Each spring, New Orleans Advocate dining writer Ian McNulty compiles his top restaurant recommendations across the metro area, arranged by neighborhood. Our latest guide was released just last week.
As the New Orleans Jazz Fest 2016 begins, the section covering Mid-City and nearby neighborhoods is full of choice picks across a diversity of price ranges and styles.
If you want Creole fine dining, a neighborhood classic or a stand out sandwich shop and crawfish joint, this short list has you covered.
Click here to see the entire spring 2016 New Orleans dining guide.
3141 Ponce de Leon St., 504-301-0848; 1000figs.com
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $
It started as a food truck, and its menu starts with familiar enough falafel and hummus and frites. But since opening as a restaurant, 1000 Figs has grown into something quite unlike anywhere else in town. The food is Mediterranean, gorgeously so, rippling with fresh produce and a small batch aesthetic. Small plates and platters are palettes of garlicky sauces, smooth dips, crusty bread, pickled garnishes and earthy spice. It’s not vegetarian, but it’s pretty close. The restaurant itself is about the size of a wardrobe, and a busy dinner here can require some patience and some flexibility, sometimes literally. It’s all worth it. Tip: If the restaurant is full, ask to have your meal served at the adjacent wine shop/wine bar Swirl.
Bevi Seafood Co.
236 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-488-7503 (and 4701 Airline Drive, Metairie, 504-885-5003); beviseafoodco.com
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat., lunch Sun. (Mid-City)
Jazz Fest Note: Bevi Seafood Co. was originally listed in dining guide’s East Jefferson section for its Metairie location, and it is cross-listed here for Jazz Fest time..
Bevi represents a gentle reboot of the traditional seafood market. That’s proven to be right in line both with hard-wired local tastes and with modern expectations for casual eats that are worth a trip across town. There’s an oyster po-boy with pastrami bacon and smoked Gouda, local brews on tap and a specials list that might see pesto-crusted shrimp or lamb meatballs. Crucially, you can still use Bevi just as this type of place has always been intended — a quick spot for boiled seafood, a plate of raw oysters, maybe a quart of gumbo and a sack of hot tamales from the freezer to bring home. Tip: Though it’s a seafood joint, don’t miss the roast beef po-boy.
3127 Esplanade Ave.; 504-945-5635; cafedegas.com
Lunch Wed.-Sat., dinner Wed.-Sun., brunch Sun. $$$$
The dining room at this longtime French bistro is essentially a covered patio, but it feels like the heart of its neighborhood. Regulars breeze through the bar in the course of their evening walks, well-dressed couples dine beside a tree trunk extending through the roof and the career waiters remain reassuringly nonchalant even as a busy brunch approaches bedlam. The minuscule kitchen produces French classics (steak frites, onion soup) next to unchanging house standards (crab, fennel and grapefruit salad) and wider ranging specials with a local edge. It’s intimate, idiosyncratic, casual, busy and wonderful. Tip: The tiny deck off the bar makes a seductive nook for a drink and cheese plate.
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
2301 Orleans Ave., 504-821-0535; dookychaserestaurant.com
Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner Fri. $$
You may have heard about the African-American art collection on Dooky Chase’s walls, the contributions to civil rights history that transpired under its roof, the indomitable spirit of Leah Chase, family matriarch and (still, at age 93) restaurant chef, and you’ve probably heard good things about the fried chicken here too. But the full picture of this landmark restaurant only arrives when you take a table and watch New Orleans convene in one of its most hospitable dining rooms. It’s not just a matter of saluting history — the legacy of this place is inseparable from its food. The quality of the lunch buffet exceeds normal expectations for that word (gumbo, house-made hot sausage, shrimp and lima beans), and Creole dishes of the old school persist on the a la carte menu.
Katie’s Restaurant & Bar
3701 Bienville St., 504-484-0580; katiesinmidcity.com
Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$$
From a foundation of New Orleans classics, Katie’s kitchen now constantly adds to its repertoire and adds to the appeal of a neighborhood joint with many entry points. Broiled oysters Slessinger (dotted with shrimp and bacon under tangy Provel cheese) and a combo po-boy of pulled pork and barbecue shrimp (“the legend”) mix it up with a pizza menu, fried seafood platters and burgers. The new second floor dining room helps accommodate the crowds that understandably flock here.
Liuzza’s by the Track
1518 N. Lopez St., 504-943-8667; liuzzasnola.com
Lunch and early dinner (kitchen closes at 7:30 p.m.) Mon.-Sat. $
Jazz Fest Note: during the festival, Liuzza’s by the Track serves a limited menu of specialties to go while the dining room becomes a walk-up bar for the Jazz Fest crowds
We lost the great Billy Gruber this year, but the style he long ago set as co-founder of Liuzza’s by the Track endures. It’s in the barroom-casual character of the room, the cast of regulars who inhabit its corners and of course the outstanding food, served at a level you wish all neighborhood joints still kept. The tavern kitchen rightly hangs its hat on the barbecue shrimp po-boy and the distinctive Creole gumbo with seafood added just before service. The garlic-packed oyster po-boy, the blackboard specials and even the unlikely strawberry and mushroom salad qualify as signatures by now, too.
3800 Canal St., 504-482-9179; mandinasrestaurant.com
Lunch and dinner daily. $$
Functioning as the neighborhood restaurant for people who don’t live anywhere nearby, Mandina’s is a good place for a taste of New Orleans cooking and a great place for a glimpse of New Orleans life. Tourists arriving by streetcar, grandparents bee-lining it from Mass, court clerks fetching take-out for empaneled juries, softball teams celebrating a win, the cop on detail outside — the way people use this place is as essential to its identity as the sherry-spiked turtle soup, the trout with French fries soaking in its meunière and the candy-red old fashioned cocktails from the bar. Tip: Get the whole shrimp loaf to share around the table or for a party-sized po-boy at home.
4400 Banks St., 504-483-8609; midcitypizza.com
Lunch and dinner daily. $
The conversation about the ideal pizza can lead to some heated debates. When the subject turns to great New York-style pizza, it has increasingly been leading down this oak-shaded stretch of Banks Street. The crust on the plus-sized pies at Mid-City Pizza are gorgeously pocked and bubbly, with the right pliant-to-rigid ratio and a malty, subtly sour flavor. The menu is short and straightforward (Monday’s red beans and rice pizza special notwithstanding), and that’s just fine when the focus is on the pizza. Bonus points for using Italian and hot sausage from the nearby Terranova Grocery.
514 City Park Ave., 504-482-6845; mophonola.com
Lunch and dinner daily. $$
Chef Michael Gulotta opened MoPho as a new read on the city’s infatuation with Vietnamese flavors. Now it’s the source of its own compulsions as well as a neighborhood restaurant that’s an adventurous food lover’s dream. It can feel like a tavern, with a terrific bar, but it’s also kid-friendly. Though specials aren’t always cheap, the overall menu is plenty accessible. And across your table you can build a meal of modern comfort food, like spring rolls or deeply restorative pho, next to dishes that are more innovative than anything you’d expect from a place this casual. Tip: on Saturdays they grill lamb or pork (or sometimes seafood) on the patio for platters with roti bread. Get this.
1430 N. Dorgenois St., 504-644-4178; pagodacafe.net
Breakfast and lunch Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun. $
Built in a tiny pagoda-like structure that dates to the 1930s, with all of the seating outside on a wrap-around deck and through a narrow yard, this outpost for good eats looks like something you’d find fronting a beach instead of Bayou Road. For a fast meal on the go, however, it can feel like precisely the right place. Breakfast tacos, sausage rolls with garden-fresh salads, a vegetarian banh mi bursting with beets and chutney, pressed Serrano ham sandwiches and soups are part of the line-up, and the espresso drinks are first rate.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Ave., 504-482-3047; parkwaypoorboys.com
Lunch and dinner Wed.-Mon. $
It sometimes looks like the Parkway is hosting its own po-boy festival. On holiday weekends, when a pretty day develops along nearby Bayou St. John, and sometimes for no evident reason at all, the line grows long, the bar fills two deep and the patio of long tables resembles a po-boy beer garden. People aren’t just coming for a sandwich, it seems, but to convene with a New Orleans experience. Still, they’d be going somewhere else if the food wasn’t so good. The fried shrimp are perfect, the ham is sliced paper-thin, the hot sausage patties are classic, and I submit that the highest and best use for the debris gravy is ladled over the house-roasted turkey. Tip: Fried oysters are available only on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Ralph’s on the Park
900 City Park Ave., 504-488-1000; ralphsonthepark.com
Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sun. $$$$
This Ralph Brennan restaurant has the look of a clubhouse for City Park, the verdure of which gives the dining room one of the better views in town. Chef Chip Flanagan’s kitchen, however, is much more inventive and globally inspired than the neatly elegant setting might suggest. Oysters that are smoked, then fried, braised beef falling apart into a deep dark base of mole around masa dumplings and rabbit rendered in various parts as a Cajun-style barbecue plate share the menu with a first-rate turtle soup and shrimp and grits. Three generations of the same New Orleans family could find culinary touchstones here.
127 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-483-1571; rue127.com
Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
The menu at this cottage-sized, tightly orchestrated new American bistro initially seems familiar enough. But chef Ray Gruezke has a special talent for turning standards into unique standouts, often through understated touches. So the supple, buttery salmon sits over a ring of bacon broth, and a crunchy/fresh salad of herbs, micro greens and batter-fried shallots crowns the kingly double-cut pork chop. Take a closer look at the menu, and you’ll see a whole roster of craveable little “snacks” — fried foie gras bites, chicken cracklin’, smoked frites. Tip: Rue 127 is a low-key keeper for upscale lunch in this part of town.
845 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-252-4999; toupsmeatery.com
Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$
For an extended stretch of this season’s “Top Chef,” Isaac Toups showed viewers worldwide what happens when fine dining chops meet real-deal Cajun culinary gusto. The chef’s fans back home in New Orleans needed no introduction. Bold, accessible flavors of rural Louisiana rendered with uncommonly rich originality have always been the draw at his namesake “meatery.” Generous charcuterie boards, barbecue goat, confit chicken thighs and a couvillion sluiced with crab fat are calling cards of a restaurant that remains casual enough for anytime visits but goes the extra mile on all counts, including a deft wine list. Tip: They’ll bag up cracklin’ as a take-out order; keep that in mind next time you’re headed to City Park.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.