It is understood—isn’t it?—that New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, its music, and Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. No argument. But—and this is where it gets tricky—can you assume that Bourbon Street is the place to go for the best food and music?
Answer: No! Of course not. Forget it. While there are instances of great food and music on Bourbon, these are the exceptions. Bourbon is, as one glance will surely reveal, the human zoo, and most of what is offered there is undistinguished. Major exceptions: Galatoire’s is one of the absolute best restaurants in the city, and the Absinthe House is a fine music club, especially if the blues is your bag.
It should be noted now that there are a number of very fine eating establishments just off the street of skin and sin, as well as others worth exploring in some of the more obscure corners of the Quarter. The most famous ones you already know about—Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, and so forth—so we will concentrate on some classic places you may not be aware of yet.
So you know about Antoine’s—but have you heard of the Acme Oyster House?
Ah, so you have…Well it is pretty famous by now, isn’t it. This classic New Orleans oyster bar at 724 Iberville Street gets top ratings. In addition to the raw oysters, the fried oysters are also excellent, the po-boy sandwiches are exemplary specimens, and the prices are reasonable.
The Acme’s main competition is Felix’s, practically right across the street on Iberville at Bourbon. Noisier and more touristy than the Acme, Felix’s has a very good oyster bar, a fairly extensive menu, and a kitchen that does pretty well with most local fare. A favorite French Quarter restaurant is the Bistro at the Maison De Ville, also just off Bourbon at 733 Toulouse Street. One of the best—the atmosphere is Parisian and intimate, and the cuisine tends to a kind of nouvelle Mediterranean flair. Fine grilled fish, eggplant caviar and soups. Not cheap, but good value, especially when compared against some tourist trap like Court of Two Sisters, avoided by most locals.
A less expensive place that is a fine introduction to local cuisine is the Gumbo Shop, at 630 St. Peter, near Jackson Square. Favored by locals and tourists alike, this place offers genuine gumbo and genuine French Quarter ambience and is genuinely reasonable. We recommend the chicken and andouille (Cajun style) gumbo, but most of the offerings here are authentic and good.
There are a number of good restaurants in the French Quarter, and we won’t even try to mention them all here—the editor has just cut the length of this article. As a street where you go to eat, Decatur, down toward the river, has long maintained a low profile. But some of our favorites are located there, so we will mention a few.
For instance, the erstwhile Central Grocery remains the premier place to get the famous muffaletta sandwich. And on lower Decatur Street, Coop’s Place remains a favorite neighborhood haunt with good food at good prices. Maximo’s is a classy and excellent place featuring northern Italian cuisine in a contemporary setting.
The Palm Court Jazz Cafe, at 1204 Decatur, has in many ways emerged as a crown jewel on lower Decatur. Very good contemporary Louisiana cuisine, and the setting is like an atmospheric jazz parlor in the 1920s, with potted palms, tile floors and a big Victorian bar. Authentic local music is often on tap along with the authentic local beer (Abita, try the amber kind). Excellent local favorites like red beans or gumbo are available here at low prices (A large stock of jazz records is also available—the place is owned by the Buck Foundation, producers of jazz recordings). A real oasis.