Arnaud’s Restaurant

813 Bienville St., (504) 523-5433; arnaudsrestaurant.com

On busy nights, Arnaud’s can feel like an old hotel, with parties in motion between a warren of 18 dining rooms, connected by corridors that lead to a pair of bars, one practically hidden (the Richelieu Bar), the other on the map for cocktail enthusiasts everywhere (the French 75). Although the appeal is old school, Arnaud’s has in fact proven adept at gradual evolution, as revamped menus and playful special dinner events show. That’s adding options around the edges to what remains a showcase of definitive French Creole tradition, where meals start with airy souffle potatoes and end with bananas Foster prepared tableside. Dinner nightly, brunch Sunday. $$$$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty -Crabmeat Austin is a popular starter at Austin's Seafood & Steakhouse in Metairie.

Austin's Seafood and Steakhouse

5101 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie, (504) 888-5533; mredsrestaurants.com

A neighborhood steakhouse fused to an upscale French Creole seafood house with a healthy dose of Creole-Italian. That sounds like a lot under one roof, but for many years now their intersection has given Austin's a unique niche and a wide draw in the ranks of Metairie dining. In dining rooms dimly lit and lined with wine racks, a local clientele gathers for family dinners or rewards after a big day on the job. Get the crabmeat Austin for gloriously plump lumps lightly dressed, get the steak medallions with BBQ shrimp for a peppery, buttery surf and turf and get a look at the old school dessert tray brought out with plastic models of the night's offerings. Upscale but unpretentious, you come here for fine dining in the comfort of the familiar. Dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$

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Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- The dining room at Clancy's Restaurant in New Orleans.

Eliot Kamenitz

Clancy’s Restaurant

6100 Annunciation St., (504) 895-1111; clancysneworleans.com

Clancy’s is the Uptown answer to the downtown grande dame, a place to go when you’re ready to trade some of the history and grandeur for a slightly more modern read on Creole cuisine. Cubes of Brie melting over fried oysters, the soft-shell crab smoked and fried and then covered with more crabmeat, the paneed veal, the lemon icebox pie — all are as essential to Clancy’s as the big white room with mirrors and bentwood chairs, the Burgundy-drenched wine list, the marble-topped bar that doubles as a bachelor’s dining room and the altar to brown liquor above it. Lunch Thursday and Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday. $$$$

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Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans chef Leah Chase, known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, works in her kitchen at Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans.

Matthew Hinton

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

2301 Orleans Ave., (504) 821-0535; dookychaserestaurant.com

You may have heard about the civil rights history that transpired under Dooky Chase's roof, the African-American art collection on its walls, the indomitable spirit of chef and family matriarch Leah Chase, and you’ve probably heard good things about the fried chicken here too. But the full picture of this landmark restaurant arrives only 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, hot sausage, shrimp and lima beans), and Creole dishes of the old guard persist on the a la carte menu. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Friday. $$

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Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Long-serving employees, like Billy Fontenot, are familiar faces at Galatoire's Restaurant.

John McCusker

Galatoire’s Restaurant

209 Bourbon St., (504) 535-2021; galatoires.com

History and tradition can keep an old restaurant going, but they don’t necessarily guarantee its vitality. At Galatoire’s, that is covered by a mix of the setting, the proficiency and candor of the career waiters who keep bedlam at bay without dampening any spirits, and 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, Galatoire’s is vital because people come here eager to indulge in the particularities of this place and take it on its own terms. Devote half a day for Friday lunch to get the full show; come for dinner for a quieter account of its charms. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. $$$$$

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Grilled lemonfish with shrimp at Gallagher's Grill in Covington.

Gallagher’s Grill & Courtyard

509 Tyler St., Covington, (985) 892-9992; gallaghersgrill.com

The appeal of Gallagher's is straightforward: Gulf seafood and meat dishes prepared in the Creole style with some subtle updates. The culinary fireworks here are honest and alluring, and mainly about sizzle and char. See the lemonfish with grilled shrimp riding atop, the steaks and the crab cakes crackling over a sheen of butter, and the mixed grill of quail and lamb chops. Proprietor Pat Gallagher has a second edition nearby in Mandeville (Pat Gallagher's 527), though the original on the outskirts of Covington still feels more like home. It's dark, low-slung and, starting early in the evening, filled with a crowd that seems to know every inch of the place by heart. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$$$ 

Upperline Restaurant

1413 Upperline St., (504) 891-9822; upperline.com

On any given night at Upperline someone will arrive wearing a bowtie, someone will maneuver between the tables for a better look at the regional art collection that covers the walls and a newcomer will be blown away by the duck with ginger peach sauce for the first time. And your hostess, JoAnn Clevenger, the personification of her colorful, rambling Creole bistro, will be tableside conversing with each. Well into its third decade, Upperline feels like a recital of familiar pleasures, which go beyond the menu but always come back there. The kitchen’s specials are gently contemporary, and they can be excellent. Mostly, though, Upperline serves a notion of “modern” contemporary Creole that was codified a generation ago and often carry an accent from country Louisiana. Dinner Wed.-Sun. $$$$

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.