New Orleans

A Chefs' Guide to Eating Out in New Orleans

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New Orleans is the land of beignets, gumbo, po’ boys, and étouffée. The city’s signature Creole food—influenced by the Native American, West African, Haitian, French, Spanish, German, and Italian immigrants who found their way to Louisiana before it was even part of the US—is one of America’s first fusion cuisines.

The city has always been a great place to schedule all your vacation activities—live music on Frenchmen, City Park’s sculpture garden, the tomb of Marie Laveau, or maybe a second line or two—around your dining schedule. That is, if you can actually squeeze in activities aside from eating and drinking. This is the land of hurricanes and frozen daiquiris, after all, where a stroll down Bourbon Street or a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar can easily give way to a full-blown bar crawl, with intermissions for char-grilled oysters, cochon de lait, or a snowball, of course.

But, like the city itself, the cuisine of New Orleans is forever changing. These days, you’re just as likely to come across Vietnamese po’ boys and braised-greens street tacos as you are traditional eggs Sardou, turtle soup, or soufflé potatoes. From Danish-inspired aebelskivers, to Vietnamese-inflected Mardi Gras king cakes, to whole pompano roasted Uruguayan asado–style over an open flame, New Orleans has so much going on that it can be hard to know where to start.

Luckily, a handful of the city’s favorite chefs are here to help. They include Michael Gulotta, chef and owner of Maypop and MoPho, two Southeast Asian–inspired restaurants pushing the boundaries of modern Creole; Nina Compton, chef-owner of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, where she and her partner, Executive Chef Levi Raines, are killing it; Hieu Than, chef-owner of the creative and beloved Gert Town ramen shack called Kin; Ana Castro, sous-chef at Thalia, the highly anticipated spin-off of New Orleans favorite Coquette; and Joaquin Rodas, longtime chef of Bacchanal, the backyard hangout that put Bywater dining on the map.

These are their favorite places for late-night snacks, drinks, breakfast and brunch, special-occasion meals, and, of course, some very iconic New Orleans staples. Read on to find out where the Big Easy’s chefs eat.

This article was created by the Serious Eats editorial team and brought to you by Capital One®. Capital One has had no involvement in any editorial aspect of the production of this content.

Best Late-Night Eats

A NOLA-style quarter-pounder and crudo at a buzzy new restaurant, cheesesteaks in the back of a locals-only bar, and chicken Creole at a convenience store: These sought-after late-night New Orleans eats never disappoint.

  • Palm & Pine

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Palm & Pine is owned and operated by Jordan Herndon and his wife, Amarys Herndon. I think this location is about three months old, and I’ve been five or six times since they opened. But they’ve been doing pop-ups since 2015, which I’ve been to religiously, almost every week.

    Palm & Pine does a late-night, service industry–oriented menu—open until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. I’ve been going always at the same hour (after midnight), and there’s a pretty refined, chilled-out crowd. You see restaurant people there, for sure, but the ambience is definitely low-key, and there’s not really a lot of tourists. And they’re staffed up at night, ready for action. It’s fantastic for New Orleans, and for cooks and bartenders who get off late.

    The food isn’t dialed back, either. Meaning, the menu is shorter, but it has a great selection of things. There’s crudo, and other healthier stuff that won’t kill you. But their main thing is this burger that Jordan and Amarys have been working on for, like, five years—just kind of chipping away at it—called the Upper Quarter Pounder.

    It’s pretty fantastic: an in-house-ground patty with house-made pickles, banana ketchup, and even from-scratch American cheese, which is something they totally undersell. You know when you get the sliced processed cheese, the one that’s nice and pliable and melts all beautifully, and the textures are all like, “Oh, this is straight from my childhood," sort of thing? That’s what they did, combining different cheeses and stabilizers and emulsifiers to create a sliceable version that really has that American, melty cheese taste.

    The burger is $10, and I don’t think that’s a bad deal at all. You’re going to be pretty full eating this thing, and it comes with a good helping of fries.

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  • Brotherly Love Kitchen

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Heathcliffe Hailey, who does the food at Mimi’s In The Marigny (a classic for late-night tapas), just took over the food at a dive bar down the street, Lost Love Lounge. He’s doing a Philly cheesesteak pop-up, Brotherly Love, that’s really good. Heathcliffe’s kicking on all cylinders—he’s basically running Franklin Avenue.

    Lost Love, which is a classic Marigny dive bar, is dark, with red walls, and usually packed with locals. There are shelves of books you can read, but I’m not sure anybody ever does. And the back room, where the kitchen is, has seating and all sorts of local art displayed on the walls for sale.

    At the sandwich counter, Heathcliffe grills the onions and peppers on a flattop, and he grills and thinly slices ribeye for the steak. He also has a vegetarian cheesesteak that’s got extra veggies and mushrooms. Either way, Heathcliffe gives the option of either provolone or Cheez Whiz. I order mine with the provolone because it’s melty, and I like it better; the Whiz is saucier and more runny. And all of this is served on a dense, soft hoagie loaf that I’m pretty sure he ships in from Philadelphia.

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  • Verti Marte

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Verti Marte is a counter in the back of a convenience store in the French Quarter, and it’s open 24 hours. Even though they’re a convenience store, they still have good food. Everything is prepared super simply, grab and go. The best thing about the place is that you can just get something good and quick in your stomach—po’ boys, omelettes, and chicken Creole, a half-braised, half-roasted chicken—and there doesn’t have to be anything fancy about it. That’s why I love it.

    I usually order the shrimp po’ boy when I want something quick and really good. The roast beef is amazing, too, though. You get all the little crispy ends in the po’ boy, and the meat isn’t dry. I find this one nice and juicy.

    Verti Marte is totally no-frills. There’s absolutely nowhere to sit, so you’ve got to take your food and go. A lot of people end up sitting outside and munching on their po’ boy at 2:00 in the morning. It’s crazy. But, you know, everybody is on the same page, and there’s no judgment.

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Best Brunch

The fluffiest pancakes ever, flaky biscuits piled high with buttery lobster, and more hearty brunch dishes to kick off a Sunday morning.

  • Bearcat Cafe

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Bearcat is a nice, beautiful space: From the outside, it looks really modern, and inside there’s a lot of windows, so it’s bright and open, and you feel good. The restaurant attracts mostly a college-age crowd, and older—not a lot of kids. It’s got table service, and they do brunch every day. Sundays are obviously the most crowded, but it’s worth the wait time.

    If you go there and have to eat just one thing, there’s this seafood-and-biscuit dish you have to try. They call it a Crab Daddy if you get it with a soft-shell crab, or a Lobster Daddy if you get it with lobster. The setup is always the same: a house-made biscuit and a crawfish cream sauce, plus the fried seafood of the day. It’s just fantastic comfort food. It’s at least a pound and a quarter of seafood.

    They’re also very vegetarian-friendly, and there’s a whole menu with just vegan food. I forget what they call it on the menu—they have this dish kind of similar to elotes, creamy Mexican street corn. It’s fantastic. You can’t go wrong with just sweet corn, spices, butter, and mayonnaise. The food here is definitely what you want to eat after a night of drinking. They have a great selection of coffees, juices, and kombucha, too.

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  • Paladar 511

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Everything they do at Paladar 511 is so simple and so good, and when you take a bite of their food, all the flavors come together wonderfully. The restaurant’s right down the street from my house, in the Marigny Faubourg neighborhood, and I end up going there quite a lot. The space is beautiful, but still sort of industrial, with weathered, painted brick walls, high ceilings, and large windows that let in good light.

    I love the lemon ricotta pancakes. They’re thick, fluffy, and massive. They make a big batch of pancake batter and basically fold ricotta into each batch to order, so they’re so moist and so light. They change the fruit seasonally, and you can get whipped cream on top as well. But you have to pour all the syrup on top.

    I also get the tuna crudo every time I go. They change the style of the crudo seasonally; the last time I went, they made it with pistachios and avocado. The dish is mainly tuna, diced in big chunks—not fine—so it has this meatiness when you take a bite. And the avocado is also in big chunks, incorporated in every bite, with crispy pistachios on top. Then, the seasoning is so simple: just really good olive oil, sea salt, and lemon zest. The quality of the tuna is so good, and the ratio of the ingredients together is perfect.

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  • French Toast

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Toast is a French-leaning café with three locations across the city, owned by the same guys who own Tartine, a popular bakery uptown. Their location in the French Quarter is called "French" Toast, and it’s by far the busiest. There are no reservations, and on weekends the wait can be 45 minutes, easy. But they have a wait-list app, so you can get on their queue, and when you’re next, you have 15 minutes to get there and check in. It’s a really cool location, close to Molly’s at the Market, and so cozy. The floors are old New Orleans tile, and the banquettes are all natural wood.

    Toast is known for these Danish puffed pancakes, aebelskivers—and has a whole menu of them. They come with six different jams or sauces, like lemon curd and Nutella. They’re kind of like a cross between a pancake and a beignet. The restaurant also has a whole crepe menu, and my son always gets the banana-Nutella kind; they have French toast on the menu as well.

    But my wife and I always go for a savory option, and share a classic fines herbes omelette with Gruyère cheese. Beyond that, the savory sides are all perfectly made, too: The Lyonnaise potatoes and the ratatouille are really spot-on, and they make their own bread in-house. The food’s all very tasty.

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  • Pêche

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    What Pêche serves barely counts as brunch—it’s more like lunch—but I love going there on a Sunday. It’s a seafood restaurant, and it’s the kind of relaxed place where you can go from cocktails to mimosas to just crushing bottles of Miller High Life. If you need a little hair of the dog, Pêche is the place to get it.

    A lot of Pêche’s cooking is asado-style, roasted over fires and open flames. Chef Ryan Prewitt has this cauliflower cheesy casserole that is amazing, and the hanger steak is fantastic. But there are fresher dishes with seafood, too. I like to order the Seafood Plateau, which has peel-and-eat shrimp along with a fish dip and oysters. Somebody else has to eat my oysters because I’m allergic, unfortunately, but all my friends are always happy to have my share. It’s a big, beautiful plate of seafood.

    I also love getting whatever market-price fish they have. They always serve it very rustically—recently, I got a whole roasted pompano with salsa verde. And one especially important thing is that they work a lot with bycatch—fish that gets caught by accident—and it’s hella sustainable, which I love.

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Best Drinks

A proto-tiki bar that serves excellent ceviche and flan, a tiny Cuban bar that tourists rarely stumble upon, an Uptown mid-century gem with good vinyl, and an eclectic outdoor oasis with the best wine selection in town? New Orleans really does have it all.

  • Cane & Table

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Cane & Table is a bar in the French Quarter with a Caribbean, colonial, old-Cuba vibe. It’s from the owners of Uptown bar Cure. The courtyard is super lush, and they did a really good job of making the bar look old—exposed brick and beams and lots of candlelight—but not down and drab. Even in the daytime, it’s always kind of dark in there, in a good way. It’s one of my favorite spots in New Orleans, period.

    They change their cocktail menu too much for me to have a favorite drink, but I will say they have really great wine, and a lot of sherries. Sometimes you go to cocktail bars and they have really crappy wine, but Cane & Table has a very interesting selection.

    Cane & Table serves food, too, and it’s phenomenal. The chef is Alfredo Nogueira—he’s responsible for the menu at Cure and Cane & Table, and has developed both really well. Chef Alfredo is Cuban-American, and he’s doing a lot of recipes inspired by his mom’s food. He’s got a shrimp ceviche that’s a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail—there are tomatoes in it—that nobody else does in this city. It’s tomatoey and citrusy, and he serves it with deep-fried saltine crackers, and you wouldn’t believe how good they are.

    And he’s got the best flan I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. It’s as dense as cheesecake; maybe he puts actual cheese in it, maybe it’s just the cream. But I think it’s the way he cooks it, for a long time, that allows it to set up that way. Several of my relatives are going to be pissed I’m saying this, but it is the best flan ever.

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  • Manolito

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    I’m from Mexico City—I enjoy lots of fresh citrus, tequila, and mezcal. So I like clear and refreshing drinks, and usually tiki-inspired ones, you know? That’s my style.

    At Manolito, in the French Quarter, the main focus is rum, but they do have more spirits. They pay homage to true Cuban cocktail-making. The mojitos and daiquiris are old-style, and they also do a Hotel Nacional, with rum, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and apricot brandy, and other really classic Cuban cocktails.

    I get the Papa Doble, a daiquiri with grapefruit and two different types of rum, which I think they make in an old-school Hamilton Beach blender. So the ice is more chunky, not smooth like it would be from a New Orleans daiquiri machine. It’s $18, but it’s made with expensive rum—Paranubes and Don Q Cristal—and served in a big, big, big hurricane-style glass. I always share it with my partner.

    Manolito is a really small bar. There are just five seats at the bar, three tables downstairs and three upstairs, as well as a tiny kitchen. And the tables seat about two each. So it’s usually pretty chill, and even more so since it’s a little hidden, near the French Market. I think maybe people walk by it not knowing what it is. For now, we’re so lucky that it’s still a New Orleans secret.

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  • Bouligny Tavern

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Bouligny Tavern is a great place to go most nights of the week. If you go late on Friday or Saturday night, or on a holiday, you can’t get in because there are so many people trying to get a table. But I’m usually working on the weekends, so if I’m going to meet a friend out, it’s usually during the week anyway, making Bouligny a great spot for me.

    The bar itself is a nice, comfortable space. It’s got a cool feel to it, like a retro "man den" vibe, with mid-century modern furniture and lighting, wood paneling, and tufted banquettes. The only sound system they have is a turntable, and they only play music off of vinyl. They have good vinyl, too; everything from old Dylan to Flaming Lips to ‘80s music that I really love. And you get to listen to the whole record.

    The cocktails at Bouligny Tavern are always good, too. I like to get whatever mezcal cocktail they have going. It changes, but it’s always simple, like a Paloma with fresh grapefruit, lime, and soda water. They have a great selection of mezcal, including Alipús San Andrés. And there’s table service, so you don’t have to go to the bar to order.

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  • Bacchanal

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    I really enjoy drinking wine and hanging out at Bacchanal. It’s a great outdoor space in the Bywater, and they have a terrific selection of under-the-radar wines. It’s not stuffy. When you go there, they ask, "Hey, what do you want to drink today?" They have something for everybody’s budget, and they recommend all different types of wine, from all different regions. Everyone who works there is so approachable, but also has so much wine knowledge. I pretty much get a history lesson on wine when I drink here, which I appreciate.

    Bacchanal has been nominated for a James Beard for Outstanding Wine Program two years in a row—2018 and 2019. Inside, you can get the wine and also choose your own artisanal cheeses from a reach-in cooler, if you want a cheese board. They’ll set it up and bring it out to you. Or, you can order food at the window in the backyard, and there’s also a full-service bar on the second floor. The kitchen does all sorts of tapas, like bacon-wrapped dates, patatas bravas, house-made cultured butter with ciabatta, and the sandwich special they always have at lunch.

    I like to go to Bacchanal on Mondays for lunch, when barely anybody is around—it gets really crowded at night; it’s crazy. I have my cheese board, my bottle of wine, and nobody is there. There’s a French musician, Raphaël Bas, who plays every instrument, and his voice is so angelic—he really transports me every time I hear him. You feel like you’re somewhere in the south of France, in somebody’s backyard.

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  • Freret Beer Room

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Freret Beer Room opened about three years ago on Freret Street, and back then, it was more of a restaurant that had beer on tap. Now it’s more like a taproom with a really abbreviated menu, and it’s perfect for sitting down for a pint. They work with a lot of local microbreweries, and the food is also fantastic. Freret Beer Room is a smaller version of Bouligny Tavern, and with more beer than spirits. Adjacent to it is the owner’s second business, and he calls it the Annex. It’s his retail operation, where he sells beers and wine.

    There’s a large selection of taprooms in New Orleans now, but they tend to be pretty noisy. That’s cool and fun in its own way, but if you’re not looking for a really crowded or loud place, and you still want that selection of beers, this is where you can go. It’s a nice, quiet spot. I don’t drink a lot, but I do like the selection of local brews here, like a crisp Who Dat Golden Ale from Urban South, paired with Chef Charles’s "Paris, Texas" sandwich—with house-smoked brisket, Gruyère, cornichons, arugula, and horseradish mayo—which is my go-to. They've started doing smoked meats, including smoked briskets on Thursdays, and it’s the perfect off-day lunch for me.

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Best Splurge

Whether you want to experience a long-established fine-dining institution or delve into the new wave of chef-driven delicacies, these splurge-worthy restaurants are New Orleans’ best.

  • Galatoire's

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    If you’re going to take somebody to something fancy, show them Galatoire’s in the French Quarter. Bring them to the Friday lunch, and order so many things: the pommes soufflées (crispy twice-fried potato wedges); the café brûlot (a boozy hot coffee drink, served flaming in a chafing dish); and the trout amandine (fried with a butter, lemon, and almond pan sauce)—all super-traditional New Orleans. And if the restaurant has the soft-shell crabs on the menu, you’ve got to get them. If not, get the crab cakes.

    When I was 18 years old, and the most obnoxious little culinary kid, my mom brought me here. I had on a blazer—I went to school at St. Martin’s Episcopal School, so of course I was wearing a blazer. My mom and stepfather have a preferred server—most regulars do—and he was our server that night. We ended up eating upstairs, because they were remodeling the downstairs, and my mom could see the disappointment in my face. We ordered the trout amandine and the pommes soufflées, but I wasn’t that into the food or the vibe. It seemed too old-school and fussy.

    But now that I’ve been cooking for 20 years, I have a much greater appreciation for the classics. It’s so weird: The era of fine dining in New Orleans is kind of dying, and nobody seems to want it anymore. It’s a little heartbreaking to me, because I’ve spent my life dedicated to fine dining.

    The moral of the story is that you have to eat downstairs at Galatoire’s to get the full experience, more than anything else.

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  • Justine

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Justine isn’t necessarily fancy, but it’s definitely a splurge, because it’s in the French Quarter. Really, it’s a brasserie. When you walk in, there’s a front café room, with a sidewalk-café feel to it. That opens up to the restaurant, where there’s a giant bar that runs the length of the room. And the place is big—I want to say it seats over 200, and it gets really packed. There are banquettes and freestanding tables, and more high-top communal tables along the kitchen pass, and then it opens up to another intimate dining room and a courtyard.

    The food is awesome, based on French and French-driven techniques, and can be very traditional. They’ve got classics like cote de boeuf and French onion soup, and even a foie gras torchon—foie gras cooked in cheesecloth in a tube shape, then cut into rounds for serving—on brioche toast points. The torchon is served cold, with a little bit of sea salt and mustard on the side. It’s creamy and warms up and melts in your mouth.

    They also have a special of the day, a plat du jour, typically a traditional dish like a bouillabaisse (rich seafood stew) or duck breast à l’orange. On Wednesdays, they have a half roasted chicken, poulet rôti—a classically French roasted chicken with vegetables—and it’s incredible. I love the Octopus Vinaigrette, which is tenderized, boiled, and sliced octopus with a bunch of citrus on it, fresh peppers, torn mint, and champagne vinegar and olive oil.

    Justine is on a kind of dead block in the French Quarter, so you could easily miss it. Just look for the pink sign.

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  • Brigtsen's

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Even before I moved to New Orleans, people were telling me about Brigtsen’s. Everyone just loves it: the charm of the building itself, a cozy Uptown cottage, and the fact that it’s run by a husband-and-wife duo, Frank and Marna Brigtsen, who’ve been running it for 35 years. That’s a long time!

    The place is kind of like a cross between a fancy restaurant and somebody’s home. And that’s what you get when you’re at Brigtsen’s. It’s all classic New Orleans dishes, but very high-end. For a lot of people, you have to go to Antoine’s or Galatoire’s to get those traditional dishes. But Frank Brigtsen still preserves the same classics in a very approachable, comfortable environment.

    At Brigtsen’s, you can have a panéed rabbit—breaded and shallow-fried, then covered in a Creole mustard sauce—that’s super delicious, and you don’t see that on people’s menus anymore. You should also try the shrimp calas, a Creole rice fritter that’s traditional New Orleans street food, in Frank’s version of BBQ shrimp. And another dish Brigtsen’s is known for is the seafood platter, with baked scallops, grilled redfish, and stuffed shrimp. We get great shrimp in New Orleans—we’re kind of spoiled for that—so Frank finds the freshest shrimp and chops it up, and then folds it in with rice. Then he makes a shrimp-shell reduction that’s so delicate. Frank really highlights the shrimp to be the star of that dish. It’s not muddled with a bunch of other things. Not a lot of people can do that very easily.

    Beyond the food, I’m drawn to Brigtsen’s for all the wonderful things Frank does, both outside and at the restaurant—teaching at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts every Thursday, and preserving the history of all those classic New Orleans dishes, which is really special.

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  • Bywater American Bistro

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    The quality of the food, for me, is the fancy part of dining out. It’s in the ingredients and the preparation. Bywater American Bistro sources quality ingredients, the food is prepared very well in a technical sense, and the flavors are incredible. You get the upscale, fancy experience of being in a nicer setting, but it’s also in the Bywater, at the edge of where the French Quarter is. It feels like having a dinner party in someone’s hip studio apartment, but the kitchen is helmed by a talented chef, and the room is directed by your best friend’s mom who likes to make everyone feel welcome.

    My favorite things there are the oysters with gravy and rice. It’s so weird, because chef and co-owner Levi Raines and I don’t have the same backgrounds in any way, but the dish somehow brings me back to my childhood in Vietnam. We used to eat a dish that was similar to that: rice with gravy, but thickened with rice flour and tapioca starch, and served with grilled seafood. Eating Bywater’s oysters with gravy and rice really reconnects me with that comforting food.

    The crudo is also fantastic; the last time I was there, I had the hamachi tartare, with cucumber, smoked swordfish belly, caviar, and melon kosho—a house-made melon, chili, and salt paste. It was really light, clean, and crisp. It didn’t have the acidity or brininess you’d get from a beef tartare or, on the other end of the spectrum, a ceviche—it was almost like I was drinking cucumber water. The hamachi itself was so fresh and had almost an earthy feeling, but with the cucumber and melon kosho, super bright and bold, spicy and refreshing—it all just works.

    When I go to a fancy place, if I order something fried, I always also order something poached or steamed to complement it. If I order the fried oysters with a dark-roux gravy and rice (and I always do, because it’s my favorite thing there), I also get the steamed snapper, which is served with broccoli rabe. I like the snapper especially because it’s served with a Crystal hot sauce–inflected Hollandaise—it’s a food-memory thing. It brings me to my time working at the fine-dining classic Gautreau’s, with James Beard Award–winning chef Sue Zemanick, and she’d make this Crystal beurre blanc—the first time I’d had that flavor combination. When I eat something like that, it marks it in my memory.

    Another thing: My wife and I almost never make reservations when we go to Bywater, because our schedules are opposite. But the bar at this place has a lot of room, and you can dine right there, even when you go last-minute. And the food’s good no matter where you sit. The service doesn’t get abbreviated.

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Can't-Miss Bites

Whether you’re a local or visiting for a weekend, there are some classic New Orleans bites that can’t be overlooked. Heck, most of the specialties at these places can be taken on the plane back home.

  • Liuzza's

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    If you want to see classic New Orleans, go to Liuzza’s on Bienville. I grew up in Mid-City, and I still love it and recommend it to everyone, because it hasn’t really been touched by all the changes in New Orleans. It’s just the same place it’s always been.

    The restaurant opens up into the bar, and then there’s a dining room crammed with tables. There are vintage posters from Tipitina’s, and more local memorabilia, on the walls, and tables are covered in vinyl tablecloths. Sometimes it gets so busy you’ll get sat at a table with other people, and everyone’s cool with it. I remember sitting there one time—my mom and I would go there a lot; whenever I came home from college—and these people right next to us were literally like, "Have you tried these fried pickles and these onion rings?" And they handed us the plate, and shared with us.

    You get the big mugs of beer that are so cold they still have ice crystals in them, which I think is so cool. And then you can get a Bushwhacker there, a frozen drink that blends dark rum, coffee liqueur, and crème de cacao, which is dangerous.

    Liuzza’s always has this eggplant Parmesan po’ boy, with fried eggplant, red tomato gravy, and provolone cheese. It’s awesome—just one of those things. It’s a cool little slice of New Orleans that hasn’t really been impacted by our booms in tourism and changes in our food culture. It’s still just the same old place.

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  • Central Grocery

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    You can’t leave New Orleans without trying a muffuletta sandwich. It has lots of Italian meats, layered with a traditional olive salad and provolone, and served on a round sesame loaf. Central Grocery in the French Quarter makes a delicious one, and will even wrap it up for you to take on the plane.

    The place itself is a grocery store and deli that’s been around for over 100 years. And it’s been instrumental in promoting Italian-American culture and cuisine in New Orleans. The store has so many Italian flags strewn about, and specialty jars of peppers and tomatoes decorating the space. You stand in line, order, and then sit outside to eat.

    Then, the muffuletta itself—it’s sublime. Salami, capicola, pepperoni, and ham are layered onto the round sesame loaf with provolone and Swiss cheese. The bread is divine, but what really makes it is the olive salad, a house mix of olives and pickled veggies that adds salty bites to the sandwich.

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  • Marjie's Grill

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Marjie’s Grill reminds me of the family-owned operations I recall from when I was in Saigon. The decor—plants, books, needlepoint artwork, tropical touches—is definitely for the folks who inhabit and work in that space every day. It just so happens that these things also add to the restaurant’s charm.

    My standby dish at Marjie’s is an order of the smoked pork knuckles. Chef Marcus Jacobs smokes them bone-in, skin-on, until they’re super tender, and then deep-fries them until they’re super crispy. What isn’t ridiculously crispy is really chewy and gelatinous, in a good way. And it gets coated in this sticky fish-sauce concoction with red chili flakes mixed in, and with mint and basil leaves torn over it. You can be tricked into thinking those pork knuckles are healthy somehow, because the flavors are so clean.

    The pork knuckles at Marjie’s are the type of thing you want to eat with your hands, and Marjie’s is the kind of environment where it’s okay to eat with your hands. If we’re talking about the quality, the preparation, and the bill at the end of the day—Marjie’s would be up there with more upscale restaurants. But they pay a living wage, which is a big deal, and why I don’t mind shelling out a little bit more for my meal.

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  • Melba's

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Melba’s is an all-day, all-night neighborhood gem, specializing in the people’s food of New Orleans. It’s Creole in the sense of the word meaning "of the place." It’s lively, and located next to a busy laundromat. There are big screens, and people everywhere, and there’s kind of a chaotic vibe to it. The menu can be a little overwhelming—it’s bright orange in color, and there are so many items on it—but you should know what you’re going to get before you get in line. They’ll call your name when it’s ready. There’s another room off to the side where they have a daiquiri bar and seating area, where you can sit and eat.

    Melba’s has a lot of good things, and it seems like just about everything comes with sausage. But my favorite is a shrimp po’ boy. The French bread overflows with crispy battered-and-deep-fried shrimp. There’s a way you can order it that’s not on the menu: They’ll put butter on the bread, with hot sauce and extra pickles. Some old neighborhood lady told me to order it like that once when I was in line, and I listened.

    In fact, I go one step further: I get the butter in addition to getting it dressed (that’s when the po’ boy comes topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato). It’s really good. You get mayo and butter; it’s a heart-stopper for sure. But you’ve got to know to order it—they don’t tell anybody to order it like that.

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  • Dooky Chase

    Photograph: Denny Culbert

    Dooky Chase, a Creole restaurant in Tremé, is a New Orleans institution. It’s where chef and queen of Creole cuisine Leah Chase created a space for Southern food to shine. She passed away early in June 2019, at the age of 96, but in her lifetime, she was a pioneer of Southern food and Southern hospitality. She and her husband, Dooky, hosted many meetings among civil rights leaders at the restaurant. She taught people to take care of the people around them, and showed that gracious hospitality has to extend into the community.

    To me, the most important aspect of Dooky Chase is the history behind it. The place has been standing strong for over 70 years, serving a story of community, heritage, resilience, revolution, and finding common ground. There are a lot of tourists that visit, but many older regulars, too. It’s very classic inside, with red walls, chandeliers, and white linens.

    Nothing better represents its Creole roots than the red beans and rice here, and everyone visiting New Orleans should try this dish. Red beans and rice has been a staple in this town since the 19th century. Back then, Monday was considered laundry day, and, since the laundry had to be done by hand, a slow-cooked pot of beans, using Sunday’s leftover-dinner ham bone for flavoring, was the perfect set-it-and-forget-it solution. A good pot is fatty and creamy in flavor.

    To me, this meal isn’t just about the beans and rice; it’s history and tradition. It’s progress. It’s community, and being able to bridge people. But you should order it with fried chicken. Always.

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Editor's Note: The chefs' responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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