New Orleanians tend to mark time by food seasons rather than the standard calendar flip. The hottest months belong to frozen daiquiris and technicolor snoballs. Spring brings 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, eating and drinking is always a special occasion.
When it comes to celebrating a birthday, graduation, or just feeling alive in the Big Easy, the stage is set with buckets of seafood, cocktails shaken and stirred in James Beard Award-winning bars, and grand dining rooms that have hosted generations of milestone events and special occasions.
These are the 15 best restaurants to book across the Crescent City for many different celebrations.
Arnaud’s (French Quarter)
With gracious attitudes and pitch-perfect timing, the staff at Arnaud’s is as happy about your special occasion as you are. Celebrate with tasty Creole plates, such as zesty shrimp and the Arnaud, an effervescent French 75 cocktail. Not to mention an exquisite view: the restaurant’s sparkling beveled glass windows overlook charming Rue Bienville. To all that, add a swinging jazz brunch on weekends and toasting an occasion at this French Quarter classic is a no-brainer. In addition to the main restaurant, there’s also a petite annex called the French 75 bar for drinks and its more relaxed sibling restaurant, Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro.
Zasu (Mid-City/City Park)
Zasu’s reopening in September 2021 (after an 18-month closure) was in itself a special occasion for legions of fans. James Beard Award-winning chef Sue Zemanick’s modern, elegant cuisine never disappoints. Zemanick’s star first rose at Gautreau’s, another swanky, modern restaurant on this list. Located in a renovated shotgun cottage in Mid-City, Zasu riffs on global favorites with fresh, local ingredients. The wild mushroom and potato pierogies, a nod to Zemanick’s Slovak heritage, are topped with onion crème fraiche and caramelized Vidalias. Instead of steak, bourguignon is made with rich short ribs, fingerlings, haricots verts, and braised shallots on the side. Service is unfailingly stellar, sure to elevate any celebration.
Brennan’s (French Quarter)
This storied restaurant, which has anchored Creole dining on Royal Street since 1946, is a shoo-in for birthdays or anniversaries. No festive meal here is complete without the bananas foster, a flaming bowl of bananas, butter, and rum-fueled goodness invented by Owen Brennan in the early 1950s. The cinnamon-scented spectacle is the perfect ending to breakfast at Brennan’s, which might include eggs Sardou and paneed Louisiana rabbit with cheddar grits on the side. Each of the many swanky rooms in this two-story building has its own character and amplifies any special occasion. Stop by the courtyard every Thursday through Sunday at 5 pm sharp, when the restaurant sabers a bottle of Champagne (call ahead to make sure the courtyard is not reserved for a private event).
Yo Nashi (Central Business District)
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 a celebratory eight- to 10-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. The omakase concept is still new to New Orleans, making this an extra-special spot to book.
Gautreau’s Restaurant (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—a special occasion in itself. The restaurant, a renovated apothecary, has jump-started the careers of a number of high-profile local chefs, and the kitchen never fails to shine through dishes including local-favorite duck confit with caramelized pears and brandy jus. Owners Rebecca and Patrick Singley work the dining room like it’s a space in their very own home, greeting tables of strangers like old friends (which they will be by the end of a very special night). Expect to feel like you’re attending a private dinner party.
Antoine’s (French Quarter)
After celebrating its 180th birthday in 2020, Antoine’s has managed to survive through the pandemic, the Great Depression, two World Wars, Prohibition, and the Civil War. A celebration at Antoine’s means being a part of Crescent City’s rich history. The kitchen is responsible for some of the city’s most famed dishes, such as oysters Rockefeller and eggs Sardou. While dinner is a given here, a special $38 three-course brunch menu entices with seasonal dishes that might include Creole tomato salad and bananas foster pain perdu. 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.”
Shaya, a sleek, monochromatic restaurant Uptown, was made for marking intimate occasions. Step into the blue-tiled space and the smell of wood smoke offers a preview of what’s to come. Pillows of pita bread, roasted lamb, hanger steak, and Royal Red shrimp kebabs are baked to perfection in a wood-burning oven. Drawing from culinary influences in North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece, the menu takes a page from Tel Aviv’s ultra original food scene. It’s no surprise this celebration-worthy spot earned a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2016.
Mr. John’s Steakhouse (Garden District)
Nothing beats 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, is the standard-bearer for old-school steakhouses in New Orleans. In addition to classics such as quality steaks, creamed spinach, and garlic mashed potatoes, diners can also enjoy New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp (shrimp sauteed with butter, garlic, and Worcestershire) and fried green tomatoes with crabmeat, among other local delicacies. The hot sauce onion rings are a must. Players from the New Orleans Saints are said to be frequent diners, but the staff has a way of making any diner feel like they’ve got a Super Bowl ring. Weekends get fully booked in advance, so make reservations early.
Gabrielle Restaurant New Orleans (Mid-City/City Park)
Locals waited 12 long years for this restaurant to reopen after Hurricane Katrina, the cause of much melancholy for its many fans. 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 delivers old favorites such as slow-roasted dusk and barbecued shrimp pie, as well as new dishes like panéed veal (a local delicacy that features thinly cut meat, coated in breadcrumbs and pan sautéed until golden brown) with lobster ravioli and lobster brie sauce. The restaurant’s trademark warmth and hospitality is especially worthy of a celebration. It really doesn’t fit into a box, and that’s what makes it special. The dining room is cozy, so reservations are highly recommended.
This bar laid the foundation for the revitalization of the Freret Street corridor while it stirred up the craft cocktail renaissance in New Orleans. More than a decade later, the spot, housed in a former fire station, has scooped up a James Beard Award, among many other accolades. More importantly, it’s maintained its place as a one-of-a-kind cocktail bar in Uptown New Orleans, an ideal spot to toast 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.
This intimate neighborhood Spanish tapas restaurant on Esplanade Avenue might be the perfect first date or anniversary spot. The dining room is 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 meal. Standout menu mainstays include grilled calamari, garlicky mushrooms, and paellas and fideuas (a pasta-based paella). Save room for almond nougat ice cream; it comes in a large parfait glass and is big enough for two.
Café Sbisa (French Quarter)
Chef and co-owner Alfred Singleton shines at this historic restaurant, which traces its origins to 1899 (making it one of the oldest establishments in the French Quarter). New Orleans is known for its stellar seafood, but Café Sbisa ups the ante on fresh, sourcing ingredients for dishes such as crawfish beignets and turtle soup from co-owner Craig Napoli’s own seafood dock and distribution business nearby. Toast a special occasion in the main dining room; for a more intimate affair, the restaurant offers private dining on its two upper floors.
Restaurant R’evolution (French Quarter)
This posh French Quarter restaurant comes from celebrity chef and Louisiana native John Folse and partner Rick Tramonto. Restaurant R’evolution is tailored to special occasions, with an elegant setting (crystal chandeliers, red velvet seats) and menu that reimagines Cajun and Creole classics. The menu exudes pure decadence, with options such as a variety of caviar, foie gras parfait, lobster and house-made black garlic linguine, 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.
Del Porto Ristorante (Covington)
Take one bite of the house-made cavatelli with calabrese sausage, sweet corn, crispy Yukons, chiles, and parmesan, and it’s easy to see why people regularly make Del Porto their special spot on the Louisiana Northshore. Owners and chefs Torre and David Solazzo have been nominated for James Beard’s Best Chef: South and earned several other accolades (including OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice award). Del Porto charms with authentic Italian dishes, gracious service, and a stylish setting. A wildly popular restaurant in downtown Covington, it can get full quickly so be sure to make a reservation for your special night.
Saint Germain is a versatile, two-in-one operation, perfect for a romantic celebration. Five days a week, the venue operates as a French-style wine bar showcasing natural wines; four nights a week, it opens its 12-seat, reservation-only dining room for a five-course $125 tasting menu. The menu changes completely twice a month and is never posted anywhere, lending an especially exclusive vibe to any celebration here. Many diners rank their meal, which might include dry-aged meats, washed rind cheese, and a la minute seafood butchery, as one of the best dining experiences in New Orleans.
Beth D’Addono is a food and travel writer based in New Orleans. Her latest book is 100 Things to Do in New Orleans Before You Die.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.