15 Top New Orleans Restaurants for Celebrating Special Occasions

Credit: Arnaud's

Crescent City denizens tend to mark time by food seasons rather than the standard calendar seasons. The hottest months belong to fluffy, bright snoballs, while spring temperatures bring families and friends together over spicy spreads of boiled crawfish. In a city that puts food and drink at the center of its life and not just the center of the table, most eating and drinking tends to feel like a special occasion. 

That said, when it comes to celebrating a birthday, a graduation, the return to in-person learning, or just being alive in the Big Easy, this city does it up right with casual cafes punctuating these events with buckets spilling over with freshly boiled seafood, James Beard Award-winning cocktail bars mixing drinks worthy of their own toasts, and grand dining rooms that have hosted special occasions for long before the last pandemic. 

Across the Crescent City, here are the best options for many different occasions, with indoor, outdoor, and takeout options to help meet anyone’s comfort level.

NOLA Art Bar (Bywater)

Credit: NOLA Art Bar

There’s a ton of good art, music, food, and drinks in New Orleans, but NOLA Art Bar brings them all together in a chic setting last known as that iconic candy pink den Gene’s Po-boys. Owner DJ Johnson opened the doors at NOLA Art Bar just a few weeks before the pandemic shut down the city, and now, after several pivots to keep the new business afloat, this popular spot buzzes with the sounds of bands such as Kinfolk Brass Band and the vibrant work of New Orleans graphic artists while patrons sip from a generous cocktail menu covering smart classics ranging from sidecars to sazeracs as well twists on classics like the Mexican 75.

Dining at the restaurant: NOLA Art Bar’s indoor seating includes plush lounge chairs amid wall art installations, as well as comfortable bar stools for perching over cocktails. A brick courtyard offers ample outdoor seating. Get the celebration going with Speakeasy Burlesque, one hour and thirty minutes of private burlesque in an intimate setting, available to reserve as an Experience on Opentable. Bottle service is available as well.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling NOLA Art Bar directly.

Hieux Boil Seafood House (Mid-City/City Park)

There’s hardly a meal more emblematic of Louisiana cuisine or culture than the seafood boil, when friends and family gather over an embarrassment of riches: piles upon piles of boiled crabs, crawfish, or shrimp. The concept at Hieux Boil Seafood House is to take the idea of the backyard seafood boil and to bring it in, except with many more options and far less work. You’ll get dirty peeling seafood covered in butter, so don’t wear your finest, even if you are celebrating a special occasion. Just kick back, pop open a cold one, and decide how many pounds of blue crab you think you’d like to eat tonight.

Dining at the restaurant: Hieux Boil Seafood House offers both indoor and outdoor seating options. The menu has plenty of seafood platters, buckets, baskets, pastas, po-boys, and soups, but the most fun approach is to build your own adventure: Pick your catch by the pound (crawfish, Gulf shrimp, blue crab, snow crab, dungeness crab, mussels, lobster, and clams are all options depending on seasonal availability); pick your butter flavor (Caribbean, Cajun, garlic butter, or “boil house”), and pick your heat from low to extra high.

Takeout: Order takeout on the restaurant’s website

Brennan’s (French Quarter)

Credit: Brennan’s

This historic restaurant highlights its rich history, but there’s not a speck of dust on it — it almost feels as if you’ve simply stepped back in time with saturated, vibrant colors in the interiors and a menu that’s both classic and innovative at once. The grand dame of Royal Street turns plenty of heads for classic stunners such as velvety turtle soup drizzled with sherry and buttery-rich trout amandine, but don’t sleep on its more contemporary offerings like the Mississippi fried rabbit with red-eye jus. One of the highlights of dining at Brennan’s is the tableside food preparation, the most famous dish of which is the bananas Foster. Bananas, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, rum, and banana liqueur are flamed tableside and served hot over vanilla ice cream. It’s a must-do on a special occasion.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining at Brennan’s is as much a feast for the eyes as it is a feast for the stomach. Nineteenth century Mardi Gras invitations become murals in the Trellis Room overlooking the central courtyard. The Roost Bar has a whimsical aviary theme with bird cage fixtures and ostrich banquettes. A small parlor upstairs pays homage to one of the building’s 19th century inhabitants, a well-known chess prodigy named Paul Morphy. Each of the many rooms in this two-story building has its own character and is worth a visit. Stop by the courtyard every Thursday through Sunday at 5pm sharp, when the restaurant sabers a bottle of Champagne. Call ahead to make sure the courtyard is not reserved for a private event.

Takeout: Brennan’s does not offer takeout at this time.

Arnaud’s (French Quarter)

Credit: Arnaud’s

Among the perfect plates of zesty shrimp Arnaud, the effervescent French 75 cocktails standing proud in flutes, and the sparkling beveled glass windows that overlook Rue Bienville, Arnaud’s also soars beyond other restaurants in service. With gracious attitudes, pitch-perfect timing, and deep knowledge of the ins and outs of formal dining, Arnaud’s seems as genuinely happy about your special occasion as you are.

Dining at the restaurant: Arnaud’s offers indoor dining only, though some private dining spaces include balconies. In addition to the main restaurant, there’s also the French 75 bar for drinks and the more relaxed sister restaurant Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro. At the main restaurant, visit the second floor to take in a kitschy petit Mardi Gras museum. Arnaud’s serves dinner nightly and jazz brunch each Sunday. Arrive early for the dinner reservation to have a drink in the dark and clubby French 75 bar.

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Yo Nashi (Central Business District)

Credit: Yo Nashi

Yo Nashi isn’t just omakase in New Orleans; it is New Orleans omakase. According to the restaurant, this means that Japanese techniques and styles blend with in-season New Orleans ingredients for an eight- to ten-course omakase dinner. The menu changes regularly, but past dishes have included caviar and cream with sake gelee, seared bluefin chutoro with sturgeon caviar and egg yolk, and oysters with buttermilk foam. Since omakase is fairly uncommon in New Orleans, Yo Nashi is special for its uniqueness in this city.

Dining at the restaurant: The sleek deep blue and orange interior of the long, narrow dining room is designed so that 18 seats are situated around a sushi-style bar. The restaurant typically does two dinner services a night Thursday through Monday. With such a small capacity, reservations are key.

Takeout: Yo Nashi does not offer takeout at this time.

Cure (Uptown)

Credit: Cure

This cocktail bar laid the foundation for the revitalization of an entire community while it stirred up the craft cocktail renaissance in New Orleans. More than a decade later, the bar has scooped up a James Beard Award, among many others. More importantly, it’s maintained its place as a truly cool and very special cocktail bar in the Freret neighborhood of New Orleans to toast to any occasion. Though Cure stands out for its cocktails, the menu of small bites also impresses. Try the cacio e pepe deviled eggs, smoked trout dip, or white bean hummus with marcona almond tahini.

Dining at the restaurant: Housed in a former fire station renovated with warm wooden shelving and midcentury accents, Cure’s ceilings soar as firehouse ceilings do, making it feel spacious and giving the air more room to circulate. Seating includes bar stools with a view of the talented bartenders at work, as well as banquettes. There’s also a large outdoor patio.

Takeout: Order takeout by calling Cure directly.

Gautreau’s (Uptown)

Tucked into a lush, residential neighborhood Uptown, Gautreau’s has no sign, so when you find it, it really feels like you’ve made a discovery. The restaurant has jump-started the careers of a number of high-profile local chefs, and the kitchen never fails to shine in dishes like local-favorite duck confit. Owners Rebecca and Patrick Singley work the dining room like it’s a room in their very own home, greeting tables of strangers like old friends (which they will be by the end of the night).

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is indoors. Expect to feel like you’re attending a private dinner party.

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Antoine’s (French Quarter)

At nearly 200 years old, Antoine’s has managed to survive through the last pandemic, as well as the Great Depression, two World Wars, Prohibition, and the Civil War. The kitchen has created some of the city’s most famed dishes, such as oysters rockefeller and eggs sardou. The grand restaurant can seat 700 people at one time in several rooms that one could get lost in — during Prohibition, there was a door in the women’s restroom that led to a secret room where one could obtain a coffee cup full of booze. If anyone asked where it came from, the reply was to be, “It’s a mystery to me.” Dining at Antoine’s is to be a part of history.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is indoors, but the restaurant boasts lots of space — some private dining rooms even have balconies. While dinner is a given here, a special $36, four-course brunch menu is enticing with avocado toast followed by either Creole tomato salad or alligator bisque, then a choice of oysters brochette or pork hash shakshuka, and strawberry bread pudding for dessert.   

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Mr. John’s Steakhouse (Garden District)

It’s hard to argue with a steak arriving at the table hissing and splattering in butter as the official stamp on a special occasion. Mr. John’s Steakhouse, located on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, represents the best of the old-school steakhouses in New Orleans. This means that in addition to steakhouse standards such as quality steaks, creamed spinach, crab cakes, iceberg lettuce wedges, and garlic mashed potatoes, diners can also expect to enjoy New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp (shrimp sauteed with butter, garlic, and worcestershire), shrimp remoulade, fried green tomatoes, and turtle soup. The Crystal hot sauce onion rings stand out as well.

Dining at the restaurant: The dining room is typical of a steakhouse with dark wood, white table cloths, and prominently displayed bottles of red wine. Saints players are said to be frequent diners, but the staff will make you feel like you’ve got a Super Bowl ring, too. Weekends get fully booked in advance, so make reservations early.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Gabrielle (Mid-City/City Park)

Locals waited 12 long years for this restaurant to reopen following Hurricane Katrina; at times it seemed like it just wasn’t going to happen. When it finally did, owners Greg and Mary Sonnier painted the new building the cobalt blue that regulars remembered from the pre-Katrina days. Inside those walls, the kitchen warmed old favorites like slow-roasted dusk, barbecued shrimp pie, and peppermint patti, as well as new dishes such as a mixed sausage grill with merguez and andouille sausages and honey lavender mustard sauce. The warmth and hospitality at Gabrielle makes for a restaurant that feels familiar and comfortable enough for any day, but special enough for a celebration. Food that is too beautiful and labor intensive to make at home on a normal day, like crawfish bisque with stuffed crawfish heads, propels the restaurant into another bracket altogether. It really doesn’t fit into a box, and that’s what makes it so unique.

Dining at the restaurant: The dining room is cozy, so reservations are highly recommended. Takeout: This restaurant is not offering takeout at this time.

Restaurant R’evolution (French Quarter)

Credit: Restaurant R’evolution

This posh French Quarter restaurant from celebrity chef and Louisiana native John Folse and partner Rick Tramonto have created a restaurant tailored to special occasions, through details such as the waitstaff will bring your purse a seat as well. The menu serves decadence such as crawfish cavatelli, caviar staircases, bourbon-cured bone marrow, and special-occasion cognacs that run more than $300 for two ounces. If there’s one dish everyone orders, it’s the “death by gumbo,” a silky gumbo liquid poured over a stuffed quail tableside. It’s a dish that illustrates the idea behind the restaurant: the evolution of Cajun and Creole cuisine.

Dining at the restaurant: Restaurant R’evolution offers indoor seating at tables that were generously spaced even before Covid. One dining room with red velvet seats has murals depicting scenes from Louisiana history and crystal chandeliers, and another room offers views into the kitchen and its custom red Viking stove.

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Lola’s (Mid-City)

This intimate neighborhood Spanish tapas restaurant on Esplanade Avenue might be the perfect first date spot. The dining room is small and full of two-tops big enough to hold a large pan of paella to share, but small enough to have a quiet conversation while tucking into a shared meal. Standout menu mainstays include grilled calamari, garlicky mushrooms, and paellas and fideuas. Save room for almond nougat ice cream; it comes in a large parfait glass and is big enough to share.

Dining at the restaurant: Once limited to a few seats in its small dining room, Covid allowed for some major seating changes including the addition of many outdoor tables spread along the front and sides of Lola’s and in front of the building next door as well. Outdoor dining is only covered along the side of the building, so check the weather when you book.

Takeout: Order delivery or takeout by calling or through third-party apps.

Café Sbisa (French Quarter)

Chef and co-owner Alfred Singleton shines at this historic restaurant open since 1899 in the French Quarter. New Orleans is known for its seafood, but Café Sbisa ups the ante on fresh, sourcing dishes such as crawfish beignets, turtle soup, and trout Eugene with seafood-rich Champagne cream sauce from co-owner Craig Napoli’s own seafood dock and distribution business nearby.

Dining at the restaurant: Café Sbisa is currently open on the weekends for dinner and brunch with lots of excellent seating options including a main dining room with a long mahogany bar, a mezzanine overlooking the main dining room, private dining on two upper floors, and outdoor seating options in the courtyard and on balconies overlooking bustling Decatur Street.

Takeout: Takeout is not currently available from the restaurant.

Del Porto Ristorante (Covington)

Take one bite of the house-made cavatelli with calabrese sausage, sweet corn, crispy yukons, chiles, and parmesan or the tuna crudo appetizer, and it’s easy to see why people regularly make Del Porto their special spot on the Northshore. Owners and chefs Torre and David Solazzo are often favorites for James Beard’s Best Chef: South and have won several other awards such as OpenTab’s Diner’s Choice and The Times-Picayune’s Top 10 Restaurants. Overlooking the heart of downtown Covington, Del Porto charms the Northshore with its expert Italian dishes and clean, stylish dining room.

Dining at the restaurant: A wildly popular restaurant in downtown Covington, the dining room can get full quickly so make a reservation.

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Saint-Germain (Bywater)

The Bywater’s Saint Germain is a two-in-one operation. Five days a week, the venue operates as a French-style wine bar showcasing natural wines, and four nights a week, it throws open its 12-seat, reservation-only dining room for a five-course tasting menu. The menu changes completely two times a month and is never posted anywhere, adding to the feeling of a truly fun special occasion. Many diners rank the experience, where you might expect dry-aged meats, washed rind cheese making, and a la minute seafood butchery, as one of the best dining experiences in New Orleans.

Dining at the restaurant: While the wine bar allows for indoor and outdoor courtyard seating, the 12-seat dining room is inside. The proprietors say they created this dining experience to recreate what it’s like dining in a chef’s home. 

Takeout: This restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.