Bacobar

70437 Highway 21, Covington, (985) 893-2450; bacobarnola.com

Asian and Latin American flavors present two contrasting influences on Bacobar’s menu, while the uniting factor, a freewheeling sense of fun, feels right at home. The kitchen has an eye for visual flair and a knack for bringing fresh, spicy and crunchy components together across these colorful dishes. See the kimchi fries heaped with pork and jack cheese, shrimp remoulade over tostones (crisp plantains), Korean beef tostadas and bacos (steamed buns stuffed like cross-cultural tacos). While it’s part of a suburban retail development on the outskirts of Covington, it feels like its own realm inside, with a wall of elevated booths, a curving bar that’s inviting for dining and a family-friendly format that still has room for a bank of swirling daiquiri machines. Lunch daily, dinner Mon.-Sat. $$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Cornmeal-crusted fish wrapped in charred cabbage at Balise.

Balise

640 Carondelet St., (504) 459-4449; balisenola.com

Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery transformed this old barroom into a unique eatery for the CBD. More ambitious than a gastropub, looser than a bistro and mixing a historic feel with contemporary style, it occupies a seductive niche. At the long bar, at tavern-style tables or in the semi-hidden upstairs dining room, he serves menus that constantly change and are consistently intriguing. Fried smoked oysters over a buttermilk slaw of broccoli and Brussels sprouts, grilled peach salads with sheets of cured salty ham, grilled vegetables with a dash of salt and smoked ricotta, a thoroughly Mediterranean lamb shoulder dish or a first-rate burger with fries stake its territory. Lunch Tue.-Fri., dinner daily, brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$

Bar Frances

4525 Freret St., (504) 371-5043; barfrances.com

The flavors are clearly French but much lighter than traditional bistro cooking. The wines are eclectic, but easily accessible. The room is stylish and bustling, but laid-back enough to bring the family. Bar Frances isn’t so much a bar as a modern neighborhood restaurant, and while it is very new it has quickly found a following along the Freret Street restaurant row. Vegetables play a starring role on chef Brendan Cahill’s menu, though the range is omnivorous (roasted chicken interspersed with grilled greens, for instance, gnocchi with charred eggplant). Charcuterie and wines on tap are on the table for quick visits, and so are all the pieces for a upscale casual dinner destination. Dinner daily, lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Fried pork with Buffalo-style sauce tops a salad at Boucherie on S. Carrollton Avenue.

Boucherie

1506 S. Carrollton Ave., (504) 862-5514; boucherie-nola.com

Boucherie is so welcoming, even flavors as wide ranging as boudin balls and hamachi sashimi feel at home together on chef Nathanial Zimet’s menus. The foundation is Deep South, while influences from the Far East, Italy or Africa might ignite a particular dish. It all feels unified under Boucherie’s exploratory approach and easy going demeanor. Prices have remained resiliently mid-range, making Boucherie one of the city’s best bargains for casual fine dining. The operation has also grown multi-faceted. The chef’s butcher shop/snack bar Bourree by Boucherie is right next door for a different take on things, while Sunday brunch unfolds in a separate cottage location just around the corner. Dinner Mon.-Sat., lunch Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty -- The menu at Kin has a changing array of dumplings made in house with unique flavors within.

Kin

4600 Washington Ave., (504) 304-8557

This eatery turned heads when it opened last year with highly original East-meets-West cuisine in an unlikely location, a little yellow box of a building on a cross street between neighborhoods. Since that debut, chef Hieu Than and crew have retooled, focusing the menu on ramen soups, dumplings and unpredictable (but reliably delicious) small plates. It has changed the tenor of Kin and lowered the price range. Lately, a few high-aiming entrees from the original approach have returned to rotation (like a crusty-seared snapper with cilantro spaetzle). It all suggests that Kin is still evolving, though the results have remained consistently compelling. The setting is casual in the extreme, with seating limited to a shared table and narrow counters. BYOB. Lunch and dinner. Tue.-Sat. $$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Mussels in a curry broth with fresh herbs has made appearances on the specials list at MoPho in New Orleans.

MoPho

514 City Park Ave., (504) 482-6845; mophonola.com

MoPho got its start with the framework of Vietnamese cooking, retooled with the particulars of Gulf Coast flavors and a fine-dining chef’s penchant for precision. Today, it’s a hybrid between the modern neighborhood eatery and the kind of chef-led dining destination to plan a special visit around. As inviting and easygoing as any gastropub, you can come here for something new and inventive (ink-black, sticky rice paella; rice flour crepes with Cajun ham and watermelon salad). But then you can still just drown a hangover in a bowl of restorative pho, perhaps with grilled bitter greens and poached egg between the rice noodles. It’s that rare restaurant that is growing in two directions at once and has equally gratifying results at each end. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Grilled sausage with vegetables is a dish of straightforward flavors at Paladar 511 in the Marigny.

Paladar 511

511 Marigny St., (504) 509-6782; paladar511.com

Cool and stylish, built in an old industrial space, Paladar 511 looks tailored to modern restaurant trends. But the flavors here run deeper, with a fresh take on Italian standards and a commendable appreciation for the local harvest, from land and sea. This plays through tuna crudo smacking with lime vinaigrette and citrus slices, house-made pappardelle imbued with spicy pork ragu, delicate salads and blistered pizza. The service approach is unorthodox, with servers preparing food and vice versa. It feels about as casual as a house party with menus. Dinner Wed.-Mon., brunch Sat. and Sun. $$$

Primitivo

1800 O.C. Castle Haley Blvd., (504) 881-1775; primitivonola.com

The kitchen at this dark-toned den in Central City is focused on the hearth, an elaborate, multi-faceted apparatus of glowing grills and darkened chambers visible in the open kitchen. Meat is obviously the focus, but not to the exclusion of lighter seafood dishes and one of the city’s best smoked fish dips (made with mullet, no less). Primitivo is an under-utilized resource to field a fine lunch near the CBD without the usual lunch rush hassles. And as more cultural events and nightlife crop up on this Central City corridor, it's a good launching point for an evening out, too. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - The burger at Sylvain speaks to its gastropub bona fides.

Sylvain

625 Chartres St., (504) 265-8123; sylvainnola.com

Sylvain is in the middle of the Quarter’s tourist vortex, but it doesn’t even dabble with New Orleans standards, making it something of an oasis. You have to find the narrow, side alley entrance and proceed on faith that something good waits at the end. It does: this cool, confident gastropub fills a vital niche between casual and high-end dining with great burgers and a fried chicken sandwich, smoked fish croquettes, pappardelle Bolognese and velvety sweetbreads coated in tangy buttery Buffalo sauce. Push past the busy bar for a seat in a courtyard so cloistered it only really feels outdoors if it starts raining. Dinner nightly, brunch Fri.-Sun. $$$

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.