For last 10 years as New Orleans has marched back from Katrina, and for many years before that, I’ve spent a lot of time dining out in this luscious exotic American city. My husband John and I are among the thousands of people who live in a Louisiana city other than New Orleans (yes, those exist), making it easy to head to the Crescent City for regular food adventures. From our home in Baton Rouge, New Orleans is just over an hour’s drive, and when you live that close to a city whose culinary scene always reveals something new, you end up there for a lot of milestone birthdays, anniversaries and stolen weekends. After all, the money saved in plane fare is extra dough for food and drink.
But weekends don’t last forever, and choosing where to eat in a city lousy with great restaurants is tough. Sure, it’s hard to make a mistake, but it’s also fun to leave feeling like you’ve done your due diligence. By the time we hit our 15th wedding anniversary this year, John and I had finally perfected the right formula for choosing where to eat.
Pick one from each of these three categories, and you’ll kill it every time.
1. Established, but not over-established.
My out-of-state friends know that I’ve consumed millions of calories in New Orleans, and they sometimes ask my advice on where to eat when they visit. I happily offer up my faves — which they ignore — since my list doesn’t include tour guide eateries popular for decades. Those restaurants play an important role in the soul of New Orleans, but for those of us who get to the Crescent City often, there’s so much more to savor.
So, for my first category, I say pick an eatery that’s established, but not overly so. My favorites include La Petite Grocery, Lilette, Mat and Naddie’s, Herbsaint, Patois and others. Many of these opened before Katrina or soon after, so they’ve been around long enough to develop a smart rhythm and confident style. One thing I love to do at places like this is to spend a lot of time on appetizers and wines by the glass. That’s where you really taste the creativity. When we were at La Petite Grocery recently, we ordered appetizers exclusively – LOTS of them. Still fantasizing about the short ribs and the ricotta dumplings.
2. Media darling
The food chatter surrounding New Orleans always includes that spot — the current media darling that’s getting lots of (usually) well-deserved hype. Adding an “It” place to the rotation makes the weekend super fun, but be open to a lunch reservation. This was our strategy with the modern Israeli restaurant, Shaya, all the rage this year and booked up well before I got my act together to make arrangements. It’s the uptown brainchild of Alon Shaya, former chef at John Besh’s Domenica, and winner of the 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef – South. Lunch at Shaya was dreamy. And for all the beautiful peeps and stylish-style, it felt relaxed and easy. Chef John Besh and his family were having lunch there the same time we were. The man has good taste.
3. Neighborhood favorite
New Orleans is all about neighborhoods, and each of those distinct universes has its favorite restaurants, frequented, in large part, by locals on the block. Often, you’ll find incredible global cuisine in spots like these. Such is the case with Barcelona Tapas, an authentic Spanish restaurant uptown that has gobs of tapas options (check off what you want on the paper list) as well as homemade paella. We tried Barcelona with my cousin and her hubby, who live nearby. You won’t find tourists — only hungry locals or regional visitors like us who can’t get Spanish cuisine at home.
I’d put the bevvy of Vietnamese restaurants that have cropped up recently in this category, as well as the multitude of sturdy neighborhood poor boy (po’boy) shops, like Domilise‘s, Guy’s, Parkway and Parasol’s.
So, there you have it.
Long live New Orleans!