dauphine St.
Often innovative, sometimes playful, Susan Spicer’s menus are more attuned to a Creole sense of cultural interchange than any particular Creole dishes. The shrimp and black bean cakes, the salmon with choucroute and even the unlikely but undeniable lunchtime hit of a duck and cashew butter sandwich have all become fixtures by now. But the globetrotting interests that first set the style here 25 years ago mean there’s always something inventive to try. The wine list is a food pairing paradise, and the restaurant unfolds across its old Creole cottage in a succession of small, graceful rooms. It all sets the scene for serious fine dining that doesn’t feel stuffy.
Lunch Wed.-Sat., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
321 N. Peters St.
In the cocktail business, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is known as something like the Alan Lomax of Tiki culture, thanks to his work tracking down and documenting the recipes and lore from the golden age of the trend. His restaurant and bar puts that lifetime of infatuation on slurp-able, heavily garnished display, all framed by a mosaic of thatch and bamboo, sea glass, swizzles, citrus and rum. The menu can be every bit as exotic as the drinks, with a burger made from pork dumpling filling and seaweed laced bun, and the very succulent sliced rib eye, with a stack of purple yam, taro and shiitakes, gets a salty, black pepper-spiked Filipino barbecue sauce.
Dinner daily, lunch and late night Fri. and Sat. $$
144 Bourbon St.
As the lines to get into the older, better-known oyster destinations stretch down the jangly sidewalk here, a much different raw bar experience awaits behind the revolving door of Dickie Brennan’s huge and handsome Creole brasserie. Chilled shellfish and seafood salads are beautifully arrayed along with the oysters behind a curving marble bar, which can serve as a gourmet snack bar or lunch counter depending on your mood and time of day. The rest of the menu is more about time-tested Creole flavors (grilled redfish on the half shell, panéed veal with crab, BBQ shrimp) than innovation. Tourist central is right outside, though that also means it’s well positioned for locals’ own jaunts through the French Quarter.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$$
417 Royal St.
The end of the old Brennan’s and the development of this new one unfolded very publicly. Set aside the back story, however, and the new Brennan’s feels like a historic New Orleans restaurant that has kept pace with the times. An air of old school grandeur pervades the dining rooms and courtyard, while the menu answers the call for traditional Creole flavors with smartly crafted updates. Chef Slade Rushing’s contemporary dishes are exciting and certainly don’t feel out of place against a backdrop that’s mixing tradition and modernity. Breakfast (or brunch, or whatever you choose to call it) is an adventure to build a day in the Quarter around.
Breakfast and lunch Tue.-Sun., dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$$
Cane & Table
1113 Decatur St.
With a deep courtyard and an even deeper layer of tactile patina, this place oozes old New Orleans ambiance. The same team from craft cocktail lounge Cure operates Cane & Table, and their signature shows in a highly composed drinks list revolving around Caribbean and tropical themes. The kitchen takes an irreverent, Tiki-tinged approach to island and Asian flavors, running from decadent, sticky fried ribs to avocado salads strewn with pea shoots and pumpkin seeds. The approach is very casual and the dining room is dominated (and sometimes overwhelmed) by the bar. Things are calmer during the day, and the lunch special is a rare good bargain at this end of the Quarter.
Lunch Wed.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
2301 Orleans Ave.
On some intuitive level we know that food can bring people together. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant has put the living, breathing, Creole trinity-based proof behind that adage for generations now. It’s part of the landmark eatery’s well-known history from the civil rights movement, and it’s vividly evident today when you watch a wide spectrum of modern New Orleans convene in its beautifully appointed dining room. They’re not just coming to pay respect. For a quick lunch steeped in traditional Creole flavor, it is hard to beat the buffet where dishes from the archives persist between staples of fried chicken, gumbo and house-made hot sausage. At 92, family matriarch and force of nature Leah Chase still oversees it all as a constant presence at her restaurant.
Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner Fri. $$
620 Chartres St.
While it can cut the profile of an upscale steakhouse, with a la carte sides and pricey dry-aged beef, the full measure of this seductively stylish restaurant carves a different niche. Beyond steaks, there is an ambitious, finely honed menu with a contemporary read on Mediterranean flavors, with more flavor from yogurt sauces, tahini and chickpeas than Bordelaise or creamed spinach. Squid ink and smoked eggplant cream layer a calamari appetizer, balsamic “pearls” pop through an endive salad and citrus and bacon flavors duel over buttery bits of chicken thighs. Most steaks sit outside the American steakhouse norm for texture and tenderness, but are enormously satisfying.
Dinner nightly, lunch Fri.-Sun. $$$$$
209 Bourbon St.
Plenty of cities have unique culinary styles, and plenty have old historic restaurants where they are faithfully preserved. But only New Orleans has Galatoire’s, where history, tradition and fidelity to both are animated with an outsized dose of personality. That comes from the setting itself (especially the main dining room — long, narrow and whitewashed like the dining deck of an old paddle wheeler), from the proficiency and candor of the career waiters who keep bedlam at bay without dampening any spirits and from a menu that reflects what happened when French cuisine settled in along the Gulf of Mexico. The seafood is plump, the sauces are tight and the kitchen can surprise even frequent visitors (if you haven’t yet, try the fried chicken). Perhaps most of all, the personality comes from a clientele eager to indulge in the particularities of this place, who take it on its own terms and who bring their appetites and celebrations here with gusto.
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sun. $$$$$
808 Bienville St.
Built to the scale of a grand restaurant, with deep booths and formal service, GW Fins also has the feel of a highly-personal, chef-led restaurant. Tenney Flynn and his crew work a broad array of seafood through original, artfully composed dishes that change all the time but always bear the same recognizably contemporary signature. Lately, they’ve been serving more raw fish, and species like barracuda and lionfish that are rarely seen at restaurants are increasingly part of the rotation. Standby appetizers like blue crab pot stickers and smoked oysters start things off, but this is also a place to try something new.
Dinner nightly. $$$$
811 Conti St.
This tiny operation in the back tavern kitchen of the always crowded Erin Rose bar makes original, compellingly delicious sandwiches, working pork belly, spicy meatloaf, seared shrimp or a vegan sweet potato/black eyed pea number between banh mi loaves. They’d be worth a try anywhere they turned up. But on another level, Killer Po-Boys is a testament to the crying need for more quick, inexpensive but still creatively wrought food in the French Quarter (see L’Enfant Terrible below for exhibit B). I find myself recommending this place constantly, and queuing up here, for a fast meal en route to a show or when it’s getting late, dinner has worn off and another bite will keep the night going. It’s 21-and-over here, and cash only.
Lunch, dinner and late-night Wed.-Mon. $
1107 Decatur St.
There’s been a rising tide of quality for bar food around New Orleans, but the walk-up food window at Molly’s at the Market is still a special case. Chimichurri quesadillas, Buffalo chicken Rangoon and boudin Scotch eggs go beyond the norm, and Matthew Kopfler, the young chef behind this singular pub kitchen, pours bushels of farmers market produce into his menu, much of it procured straight from growers visiting the French Market a block away. Heirloom varieties and rippling-fresh garden exotica often wind up in the paper trays between pierogi or in raw salads or even dressing up the bar burger. It’s some of the freshest stuff going after midnight, well placed in a late-night part of town.
Lunch Sat. and Sun., dinner and late night Wed.-Mon. $
Li’l Dizzy’s Café
1500 Esplanade Ave.
In the popular image of New Orleans, there’s a colorful, somewhat ramshackle café like this on every corner, serving down home Creole flavors to a clientele that reflects the make-up of the city. In reality, they are rare and all the more valuable for it. Run by the Baquet family, which has a restaurant legacy rolling back through generations, this is a straight-up neighborhood classic. Come after Mass on Sundays for the full effect as families encamp around big tables or to lunch any day as local politicos and well-informed tourists line the buffet for fried chicken, red beans, grilled fish and Creole gumbo.
Breakfast and lunch Mon.-Sat., early dinner (until 8 p.m.) Thu.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$
942 N. Rampart St.
(504) 569 9979
Meauxbar reopened with new owners, a new chef and a new look last spring. Remarkably, through all that, this intimate bistro at the edge of the Quarter has essentially retained its long-accustomed role as the low-hype destination for serious food lovers and a clutch pick for dinner before (and possibly after) downtown outings. Chef Kristin Essig sends out original and modern renditions of French classics, like duck a l’orange, beautifully presented over duck-filled crepes, or sweetbreads under the finely textured crust of pecans. Sheathed in a silvery shade of moonlight, the small dining room with its cove-like booths and marble bar takes on a Noirish vibe the moment the sun goes down.
Dinner nightly, late night Fri. and Sat. $$$$
777 Bienville St.
This is a place for decadence, indulgence and conspicuous consumption, a market niche not to be underestimated in the realm of business dinners and special occasions. This starts with the dimensions of a grand restaurant from the old school, extending from one gilded setting to another. It ramps up with the star power of the two chefs in partnership here — Rick Tramonto and John Folse. And it arrives at the table as intricately conceived dishes (the “death by gumbo,” the lobster with ricotta gnocchi, the three-part study of quail), expense-account steaks and a wine list for the ages. Bells and whistles abound. Other restaurants in town work corners of this style, but nobody puts so many of the components together quite like this.
Lunch Wed.-Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sun. $$$$$
823 Decatur St.
Tujague’s vaulted out of food museum status in 2013, reorganizing under the next generation of family owners, remodeling its dining rooms and revamping its menus. Given its standing as the city’s second-oldest restaurant (dating to 1856), and its long adherence to traditions (many of its own making), these were big changes, and they may have raised some eyebrows. But now that they’ve taken hold, they seem to have set up Tujague’s for the future rather than taking anything away from its past. New dishes are more aligned to modern tastes (the seared tuna, the crabmeat gnocchi, the seafood Cobb salads at lunch) while the famous set pieces are still in place, along with the five-course table d’hote option.
Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$$
625 Chartres St.
The setting leaves no doubt that you’re in the heart of the old city, with a narrow side alley entrance opening into an atmospheric courtyard and sounds of the bands from Jackson Square drifting over the high walls. Yet the menu’s only ties to New Orleans flavor are the fundamental ones of robust local sourcing. Otherwise Sylvain serves gastropub fare in the form of a first-rate burger, crostini with chicken liver pate, sweetbreads in the style of Buffalo wings and breaded pork over farro. This spot answers the call for a mid-range eatery in the middle of the Quarter that’s high on flavor and atmosphere and absent of any New Orleans clichés.
Lunch Fri. and Sat., dinner and late night Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$$