New Orleans’ status as a foodie paradise stems from its rich history, cultural diversity and a little bit of ego—after all, everyone wants to be serving the best bites in town, and there’s plenty of local competition to keep restaurateurs and chefs on their toes. While it can be hard to pinpoint NOLA’s greatest meals at first, just ask a local or a regular visitor; they’ll attest to the fact that some of the area’s oldest restaurants continue to reign supreme against newer competitors, no matter how modern their décor or innovative their chef.
Many of these indulgent spots (ranging from neighborhood favorites to potentially touristy digs) are over 100 years old, and though we couldn’t possibly list them all, we’d love to call out some truly special destinations. Head to the unbeatable eateries below for amazing Cajun and Creole cooking, among other delicious stuff.
Commander’s Palace (1893)
In its years as Emile Commander’s Palace Saloon (which opened in 1893 and not 1880, as recently discovered by a local historian), this now-famed blue and white restaurant (pictured at top) primarily served oysters and booze. Today, you’ll find limitless options for lunch and dinner, plus an unbeatable $46 jazz brunch special from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Sundays that includes a classic bloody mary, turtle soup, Texas quail and creole bread pudding soufflé, with most house ingredients sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant. Did we mention it’s won six James Beard Foundation awards? History buffs should note that Commander’s Palace is right across from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the city’s earliest burial sites. If you time things right, you can attend a daily tour of the grounds at 10:30 a.m. for $15.
French immigrant Antoine Alciatore’s restaurant, which has held more than one location on St. Louis Street, has remained family-run for 176 years (and counting) and is believed to be the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller, a dish invented by his son Jules. The restaurant you experience today opened in 1868, and it’s lauded for its impressive lunch menus (around $20 for three courses and 25-cent cocktails with the purchase of an entrée) within its picturesque, sophisticated dining space. On Sundays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., visitors can also partake in a three-course jazz brunch ($33). Don’t miss a chance to peek at Antoine’s array of themed private dining rooms, which boast titles like “Mystery Room,” “Escargot Room” and “Proteus Room,” to name a few.
Napoleon House (1914)
Photo courtesy of Napolean House
Napoleon House gets it name from its original occupant, New Orleans mayor Nicholas Girod, who offered his home to Napoleon Bonaparte as a place of refuge from exile in 1821. Though Bonaparte never actually made it, the name stuck, and the restaurant (which opened there in 1914) conquered the local market. One of Napoleon House’s biggest draws (besides, arguably, the best muffuletta and most refreshing Pimm’s Cup in the city), is its rustic architecture and décor, and its cozy open-air courtyard.
Head toward the light! And by light, we mean the old-timey neon signs at Mandina’s for heavenly, huge portions and casual dining (and fewer food tourists than most places on our list). The pink two-story building was first a grocery, then a pool hall and now (obviously) a restaurant, and many things from the original menu are still served. Before you leave, you’ll definitely want to try the turtle soup, fried seafood po’ boys and shrimp remoulade. Be warned: The restaurant doesn’t take reservations for parties with less than 15 people, so give yourself time to get a table.
Photo by J Stephen Young
Get your fill of French Creole food at Broussard’s (pictured above), which opened for business in 1920 with esteemed local chef Joseph Broussard at the helm. Fill up on the prix fixe menu (three courses for $38) or Jazz brunch with bottomless mimosas from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Speaking of cocktails, Broussard’s Empire Bar (headed by Paul Gustings) is known for inventive cocktails and punches; step outside your comfort zone with picks like the $12 English Milk Punch (yes, milk!) with rum and brandy. Also, this place is seriously Instagrammable; Broussard’s boasts one of the dreamiest courtyards on our list—think twinkle lights, fountains and exposed brick.
This cash-only spot is worth the trip to the ATM, since Casamento’s signature oyster loaf (using its signature pan bread instead of French bread) is totally out of this world, as is the gumbo. Feeling ambitious? If you’re dining with a group, you can collectively stuff your faces for $85 with The Big Easy Platter that feeds four to six people, providing roughly a dozen oysters, 12-15 pieces of catfish, a pile of meaty crab claws, shrimp and fries. Mind your manners, but don’t be afraid to make a little bit of a mess, since original owner Joe Casamento of Ustica, Italy requested to have almost every surface tiled for easier cleaning.
Those headed to a show at the Orpheum or Saenger might find themselves with a reservation at Galatoire’s, home to over a century of Cajun, Creole and French food offerings and a perfectly timed pre-theatre three-course menu. Located on Bourbon Street (both a blessing and a curse), folks can easily immerse in the local hubbub after dinner, though you’ll need to dress up if you’re planning on dining (for gents, the dress code is business casual with long pants for lunch, and dinner jackets are required after 5 p.m.). With Jean Georges on board as a majority owner, you can’t go wrong.
Photo courtesy of HannaFoto.com
This French restaurant has been serving patrons since 1856 and is famous for shrimp remoulade, brisket and the grasshopper cocktail (which contains green crème de menthe for color). You’ll find a traditional NOLA restaurant vibe in Tujague’s, complete with white tablecloths, tiled floors and high ceilings. Don’t miss out on the wonderful brunch booze deals ($3 wine, well cocktails, mimosas and bloody marys) or the five-course dinner menu (add $28 to any entrée). Looking for a spot to accommodate a group in a pinch? Tujague’s is known for accommodating larger parties, even on short notice.
Court of Two Sisters (circa 1726)
Named for two sisters who ran a shop on Rue Royale, Court of Two Sisters goes above and beyond the jazz brunch offerings at other local spots. Get in on a daily jazz brunch buffet in a fairytale-like courtyard that looks like something out of The Princess and the Frog; you’ll find gorgeous lighting, a fountain and several dining areas. Creole dinner is served from 5:30-10 p.m. nightly; don’t forget to order the turtle soup.
Café du Monde (1862)
In the mood for beignets and coffee? Great, because those remain some of the only items (aside from OJ and regular/chocolate milk) on Café du Monde’s menu (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!). Café du Monde is open 24/7 (and closed only on Christmas), and its coffee is famously blended with chicory for a chocolate-like flavoring, originally used to lessen the bitterness. The cafe is still at its original location right near the river and conveniently close to Jackson Square for visitors, but it has added eight different locations. Its white and green awnings are hard to miss, and it remains one of the most iconic landmarks in New Orleans.
Lead image courtesy of Napoleon House
Allie Early is a New York-, Connecticut- and Mississippi-based writer, editor and traveler with impressive suitcase-packing skills.