Dining Guide to New Orleans!
The Best Cheap But Great Restaurants
On a busy night, hard workers like Darren (right) shuck 35 dozen oysters.
While some people come to New Orleans primarily to drink, others come here just to eat.
Either way, everybody wins.
New Orleans has launched some of America's most acclaimed chefs – Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse among them – and some of the world's most original creations. Gumbo, red beans and rice and jambalaya are among the cuisine choices of the city. Oysters and crawfish are also two items seen on many New Orleans menus.
Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans landmark, and for good reason.
One of the great things about eating in "Nawlens" is that virtually every restaurant – from the small corner cafe to the famous kitchen – uses some variety of Cajun cooking in almost every dish. What diners get is food that is truly unique to this region. It can be puzzling to know what to order with so many types of different foods, so see below for a guide to the New Orleans creations.
Many of New Orleans' top restaurants offer sample platters for $50-75 and smaller places have New Orleans combination plates for less than $15.
The Napoleon House
in the Quarter is an excellent bargain restaurant.
It's much more difficult to go wrong than go right with a restaurant choice. Yet New Orleans does has a few restaurants that long ago set the standard for all the others. Dinner and drinks run in the $50 per person range and people rave about the food for weeks after they return home.
Locals and return visitors alike line up at Acme Oyster House for the city's best oysters and the other inexpensive offerings. Most plates are $8-12. It's not the best meal in town but it it is affordable for the masses and is one of the few places that serves hushpuppies.
Some of the best jambalaya in town is at Napoleon House. Located a few blocks away from K-Paul's on Chartres Street, the jambalaya is made with shrimp and is quite flavorful. At $4.95, it's also one of the best food deals to be found. We like to sit in the bar with the doors open to the street, although it has a beautiful dining area, as well. The service is very definitely French, so be patient!
Not to be confused with the Chart House, the Chart Room is good and cheap.
Another great find is the Chart Room. It's similar to Napoleon House but just different enough to make for a nice change of pace. Same deal – great Cajun food at low- to mid-teens prices. Great atmosphere, too.
Mix in a little music with your cheap lunch at The Market Cafe.
For lunch on a nice day, it's hard to beat The Market Cafe. Yes, the gumbo is good, but it also has a pair of smooth jazz quartets playing on each of the two patios. Pick a side and pull up a chair for a meal or just a drink. It's such a Nawlens thing to do.
Across from Margaritaville is a real find, a bar that has good, cheap food (and the city's best Bloody Marys for those mornings): Coop's Place. It's far from fancy but it has a very good burger and all kinds of fine food for around $10.
Jazz Legends Duke Ellington Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole preferred the red beans and rice at Dookie Chase's. It's like eating in someone's home and the traditional Southern menu also includes what might be the South's best fried chicken.
For more casual dining – and for places a bit easier on the wallet – locals love Mike Anderson's for it's simple seafood. Ralph & Kacoos is also seasoned with locals but be sure and get a table in the rear; the yellow paint scheme and pop-a-shot in the front gives the place the look of a fast-food joint. Entrees at both run $15-18.
For those on a super budget, Mena's Place on Iberville is a down-home diner serving hearty breakfasts and daily lunch specials. They are all priced under $6 in true Southern style.
Don't be afraid to get off the beaten path and have lunch where the locals working in the big office buildings go – Liborio Cuban Restaurant (321 Magazine Street). Try the "dirty clothes" dish.
If you are taking the St. Charles street car, the Camilla Grill claims to be the home of Jimmy Buffett's song, Cheeseburger in Paradise. It isn't, but it's a good lunch break, located at the Riverbend area (just tell the driver to let you off at Camilla Grill).
Breakfast is not necessarily a New Orleans specialty, but several places for eggs and omelets can be found on Chartres, as well as Decatur near Jackson Square. The Le Richeleau hotel on Chartres Street has possibly the tatiest omlette PubClub has ever tasted. The six-stack of crepes is also popular and it's also open for lunch and dinner.
Some tourists swear by Mother's and it's quite an experience. It's a busy, busy place downtown, about a 15-minute walk from the Quarter. It serves everything from breakfast to big sandwiches for around 10 bucks in a old, loud dining room. There's always a line, so if you go, expect it to take a couple of hours.
Then again, if you just want to sit at a place where the coffee is strong and the doughnuts are too hot to touch (Buffett fans will recognize the reference), then there's the landmark Cafe du Monde. Known for that strong coffee and beignets, this simple coffee shop is wildly popular. And for good reason, because not only are the beignets hot, they are delicious!
New Orleans' Signature Restaurants
For authentic Cajun cooking, there is K-Paul's Kitchen of the aforementioned Prudhomme. It's famous for the blackened red fish and spicy Cajun martinis, but it's the sauces that will leave you simmering and bring you back time and time again. Emeril's is also excellent, but the place is often booked weeks in advance. Still, try your luck at a last-minute cancellation.
Galatorie's is one of the city's most traditional Creole restaurants, located on Bourbon Street just a couple of blocks from the mayhem. Brennan's is a family-run restaurant with courtyard seating and The Palace is proud of its kitchen and is packed at both lunch and dinner. Arnaud's is outstanding, has first-class service and boasts a huge wine cellar. It's too loud for a peaceful, romantic dinner but the food is spectacular.
The most formal dining in New Orleans is at Commander's Palace in the Garden District. Founded in 1880, it was only until the Brennan family took control in the 1970s that it became a legend. Commander's Palace is traditional, excellent and pricey. The jazz brunch is popular among locals and repeat visitors. This is one of the few places in town that requires a jacket to dine. For a complete experience, the Chef's Table has a chef cooking a seven-course meal personally for guests. This is the restaurant that has launched a thousand chefs, including Prudhomme and Lagasse.
Yet the oldest – and some argue the most legendary restaurant in New Orleans – is Antoine's. It is the oldest family-run restaurant in the country and has fed FDR, JFK, the Pope and General George Patton. Antoine's created Oysters Rockefeller (named for their "rich" sauce) and its wine cellar stores 25,000 bottles.
Bourbon House Seafood (Bourbon and Iberville) specializes in oysters and any grilled fish entree is exceptional.
New Orleans Food Guide
With a heritage that includes French, Spanish, African and Caribbean, the food in New Orleans has been influenced by a number of cultures. Many dishes are simply adaptations of a country's traditional recipes – some Spanish here, a little bit of Caribbean on the side, that kind of thing. Kind of like a Mamba #5 of cooking.
The base for all New Orleans cooking is the sauce. It's called a roux, and no two are seemingly alike. That is what makes eating here so great – you can have gumbo with popcorn shrimp until you blow up like a blimp but it may never taste exactly the same twice.
Eating New Orleans style means you had better like rice. It's in nearly every dish, sometimes just a scoop in a bowl of gumbo or mixed with spices in dishes like jambalaya.
Pinch the heads of the crawfish, Fer Sure!
Seafood is also prevalent and the local "delicacy" is a local creature known as the crawfish. It resembles a mini-lobster and is often served boiled. Just pop the back and pull out the meat. Diehards claim the best part is to suck the heads. "Fer sure!," they exclaim.
Here are some more local phrases found on virtually every New Orleans menu:
Creole – Cajun tomato sauce.
Etoufe -Smothered in butter and onions or roux. Often served with crawfish as crawfish etoufe.
Gumbo – A dark, rich soup with okra, chicken and sausage or seafood. Served with rice either in the bowl or as a scoop. Jimmy Buffett loves it so much he claims you don't have pay him but feed him. "I will play for gumbo," he sings.
Jambalaya – Rice cooked with chicken and sausage (sometimes shrimp is added).
Lucky Dogs – A chili hot dog sold all over town out of mobile carts. Especially popular late at night on Bourbon Street.
Muffaletta – Italian sandwich of ham, salami, cheeses and olive oil on round Halian bread. Locals only get it at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street.
Po'-Boy – A large sandwich on French bread. Often it's fried seafood – oysters, shrimp or soft-shell crab. Very affordable, thus its name.
Red Beans and Rice – Just like it sounds, with sausage and with a spicy kick.
Roux – Flour, sautéed with oil, with a peanut butter consistency and chocolate color. The sauce that is the basis for all New Orleans food.