The pandemic ground New Orleans restaurants and bars to a halt over the past year, forcing many to pivot time and again. New restaurant openings were delayed, and some restaurants closed their doors forever.
Now, New Orleans restaurants are taking everything they’ve learned since the first days of the pandemic to safely remain open, to re-open, and to open for the first time. The city is exhibiting one of its finest and hardest won traits: the resilience it gained through years of hurricanes and other trials. Besides that, it’s almost impossible to put a lid on the culinary energy that buzzes through this city.
Here are seven of the most exciting restaurant reservations to make right now in the Crescent City, guaranteed to prove this city’s vibrant culinary culture shines even during some of the industry’s most difficult days.
Miss River (Central Business District)
Chef Alon Shaya, most recently lauded for his stand-out Israeli cuisine at his restaurants Saba (New Orleans) and Safta (Denver), cleverly explores the food he fell in love with after moving to Louisiana 20 years ago at his newest restaurant Miss River, located in the lobby level of the hotly anticipated Four Seasons along the downtown portion of the Mississippi River. That sentiment is evoked in every detail of the luxury hotel’s signature restaurant from the bar cart buzzing around the dining room pouring aperitifs, digestifs, and bubbles in a celebration of New Orleans’s cocktail culture to the menu of regional classics exuberantly plated on a kitchen stage.
Menu items include whole carved buttermilk fried chicken to share at the table; clay pot dirty rice with seared duck breast; and Louisiana oyster patties with puff pastry, caramelized shiitakes, and citrus zest. The salt-crusted red snapper is a showstopper with the salt crust formed in the shape of a fish that comes apart like a hard topped dish of its own. The restaurant’s interior takes cues from the soft curves of the Mississippi River, with a soft palate evoking a lush New Orleans garden at twilight that invites diners to linger over food and drink and conversation. Combined with the exacting attention to detail the Four Seasons is known for, Miss River is one of the most magical additions to the New Orleans dining scene this year.
Emeril’s New Orleans (Warehouse District)
If there’s a chef everyone associates with the Crescent City, it’s the exuberant Emeril Lagasse. The culinary and entertainment powerhouse’s flagship restaurant, Emeril’s New Orleans, finally throws open its doors following its pandemic hiatus on August 31, 2021. With impeccable service, a wine list to lose yourself in (it’s received Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for 20 consecutive years), and a menu that continues to innovate and celebrate with each turn, Emeril’s is as relevant and exciting as it was the first time it opened its doors more than 30 years ago.
Peacock Room (Warehouse District)
After so much time spent quarantining inside the same spaces day-in and day-out, New Orleans deserves a new cocktail lounge that truly shakes its tail feathers. Kimpton Hotel Fontenot’s Peacock Room delivers with bright cobalt blue walls and banquettes, mosaic-tiled floors, and opulent prints and patterns. Chef Chris Lusk, once lauded as one of Esquire magazine’s “four breakout chefs to watch,” creatively showcases Southern cuisine with blue crab pimiento cheese, cajun crawtator-crusted oysters, and fruits de mer pho. While there, sip on the seductive “Right Place/Wrong Time,” made with butter-infused vodka, coconut milk, and espresso syrup. Live music on Thursday evenings ensures there’s almost always a reason to celebrate.
San Lorenzo (Garden District)
Lovers of coastal Italian seafood dishes will feel at home perched on emerald-green booth against the carved wainscotting at the newly opened San Lorenzo, where they can dine on raw oysters from different coasts, squid ink pasta chitarra with crab and sea urchin, lobster bucatini, whole grilled fish, and more. In a nod to its New Orleans home, grilled oysters land on the menu bathed in oregano parmesan butter and breadcrumbs. This gorgeous all-day restaurant named for the patron saint of cooks is equally elegant in its looks with soaring ceilings, lush, modern finishes, and attention to detail at every turn.
Pat’s Rest Awhile (Mandeville)
Pat’s Rest Awhile gets its name from the hotel that operated in the space beginning in the late 1800s. Chef and restaurateur Pat Gallagher (the other part of the name) is a legend in his own way, owning restaurants in the area since 1978. Jazz Fest goers know him for the crab cakes, pecan catfish meuniere, and seafood mirliton casserole he’s dished out at the festival for the last 15 years. Now with a permanent spot to serve his beloved ware, Gallagher’s menu includes his popular jumbo lump crab cakes with smoked corn salsa and red remoulade sauce plus fried seafood platters, cedar-planked redfish, oysters Rockefeller soup, and more. The convivial restaurant is best suited for meeting neighbors and friends while having a lot of fun. Pro tip: Sit outside for access to the oyster bar with raw and chargrilled oysters that overlooks the lake next door.
Birdy’s Behind the Bower (Garden District)
With both spacious indoor dining and a covered outdoor patio strung with twinkling lights, and a long list of Covid safety precautions that could put almost anyone at ease, Birdy’s is a relaxing breath of fresh air in the dining scene. Open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, its dining room pops with a chic palette of whites, bright yellow, green, and pink. Birds obviously make an appearance. The kitchen sets a high bar for a good day by baking cinnamon rolls in banana custard, drizzling fried chicken biscuits with jalapeño and cane syrup country gravy, and concocting its own mini cookie cereal. There are plenty of healthy bowls and toasts with bright, fresh veggies from local farms, like the beet hummus toast with feta, roasted chickpeas, fresh mint, and turmeric spice. The lunch menu adds salads and burgers and more sandwiches. Plus, there are plenty of cocktails and mocktails. It’s the kind of menu that leaves you no choice but to roll over and wake up on the very best side of the bed.
Zasu (Mid City)
Between the fever pitch popularity of James Beard Award-winning chef Sue Zemanick and the petite size of her Mid City restaurant, Zasu has always been a tough reservation to score. After spending part of the summer on hiatus for some restaurant renovations and creative recharging, Zasu is back stronger than ever with Zemanick’s unique blend of Continental cuisine matched with a pointed nod to her Czech heritage. Favorites on the bistro-style menu include the pierogies stuffed with wild mushrooms, potatoes, caramelized onions, and asparagus or the scene-stealing dessert. Though small, the restaurant never feels stuffy with its jade green walls, natural wood, and simple brass fixtures.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.