It's harder than you might think to find great restaurants in the so-called "Big Easy." There are hundreds of good restaurants, but the truly special ones are rare, here as everyplace else. Here are ten that are pure New Orleans and also great in and of themselves.
New Orleans has a huge Italian-American tradition built into it right along creole, and if you have any doubt about this hasten to Pascal's Manale. It's a NOLA institution for its shrimp pasta, pan roasts, and wonderfully rich and spicy red-sauce dishes. The atmosophere and decor are about as old-school as it gets.
You can go anywhere in New Orleans to eat oysters, but you should got to Casamento's. Honestly, they're the same oysters, but the place has a kind of magic, timeless ambience, and fat housecats that lope around full of oysters, and a wonderful oyster loaf. It's the quintessence of NOLA.
Patois isn't the biggest, most important, or most celebrated restaurant in New Orleans. It isn't the best. But it's perfect, and perfection is enough. Uptown's pride is the city's secret.
Dooky Chase is rightly considered an American classic, one of the definitive soul food restaurants in America. If a foreign diplomat were to come to me and ask what fried chicken is, this is where I would take him.
What is there to say about Galatoires? Do other restaurants have better seafood? Make a better sazerac? Produce more authentic creole flavors? Who cares? Galatoires IS New Oleans, the city's defining restaurant in more ways than I can count. Cutting yourself off from it is a kind of identity theft.
Olivier's proves two things about dining in New Orleans. One is that you don't -- and shouldn't -- have to spend a lot of money to eat fine creole food. And the other is that there are good restaurants in the Quarter, if you know where to look for them.
Though his more casual Cochon gets all the press, Donald Link's fine-dining restaurant, Herbsaint, is a towering accomplishment, a real monument to the flavors of New Orleans.
Lilette is basically a perfect restaurant: modern French food, using impeccable ingredients, served in a small, quiet, understated room controlled by a dedicated chef / owner. The only objection to it is that it's in, but not of, New Orleans, and no New Orleanian would ever say that.
Upperline was one of the first New Orleans restaurants to really attempt to modernize the area's traditional flavors, and it has continued to do so for many years that it has become as much of a New Orleans institution as the Arnaud's, Galatoire's, and the other places it improved upon.
August is the crown jewel of New Orleans superchef John Besh's restaurant group, a formal American fine dining restaurant with French inflections and the spirit of the best haute creole cooking. The technique is perfect, the ingredients impeccable, and the best dishes totally timeless.