Each year, our Essential 100 dining guides takes the measure of New Orleans restaurants, showcasing the homegrown flavors, new influences, rejuvenation and continuity that makes dining out in this city so fulfilling.
Lists like the one below break down the 100 picks in the overall guide to more specific recommendations I often field.
You can find more here, and the complete Essential 100 here.
Best Restaurant Happy Hours*
*this means deals must include food
4525 Freret St., (504) 371-5043
Why: Extensive food and drink specials, Sun.-Wed., 4-7 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 4-6 p.m.
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. $$$
900 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 822-2583
Why: Wings, nachos, sliders and drink specials, Tue.-Fri., 3-6 p.m.
What started as a pop-up has since established itself as a barbecue destination in a city long calling out for more. Ribs, brisket and pulled pork that are by turns tender and crusty, and always smoky, lay the foundation for a playground of meat. Fun vibes run through the covered patio (great for game days), the bar with its generous food happy hour (and killer daiquiris) and the menu, home to cool ranch cracklin’ and the best smoked wings in town. Lunch and dinner Tue-Sun. $$
417 Royal St., (504) 525-9711
Why: Champagne deals, special menu for bar and courtyard, Mon.-Thu. 2-7 p.m., Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
When it returned a few years back under a different branch of the family and with a new direction, Brennan’s felt like a revival, a restoration. Today, it feels like a statement about modern New Orleans. The setting is suitably grand. This address has been a high-profile landmark restaurant for generations. Under the direction of Ralph Brennan’s company, it has carefully, brilliantly navigated the intricacies of recalibrating a classic to the styles and tastes of the present. Chef Slade Rushing’s cuisine is modern, sometimes playful and still rooted in the Creole equation. The wine list is increasingly deep and interesting, and not just for the big spenders. You can smell sizzling butter around Brennan’s dining rooms as waiters flambé desserts from wheeled carts. You can hear the din of party conversations drifting down from second-floor rooms, which occupy their own place in local social rituals. You can look around the courtyard and feel transported to old New Orleans. And maybe, between it all, you can feel something in tune with the convergence of tradition, change and renewal so evident around New Orleans today. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$$$$
1113 Decatur St., (504) 581-1112
Why: Island style bar snacks, drink specials Mon.-Fri., 3-5 p.m.
The ranks of true destination bars in the French Quarter got a boost when Cane & Table first opened in this evocative space. The kitchen took a step up more recently when chef Fredo Nogueira took the helm. The island-style flavors of seafood cocktail, ropa vieja and whole roasted fish are straightforward, well-crafted and show more of a Spanish influence these days. The current of the Caribbean running through Cane & Table starts with cocktails, inspired by classics, reinterpreted with modern verve, always fun. Flickering with candles, layered with patina, stretching on through a long courtyard, the place oozes old New Orleans ambiance. Dinner daily, late night Fri., Sat. (till midnight), brunch Sat., Sun. $$$
8201 Oak St., (504) 518-6889
Why: Drink and small plates deals, Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.
When I want something different, but I also know I need something that tastes like Louisiana, DTB is practically an automatic. Many of the names of the dishes are familiar, but it’s the way chef Carl Schaubhut’s kitchen blends playful creativity and serious craft that earns its reputation. Original but still approachable, ambitious but not pretentious, it’s always reliable for compelling food with local roots. When the casual dining room and bar are buzzing, it can feel like an integral part of Oak Street’s nightlife scene. Dinner daily, lunch Fri., brunch Sat., Sun. $$$$
3200 Banks St., (504) 267-3231
Why: Six-dollar Margherita pizzas, beer and wine specials, Wed.-Mon., 5-6 p.m.
Echo’s shows how a great pizzeria can really be a bakery with a particular focus. The wood-fire oven turns out wonderful, one-sized, bubble pocked pies with crust that’s the equal of the artisan loaves also produced within it. The whole menu of salads and sides is about good food stripped down to the basics of a few ingredients. The cocktails and wine list are well-tuned to the style here. Check out the breakfast/brunch menu for bagel platters and sandwiches. Breakfast and dinner, Wed.-Sun., brunch Sat. and Sun. $$
800 Tchoupitoulas St., (504) 528-9393
Why: Five dollar dishes and wine pairings, Mon.-Fri., 5-7 p.m.
Time and again, Emeril Lagasse’s first restaurant delivers on the promise of modern fine dining that this place itself helped codify. That’s because meals here are as fun as they are refined. The restaurant has a legacy by now, but also the room sparks with fresh energy. You can reconnect with modern classics – Emeril’s barbecue shrimp, andouille-crusted fish, of course, the banana cream pie — or see what chef de cuisine Doug Braselman is cooking next — like those crawfish-stuffed clams or the lamb schnitzel. It’s always robust, multifaceted and makes an impression. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily. $$$$$
611 O’Keefe Ave, (504) 518-6345
Why: Small plates and drink specials, Mon.-Fri., 4-6 p.m.
Always lushly imaginative, Maypop these days is running with a tighter focus, one that more fully articulates chef Michael Gulotta's southeast Asian-to-southeast Louisiana inspiration. Sop roasted bone marrow with oysters off the plate, twirl paprika-tinged noodles around lemon grass chicken meatballs, taste the essence of crab and coconut and brown butter washing over the crisp-skinned redfish and you have an upscale dining experience you won’t find anywhere else. The setting — modern, busy, open, stylish but still easygoing — fits right in with a rapidly changing downtown New Orleans. Dim sum brunch is a bargain. Lunch and dinner daily, Sat., Sun. $$$$
424 Girod St., (504) 526-3745
Why: Five dollar flatbreads and drinks, daily 4-6 p.m.
The bar occupies half of the house at Emeril Lagasse’s most casual local restaurant, and its spirit seems to inform the whole operation. Chef de cuisine Wilfredo Avelar renders a global range of flavors as small plates built for sharing. Whether at the wrap-around bar or the dining room facing the open kitchen, meals here can be robust romps through shaved Spanish ham, wood oven flatbreads, pastas and Korean short ribs. The drink list is deep. It’s no wonder Meril is a top destination for the events and outings that bring people downtown. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$
1838 Napoleon Ave., (504) 895-4877
Why: Half price raw oysters and drinks, Mon.-Fri., 3-6 p.m.
With more than a century of history, Pascal’s Manale has many signature dishes and even more stories to its name. It also has the definitive New Orleans oyster bar. It’s a stand-up oyster bar, an arrangement that rivets the focus on the pleasure of the oyster and spreads a social bonhomie. Everything about this restaurant is old school — the paneled cocktail lounge lined with nostalgic photos, the twists of red and green neon trimming the exterior, the Creole Italian set pieces on the menu of red sauce, pasta, seafood and steaks. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$
105 Old Hammond Highway, Bucktown, (504) 345-2936
Why: Raw oysters, caviar, Champagne combos, Tue.-Thu., 3-6 p.m.
It was obvious from the start that Station 6 would be different from the traditional seafood joints it joined out by the lake in Bucktown. What’s become clear since, however, is how well Alison Vega’s modern seafood joint fits in. The menu is full of smart updates to flavors that resonate on the local palate, like pompano with curried brown butter, shrimp sizzling in garlicky oil and red snapper with crawfish pilaf. Here, they pair with bubbly as well as beer. Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sun. $$$
2051 Metairie Road, (504) 570-6338
Why: Deals on drinks, $2 street tacos, Mon.-Fri., 3-6 p.m.
Zócalo operates at the level of an upscale casual bistro, taking a contemporary cut at Mexican flavors and putting its own stamp on the fundamentals of fresh tortillas and vivid salsas. Red snapper is heady with adobo spice and the contrasting bright crunch of citrus and jicama. Cauliflower tacos crackle with fried quinoa, like meatless chicharrones. The elote, or Mexican street corn, is transformed into a stunning dish of corn “ribs.” The bar is a great neighborhood perch for happy hour. Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sat., Sun. $$$