By Robert St. John
NEW ORLEANS— This city is, unquestionably, one of the top five restaurant cities in America. I would imagine that if one were to poll national food critics New Orleans would be listed among the top three. To my taste— and I’ve eaten extensively in most of America’s top restaurant cities— New Orleans is number one. Period. No question. End of discussion.
As a citizen, I consider myself fortunate to have grown up 90 minutes away from this culinary mecca. As a restaurateur, I consider myself blessed to have spent over six decades eating my way through New Orleans. Granted, the Crescent City is a second home for me, but I still log in over 120 New Orleans restaurant meals each year.
For the past couple of decades, I have kept a running journal of my restaurant visits in New Orleans. I also keep a to-do list of new restaurants that I have yet to visit, and a separate list of restaurants that I plan to re-visit. I also field a lot of requests for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans. There are a few dozen restaurants that aren’t on any to-do or re-visit list because they are places that I frequent on a regular basis. The following is that list.
Author’s Note: Everyone has an opinion on restaurants, and all restaurant opinions are 100 percent subjective. You have yours. These are mine:
MY FAVORITE BREAKFAST SPOT: LA BOULANGERIE, 4600 Magazine St— Most mornings I drive from the Marigny to Uptown Magazine just west of Napoleon, because the croissants are worth the drive. I have been doing a deep dive into bakeries for the past year as we prepare to open one in Hattiesburg. I have yet to find one that tops La Boulangerie.
Other Breakfast Joints I Frequent: Toast, 5433 Laurel Street— I bounce between the Uptown location and the one near the fairgrounds. Toast is 100% local New Orleans in the morning.
MY FAVORITE BRUNCH SPOT: PALADAR 511, 511 Marigny Street— This is the place I eat brunch most often, and not just because it’s in our building. The huevos rancheros and the lemon-ricotta blueberry pancakes are stellar. I can never choose between the two, so I always order both. The new dinner menu is excellent, too.
Other Brunches I Frequent: Justine, 2440 Chartres St.— Justin Devillier’s French Quarter spot, and its sister restaurant to La Petit Grocery, are fun, lively, and all the offerings are excellent.
Brennan’s, 417 Royal Street— Of the four old-line French Quarter institutions, Galitoire’s, Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, and Brennan’s, I eat at the latter most often. Ralph Brennan did the city a huge favor when he took over the reins several years back.
Gris Gris, 1800 Magazine Street— Eric Cook is a hard-working, dedicated chef who has excellent touch when it comes to food and a keen eye to know what his guests want. The brunch is great, but so are lunch and dinner. Great Sunday/Monday spots. The newly opened Saint John in the French Quarter is hitting on all cylinders as well.
MY FAVORITE DINNER SPOT: BRIGTSEN’S, 723 Dante St— This restaurant and this chef have been at the top of my list for over three decades. Frank Brigtsen is the heir apparent to his longtime mentor, Paul Prudhomme. The Butternut Shrimp Bisque is one of the best soups I have ever tasted (second only to Paul Bocuse’s mushroom soup in Lyon). The seafood platter is off the menu these days, but components of it — such as Warren LeRuth’s baked oyster recipe — still remain. I could seriously make a meal of just the crawfish cornbread, alone. Long live Frank Brigtsen.
Other dinner spots I frequent:
La Petit Grocery, 4238 Magazine St— The birthplace of the Blue Crab Beignet
Coquette, 2800 Magazine St— Solid offerings from a team with excellent “touch” who always seem to be working together as a team.
Lilette, 3637 Magazine St— Also a perfect spot for lunch.
Bywater American Bistro, 2900 Chartres St— Nina Compton runs my wife’s favorite New Orleans restaurant.
August, 301 Tchoupitoulas Street— Probably still my favorite fine-dining spot in the city after all of these years.
MY FAVORITE STEAKHOUSE: DORIS METROPOLITAN, 620 Chartres St— Their aged prime beef is excellent. My son loves this place.
Other steakhouses I frequent: Mr. John’s Steakhouse 2111 St. Charles Avenue— It always feels very “Uptown New Orleans” in that room, and the steaks are great, too.
MY FAVORITE PO-BOY SHOP: DOMILISE’S, 5240 Annunciation Street— My go-to for po-boys for over 30 years.
Other po-boy shops I frequent:
Parkway Bakery and Tavern 538 Hagan Avenue— There’s always a line so schedule accordingly.
R&O Restaurant and Catering, 216 Metairie-Hammond Highway— A great roast beef po-boy, and excellent fried seafood.
If there’s not a line out of the door at the Acme in the Quarter, dash in, be seated, order the best roast beef po-boy intown, and a dozen on the half shell with the hottest horseradish known to man. Excellent.
MY FAVORITE SANDWICH: THE SAM AT STEIN’S DELI, 2207 Magazine St— In years past I have driven from Hattiesburg, ordered this sandwich, eaten it, and driven home.
Other awesome and original sandwiches:
Turkey & the Wolf, 739 Jackson Avenue— A few years ago Mason Herford turned the sandwich world upside down, in the most beautiful and hilarious way. The Collard Green Melt and Fried Bologna Sandwiches are, on one hand, everyman’s food, and on the other hand, brilliantly inspired.
MY FAVORITE APPETIZER: OYSTER BLT, GRIS GRIS, 1800 Magazine Street— Perfection on a plate. Smoked pork belly, tomato jam, crispy fried oysters, and sugarcane vinegar with a touch of heat.
Other Favorite Appetizers:
Shrimp and Tasso Henican, Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Avenue
MY FAVORITE BLOCK FOR FOOD: (*the three-fer)
The Italian Barrel, 1240 Decatur St— Solid Italian (my favorite in the city).
Dian Xin, 1218 Decatur St— Solid Chinese (my favorite in the city).
El Gato Negro, 81 French Market Place— Solid Mexican (my favorite in the city).
MY FAVORITE PIZZA: PIZZA DELICIOUS, 617 Piety Street— Excellent pies.
MY FAVORITE BURGER: COMPANY BURGER, 4600 Freret Street— Everything I want in a burger joint.
(Note: Those who wait in line at Port Of Call can get the same burger at Snug Harbor a few blocks away, without the wait)
MY FAVORITE THAI RESTAURANT: SUKHO THAI, 2200 Royal St— My family eats a fair amount of Thai food. This place is always spot-on.
MY FAVORITE OYSTER BAR: PASCAL’S MANALE, 1838 Napoleon Avenue— It’s an old-school stand-up oyster bar. The oysters are always cold and salty. My son and I go there for the raw oysters and typically eat dinner somewhere else. Though he would probably tell you that Casamento’s is his favorite. Lately, the four of us have been eating oysters at Cooter Brown’s at the Riverbend (oysters always taste better in a dive bar).
MY FAVORITE ATMOSPHERE: SEAWORTHY, 630 Carondelet Street— The designers did such a great job on all aspects of this interior. I love it. Killer oyster selection, too.
MY OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH FAVORITE: ROSEDALE, 801 Rosedale Drive— You have to be going there to get there, but this Susan Spicer restaurant almost feels as if it were 100% tailor made for me— very casual, comfortable, with great service and excellent food. The barbeque shrimp served there should be the gold standard for all others. The fried chicken thighs perfect.
MY FAVORITE TACOS: GALAXIE TACOS, 3060 St. Claude Avenue— the barbacoa tacos here are spot-on. The converted gas station vibe is perfect, and there’s almost always a place to park on the neutral ground of St. Claude.
Other taco joints: Val’s, 4632 Freret— there must be something about tacos served in a converted gas station that appeals to me.
MY FAVORITE GUMBO: STATION 6, 105 Metairie-Hammond Highway— I have yet to finish a giant bowl of this gumbo that always comes out piping hot and loaded with large shrimp and plenty of oysters and crabmeat.
Other gumbos I like:
Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Avenue
Gris Gris 1800 Magazine Street
MY FAVORITE SOUP: SHRIMP AND SQUASH BISQUE, BRIGTSEN’S, 723 Dante St— So good it’s worth mentioning twice in this list.
MY OFTEN-RECOMMENDED NOT-IN-ANOTHER-CATEGORY FAVORITES (the Link trifecta)
Herbsaint 701 St Charles Avenue
Cochon 930 Tchoupitoulas Street
Peche 800 Magazine Street
OTHER RANDOM FAVORITES
Mosca’s— the best red gravy in town. Also, the spot for Monday lunch Red Beans and Rice.
N7— cool outdoor area. Solid French-inspired cuisine.
Horn’s— another great locals-only breakfast spot.
Red’s Chinese— three words: Kung Pao Pastrami.
Gabrielle— glad they’re back.
Saint Germain— one of the best fine dining meals I’ve eaten in New Orleans in years. The chefs have excellent “touch.” It’s a tough reservation to get. Partially because there are only 12 seats inside, but also because it is so good.
Mosca’s— No need to make decisions, get the Spaghetti Bordelaise and the Oysters Mosca and eat them together.
1 /2 cup Mayonnaise
2 Egg Yolks
1 Tbl. Sherry
1 Tbl. Creole Mustard
1 Tbl. Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp. Crescent City Grill Creole Seasoning
1 tsp. Worcestershire
1 tsp. Crescent City Grill Cayenne & Garlic Sauce
1 /3 cup Red bell pepper, small dice
1 /3 cup Green bell pepper, small dice
1 lb. Jumbo lump crabmeat
1 /2 lb. Backfin lump crabmeat
2 8oz. wheels Brie or Camembert cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 Tbl. Seasoned breadcrumbs
8 Oven-proof ramekins or scallop shell
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the first eight ingredients and mix thoroughly with a wire whisk. Stir in peppers. Gently fold crabmeat into liquid mixture making sure not to break up the crabmeat lumps.
Place a layer of crabmeat mixture into a 6 oz. ramekin, then 2 cubes of Brie and another layer of crab. Top with seasoned breadcrumbs and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until bubbly and breadcrumbs are brown. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author.