Contrary to popular opinion, the city of New Orleans isn't all daiquiri-covered Slip 'N Slides and underground gator wrestling competitions. The Big Easy is also home to some of the nation's—and arguably the entire world's—greatest fine dining establishments.
Whether you're looking for old guard institutions of gastronomic excellence like Commander's Palace or a restaurant devoted solely to the celebration and elevation of the boucherie, Nola undoubtedly has got you covered.
Here are our picks for the finest and fanciest food spots in all of New Orleans. For more tips on where to go and what to eat while in New Orleans, check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to New Orleans.
La Petite Grocery: People think of Southern food as emblematic of the simplest kind of cookery, but Chef Justin Devillier provides a technical flair that gives a new meaning to greens and grits. It's a swanky taste of the Gulf Coast: fried oysters with summer squash, tomatoes, crème fraiche, sweet corn, and horseradish; blue crab beignets served with a malt vinegar aioli; or just the day's version of the classic pickle jar. This is the contemporary stab at the beloved Southern dinner plate that continues to make New Orleans food relevant.
Willa Jean: Be glad that John Besh's Executive Pastry Chef Kelly Fields teamed up with his other pastry chef, Lisa White, to open their own joint. The biscuits alone are perfect and can wipe out a hangover like a regret-soaked sponge. The perfect brunch spot, Willa Jean serves up coffee-based cocktails and boozy slushy drinks that are worth your time, plus the cookies served with a glass of vanilla-infused milk, banana bread, and blonde chocolate panna cotta are something special.
Coquette: The menu changes daily, but who doesn't love rolling the dice? Chef Michael Stoltzfus is the anchor at this Garden District restaurant, and you can trust that he will put expertise and curiosity into the dishes he creates for each menu that focuses on locally-sourced foods. Considering the ever-changing options, it might be worth shelling for the customized five-course, $70 blind tasting. Or, get anything with duck.
Boucherie: If you love meat but want to realize how little you know about it, Boucherie is a good place to stop by. Born out of a food truck that carried a desire to honor the Cajun "boucherie," a community event that centers around the slaughtering and sharing of a few hogs, Chef Nathanial Zimet brings his passion for meat and barbecue to the table. The restaurant's pride is in its ambition to take up the mantle of history, which calls them to smoke, cure, age, and prepare all their their meats in house. Consider such plates as the seared pork cake with roasted shiitakes, parsnip, and caramelized carrot stew, as well as the Saint Louis-style Niman Ranch pork ribs with satsuma marmalade, grilled pumpkin, and crispy shallots.
Gautreau's Restaurant: Look no further than Gautreau's when in pursuit of that Haute cuisine of your dreams. Although James Beard Award-winning Chef Sue Zemanick officially left the restaurant in September, the same kitchen staff has been running the joint with her absent since April, so don't even worry. It's the same foie gras torchon with a champagne reduction that you've been chewing on at Gautreau's since Zemanick walked into the building two decades ago.
Commander's Palace: If you're not going to Commander's Palace for lunch and picking up a fine-ass meal accompanied by 25-cent Martinis, you're a deal-averse monster. Commander's Palace is perhaps the city's most famous restaurant. Known for its Creole fare, weird turquoise building, and chandeliers, it sits across the street from a beautiful graveyard. The food is beyond delicious, and say yes to the turtle soup with a blast of sherry. But the draw is—and always will be—its lunch menu that makes you feel like an old school New Orleans fat cat, because you have to wear a jacket and actually can buy martinis for a 25 cents.
Clancy's Restaurant: Tucked away in an Uptown neighborhood sits Clancy's, a fine-dining joint that's been around since the 1980s. It wrestles with the same ideas that most New Orleans restaurants take on: the division between old and new. A restaurant that appreciates old-school Creole food, Clancy's is a lot more relaxed about the debate and serves whatever it wants. Seafood is king, so don't miss the crabmeat salad, the softshell crab, or the baby drum.
Galatoire's: Put on a coat or a dress and head to this joint right on Bourbon Street. They don't take reservations, but it's worth lining up outside for the food and the dedication to perfectly prepared Creole food. It's really as though you're walking through time when you're being seated at your table and the waiters zip by you in pressed tuxedos. Try the Galatoire's challenge: Grab lunch, keep your table and drink through until dinner, and then order off the dinner menu. Don't sleep on the soufflé potatoes, shrimp remoulade, crabmeat maison, shrimp Clemenceau, or any of the fresh seafood.
Pêche: If you want to eat fish, this is James Beard-award winner is the place to do it. A Donald Link establishment, Pêche focuses on serving coastal seafood cooked overtop a hearth of hardwood coals—something easy to spot in its open kitchen. Trust in their whole grilled fish, whatever it is that day, though you can't go wrong with the baked drum. Also consider starting with the smoked tuna dip. Pêche is a feel-good spot because you can eviscerate the menu and not feel like garbage afterward.
Shaya: Shaya has been one of the most talked about restaurants in the country since it opened its doors in February 2015. Named for chef Alon Shaya, who came up under the tutelage of John Besh, the spot serves the food of his upbringing: Israeli food but with a contemporary Southern twist. Be sure to order a few small dishes for the table, like the ikra, hummus, or baba ganoush, and grab the slow-cooked lamb as your main course. Shaya has been called restaurant of the year by more than one publication, so it's definitely worth a visit if you can get a reservation. A little advice: Try stopping by an hour before closing, as they can sometimes slip you in on the fly.
Compère Lapin: There's a reason Chef Nina Compton stuck around the Big Easy after her appearance on Top Chef: New Orleans: She was drawn to the city's historic yet groundbreaking nature, a concept she wanted to bring to her food. In a city of immigrants, Compton felt able to mix her Caribbean upbringing with the Creole flavors of her new home. It's a restaurant that serves coconut French toast with a pecan rum sauce, curried goat with gnocchi, and coconut curry alongside locally-sourced shrimp.
Sylvain: Tucked away on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, Sylvain is a primo lunch and dinner spot that serves a blend of dishes. But, the pro move here is to stop by for a weekend brunch. Sit on the back porch surrounded by the plants of the Caribbean while sucking down an entire cocktail menu dedicated to your lackadaisical meal. The Orange Lazarus, Milk Punch, Corpse Reviver #2, and Bloody Mary will all get you where you need to be. Add on the short rib hash or the restaurant's chicken sandwich served on a biscuit with housemade pickles, and you'll be ready for an afternoon snooze.
Mariza: Sometimes you need a break from the Creole and Cajun and just want to get down with some fine-quality Italian food. Mariza is that joint in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood. This restaurant serves pasta and extremely good pizza, but it still provides an opportunity to get some local seafood if that's what you're looking for. Also consider an order of the lamb meatballs with duck eggs—it's a game changer.
Toups Meatery: You might recognize Isaac Toups from the most recent season of "Top Chef." But, when he isn't on television, this pirate-looking chef is serving up a masterclass on how to serve and eat meat. In this restaurant, Toups is paying respect to his family's long line of Louisiana traditions. This is an enlightened approach to Cajun cuisine, as cracklins and hogs headcheese can be ordered alongside the Gulf seafood couvillion stew. But if you're coming here for a tasting of delicious meats, you can't beat Toups' Meatery Board, which provides you a selection of house-cured meats and condiments.
For our complete list, check out the rest of our picks for New Orleans in the MUNCHIES Guide to New Orleans.