This is one of the times of the year that can make or break a restaurant. Between Carnival and the two weekends of Jazz Fest, a lot of places make more in a weekend than they make in three months during the summer.
A lot of that business is driven by location – if you’re on the parade route or in a well-trafficked area generally you’ll probably do well during peak tourist season. Then there are places that are off the beaten track that deserve a bit more attention. Here are some places that I like that are off the beaten path and I apologize in advance that I am leaving a lot of places out of this list, which is principally directed towards people visiting from out of town:
Coquette is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans and has been for many years. I am biased because I very much like chefs Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig, but I wouldn’t recommend the place if I didn’t love the food they put out. It’s imaginative Southern food and it’s delicious. These kids once did a vegetable plate that was so good it damn near made me vegetarian. I got over it, but it was that good, and they’re not a vegetarian joint.
You will probably not be able to get into Clancy’s during the season, but that’s a shame and if you are visiting New Orleans at any other time, you should try to get there. It’s one of the quintessential New Orleans neighborhood restaurants, and you’ll enjoy the Creole-inspired menu. Get the fried eggplant and anything else on the appetizer menu and if they have the smoked soft-shell crabs, get those too.
Not far from Clancy’s is another outstanding New Orleans neighborhood restaurant: Patois.
This is another place where I am biased but another place I recommend to people because the food is so consistently good. Chef Aaron Burgau is a wildly talented guy and his menu is comforting and sophisticated at the same time. Outstanding gumbo, goddamn awesome confit, hell of a steak and whatever the fish is, it’s going to be good.
High Hat Café is another great place that’s off the parade route but not so far off that you can’t enjoy a meal and still participate. It’s a Southern joint and not fancy but the food is outstanding and so are the cocktails. Some of the best fried catfish in town and certainly the best pimento cheese in the State.
I don’t suppose I have to mention the Upperline to most people in New Orleans, but if you’re not from here you may not be aware of the impeccable hospitality offered by JoAnn Clevenger, who owns and operates another of the quintessential New Orleans neighborhood restaurants. It’s about the atmosphere, yes, but the food is always great and there is nothing like it outside of New Orleans.
There is a style of steak house in New Orleans that has spread far and wide due to the popularity of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Ruth’s Chris is, frankly, vastly overpriced. There are other steak houses in town that serve great beef and one I would recommend is Crescent City Steak House, on Broad street. It is not the sort of place you should go if you are a vegetarian or if you are looking for something other than a very good piece of beef cooked properly and with the appropriate accompaniments.
If that is what you are after, you will be well served at Crescent City. They will also pour you a fine cocktail, though I would not suggest ordering something exotic you saw on a menu in a “speakeasy” in Brooklyn that included some unpronounceable liquor from Montenegro and three different bitters.
I am leaving out a whole bunch of places but as my hero Grimes has said, “I am only a man and I do what I can.”
I hope your Carnival is pleasant, humans.