So here you are—in the food and music capital of the very deep South. And you have resources allotted for a few of those famous restaurants with solid gold names and global reputations. So where do you eat the rest of the time—Shoneys? No-no-no, wake up! You left all that back in Fresno, are you crazy or what?
This is the Big Easy, a place where it has always been possible to eat well, a great variety of cuisine is available, often at quite low prices. So save the most famous places for those special moments, and get into the real taste of New Orleans—all you need is a little native knowledge.
Chances are you’ll be in the French Quarter a bit of the time when not out at Jazz Fest. What luck, the old burg is a veritable oasis, even beyond the places you have already heard so much about.
You’ll want to check out lower Decatur Street, beyond Jackson Square, not just for those abundant used record, vintage clothing, and collectibles emporia, but also for some very special restaurants.
One such place that serves very good traditional and nouvelle Creole cuisine at very reasonable prices is the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. This gem at 1204 Decatur Street is a traditional 1920s-style jazz cafe, a gathering place for New Orleans music buffs where live, authentic sounds are frequently featured. The gumbo and red beans and rice are delicious bargains here, and be sure to try Abita Beer, the quality local brew.
Sophistication in a quite different—stylish and continental vein—may be found at Maximo’s, 1117 Decatur Street. Fine northern Italian cuisine, including superb grilled fish and pasta dishes, is featured in a contemporary setting. This is a quietly elegant place, and while the prices are not as low as some other places in this guide, value here is exceptional. Not far away, just off Decatur at 95 French Market Place (at Barracks Street), is the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, known for quality innovative cuisine. Excellent wood-fired gourmet pizza featuring fresh, sometimes exotic, ingredients and reasonable prices make this restaurant and wine bar a requisite stop for pizza-arts, as well as Louisiana cuisine, devotees.
Just across Esplanade, at 626 Frenchmen Street, is the legendary Snug Harbor jazz club and restaurant. Excellent fried calamari, hamburgers and salads, along with some of the most sublime jazz sounds, make this place a multi-dimensional gem. And Tortilla Flats, at 501 Esplanade, is popular with many French Quarter residents because of its gay ambiance and laid-back atmosphere, in addition to its distinct Mexican specialties.
In the heart of the Quarter on Jackson Square, at 547 St. Ann, just off Decatur, is La Madeleine, a distinguished French bakery/cafe. The smells of fine, fresh-baked pastries waft among the antiques and French provincial ambience, which includes wood-burning stoves. Salads, quiches and sandwiches also available daily.
The Gumbo Shop, at 630 St. Peter Street near Jackson Square, offers very good value. We like the Cajun-style chicken and andouille gumbo, and a fine range of traditional Creole favorites offered as well. Popular with locals as well as tourists, this place makes for a fine introduction to local and south Louisiana cuisine including jambalaya, poor boy sandwiches and blackened fish dishes.
A traditional French Quarter courtyard that is frequented by many people for its brunch is Court of the Two Sisters, at 613 Royal Street. Specialties such as the Trout Wellington and Veal Cardinal are among the best available offerings complemented by this French Quarter landmark’s elegant ambiance.
The Patout family is well known as a leading Cajun restaurant family in New Orleans, yet it is not especially well known even to locals that they own and operate the Cajun Cabin restaurant and dance hall at 501 Bourbon Street. Fine gumbo, cochon du lait, as well as fried or boiled local seafood specialties are featured here.
In the Central Business District, a brief taxi ride from the Quarter, may be found Michaul’s, at 701 Magazine Street. A traditional Cajun restaurant and dance place only recently moved to the heart of the city, it is known for its frog legs, Cajun catfish, gumbo, and shrimp specialties—as well as waiters skilled as Cajun dance instructors. Also in the business district is another unusual place, the Garden Cafe, at 746 Tchoupitoulas. Offering a literally healthy spectrum of American cuisine, specialties range from vegetarian and brown rice dishes to gumbo, catfish and cheesecake. And it’s reasonable and informal as well.
Heading further uptown, Flagon’s, at 3222 Magazine Street, is an attractive restaurant known largely for its extensive wine bar as well as its New Orleans version of nouvelle cuisine. But the wine bar is a star in its own right, popular long into the night. An uptown place with stellar ambiance is Albertine’s, in the old Column’s Hotel, at 3811 St. Charles Avenue. Generally Creole-style food offered in what was once part of the set for the movie Pretty Baby, an extravaganza of colorful Creole decadence is easily evoked after knocking back a couple in the bar. On a nice evening the front terrace is one of life’s proverbial simple pleasures.
Carrollton Avenue is the last major thoroughfare on the western flank of the city, prior to entering Jefferson Parish. On and just off Carrollton are an almost bizarrely eclectic variety of eating places, but there are three that seem especially appropriate here.
The Dante Street Deli, at 736 Dante Street offers fine mesquite barbecue, salads, local specialties and pasta dishes, with indoor or outdoor seating in an almost rustic setting adjacent to the levee and the river.
Mamie’s, at 3240 South Carrollton, is a distinguished neighborhood Italian restaurant, popular for its intimate atmosphere, generous portions and specialties including fine veal and pasta dishes. Good food and low prices make for high value.
And Palmer’s, 135 North Carrollton, not far from Canal Street, is a gem of a Jamaican restaurant. Very good authentic cuisine, authentic ambiance and reasonable prices make this a Caribbean leader.
We hope you enjoy this sampling. Some are great. All are interesting for one reason or another, and all are, subject of course to personal taste, worthy alternatives to their sometimes better-known counterparts. So relax and enjoy.