Dozen And A Half Best Gourmet Creole Bistros
This is the style of restaurant that upended the New Orleans dining scene in the 1980s. It has become the dominant style of fine dining in our town, with a stronger emphasis on food than on surroundings. The Creole bistros still point the way to the future of New Orleans dining. (At least the part of it that isn't concerned with the explosively expanding ethnic segment.)
Before anyone asks, let me note that I didn't include the Cajun places from this list. If I hadn't, then K-Paul's, the Bon Ton, and Cochon (in that order) would have been in here. But the list was already long enough.
Click on any restaurant name for a detailed review.
1. Mr. B's Bistro. French Quarter: 201 Royal. 504-523-2078. The archetype of the genre, with the best versions in town of several key local dishes, a great feel, and big drinks. Wish the menu were a little longer and reservations easier.
2. Brigtsen's. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610. Sets the standard for the small, chef-owned restaurant, with an ever-changing menu and strong particularity of ingredients.
3. Gautreau's. Uptown: 1728 Soniat St. 504-899-7397. These days it's more American than Creole, really. But it was one of the first of the bistros, and has an astonishing record of consistency even as chefs and menus change.
4. Tommy's Cuisine. Warehouse District: 746 Tchoupitoulas. 504-581-1103. Two-thirds New Orleans, one-third Italy, with a former chef from Galatoire's and some of the best old-line waiters in the city. And the food is absolutely delicious. Great wine list, too.
5. Clancy's. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111. The Galatoire's of Uptown, with a no-tricks menu and consistently satisfying cooking. One of the chummiest places in town; you know everybody here. And what a wine cellar!
6. Bistro Daisy. Uptown: 5831 Magazine. 504-899-6987. The best of the newcomers in the category, owned by a chef who ran two five-star restaurants in the past. Only issue: parking.
7. Herbsaint. CBD: 701 St Charles Ave. 504-524-4114. Evolving over time from French to Creole-Cajun, this is Chef Donald Link's best restaurant. Country-style cooking brought to a fascinating polish.
8. Dante's Kitchen. Riverbend: 736 Dante. 504-861-3121. Low-key, in premises that border on a shambles. But the guy in the kitchen can cook as well as anyone on this list, and does so with the unpretentious excitement for which bistros are celebrated.
9. Atchafalaya. Uptown: 901 Louisiana Ave. 504-891-9626. The fourth restaurant under this name at this address is the best ever. Sharp compositions of food surprise almost every first-time diner. The decor takes full advantage of the well-worn premises. Great cocktails.
10. Gallagher's Grill. Covington: 509 S Tyler. 985-892-9992. With far and away the best gourmet bistro on the North Shore, Pat Gallagher makes no concessions to lightness or trendiness. Here is a menu full of reliably local classics, made with great ingredients.
11. Upperline. Uptown: 1413 Upperline. 504-891-9822. One of the pioneers of the local bistro style, JoAnn Clevenger's new chef (only the fifth in 28 years) keeps moving the heartwarming, unique, Southern Creole menu right along.
12. Mat & Naddie's. Riverbend: 937 Leonidas. 504-861-9600. The best restaurant for the many diners whose favorite style of restaurant is an ambitious, skilled kitchen in a shack. Wins the prize for Most Misleading Exterior.
13. One. Riverbend: 8132 Hampson. 504-301-9061. A teeny restaurant with a motivated, exposed kitchen staff cooking right in front of the most avid foodies who come here, and for the people at all those little tables.
14. Vizard's. Uptown: 5015 Magazine . 504-895-2246. Kevin Vizard's long, hopscotching career has stabilized for the past few years in this little cafe. A change this year: the whole menu is small plates now. Order a bunch. You'll love them all.
15. Juniper. Mandeville: 301 Lafitte. 985-624-5330. Second only to Mat & Naddie's in the Most Misleading Exterior category. The old Mandeville bakery has owner-chef Pete Kusiw cooking oversize platters of well-turned-out local eats with a traditional lean.
16. Olivier's Creole Restaurant. French Quarter: 204 Decatur. 504-525-7734. The second generation of the Olivier family keeps pushing its restaurant upscale, but at such a slow pace that nobody notices. A renovation made the place beautiful, and the rabbit and gumbo and seafood remain wonderful in a home-style way.
17. Dick & Jenny's. Uptown: 4501 Tchoupitoulas. 504-894-9880. Not quite the restaurant it once was--not quite as adventuresome--D&J's remains very good, and with prices that explain why you still have to wait a good while for a table to dine there.
18. Coquette. Garden District: 2800 Magazine . 504-265-0421. The place is cool, the bar superb, the cooking excellent (mostly). The kitchen needs to expand its range and tone down the contrivances a little.