You can’t throw a rock in New Orleans without hitting an incredible place to dine. And while we’re not advocating for the aforementioned rock tossing, when you visit a city as known for its cuisine as New Orleans is, it can almost be a little daunting to figure out where to begin your dining journey.
It’s nearly impossible to boil down a city with more than 1,200 restaurants to a top 15, and yet, here we are. These 15 are just a small sampling–some of the most well-known, most celebrated and most iconic dining rooms across the city. And while we’ve definitely got some white-table-cloth spots on this list, in true NOLA form, we’ve also giving you plates of beignets for under $3.50, messy-in-the-good-way po-boys, and some of the best fried chicken we’ve ever consumed.
If Friday lunch at Galatoire’s isn’t on your lifelong culinary bucket list, now’s the time to make that add. There’s something about the space that just radiates fun. The original dining room houses some of the most coveted tables in the city, especially when it comes to the Fridays before Halloween and Christmas. Here you can expect classic Creole cuisine–think shrimp remoulade, crabmeat maison, turtle soup, and more. Galatoire’s is especially festive for birthday celebrations–tell them it’s your special day, and you’re guaranteed a full-restaurant singalong with maximum enthusiasm. There’s truly nowhere else like it on the planet.
Arnaud’s is another French Quarter, fine dining classic. The dining room is stunning, although some of our favorite tables in the restaurant are actually up on the hidden balcony that overlooks the main room so that you can watch all the action down below (it’s also rumoured that men used to have their mistresses seated up there to keep them out of sight but present, but that’s neither here nor there.) Everything on the menu is fantastic, but it’s the fresh seafood that really shines. Arnaud’s is also a top choice for jazz brunch on the weekends. In a rush? Dip by the equally gorgeous French 75 Bar for a cocktail and a plate of souffle potatoes–they’re addictive.
At over 180 years old, Antoine’s is the oldest family-run restaurant in New Orleans. The building itself is almost as impressive as the menu, with private dining rooms devoted to Mardi Gras krewes and an impressively vast wine cellar that snakes through a city block and allegedly holds over 25,000 bottles of wine. Start your meal with Oysters Rockefeller (after all, the sauce was created there in 1899), and be sure to save room for their signature Baked Alaska served alongside some flaming Cafe Brulot.
Located in the picturesque Garden District, the exterior of Commander’s is almost as legendary as the food inside. The restaurant itself just feels celebratory–an atmosphere that co-proprietors Ti and Lally Brennan have worked hard to maintain. And under the direction of Meg Bickford–the restaurant’s first female executive chef–the meals consumed here are truly unforgettable. The bulk of the menu changes frequently and focuses on regional seasonal offerings, but starting a meal with a bowl of turtle soup and ending it with their world-famous bread pudding souffle is never a bad idea. In the mood for a fun and festive lunch? Swing by for their 3-course, 25-cent martini lunches.
You can’t talk about classic New Orleans cuisine without talking about Leah Chase. The beloved chef passed away in 2019, and left behind a legacy when it came not only to Creole cooking, but female chefs in New Orleans and beyond. The restaurant itself is still known for knocking it out of the park when it comes to NOLA comfort food–think bowls of expertly prepared gumbo, red beans, shrimp clemenceau and more. And beyond the food that graces its plates, there’s a history here from serving as a meeting place during the Civil Rights era to hosting numerous presidents. Perhaps one of the most coveted seats of all is at Dooky’s on Holy Thursday, the one day of the year when their legendary gumbo z’herbes is served.
Located just around the block from Dooky Chase’s, Willie Mae’s is another must-do on any food lover’s trip to New Orleans. Here, you’ll find people lined up down the block for the chance to try what is truly some of the best fried chicken on the entire planet. Grab it with a side of butter beans, and you’ll be in heaven.
Editor's Note: Willie Mae's is temporarily closed due to repairs from a fire. Check their social media for the latest on their re-opening, or if you're still craving fried chicken while in town, check out our list of our favorite places for fried chicken here.
Lil’ Dizzy’s is a quintessential neighborhood restaurant. Originally owned by Wayne Baquet, Sr., the restaurant nearly closed its doors for good due to difficulties faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. But Baquet’s family knew they couldn’t let this beloved institution go, so the younger generation stepped in to take over. Lil’ Dizzy’s is all about home cooking–from seafood gumbo to overstuffed po-boys, and red bean specials on Mondays–with an atmosphere that makes even first-time visitors feel like regulars.
Mother’s offers greasy spoon comfort in the heart of the Central Business District. It’s no frills and always delicious, with some of the best breakfast in town (and usually, the line to prove it.) But it’s the roast beef debris po-boy that makes this spot the icon that it is. Prepare to get messy–but we promise the sandwich is so good, you won’t mind one bit. Feeling a little extra decadent? Opt for the Ferdi Special, which takes the standard debris po-boy, and adds their famous baked ham in the mix.
New Orleanians are typically pretty jovial by nature, but ask a few who makes the best po-boy, and the conversation can start to get heated. No matter who you talk to though, Parkway is always at least in the top three, and for good reason. Located near Bayou St. John, Parkway specializes in overstuffed po-boys with all the usual fixin’s–oyster, shrimp and catfish. But it’s the surf’n’turf (fried shrimp + chopped roast beef, smother in gravy) that really takes the cake in our humble opinion. Don’t believe us? Just ask Beyonce or President Obama their thoughts–both have famously scooped up sandwiches from Parkway during visits to New Orleans.
Sure, Cafe du Monde might be more of a coffeeshop than a traditional restaurant, but that doesn’t make it any less iconic. Just try to come to New Orleans while resisting the sweet siren song of a plate of fresh, hot beignets. The line can get long, but know that it moves fast. And while the original Jackson Square location is definitely the most famous, you can also grab a plate (or a sack to go) under the oaks in beautiful City Park.
Emeril Lagasse is perhaps one of the most well-known New Orleans chefs–and for good reason! Before he was BAM-ing his way into living rooms across America, Emeril got his start in the New Orleans restaurant scene as the executive chef at none other than Commander’s Palace. He opened several restaurants (including some in other cities) as he set out on his own, but it’s his namesake space, in which he now shares the kitchen with his son Chef E.J. Lagasse, that’s the most well-known. Stop in for luxuriously prepared fresh Gulf seafood and make sure to save room for the signature banana cream pie.
Editor's Note: Emeril's will be closed beginning July 15 for a two-month renovation. They plan to reopen on September 26, 2023–but please check their website and social media for the latest updates.
If you’ve ever savored a bit of Bananas Foster, you have Brennan’s to thank for it. The beautiful, bubble-gum-pink building in the French Quarter invented the dish back in the early 1950s. Beyond the bananas, Brennan’s is known for its decadent breakfast offerings–think bowls of seafood gumbo served alongside Eggs Hussarde (another Brennan’s original). When you wash it all down with Brandy Milk Punch, you’ll be giving the most important meal of the day the VIP treatment it deserves.
Sure, every town has a beloved diner, but none of them are quite as special as Camellia Grill (or at least not in our opinion). Take the streetcar up Saint Charles until you hit the bend at Carrollton, and there she is–a temple of breakfast delights. It’s counter service only, and there might be a wait, but once you’re seated with a thin and crispy waffle and a chocolate freeze on the side, you’ll see why everyone from college students chasing away hangovers to toddlers with a sweet tooth adore this casual daytime eatery.
In New Orleans, the po-boy might be king, but the muffaletta is equally revered as a signature sandwich that no other city can get right (and lord knows they try). You might be able to find them at restaurants across the city, but there’s nothing like stopping by this Italian grocery and deli to get the original. Be warned–they’re massive. So bring a friend to split it with and take a stroll over to the Moonwalk to enjoy it while watching ships glide past on the Mississippi River.
*Editor's note: Central Grocery remains temporarily closed following damage from Hurricane Ida, but you can still find their muffulettas packaged to-go next door at Sidney's Wine Cellar (917 Decatur St.), as well as a number of other locations listed on their website.
Chef Frank Brigtsen is like the dad of the New Orleans culinary scene. He’s approachable, caring, good-natured, and also happens to make truly exceptional contemporary Creole cuisine. His namesake restaurant is located in the Riverbend neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans in an adorable converted cottage. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying his signature pecan pie.