A visit to New Orleans should be on everyone’s culinary bucket list. There are regional specialties galore and more storied restaurants that you possibly fit in one trip. But once you’ve had beignets, bananas Foster, red beans and rice, jambalaya and crawfish étouffée at iconic restaurants like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s and Brennan’s, it’s time to branch out. Here are some more of the places that are ideal for when you want to dine like a local in New Orleans.
Shaya is one of the current darlings of the New Orleans food scene. An anomaly in the area, the focus is modern Israeli cuisine with influences from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Greece. But many of the products are locally sourced and add a unique spin to classics. The dinner menu is designed for sharing; try a selection of the “for the table” dishes, such as paddlefish caviar spread with shallots or wood-roasted okra with tahini, tomatoes, and duqqa. Dishes like the roasted cabbage served with muhammara, tahini, and hazelnuts are a riot of flavors and textures but combined in such a way that the result is much more than the sum of its parts. Make a reservation at Shaya.
This newish restaurant from Top Chef contestant Nina Compton is located in the hip warehouse arts district in a space adjoining a cool boutique hotel. Her food sometimes shows hints of her Caribbean background, but mostly it’s her excitingly fresh approach to New Orleans ingredients and vegetable-forward cuisine that tantalizes. Because Compton previously worked at Scarpetta in Miami, her pastas are noteworthy. But even simple dishes like the beet salad is a revelation. It’s composed or both cooked and raw beets, pesto, tender baby beet greens, candied pistachios and ciabatta croutons. Make a reservation at Compère Lapin.
La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery is set in a historic building which was once the Central Tea, Coffee and Butter Depot, across the street from the bustling Jefferson Market. Over a hundred years later, it positively oozes with charm. Award-winning chef Justin Devillier has been in New Orleans for more than 10 years and has worked at some of the best restaurants in town, at which he absorbed the local techniques and approaches to food. His creative dishes include fried green tomatoes with burrata, arugula, country ham, and herb oil, and blue crab beignets. The restaurant is located on Magazine Street in a part of Uptown on the edge of the Garden District that is well worth exploring. Make a reservation at La Petite Grocery.
It’s no surprise that this new spot is a combination of a Southern bakery and a café; the flaky biscuits here are already being hailed as some of the city’s best. While technically a John Besh restaurant, it’s really all about pastry chefs-bakers Kelly Fields and Lisa White. Super popular at lunch, locals rave about the meatloaf sandwich and the avocado toast with poached egg, olive oil, tomato and sea salt. A pure nostalgia dessert is the “cookies and milk” — chocolate chip cookies are served with a glass of Tahitian vanilla milk alongside a beater full of fresh cookie dough. Make a reservation at Willa Jean.
The French Quarter may be filled with tourists, but locals head there, too, for live music and cool drinks. They also make a beeline to what’s often regarded the best fine dining seafood restaurant in town. In business for more than a decade, it has a fresh and modern dining room. Signature dishes from chef and co-owner Tenney Flynn include the Lobster Dumplings with fennel, tomato concassé, and lobster butter and Scalibut, a combination of halibut encrusted with sea scallops, served with lobster risotto, snow peas, and pea shoot butter. If you’re lucky, you could find lionfish as a special. Make a reservation at GW Fins.
Furthest up the river from the French Quarter is Carrollton. Once a separate town, it’s now the 16th and 17th wards of New Orleans. And Carrollton Market has helped the area become a true destination for dining. The food by CIA graduate Jason Goodenough is luxurious yet reflective of NOLA’s culinary traditions. The menu relies heavily on regional purveyors and seasonal produce. Fish and meat are prepared with panache and expertise. But regardless of what you order for a main dish, the signature Oysters Goodenough is a must. Local oysters are flash fried, and served with crispy Benton’s bacon, creamed leeks, and sauce béarnaise. Make a reservation at Carrollton Market.
Located in a charming two-story building in the Garden District, chef-owner Michael Stoltzfus has crafted a menu of new Southern cuisine that innovatively celebrates the local. Mouthwatering dishes like gulf shrimp sweet corn, okra, and pied de cochon as well as coffee-cured cobia with peach, sunflower seeds, and crème fraîche reflect the season and keep residents coming back for more. Though comfortable and rustic, it’s a good fit for special occasions, too. Get adventurous with the tasting menu that is served “blind — five courses that are the chef’s picks on any given evening. Make a reservation at Coquette.
It’s hard to choose just one restaurant from Donald Link. This local chef and restaurateur has reinvigorated the Cajun cuisine of his youth, coaxing flavors from all elements to create memorable meals. The wood-fired stove in the restaurant is a prominent feature and you really can’t go wrong with any of the roasted dishes it produces, from the simplest oysters with chile garlic butter to the Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins, and pickled peaches. It’s also an ideal place to sample traditional fare like boudin, gumbo, grits, and smothered greens. Make a reservation at Cochon.
The newest restaurant on this list is already showing great promise. Located in the French Quarter, it’s where in-the-know foodies are heading next. Chef Michael Isolani is a Louisiana native and some of the dishes on his opening menu such as the crispy pork belly with creole caramel, cilantro, and pickled pearl onion are natural Nawlins crowd pleasers. Look for a bit of whimsy in dishes like his raw oysters topped with “caviar” made from cocktail sauce as well as the beef tartare served with a blob of creamy white beans, homemade crackers, and a mini bottle of Tabasco. Entrees, which include an outstanding grilled wagyu strip loin with heirloom tomatoes and béarnaise, are generously portioned for sharing. Make a reservation at Trinity.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Chris Granger (Carrollton Market); Randy Schmidt (Shaya); Sam Hanna (GW Fins); Rush Jagoe (Willa Jean).