New Orleans is one of the world's great food cities. The best restaurants in New Orleans include family-owned institutions and newer restaurants by award-winning chefs.
I was introduced to the New Orleans restaurant scene firsthand during a family trip.
My parents took my brother and me to their favorite restaurants, several of which are inarguably the best places to eat in New Orleans. I've returned to the Big Easy numerous times since.
Every subsequent trip has given me a greater appreciation for this culturally diverse city.
Below is my curated list of the best restaurants in New Orleans, which I'll continue to update with each new visit.
Best Historic Restaurants in New Orleans
New Orleans was founded in 1718 and recently celebrated its 300th anniversary. Few big cities in the United States are as old or can claim as long a history.
Dining at a century-old restaurant is a rare experience in the U.S. Thankfully, a handful of such New Orleans restaurants have survived.
1. Antoine's Restaurant
Established in 1840, Antoine's is the oldest restaurant in New Orleans and the oldest family-owned restaurant in the country.
The French-Creole restaurant is named after its founder, Antoine Alciatore, an immigrant from France.
Antoine's son, Jules, is credited with developing the recipe for Oysters Rockefeller, one of the restaurant's iconic dishes.
Oysters served on a half-shell are topped with a creamy green sauce of herbs and baked or broiled. The exact recipe remains a family secret.
Every order of Oysters Rockefeller has been counted, and diners today are presented with a postcard featuring the exact number of their order.
I was number 4,085,292 to be served and shared the privilege with former presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who dined there in 1937.
The rest of my memorable meal included Pompano Pontchartrain (a grilled filet of fish topped with crabmeat and a white wine butter sauce) and cherries jubilee (cherries flambeed tableside and served over vanilla ice cream).
After your feast, I recommend walking through the dozen private dining rooms; many are dedicated to Mardi Gras krewes.
Antoine's continues to be one of New Orleans's best restaurants.
Dress code: business casual, with collared shirts required for men and jackets preferred.
713 Saint Louis Street, French Quarter, antoines.com
See also: Best Cocktail Bars in New Orleans
2. Commander's Palace
In 1893, Emile Commander opened a saloon at the corner of Washington Avenue and Coliseum Street in the heart of the Garden District.
He turned it into a fine dining restaurant within a few years, and it quickly grew in popularity.
In 1969, the Brennan family purchased, renovated, and expanded Commander's Palace.
This Haute Creole restaurant has won seven James Beard Awards, been frequently cited as the best restaurant in New Orleans, and has been home to many top chefs, including Emeril Lagasse.
Dinner at Commander's Palace with my family was a memorable occasion.
I ordered a lavender and lemongrass vodka Collins, the veal tenderloin and bone marrow, and a slice of decadent cheesecake for dessert.
After your meal, take a few minutes to walk through the many dining rooms that make up Commander's Palace.
Dress code: business attire, with collared shirts and closed-toed shoes required for men; jackets preferred. No shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or sweat pants; jeans are discouraged.
1403 Washington Avenue, Garden District, commanderspalace.com
3. Galatoire's Restaurant
Galatoire's is another of the French Quarter's grand, family-owned restaurants, sharing much in common with Antoine's.
It was opened on Bourbon Street in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, a French immigrant, and focuses on French-Creole cuisine.
The main dining room is at street level and features a high ceiling with fans, mirrors along the walls, and numerous coat hooks that hang above them.
On the night I went for dinner, I got lucky and was seated at a corner table in the back of the main dining room, with a commanding view.
I ordered crab Maison (jumbo lump crab with green onions, capers, and creole mustard aioli) and the signature trout meuniere amandine with a side of giant asparagus.
The decadent black bottom pecan pie with whiskey caramel sauce was a fitting end to the meal.
Service at Galatoire's was excellent, and despite being on Bourbon Street, it feels like its own little world.
I wouldn't hesitate to return to what I consider one of the best New Orleans restaurants.
Reservations: the main dining room is first come, first serve; reservations are accepted for the second-floor dining rooms.
Dress code: Business casual, with collared shirts for men and jackets required after 5 p.m. They have a selection of men's jackets to loan should you arrive without one.
209 Bourbon Street, French Quarter, galatoires.com
See also: The World's Best Restaurants
4. Arnaud's Restaurant
Arnaud Cazenave, a French wine salesman, opened his eponymous Creole restaurant in the French Quarter in 1918. Along with Antoine's and Galatoire's, it's a can't miss spot for good times.
On my latest trip to New Orleans for the Final Four with my girlfriend Kel, I booked us a table for Arnaud's Sunday jazz brunch in their Main Dining Room.
We arrived at 10 a.m. and were promptly shown to a table in the corner of their beautiful turn-of-the-century dining room, complete with crystal chandeliers, columns, and Italian mosaic floors.
Sunday brunch at Arnaud's includes a budget-friendly three-course prix-fixe menu that you can enjoy while listening to live Dixieland Jazz music.
I ordered a traditional Creole breakfast starter with cream cheese, fresh berries, and granola, while Kel got the Shrimp Arnaud with Remoulade sauce.
The entrees include plenty of egg dishes; I went with eggs piperade, similar to eggs in purgatory. Kel got the savory crabmeat cheesecake, which we quickly agreed was the better choice.
We ordered the banana's foster, flambeed tableside, and served over French vanilla ice cream for dessert. Other options included crepes Suzette for two (flambeed tableside), strawberries in Port Wine Sauce, and bread pudding.
After eating, head to the restaurant's Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum on the second floor, a free exhibit with Mardi Gras costumes and vintage photos.
Reservations: recommended, though if you arrive when they open, you might be able to get a table in the lounge or sit at the bar; both are first-come, first-serve.
Dress code: Business Casual. Collared shirts are required for men, and no t-shirts, athletic shorts, or flip-flops are allowed.
813 Bienville St, French Quarter, arnaudsrestaurant.com
Brennan's restaurant was opened in 1946 by Owen Brennan, an Irish-American, and has come to be known for its elegant breakfasts.
The famous restaurant is housed in an 18th-century mansion, the former location of the first bank in Louisiana and later the residence of Paul Morphy, a celebrated chess champion.
According to the website, their "innovative Creole menu borrows influences from French and Spanish ancestry with modern updates and distinct seasonal offerings."
During my first trip to New Orleans, I went to breakfast at Brennan's on their patio and got the Caribbean milk punch and black truffle soft-scrambled eggs with toasted brioche (prepared tableside).
For dessert, we shared Banana's Foster (also prepared tableside), which was invented at Vieux Carré, Owen Brennan's precursor to Brennan's.
Don't miss a chance to eat at Brennan's, one of the top restaurants in New Orleans.
Reservations: recommended, though if you arrive when they open, you might be able to get a table in the lounge or sit at the bar; both are first-come, first-serve.
Dress code: "dressy casual attire" is suggested. No tank tops, cut-offs, or athletic shorts.
417 Royal Street, French Quarter, brennansneworleans.com
6. Dooky Chase's Restaurant
The history of Dooky Chase's Restaurant combines Creole cooking, the civil rights movement, African American art, and all that jazz.
Initially a corner shop selling lotto tickets and po'boys in 1939, the marriage of the founders' son, jazz trumpeter Dooky Jr. to Leah Chase would pave the way for a restaurant with an enduring legacy.
Despite being briefly knocked out of business by Hurricane Katrina, Chef Leah Chase led the restaurant for 70 years.
She served prominent African American lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall (the first African American on the Supreme Court), Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and First Lady Michelle Obama.
A thoughtful "thank you" letter on White House letterhead from the Obamas is on proud display.
Along the way, Leah Chase became known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, winning numerous accolades, including a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
Chef Leah Chase still worked in the kitchen until her final months. She passed away on June 1, 2019, at 96.
Her legacy is a restaurant serving traditional Creole food, including red beans and rice, gumbo, and Shrimp Clemenceau. Fried chicken is a customer favorite.
I enjoyed Dooky Chase's history, atmosphere, and value as much as the food. Go here to experience one of the best Cajun restaurants in New Orleans.
The lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, brings in diners from all walks of life. You can also order a la carte, including oyster, shrimp, and crab po'boys. Dinner is available Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Dress code: casual
2301 Orleans Avenue, Treme, dookychaserestaurants.com
7. Willie Mae's Scotch House
Willie Mae's Scotch House is a block north of Dooky Chase's Restaurant.
Sixty-five years after it opened, Willie Mae's continues to be one of the best places to eat in New Orleans.
It's been recognized at the national level by The Food Network and Travel Channel for serving "America's best fried chicken."
And in 2005, at the age of 89, Ms. Willie Mae Seaton won a James Beard Award for "America's Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region."
Willie Mae passed away in 2015 at the age of 99. Since then, the restaurant has been managed by her great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton Stewart.
I'm not a big consumer of fried chicken, but I also never knew it could be this good.
I ordered the three-piece fried chicken, and the massive breast piece alone was enough to fill me up.
I also had the red beans and rice (traditionally eaten on Mondays), French fries, and a biscuit.
Reservations: not needed, but go when they open to avoid waiting for a table; they fill up fast.
2401 St. Anne Street, Treme, williemaesnola.com
See also: Best Restaurants in Austin
Best Modern Restaurants in New Orleans
New Orleans has long attracted top chefs and talent, whether they grew up in Louisiana or came from other parts of the country.
What follows are my picks for the best modern restaurants in New Orleans.
8. Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020, Herbsaint is the flagship restaurant in chef Donald Link's culinary empire.
Located at the northern edge of the Warehouse District, Herbsaint's food menu reflects southern, French, and Italian influences, such as homemade spaghetti with guanciale (an Italian cured meat made of pork cheek) and fried-poached farm egg.
More substantial dishes include duck leg confit with dirty rice, a crispy goat with lentils, and lamb and mushroom lasagna.
The dessert menu has delectable options, including an excellent chocolate mousse.
Check out Herbsaint, one of the top New Orleans restaurants, for a taste of why Donald Link is so well-regarded.
Reservations: Recommended. Space is held for walk-ins too.
701 St. Charles Avenue, Central Business District, herbsaint.com
9. Willa Jean
Opened in 2015 by South Carolina-born chef Kelly Fields, Willa Jean offers a bright, airy space to enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.
The pastry counter alone is worth a visit. In 2019, Fields won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
Willa Jean was my first stop on my second trip to New Orleans. The savory BBQ shrimp on sourdough with burrata was incredible.
I went with one of Fields' enticing chocolate chip cookies with sea salt for dessert. She spent two years perfecting the recipe, which includes three types of Valrhona chocolate.
Pair your cookie with a glass of vanilla milk or a cup of the Willa Jean coffee blend by Intelligentsia.
Reservations: They don't take reservations.
611 O'Keefe Avenue, Central Business District, willajean.com
10. Compere Lapin
Exposed brick, black girders, and mosaic tile floors present an industrial yet welcoming atmosphere at Compere Lapin on the ground floor of the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery.
Since 2015, St. Lucia-born chef Nina Compton has been cooking contemporary Caribbean dishes, including conch croquettes, crispy snapper collars with fermented chilis, jerk chicken, and curried goat.
The soursop semifreddo with coconut dessert is a light, refreshing end to any meal.
In 2018, Nina Compton won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. She competed in Season 11 of Top Chef and came in second but was voted the fan favorite.
If you've already tried Compere Lapin, check out Bywater American Bistro, Compton's take on an "American neighborhood" restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended but not necessary
535 Tchoupitoulas St, Central Business District, instagram.com/comperelapin
11. Peche Seafood Grill
Donald Link's second appearance on this list is for Peche, one of the best seafood restaurants in New Orleans. Here, they're focused on sustainably sourced seafood.
At Peche, a raw bar serves oysters, gulf shrimp, salmon ceviche, and steak tartare.
The menu includes snacks like crawfish croquettes and hushpuppies, small plates of catfish, and lamb skewers. Heavier dishes include grilled tuna, hanger steak, and Louisiana shrimp roll.
Willing to share? Try the 22-ounce ribeye or whole grilled fish.
On my visit, I ordered the daily special -- grilled Mahi with orzo and mushrooms and key lime pie with buttermilk Chantilly for dessert.
Reservations: Limited reservations are available via Resy. Otherwise, it's primarily walk-ins.
800 Magazine Street, Central Business District, pecherestaurant.com
12. La Petite Grocery
In a building dating back over 100 years, La Petite Grocery's chef/co-owner, Justin Devillier, won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South in 2016.
As the lunch and dinner menus are similar, I opted for lunch on a Thursday, and Kel joined me. We were seated at a small table next to one of the front windows.
The signature blue crab beignets were a must—their light, crisp crust gives way to a soft, warm crab filling. Drip fresh lemon juice on them or dip them in malt vinegar aioli for added flavor.
I chose alligator bolognese with tagliatelle, sherry, and a fried soft-boiled egg reminiscent of the one I got at Herbsaint.
Roasted lamb T-bones, smoked pork shank, paneed rabbit with spaetzle, and Gulf shrimp and grits were a few more entrees available.
Our lunch ended on a sweet note, with a fantastic chocolate chess pie with smoked pecans and the Ponchatoula strawberry tart.
I had high expectations for La Petite Grocery, and it delivered on all accounts, becoming one of my new favorite places in New Orleans.
4238 Magazine St, Central City/Garden District, lapetitegrocery.com
13. The Elysian Bar
The Elysian Bar is a restaurant, bar, and cafe in the Hotel Peter and Paul in the Marigny neighborhood east of the French Quarter.
The boutique hotel was named one of the world's best by Travel and Leisure when it opened in a former school building that was fully renovated.
The hotel's restaurant occupies what was once the church rectory, and the 150-year-old adjacent church now serves as an event space.
We have the team behind award-winning Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits to thank for the redevelopment of this historic block.
Excited to experience one of Bon Appetit's best new restaurants (2019) on my latest trip to New Orleans, I reserved a table for brunch in Parlor 1.
Both parlor rooms feature Italiante fireplaces and antique European furniture.
The highlights were the Pink Panther gin cocktail, roasted gulf shrimp with Calabrian chili butter, and rosemary chocolate tart.
Additional brunch dishes include chicken liver toast, French rolled omelet with smoked salmon, eggs in purgatory, and grilled pompano.
Reservations: Recommended to be seated in the space you prefer, but not necessary.
2317 Burgundy St, Hotel Peter and Paul, Marigny, theelysianbar.com
As I mentioned at the top, this list of the best restaurants in New Orleans is a work in progress.
Here are the restaurants I'd like to try next in the Crescent City:
- Cochon - Donald Link's restaurant focuses on traditional cajun southern cooking.
- Bayona - Award-winning Chef Susan Spicer serves Louisiana fare in a 200-year-old cottage in the French Quarter.
- Mother's - Known for its po'boys and Southern comfort food since 1938.
In addition, here are some reader recommendations from Feastio's Facebook page:
- GW Fins - Seafood in the French Quarter for more than 20 years.
- Irene's - Italian restaurant in the French Quarter.
- Lilette - Parisian-style bistro.
This story is based on multiple trips to New Orleans, including visits with New Orleans & Company, The Quisby, and HI New Orleans. All meals were paid for by me, except those on the family trip. Thanks, Mom and Dad!