Creme De La Creme

Dozen Bucket List Restaurants

During the many dinners I had with the Eat Club on our recent New England and Canada cruise, we talked about The Best Restaurants constantly. There are many ways one can come up with such a list. The Best Food list would be different from the Best Atmosphere And Service list. The best restaurants based on value, local color or history, or a list that includes all the major kinds of restaurants would all be interesting and valid, but different.

However, this way of looking at it seemed to captivate a lot of people. It’s often asked on the radio show, too. It’s a bucket list. If you were in your last weeks in New Orleans, for whatever reason, and you would not be likely to return here often, in which restaurants should you spend a meal before you leave?

Another way of looking at this is to consider the plight of an avid eater who is visiting for a week or two, but probably won’t come back soon.

The restaurants that came up while we tried to develop such a list were astonishingly varied. I’d say at least 100 restaurants were named. Making my own list, I had a hard time whittling it down to two dozen, let alone one. So many beloved favorites were left off!

When we got rigorous, it was clear that the Bucket List eateries should a) serve unusually delicious food; 2) be the sort of place that would be hard to find outside New Orleans; and iii) acknowledge the fact that one would miss the essence of the New Orleans flavor if one ate only in fancy restaurants or only in neighborhood joints.

Here’s my list. Please understand that if Restaurant A is higher on this list than Restaurant 2, it doesn’t imply that A is better than 2. Just more urgent on the Bucket List.

1. Commander’s Palace. Garden District: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. Dinner. Five or six courses that include a couple of standards (turtle soup, veal or lamb chop) and the rest specials is for my money the most intense dose of local cuisine. And it has all the rest, too: history, beauty, service, and the best wine cellar in the` city.

2. Mr. B’s Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. Dinner. Mr. B’s created the gourmet Creole bistro, and still sets the standard. With the best versions in town of many local classics intermingled with a fresh style, it’s always a pleasure–except on the rare off nights. I’ll take that chance.

3. Clancy’s. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111. DInner. Clancy’s began with the gourmet Creole bistro menu, then backpedaled a touch into the realm of the classic traditional places. The result is a magical evening of food and wine.

4. Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. Lunch Any Day But Friday. Even after more than a decade of subtle changes that have taken it far away from what made it famous, Galatoire’s remains for most avid New Orleans diners the city’s most indispensable restaurant. Even when food and service are off, one can’t help but enjoying it all. `

5. Katie’s. Mid-City: 3701 Iberville. 504-488-6582. Lunch. What with all the old and new neighborhood restaurants in Mid-City, Katie’s is distinguished by an extraordinary range of great eats, from poor boys to beans to seafood platters.

6. Root. Warehouse District: 200 Julia. 504-252-9480. Dinner. The hippest, hottest restaurant in town is not where I like to go, no matter where I am. But this place has grabbed me, and has just enough New Orleans heritage (some of it coming by way of Spain) that it’s a must for any serious eater. Only a little boldness and modest budgets are required of the diner.

7. Drago’s. CBD: 2 Poydras. 504-584-3911. ||Metairie: 3232 N Arnoult Rd. 504-888-9254. Lunch Or Dinner. Drago’s perennially leads the oyster league, and shows well in the shrimp, fish, and crab departments. Even though it downplays its not-from-here lobster specialty, that can’t be beat.

8. Johnny’s Po-Boys. French Quarter: 511 St Louis. 504-524-8129. Lunch. The distinctive flavor in a New Orleans roast beef poor boy is found nowhere else. Johnny’s take on it strikes my palate as the ideal. They make all the other local sandwiches, too. And good red beans and stuff.

9. Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Dinner. The quintessential chef-owned restaurant, with Frank and Marna Brigtsen’s hands all over everything. All fresh local ingredients of the best quality; all Louisiana flavors, in a contemporary vein.

10. L√ľke. CBD: 333 St Charles Ave. 504-378-2840. Lunch. John Besh is more famous for his five-star place on Tchoupitoulas, but this stripped-down version of an Alsatian-German eating hall is a thorough-going pleasure. The raw oyster bar, daily specials, all-day hours, and location make the place essential.

11. Vincent’s. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. ||Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. Lunch. Vincent’s–particularly the tiny branch on St. Charles Avenue near the Riverbend–is the exemplar of what can happen when Creole and Italian flavors and ingredients meet. Nothing fancy about it. Nor does the menu make the pulse pound. But what comes to the table is everything you were hoping for.

12. Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. Lunch Or Dinner. The oldest continuous family restaurant in the country entered a new era after Katrina. Even with its longtime inconsistencies, it provides a dining experience like no other anywhere. But you have to have a sympathy for classicism and history.

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  1. Rootdown on October 20, 2014

    Mr. Fitzmorris: Do you know if there has been a change at Root since you placed it on this list? A group of us who are adventurous eaters and New Orleans veterans (including a couple longtime readers of your website who have come to trust and rely upon your judgment) went there based in large part on your review and bucket-listing. We were prepared to have a much-more-than-modest budget, and we obviously expected some “wow.”

    The only “wow” we got was the singular most disappointing dining experience any of us has had in the decades we’ve been regular visitors to the city. The service was very poor in every aspect; they were “out of” two of the three special cocktails we ordered off their list; the wine bottle list was poorly conceived and wildly overpriced; and the pour for a “glass” of wine was worse. Worst of all, the food was contrived, not well prepared or presented, and also incredibly overpriced. We covered most menu items at our table, as we were hungry and followed the waitress’s recommendations.

    The only bright spot was that it was so bad in every respect that it will provide fodder for a lifetime of jokes among our krewe. We all previously worked decades in the service industry and were so appalled at how badly it failed on so many levels that it became a so-bad-it’s-good experience, the crowning touch of which was leaving under the glower of the chef–she was not the guy who received all the accolades on the walls–and our “captain” waitperson, who received the most generous mandatory 20% tip in history because we didn’t have a choice. If we did, it would have been the first time in years than any of us would have left less than 15%–and even that would have been too generous for that experience. It felt like we had been punk’d.

    This can’t possibly be the same place you put on your list. Do you know what has changed since? In a city with so many great choices, we made a very bad one for the last dinner of our otherwise great trip. Hopefully others can avoid making the same mistake, but we are genuinely curious what the deal is and how it can be so different from what you and others who have praised it have experienced.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on October 23, 2014

      I don’t think this is a restaurant for everybody. It makres a pretty big statement that will likely alienate some diners. I didn’t think it would be right for mys tastes at first, but all my dinners there have been strikingly excellent, including one in August. I also get uniformly good reports from my radio callers. The deal is likely that the place was having a bad night. What did they do when you complained about these things?

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris