Choosing a restaurant in New Orleans is like choosing the best pizza in New York. It’s virtually impossible, due to all the great options and incredible food.
New Orleans is a food mecca and us traveling foodies are well aware of that fact, and there are never enough vacation days to get through them all. If you have at least a couple of days in New Orleans, these are the 5 top restaurant experiences in New Orleans that you must have — all of which are considered the best in the city. I guarantee each of these 5 restaurants will deliver a unique and delicious dining experience.
For a refresher on the foods you should order, check out our guide to the Food You Must Eat in New Orleans. We also have a great guide on the best cocktails to try in New Orleans that can’t be missed. And while you’re there, you’ll definitely need this great guide on the 10 Things to Do in New Orleans, too.
Also check out our Shortcut Guide to the French Quarter (it’s a really fun infographic!).
Emeril’s New Orleans
To be completely honest, I wasn’t totally sold on the idea of dining at a celebrity chef restaurant because I thought it might be gimmicky and touristy, but Emeril’s New Orleans, his flagship restaurant, is anything but what I’d imagined. While many of the diners probably are tourists, the restaurant is very classy and modern. You would never know it belonged to a celebrity chef, except that it’s packed at all times. One look at the delectable entrees and you know you’re in for a treat.
The thing I love the most is the Chef’s Food Bar, which opens up to the kitchen so you can watch all of the dishes being made. We watched the making of the grilled double-cut pork chop and were immediately sold. The truffle fried chicken for two was also drool worthy. The sticky buffalo duck wings we had as an appetizer were so crispy and flavorful that I almost considered cancelling our entrees and ordering another plate of duck. I’m not sure we talked at all during dinner, there was too much watching to do. Be sure to request seats at the Food Bar. It’s a unique and enthralling dining experience.
Located in the Garden District in a very distinctive mansion, Commander’s Palace has been one of New Orleans top fine dining restaurants for a very long time. It might be its long-time reputation as the most popular restaurant in the city that entices diners and makes reservations absolutely necessary, but it’s definitely a unique dining experience, especially for those who aren’t used to a first-class dining experience where the waiters wear tuxedos and refill your water glass after every sip.
The decor and ambiance of the restaurant makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a more genteel and old-world Louisiana. The menu showcases New Orleans’ unique and savory Creole specialties and the preparation and presentation stand up to expectation. There’s even a 25c martini lunch on the weekdays, which helps you assume the proper persona without running up the bill.
Tucked into a stylish corner brick building, August feels like your fancy friend’s house — the one who serves everything on china, even though it’s not the holidays. There are multiple dining rooms and each has a different feeling — one more open and bustling with activity, one more withdrawn and subtle. The best part about August is definitely the food. I’m a big fan of John Besh, so I already feel he can do no wrong. He has a number of restaurants in New Orleans, all very good, but August stands out as the best.
The options include an a la carte menu and a chef’s menu. The chef’s menu is a great way to taste an array of dishes, some that aren’t included on the a la carte menu, though be advised that you can order any of those dishes a la carte too, so don’t be shy about asking. The chop salad and cauliflower three ways are great starters. We loved the gnocchi. It was pillowy soft, topped with a rich cream sauce and black truffle shaving. The dishes are sized to share, so you can try a couple of dishes to start before digging into one of the entrees, like the slow-cooked and pecan smoked Louisiana beef.
Another of John Besh’s restaurants, Domenica is a more casual dining experience, serving modern Italian specialties. Located inside the historic Roosevelt Hotel, such a modern restaurant almost doesn’t fit the profile, but it’s a great space with spacious tables and high ceilings, so even when it’s really crowded, as it often is, it’s not overwhelming. Of course you have to head over to the Sazarac Bar in the hotel after you eat for an old school cocktail.
Domenica has an incredible happy hour, which runs every day from 2-5pm and includes half-priced pizzas and discounts on wine, beer and cocktails. The wood fired pizzas have the perfect crispy/chewy crust and quality ingredients. Try fun combinations like the Gorgonzola with speck, honey and peaches or the roasted carrot with goat cheese, brussels strouts, beets and hazelnuts. Pasta is another favorite on the menu. Try the squid ink Tagliolini with blue crab piled on top.
Located in the Warehouse District, Peche was inspired by the foods of Spain and Uruguay and focuses on fish cooked over an open fire, which is the centerpiece of the dining experience. Peche was awarded the 2014 Best New Restaurant award and has quickly become one of the hottest seafood restaurants in town. The restaurant has a very trendy nautical theme and the noise level can be through the roof, but its all worth it for the incredible experience. The food and service are impeccable and there’s, of course, a great cocktail menu and wine list.
If you’re wondering what to order and want to try some of the best things on the menu, get the Seafood Sampler, which includes oysters, shrimp, the to-die-for smoked tuna dip, tuna and shrimp ceviche, and the chef’s daily special. The fish varies based on availability, but no matter what you order, you won’t be disappointed. Other top picks include the whole fish and the crispy fried Brussels sprouts.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Finding the right hotel in New Orleans comes down to whether you want to be right in the middle of the action, or slightly outside of the action. It can get pretty noisy and crazy on Bourbon Street, but you don’t want to be so far away that walking there, or to any of the restaurants listed above, is unreasonable. All of our recommended hotels are with a few blocks of the action.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.