When planning to visit a city, my first order of business is ALWAYS where I am going to eat. I’ll spend weeks researching and trying to find the best restaurants by pouring over Yelp photos, TripAdvisor reviews, frequent Instagram check-in spots, asking friends on Facebook…you name it, I’ve done it. But sometimes there are even things strangers on the Internet can’t tell you. And for that, you want to go straight to the locals.
The local people on the ground floor of food consumption who hear about restaurant openings long before the press and visit without rose colored vacation glasses to give an honest opinion. You can tell the true vibe of a city not by where the tourists line up around the corner but where the locals spend their Sunday morning.
That’s why I gathered a few trusted natives in one of the most legendary food meccas of the South, New Orleans. Juley Le is a foodie, creative consultant, and the lifestyle blogger behind Upperlyne & Co. Hattie Moll is the shop owner of Hattie Sparks and has lived in New Orleans for over eight years with a passion for dining out. Lauren Lagarde is the owner of a boutique communications agency specializing in entertainment and lifestyle brands constantly taking her clients to the best spots in town. Sound like the perfect panel? Here are the 14 New Orleans restaurants they can’t live without.
Hattie: This is a true New Orleans farm to table landmark, established in 1933. It’s the quintessential neighborhood restaurant—I always run into someone I know and the staff and atmosphere are so welcoming. I frequent College Inn quite a bit, and my favorite dinner there is fairly simple and consistent. I love their wedge salad, a bowl of gumbo, and a dirty vodka martini. Of course, there are times I’ll go all out and if I do then the crawfish mac and cheese is a must! Also, they go over the top with their decorations for every holiday, which makes dining there even more fun.
2. Cane & Table
Source: Instagram @Jason_Klutts
Lauren: A Caribbean inspired restaurant and bar in the heart of the French Quarter, this is my go to spot for Saturday brunch. The all-you-can-drink brunch of house-made mimosas, micheladas, and more plus Chef Jason Klutts’ migas scramble is pretty hard to beat. Enjoy your brunch al fresco in Cane & Table’s lush courtyard—it isn’t hard to imagine yourself in the middle of a Hemingway novel.
3. Cochon or Cochon Butcher
Juley: I love taking friends (especially out-of-towners) to Donald Link’s Cochon. It’s all about an authentic but elevated Southern family meal! We’d order a little bit of everything, which usually includes fried alligator, boudin, an assortment of vegetable dishes, rabbit and dumplings, catfish court-bouillon, and at least two baskets of their fresh baked, buttery rolls.
Juley: It’s perfect date night spot by former Top Chef contestant, Chef Nina Compton. Pull up a seat at the raw bar for a dozen freshly shucked oysters, order a little bit of everything from the small plates menu, try the ‘TCB’ sour cocktail, and ask for two servings of biscuits because they’re the BEST (baked fresh to order and served with bacon and honey butter).
Hattie: I had probably the best dining experience of my life here because of the intimate atmosphere, attentive staff, and amazing food. It’s a true New Orleans gem and it’s the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or indulge in a nice dinner.
Lauren: Bacchanal is one of my favorite places on the planet, not just in New Orleans. Part wine and liquor store and part music venue/restaurant with all the action happening in the middle of a backyard, it feels like a place that can only exist in New Orleans (or in your dreams). Sunday nights are great to grab some wine and cheese and head back to the patio for live music before easing back into the workweek. Though I love visiting on weekdays for lunch when the weather is nice, too—it’s far less crowded but with all the same ambiance.
Hattie: They have, hands down, the best cheese board in the city plus a killer wine selection and unbelievable food. It can get pretty packed on the weekends, so it’s a nice mid-week early dinner spot if you want to relax in the courtyard and listen to live music.
Lauren: HiVolt is one of my favorite spots for coffee and a quick breakfast in New Orleans. Their staff is friendly and fast while serving some of the best espresso and pour-overs in the city. I treat myself to an iced almond milk latte at least once a week! If you go looking for food, don’t leave without trying the Ozzy, named after my favorite Osbourne (sorry Kelly). It’s a quinoa bowl with poached eggs, cherry tomatoes, greens, and avocado and it’s “crazy train” good.
8. 1,000 Figs
Juley: 1,000 Figs is a charming restaurant serving fresh Mediterranean food in the most New York-ish corner of Mid-City. I thought the affordable falafel platters and homemade bread were everything I could want in a Mediterranean restaurant but I was wrong. They introduced me to the magic this is toum, a whipped garlic sauce, that has me licking my plate clean.
9. Pagoda Cafe
Source: Instagram soniajlessuck
Hattie: This cute spot in the 7th Ward serves the BEST breakfast tacos I’ve had outside of Texas. Plus, their cortados are incredible.
Lauren: Run by the chefs MeauxBar and Coquette (two amazing restaurants in town), Little Bird is a fried chicken pop-up located inside Barrel Proof, a whiskey bar that is favorite as well. Serving really, really good fried chicken and sides a few nights a week, it’s a great late night snack or full meal (you can get the entire menu for $40). The cold fried chicken sandwich and broccoli salad are delicious standouts.
11. Camellia Grill
Source: Between The Bread Blog
Juley: Cameillia Grill is a no-frills historic American diner that serves classic meals in a fun environment. Other than the yummy omelets (the Manhattan with corn beef hash is a must) and burgers, the waitstaff is second to none. Efficient, laid-back, funny, and will call you out if they like you. Tip: Get the decadent pecan pie heated over the grill because a little extra butter never hurt anybody.
12. Willa Jean
Source: Go Nola
Hattie: Just down the street from my shop, this contemporary bakery is my go-to for a savory breakfast or a sweet afternoon treat. Not only is the space gorgeous, but everything from the food to the coffee and the cocktails are also done so perfectly.
Lauren: This award-winning seafood spot is conveniently located around the corner from my home so I’m here more than I’d like to admit. Their selection of raw oysters is always on point and my friends and I crave their smoked tuna dip, which is similar your grandma’s tuna salad but (no offense to your grandma) 1000 times better. The whole grilled fish can’t be missed either. Reservations can be hard to come by so the best bet is to sneak in by the bar and order there. The scene is lively with locals and a great way to lose a few hours.
Source: Instagram Go Stuff Yourself
Juley: Another no-frills spot, 9 Roses in the Westbank is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant for its large variety of dishes and family style meals. You have to order the standard family meal for an authentic experience: sweet and sour soup, caramelized catfish in clay pot, salt and pepper squid, and sautéed Chinese spinach.