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Seared tuna is topped with citrus over field peas at Bar Frances on Freret Street.

Bar Frances 

4525 Freret St., (504) 371-5043

Along a bustling restaurant row, Bar Frances plays a dual role as Freret Street’s anytime bistro and wine bar for grown-ups. Chef Marcus Woodham balances eye-catching modern styles with the approachable appeal of a neighborhood spot. A French-Mediterranean touch runs through seared tuna over a garden of green vegetables, pork saltimbocca, first-rate charcuterie and cheese boards and the mix of small plates. The patio is Freret’s front porch and makes a great perch for happy hour people watching. Dinner daily, lunch Fri., brunch Sat., Sun. $$$

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Desserts follow classic contours at Bayona in the French Quarter.

Bayona

430 Dauphine St., (504) 525-4455

The flavors and influences at Bayona sail in from across the globe. So, why does revisiting always feel like coming home? The setting helps. The bones of its old Creole cottage frame this fine-dining restaurant, from the flow of small rooms to the cloistered courtyard. Of course, there’s also the culinary style, which chef Susan Spicer set as her own long ago and continues to recharge with fresh ideas and the energy of young talent eager to work with her. It all sets the scene for serious fine dining that doesn't feel stuffy. Lunch Wed.-Sat., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$

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Pork belly is served with wild rice and apples at Bywater American Bistro.

Bywater American Bistro

2900 Chartres St., (504) 605-3827

The next restaurant from chef Nina Compton is much more than a second act following her highly successful Compère Lapin. It feels like a fuller manifestation of the ideas that the Warehouse District restaurant set out, merging flavors from the chef’s Caribbean background with the current of modern American cuisine. Joined in the effort here by chef Levi Raines, she’s created a statement restaurant where dishes like cobia escabeche, curried rabbit and the simple-seeming but stunning jerk chicken rice tell a story you’ll want to keep revisiting. Their dishes deliver precisely what they promise but differently than anything you’ve had before. Dinner Wed.-Sun., brunch Sat., Sun. $$$$

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The Cajun caviar tartlet is filled with whipped potato and local bowfin roe at Carrollton Market.

Carrollton Market

8132 Hampson St., (504) 252-9928

The dining bar looks right into this quietly efficient kitchen, but any seat in the house gives a vantage to contemporary New Orleans cuisine at its best. Snug and intimate, the performance at chef Jason Goodenough’s Riverbend bistro is tight, too. It shows in delicate pasta, the elegant and robust fried oysters napped with hollandaise in the shell, the hard crusty sear on sheepshead or snapper and the balance of warmth and professionalism across the room. Dinner Tue.-Sat., brunch Sat., Sun. $$$$

Gambit's 2017 spring restaurant guide: C_lowres

Diners eat lunch at Coquette in the Garden District.

Coquette

2900 Magazine St., (504) 265-0421

See full listing in 10 restaurants to define New Orleans dining today

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The sword fish barbecue "ribs," sword fish "cochon de lait," spoon bread, and maque choux served with pickles peppers and okra at GW Fins Restaurant.

GW Fins

808 Bienville St., (504) 581-3467

Nobody does seafood quite like GW Fins, perhaps in part because few can match the robust sourcing that brings so many varieties to its door. The X factor is chef Mike Nelson, whose approach is original, playful and often bold. This is a grand restaurant with a formal setting, but the kitchen brings more maverick energy and breathes new life into the standards. Venture out with an unfamiliar fish (lionfish and barracuda make appearances) or dive deep into the reliable pleasures of vividly fresh tuna or pompano. Start with the lobster dumplings and crab pot stickers. Dinner nightly. $$$$

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Crispy goat with lentils and yogurt dressing is at Herbsaint in the CBD.

Herbsaint

701 St. Charles Ave., (504) 524-4114

Donald Link’s first restaurant displays the rare dual talent for keeping a meticulously professional, consistent operation that can still blow the doors off with a menu that escapes easy categorization. The kitchen, now led by David Rouse, blends Italian and French, with forays into Middle Eastern (the crispy goat), Latin American (the ceviche) and, of course, Cajun (check that gumbo). The restaurant’s contemporary design, upbeat vibe and serious wine selection complete the picture. Dinner Mon.-Sat., lunch Mon.-Fri. $$$$

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La Petite Grocery served contemporary cuisine with Louisiana influences in Uptown New Orleans.

La Petite Grocery

4283 Magazine St., (504) 891-3377

The pulse of Mia and Justin Devillier’s first restaurant comes from that intersection of the classic and the contemporary. The classic flows through the ambience and the relationships of its regulars here. It's the kind of bistro where a last-minute dinner at the bar might be the highlight of the week, or where you know you can bring eight people for a real occasion. The contemporary is in the cuisine, with its irrefutable local roots and the mix of creativity and discipline to come up with dishes that are new but still reliably tight. Dinner daily, lunch Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun. $$$$

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Patatas bravas are fried and topped with spicy aioli at Meril, the casual eatery from chef Emeril Lagasse.

Meril

424 Girod St., (504) 526-3745

The bar occupies half of the house at Emeril Lagasse’s most casual local restaurant, and its spirit seems to inform the whole operation. Chef de cuisine Wilfredo Avelar renders a global range of flavors as small plates built for sharing. Whether at the wrap-around bar or the dining room facing the open kitchen, meals here can be robust romps through shaved Spanish ham, wood oven flatbreads, pastas and Korean short ribs. The drink list is deep. It’s no wonder Meril is a top destination for the events and outings that bring people downtown. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$

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Sauteed halibut arrives with a golden crust at Zasu.

Zasu

127 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 267-3233

In Mid-City, a neighborhood full of restaurants, Sue Zemanick has added one that’s easily the most ambitious and lovely. Those who got to know this chef’s style during her long tenure at Gautreau’s may feel like they are reconnecting. The lobster, split and grilled, the sautéed halibut that flakes open under your fork like the pages of a book, the classic roasted chicken, the unusual addition of perogies all bear her signature. This is an intimate jewel box of a bistro. Dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$


Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.