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. Lüke. 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.