There may be no other city in North America that has such a collection of classic, iconic (and famous) restaurants than New Orleans. The city’s culinary heritage is legendary. And its old-school eateries are storied institutions, even tourist attractions, that are still churning out excellent food as if they opened a month ago.
At most of the restaurants below, you can sample local dishes that have their roots in Creole and Cajun cultures, as well as African and French culinary traditions. You’ll find stately dining rooms, casual po’boy spots, and everything in between.
Step inside this iconic pink restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter and do it with an empty stomach. Ninety or so minutes later, that stomach is guaranteed to be full. And satisfied. Brennan’s may be the birthplace of bananas Foster, but the menu is also loaded with goodness: turtle soup, shrimp remoulade, cane syrup-braised beef cheeks, crispy fried chicken, and lobster Creole round out a menu that is too good to ignore.
Cafe du Monde
It’s all about the coffee and the beignets at this iconic spot in the French Quarter. Cafe du Monde attracts a constant crowd who sip coffee and gobble up the powdered sugar-topped beignets that it has become famous for. Don’t be too intimidated by the line—it moves pretty fast.
In the Spring of 1840, an 18-year-old by the name of Antoine opened up a restaurant in the French Quarter and the rest is history. In fact, today Antoine’s is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the United States. Some of the same waiters have been serving oysters Rockefeller, which originated here, and potato souffle, which has been mastered here, for a few generations.
A culinary stalwart of the Garden District, the famously blue-and-white-striped Commander’s Palace has been serving up turtle soup and other Creole staples since the 1880s. Celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both worked their way through the kitchens here before moving on to greater fame. Now chef Meg Bickford is at the helm and she’s churning out excellent Creole classics, like gumbo, pecan-encrusted fish, and garlicky shrimp and grits.
Start with a drink at the fabulous French 75 bar within this French Quarter restaurant and then hit the dining room. The balcony is a great place to sit, so you can watch the action down below in Arnaud’s dining room. The weekend jazz brunch is an obligatory experience for everyone at least once in their lives.
Leah Chase is back in the kitchen at this legendary spot cooking up Creole classics.
Dooky Chase’s is famous for its rich and filling gumbo but don’t just stop there. Come at lunch and you’ll find a show-stopping buffet of stuffed shrimp, fried chicken, sausage, chicken Clemenceau, oysters, red beans and rice, and much more.
You know you’re a Nola fixture if you’re sitting in the main black-and-white-tiled dining room during Friday lunch at Galatoire’s. But whatever day of the week it is, wiling away an afternoon at this elegant French Quarter eatery is an exercise in opulence. Dig into Creole delights here, as all of the classics are on the menu. Jackets are required.
More than 200 years old, this French Quarter spot was meant to be the home of the eponymous French emperor after his exile from France. Napoleon never made it, but locals and visitors can plant themselves in the ambient interior and nurse a Pimm’s cup while grazing on a huge muffuletta sandwich.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
Since 1911, this Mid-City spot has been serving overstuffed po’boy sandwiches. And they happen to be some of the best in the city. Even Barack Obama agrees, as he famously visited Parkway while he was president. You can get the classic shrimp po’boy here but Parkway’s specialty is the luscious roast beef po’boy: stuffed with slow-roasted beef and then slathered in rich gravy. It’s a delicious mess.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
A Treme soul food institution since 1957, Willie Mae’s has been attracting chicken-loving souls for decades—back when this location housed a bar, restaurant, and beauty salon. Locals line up down the block to bite into what might be the best fried chicken on the planet. But don’t you dare chomp into that juicy chicken without also ordering a side of the gooey mac ‘n’ cheese and butter beans.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.