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Big Eats in the Big Easy

Breakfast on the Morning After
Big Eats in the Big Easy
Dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp étouffée are the stuff of legend, but New Orleans's cuisine has evolved greatly, and is more informed than ever by outside influences—it is, after all, a port city. What you'll find in the ever-expanding restaurant scene is now as diverse as it is delicious.
By Geraldine Campbell, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    Breakfast on the Morning After
    Breakfast on the Morning After
    New Orleans is both malady and cure. The preponderance of great bars can lead to mornings when even the sounds of raindrops are painful. But the cure can be found on nearly every block in the French Quarter—a late-morning breakfast or early lunch (yes, we know, but the city doesn't really advertise brunch as it's done in other metropolises) helps bring the day's rhythm back to normal and the sound back to the proper decibel level. A cocktail or two also helps file down the day's burrs. Brennan's is famed for its over-the-top breakfasts (think eggs Sardou) in an elegant, slow-motion setting. Willa Jean offers a brighter, more modern environment and serves up remarkable pastries and comfort food like shrimp and grits. A weekday favorite is Commander’s Palace, where chef Tory McPhail cooks updated Creole classics. There’s even more pomp on weekends, when a jazz trio weaves its way around tables of patrons in their Sunday best.
    Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
  • 2 / 9
    From Gulf to Grill
    From Gulf to Grill
    New Orleans isn't on the coast—it's actually miles inland—but it still reveres seafood. Pêche, the latest endeavor of New Orleans restaurateur Donald Link, is quickly becoming for seafood what his restaurant Cochon is for pork: quintessential. Saint Lucia native Nina Compton adds a cheery Caribbean inflection to seafood at her Compère Lapin. And, when available, the perfectly fried catfish is often overlooked at Willie Mae's, the temple to fried chicken. For over-the-top presentations, swing by the Bourbon House, where you can order a towering plateau de fruits de mer, which includes oysters, caviar, shrimp, mussels, and crab fingers.
    Photo courtesy of Red Fish Grill
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    Dining Further Afield
    Dining Further Afield
    The French Quarter exerts its own peculiar gravity, but it's worth breaking free for a night or two to try neighborhood dining elsewhere. Uptown's Upperline is run with considerable panache by JoAnn Clevenger, whose kitchen takes traditional Creole dishes and gives them a modern spin. Not far away is Charlie's Steak House, a throwback to the era of the local meat joint, where everyone went for their big birthdays. Revel in Mid-City is an easy-to-miss neighborhood restaurant, with a bar overseen by one of the nation's leading bartender-historians. Chef Ian Schnoebelen has opened an Italian restaurant, Mariza, in a former industrial space in Bywater that's getting notice for its raw bar and antipasto platters of cheeses, pickled vegetables, and cured meats. Another way to spend an evening exploring outer-district fare is to head to Freret Street, with its cocktail lounges and shrines to comfort food (pizza, hamburger, hot dogs, cheesesteaks) all located between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues.
    Photo courtesy Dryades Entertainment
  • 4 / 9
    Sandwiches, but Better
    Sandwiches, but Better
    Even the sandwiches are over-the-top in New Orleans. Po'boys are stuffed with everything from alligator sausage to fried oysters, and a Sicilian-style muffuletta brims with mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, provolone, and olive salad. This Big Easy staple was perfected at the French Quarter's Central Grocery, which serves up massive versions (a quarter is usually enough for one person), wrapped in deli paper. Behind Cochon is Cochon Butcher, which has a more petite version of the muffuletta, along with many other options. Killer Poboys, which has two locations in the French Quarter, serves up po'boys with a modern twist; for something more traditional, head to Parkway Bakery & Tavern for a quintessential roast beef po'boy, "dressed" (with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles) on flaky French bread.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    New York Pie, New Orleans Flavor
    New York Pie, New Orleans Flavor
    The happy outcome of New Orleans's increasingly diverse restaurant scene is that it's now possible to get a great pizza—no matter your definition. If you prefer New York–style slices, head to Pizza Delicious in the Bywater neighborhood, a former pop-up started by New York–born Tulane graduates. At the Midway, dig into doughy deep-dish pies served in metal pans. At Alon Shaya’s restaurant Domenica, Neapolitan pizzas come topped with tomatoes and whole-milk mozzarella from St. James Cheese Company. The secret to their success is Shaya’s sourdough starter and an oven that blasts the pizzas at 800 degrees for just under two minutes. The pies are served both here and at the restaurant's casual spin-off, Pizza Domenica.
    Photo by Claire Bangser
  • 6 / 9
    New Orleans’s Classic Cuisine
    New Orleans’s Classic Cuisine
    Iconic restaurants lure visitors to New Orleans. A good place to get acquainted with the cuisine is Galatoire's, a refined counterpart to Bourbon Street’s lowbrow pleasures since 1905. Its old-world decor is consistent with its traditional Creole dishes. Go for lunch on Friday, and dress the part—gentlemen, that means jackets. Around the corner, distinguished Arnaud's Restaurant has been serving up classic dishes in classic surroundings since 1918. (As with many long-standing New Orleans establishments, it's common for regulars to request a specific waiter when making a reservation.) In Mid-City, Willie Mae's is a family-owned institution of a different kind. The eatery is only open for lunch, with world-renowned fried chicken and much more.
    Photo by Geraldine Campbell
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    Informal Eats
    Informal Eats
    Classic sit-down dining is a major draw for culinary pilgrims to New Orleans, but travelers cannot live by white tablecloth alone. The city has abundant options for less formal fare in every neighborhood. Roving about the uptown precincts is Taceaux Loceaux, a taco truck with modern versions of Mexican favorites (try the BBQ pork). Turkey & the Wolf has gotten national notice for its striking upscale interpretations of downscale bites, including a fried-bologna-and-potato-chip sandwich and a collard-green melt that delights even carnivores. Verti Marte is a corner grocery in the French Quarter; head to the back for delicious, sloppy sandwiches like the All That Jazz po'boy. Finish out an afternoon by joining the line at Hansen's Sno-Bliz, a third-generation snowball stand with the lightest, featheriest ice and tastiest flavor combos in the city.
    Photo by Paul Broussard
  • 8 / 9
    Oysters, Please
    Oysters, Please
    New Orleans may be the last remaining city in America where oysters are still priced in a way that everyone can afford—some bars have 25¢ or 50¢ oysters at happy hour, and plump Gulf oysters can typically be found on the half shell for about $1 apiece. Swing by the St. Roch Market for some oysters at the marble stand before exploring other fare. Casamento's uptown is a classic throwback, with white-tile everything and no-frills service. A few blocks away is Pascal's Manale, where you buy a chit for oysters at the bar, then eat standing up as shuckers keep them coming. For a fancier presentation, look for the ubiquitous chargrilled oysters, notable at Drago's, Acme Oyster House, and Felix's, all within striking distance of the French Quarter.
    Photo by Gabrielle Milone
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    Late-Night Louisiana Grub
    Late-Night Louisiana Grub
    Most restaurant shut down their kitchens well before last call (in part because there often isn't a last call). So the still-hungry-after-hours will have to be persistent, creative, or both. If it's not too late, sidle up to the bar at Arnaud's French 75 and get a bowl of gumbo delivered. You can join drag queens and other Bourbon Street revelers at Clover Grill, a gay-friendly greasy spoon known for its half-pound cheeseburgers, waffles, and biscuits-and-gravy combo. Open 24 hours a day is famous Café Du Monde, where sobriety can be had by the coffee cup and ballast by the beignet. For another sweet option, grab a cab to Bakery Bar where a nightcap and a slice of delicious Doberge cake may satisfy your hunger. If you're uptown and craving diner food, choose from the Camellia Grill’s menu of burgers, chocolate freezes, and pecan pie.
    Photo by Frank Adam/age fotostock