640 Carondelet St.
This new second restaurant from La Petite Grocery chef Justin Devillier starts with the feel of a high-aiming gastropub but does not end there. The small rooms in its 1830s-era building (the old Ditcharo’s bar) give a tavern atmosphere, and service is casual. As the menu unfurls, however, you find much more composed and individualistic dishes between the elevated comfort food. Gulf shrimp become the foundation for a tasting plate of intense marine flavors with portions of sea urchin and tiny clams, for instance, and even the chicken wings are interspersed with crisp greens, fish sauce and fried peanuts for a flavor closer to Bangkok than Buffalo. It’s a destination for 21st-century drinking food that can also field casual, bistro-level dinners and provide a downtown lunch outside the norm.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily. $$$
601 Loyola Ave.
Chef Brian Landry is steering the menu of this seafood house from the Besh Restaurant Group in a progressively more contemporary direction. Shrimp dumplings in dashi broth and grilled octopus sliced over garlicky hummus make the case for more Asian and Spanish influences of late, though the more recognizable Louisiana ties remain strong through whole stuffed flounder, oysters broiled with garlic butter and bacon-wrapped duck poppers. Though the hotel ambience makes Borgne feel like it could be anywhere, its size, location and the proficiency of the staff specifically recommended it for any number of occasions a New Orleans eater might encounter, especially the call for drinks and good food in the orbit of the nearby event venues.
Lunch and dinner daily. $$$$
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
With the garage doors rolled up and tables extending to the sidewalk, this greatly expanded marketplace of meat from the Donald Link crew feels like an urban picnic of charcuterie plates, pimento cheese and boudin balls. Though closely tied to the neighboring Cochon, the menu of sandwiches and small plates is as likely to start with Italian inspirations as Cajun, with room for Moroccan-spiced lamb and a pork patty send-up of the Big Mac in between. Beware the unpredictable rush of conventioneers that may flow through at lunchtime, cramming the place in an instant. The tempo tends to drop in the evening, which is a better time to avail yourself of the new and much larger bar anyway.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$
527 Julia St.
Though it can, and often does, function as a quick downtown lunch counter, Carmo is also one of the most refreshingly offbeat, sensibly creative casual eateries in the city. The starting point is “tropical” cuisine, especially Brazilian, and this translates to gorgeous slices of rum-cured tuna, fermented tea leaf salads, “the Rico” (a sort of open-face plantain sandwich), smoked fish gumbo and black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with shrimp. Pork and seafood abound, though most dishes can be ordered vegan. Casual as a coffee shop, it still has a bar where the cocktail list shows the potential of cashew fruit juice with vodka.
Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner Tue.-Sat., late night Thu.-Sat. $$
930 Tchoupitoulas St.
Co-chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski opened Cochon as part of the first wave of post-Katrina restaurants in New Orleans. It was also an early exhibit in the case that contemporary, chef-led restaurants based on the cooking of the Louisiana countryside could thrive in this Creole city. Dazzlingly popular now, it can be a hard reservation to get but a prized one for a menu that breaks whole hog cooking into a progression of small plates and hearty entrees, leavened by fresh herbs and an eye for detail. The seafood and creatively wrought salads never disappoint.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$
800 Tchoupitoulas St.
When it opened a quarter-century ago, Emeril Lagasse’s first restaurant helped usher in a new era for Creole cuisine and for redevelopment in the Warehouse District as well. Today, as the neighborhood continues to fill in around it, this restaurant is still my standard for measuring how newer restaurants deliver on the potential of a truly full fine dining experience. Chef de cuisine David Slater keeps the menu fresh, robust and vital, living up to his boss’s reputation for big flavors and multifaceted dishes that can become conversation pieces. The service is composed where it should be, loose when you roll with it and always confident. New Orleans doesn’t swoon too readily for celebrity chefs, but the show this homegrown example continues to host at his flagship remains the real deal.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily. $$$$
701 St. Charles Ave.
There is not a flicker of razzle dazzle at Donald Link’s oldest restaurant, but instead every sign of a high-aiming new American bistro with urbane style across its busy rooms and rustic flavor on the plate. Chef de cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb has been working a broader range of Mediterranean influences between the menu’s French and Italian pillars. Shrimp baked with paella rice and artichoke, the poached, rare tuna with pickled chiles and mint and, at lunch, the yogurt-draped crispy goat are interspersed with dishes that have grown into Herbsaint signatures, like the incredibly rich spaghetti carbonara with its panko-crusted, yolk-spilling egg. Pitch perfect for a business lunch, it makes a memorable date night destination too.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
870 Tchoupitoulas St.
Steak is normally the safe zone, the place to park your comfortably predictable cravings. But at this thoroughly South American steakhouse, you need to reassess and consider all choices carefully. Will it be the solomillo (a tender, grass-fed sirloin), the bife “La Boca” (marinated in lime and garlic) or the enigmatic entraña con piel, a wonderfully weird steak, slow-cooked, dark and rich, with a hard outer shell that crunches and crackles? Only here are skirt and hanger steaks the more conventional options. The much larger location La Boca occupied last spring has given more elbowroom and allowed this longtime temple to Malbec wines to expand to develop new specialties in Scotch and arami too.
Dinner Mon.-Sat., late night
333 St. Charles Ave.
Push through the revolving door, head past the beautifully arrayed raw bar and settle into the partitioned, wood-trimmed niches of this brass-and-tile dining room, and Lüke can feel like a progenitor of the modern gastropub. That feeling is reinforced with so many from the lunch crowd attempting the monstrously good burger or indulging in the schnitzel and charcuterie. Still, this John Besh brasserie has always been as much about Gulf seafood as hearty meat-and-potatoes fare, and since taking over the kitchen recently, chef Drake Leonards has kept this balance while adding new dishes. As part of a hotel, breakfast service is a natural part of the equation, but with honey and hot sauce fried chicken thighs and Nutella-stuffed French toast lathered in Chantilly cream, it feels anything but ordinary.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$$
Marcello’s Wine Bar and Bistro
715 St. Charles Ave.
Creole-Italian cooking comes to us from Sicily, and so do the flavors at Marcello’s, though they don’t adhere to the familiar local pattern. Mussels in a tomato and saffron broth, baby artichokes halved and grilled on the stem, clams lashed with garlic, olive oil and spaghetti and lamb chops over pappardelle in hearty lamb ragu are more to this kitchen’s style, though crabmeat and oyster dishes are also represented. Marcello’s took over the former Le Chat Noir, remaking the old cabaret as an attractive, upscale trattoria with an offbeat approach to wine. You pick your bottle from racks arrayed like a retail shop, with prices closer to retail than most restaurants. It makes a second bottle all the more tempting.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
605 Canal St.
From the tables outside to the soaring ceilings, the sweeping staircase and busy, glass-fronted kitchen, this attractive, sprawling restaurant looks like a French bistro tribute act. In fact, its building is steeped in local history as the one-time home of the legendary Werlein’s music store and in its modern configuration it’s a true Creole original. There are enough signature dishes to fill a smaller restaurant’s menu, like the oysters pan roast or the white chocolate bread pudding. But the kitchen makes room for some highly original dishes along a contemporary Creole curve.
Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner nightly, brunch Sun. $$$$
Pêche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St.
The average Louisiana seafood lover will recognize most of the food words on the menu at this Donald Link restaurant, though it may take an avid angler to identify some of these dishes as they arrive at the table. They take the form of whole Gulf fish with head and tail, and plenty of fresh herbs and bright sauces in between, along with always-changing compositions of raw or smoked fish salads finished with oils, chiles and citrus. If some of the presentations are original, the gusto with which seafood lovers get after them is very familiar indeed. A heap of national acclaim has brought the crowds and the wide-open rustic design of the room amplifies all. Consider lunch or early dinner for a more measured look at a place with a lot to show you.
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
We may not be accustomed to finding fine restaurants inside museums, but then Purloo is also breaking new ground as an upscale dining destination in Central City as part of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. The room is soaring and open, with just a sheer curtain separating it from the exhibit hall. But it still feels intimate, especially from a perch by the open kitchen, which takes the shape of a large dining bar. Chef Ryan Hughes’ menu fits the overall Southern theme of the host museum and also feels modern and original. Come for flavors of the region outside the familiar Creole mode — pecan-crusted short rib, pimento cheese and country ham boards, a shrimp and clam boil in the style of the Carolinas’ Lowcountry.
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$
301 Tchoupitoulas St.
John Besh’s restaurant portfolio has grown both more diverse and more casual as he and his partner chefs expand. Yet under the chandeliers, at the baronial bar and between the luminous brickwork of this downtown flagship, August maintains a high-touch approach in service, in wine and in the boldly contemporary menu from chef de cuisine Todd Pulsinelli. Tender agnolotti filled with earthy and aromatic huitlacoche and a beet and crab salad dotted with puffed black eyed pea “croutons” are recent examples, and pastry chef Kelly Fields’ desserts are reliably stunning compositions of taste and texture. This is a place to go all out, an impressive setting that follows through across the experience. The $20 prix fixe lunch, on the other hand, is an unqualified bargain.
Dinner nightly, lunch Fri., brunch Sun. $$$$$
Ruby Slipper Café
1005 Canal St.
also 2001 Burgundy St., 200 Magazine St., 139 S. Cortez St., 1005 Canal St., same phone
The fact that New Orleans needed more breakfast spots was widely known and much groused about before the first Ruby Slipper opened in Mid-City. What may not have been so clear until this colorful café started expanding, however, was just how the city would respond to an answer that starts with distinctly local flavors. You can get your pancakes and your bacon and eggs, of course, but the go-to dishes are the eggs cochon, the crab cake breakfast, shrimp-stuffed omelet and the lighter, tropical Costa Rican breakfast with rice and beans. All four locations share the same menu, though the one on Canal Street is recommended first as the largest and most accessible with roomy booths for breakfast with a group, and a beautiful bar when breakfast becomes a party.
Breakfast and lunch daily. $
Reuben’s Soup & Sandwich Co.
920 Gravier St.
Wherever office space is clustered, there’s a need for a quick soup and sandwich shop. Reuben’s fills this role in the CBD with a fast, counter service format, though what recommends this place is how it goes beyond a we-could-be-anywhere menu. The gumbo is a thick, smoky country style chicken and andouille rendition, there’s a vegan version (“the farm”) and Thursday brings a duck gumbo special. Hot roast beef po-boys and muffulettas come together fat and quick and the namesake sandwich is generously stacked with corned beef. As it turns out, a Reuben pairs well with roux.
Lunch Mon.-Fri. $
444 St. Charles Ave.
This newcomer inside the InterContinental Hotel adds to a growing tide of restaurants evoking Louisiana hunting camp cooking. Of course, this would be a camp with its own private chef and a ready supply of microgreens, but the spirit and flavors are there. With a group, tackle the table-filling oyster log for a study on grilled and fried versions; otherwise the crab-stuffed squash or grilled quail oozing mozzarella set the stage. The blackboard is chalked up with daily fish for straightforward grilled entrees, po-boys fill the menu at lunch and at the bar there’s both fine wine and frozen daiquiris.
Dinner daily, lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch Sat./Sun. $$$$