Lunch is as big a deal as you care to make of it. Donning matching feather boas with a tribe of friends for a booze-fueled midday repast at Galatoire’s that bleeds into dinner is as a-okay in this town as grabbing a Reuben at Stein’s Deli or a carton of leftovers from your fridge to be enjoyed in solitude on a park bench.
After two years of ho-hum sandwiches and salads at your makeshift desk between Zoom meetings or gobbling down a quick bite between your children’s virtual classes, it is now safe to return your dining room table to its intended purpose and take that needed mid-afternoon break. That precious time can be used for the settlement of business deals, catching up with friends, celebrating a special occasion, a casual first date, an attempt at a reconciliation, or simply relaxing alone before getting back to your daily grind.
An unrivaled, panoramic view overlooking the sparkling Mississippi River will take you about as far as you can get from the daily grind without leaving town altogether. The country’s main artery is the focal point at Chemin Ã la Mer (pathway to the sea), Chef Donald Link’s restaurant collaboration with the Four Seasons Hotel. The outdoor terrace is the place to take in the fine late spring breezes over lunch.
Link’s menu was inspired by his travels to French and Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, as well as France, Spain and Italy. For the West Indies Crab Salad, hunks of pearly-white jumbo lump crabmeat are offset by a dressing enlivened with lime, jalapeño and mint. Other luncheon offerings include Pan-Roasted Ora King salmon with Beluga lentils and fresh herbs; Pan-Seared Jumbo Shrimp with cauliflower rice gratin, and Duck Confit with white bean pistou. Gulf oysters are ever-present at the raw bar, while other varieties from the east and west coasts as well as other parts of the Gulf cycle in and out.
Following a comprehensive renovation and restoration Columns Hotel (the “The” was lost in the process) reopened last year with a fresh, revamped look and expanded outdoor areas.
New features also include second floor event and dining spaces, a guest lounge, a roof-deck and a new bar and restaurant with a menu from Executive Chef Paul Terrebonne. The Columns Burger is a sure bet with bacon marmalade, arugula, and provolone, as are the Roasted Oysters with Parmesan, lemon and Swiss chard and the Hanger Steak with caramelized onions and a classic Bordelaise sauce.
A late lunch on the veranda while observing the rumbling streetcar making its way down the tracks under a canopy of oaks has the power to fulfill everyone’s moonlight and magnolias vision of New Orleans.
Gianna, a celebrated Italian restaurant where the luxury of home-made pasta is a given, is now offering an all-day menu on Fridays. The rustic Italian menu reflects the popular dinner menu that earned Gianna a spot as a James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant finalist in 2019.
Chef Jared Heider’s Friday all-day menu features antipasti favorites like grilled octopus, Ribollita soup, grilled lion’s mane mushroom, and roasted heirloom carrots, in addition to many brunch options. Other menu items include spaghetti and clams, Pesce del Giorno, fire-roasted chicken, veal Saltimbocca and roasted cauliflower.
Elizabeth Street Café, a bright, colorful, upscale Vietnamese café and French bakery, opened last year in the Hotel Saint Vincent following the property’s $22 million-plus restoration. The restaurant is a second location for the Austin, Texas original. Unlike many local-owned mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurants that stick to the BYOB format and thrifty prices, Elizabeth Street Café kicks things off with a sophisticated cocktail menu featuring house creations as well as Asian-influenced versions of familiar standards. That sophistication continues with Broiled Escargot with Thai basil curry butter served over a house-made baguette; and Texas Akauski Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with seared Shishito peppers, marinated Hon Shimeji mushrooms and lemon soy. Other standouts include Ginger-Chili Oil Dumplings, numerous varieties of Banh Mi, bun, Cha Ca Redfish, Chicken and Kaffir Lime Laap.
With plenty of covered outdoor seating in a verdant setting, this is a welcoming place to take in the gorgeous the late spring weather in the Lower Garden District.
Early this spring Wishing Town Café brought its lighthearted approach to Vietnamese treats to a busy Uptown corner just blocks from Audubon Park. The new location from founders Vivi and Kevin Zheng is full-service with an abundance of patio seating as well as seating on the wrap-around porch. There are a couple of cozy rooms inside and the dessert counter hits you full on in its considerable glory when you step within.
Vivi’s lavish cakes and desserts include green tea, Durian, and Taro Crepe cakes, the signature Wishing Cake, egg yolk puff pastries and custom cakes. On the savory side there is an extensive array of delicate, savory parcels including pork buns, scallop and shrimp pocket dumplings, onion and beef triangles as well as octopus balls, pork floss cakes, spicy soups and hot pots.
To split with another the L’Atlantique (smoked salmon, lemon mayonnaise, avocado, arugula on toasted olive bread) and Le Parisienne (baked ham, butter, Comté, cornichons on baguette) sandwiches with glasses of iced tea at La Boulangerie from a sidewalk table overlooking Magazine Street may be the most perfect casual lunch around. Chef Maggie Scales offers daily specials, quiche, salads and handcrafted pastries and bread.
In August 2020, Chef Suda Ounin and Jeerasak Boonlert opened the restaurant and bakery they had long dreamed of. Housed in a cottage the color of strawberry buttercream frosting and fronted by a lush garden, Thai DJing beckons merrily from 5th Street in Old Gretna.
The menu at Thai DJing changes regularly to accommodate specials like whole fried fish served with pineapple and peppers, spicy Thai scallops and outstanding soups. Also skilled in pastry arts, Ounin keeps a changing selection of painstakingly crafted showstoppers on display in the pastry case in the bar.
Lunch specials (Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.) include a salad of fresh greens with a sensational ginger-curry vinaigrette, choice of soup, and a roti-based slider with a choice of protein, or an appetizer.
A hotspot for casual Latin American food and cocktails, the team behind Cure and Cane & Table carved Val’s from a formerly charmless service station, the remaining hard edges of which are obscured by garden spaces heavily packed with colorful tropical foliage to create a lush barrier between the covered outdoor seating area and the sidewalks at the intersection of Freret and Valence streets.
Following more than a year of research and travelling throughout Mexico, Chef Fredo Nogueria crafted a menu of Ceviche, snacks, and tacos (crispy beef belly, carnitas pork shoulder, chicken in green mole and fried fish). The corn tortillas are made in house. A rotation of specials (oyster tacos and scallop ceviche) keeps things interesting.
Outstanding cocktails are made with fruit juiced in house. There is the expected Margarita, frozen Margarita (there are both classic and daily special options), as well as new takes on classics and some house originals.
Lunching in the French Quarter with someone special and seeking a bit of luxury? Criollo in the historic Hotel Monteleone recently began a daily caviar service with Kaluga and Oscietra caviars. Made with jumbo Gulf shrimp, the Shrimp Louie is also impressive as is the Jumbo Lump Crab cake topped with grilled Roman-style artichoke hearts. Pair lunch with a bottle of the specially-priced Taittinger Champagne ($39/bottle – you can’t beat that anywhere) for a midday splurge without a hefty price tag.
If you are from New Orleans there is a good chance your grandparents (or even your great grandparents) shared drinks on a date at the Bayou Bar on the ground floor of New Orleans’ historic Pontchartrain Hotel. It is now a casual tavern-style bar filled with history and memories as a drinking den for both Sinatra and Capote. Under Chef Brian Landry the Bayou Bar is open for lunch with uncommon offerings like Duck Poppers with cane gastrique and herb cream cheese; Sticky Rib Tips with pepper jelly; Wild Mushroom Grilled Cheese with Manchego and truffle; and Steak Frites with Wagyu flank, fries and salsa verde. There are also daily lunch specials.
The midday meal at Commanders’ Palace can be a very affordable luxury. Chef Meg Bickford changes up the menu constantly to highlight the very best of what is in season to keep things fresh and interesting. The Today’s Two daily special consists of an entrée and a choice of soup or salad for under $23.
In addition to .25 cent martinis (available with the purchase of any entrée), there are special $5 Lunch Libations.
“You people celebrate everything,” said Ti Adelaide Martin, co-proprietress of Commander’s Palace. “You celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, business deals, each other, LIFE, at lunch, brunch, and dinner…and we get to be a part of those joyous occasions. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like just having fun.”
Bayou Bar, in The Pontchartrain Hotel, 2031 St Charles Ave, 504-323-1454, bayoubarneworleans.com
Chemin Ã la Mer, in the Four Seasons Hotel, 2 Canal St, 504-434-5895, fourseasons.com/neworleans/dining/restaurants/cheminalamer
Columns, St Charles Ave, 504-899-9308, thecolumns.com
Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Ave, 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com
Criollo, in the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal St, 504-681-4444, criollonola.com
Elizabeth Street Café in the Hotel Saint Vincent, 1507 Magazine St., 504-350-2435, elizabethstreetcafe.com
Gianna, 700 Magazine St #101, 504-399-8016, ginnarestaurant.com
La Boulangerie, 4600 Magazine St., 504-269-3777, laboulangerienola.com
Thai DJing, 93 5th Street, Gretna, 504-766-0681, thaidjing.com
Val’s, 4632 Freret St., 504-356-0006, valsnola.com
Wishing Town Bakery & Café, 802 Nashville Avenue, 504-533-9166, wishingtown.com