Believe it or not, there are 152 more eateries in New Orleans now than there were before Katrina. Here are our five favorites.
For nearly three years after Katrina, Times Picayune food critic Brett Anderson stopped reviewing restaurants, in part he explained, because it would imply “that things were back to normal when they so clearly were not.” But normalcy cannot be achieved in New Orleans without great eats, and since Katrina, 152 new eateries have opened in New Orleans. Here are our five favorites.
By David Ramsey
930 Tchoupitoulas Street, 504.588.2123
Donald Link’s food perfectly captures New Orleans’s unique blend of the down-home and the refined (surely no other menu in the world features both a world-class wine list and fried pig ear salad) in a comfortable, rustic atmosphere. The wood-fired oyster roast is a devastatingly succulent appetizer — five large samples of the famous aphrodisiac resting in an appropriately sultry chili-garlic butter sauce. The signature dish is the Louisiana cochon (French for pig) with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins. The pork is overnight-braised and then formed into large patties sautéed to a light crisp in the morning. The result is a mound of fall-apart tender meat that’s topped with long strips of possibly the most lovingly made pork rinds in the world. Though Link says he had grown “bored to death” with the fine dining experience, the flavors here could not be more fine; the question is less whether Cochon is among the best new restaurants in New Orleans and more whether it ought to be in the discussion of best restaurant in town, period (cochonrestaurant.com).
8115 Jeanette Street, 504.232.9344
You won’t find the Que Crawl in the yellow pages. In fact, forget the name — just ask for the purple truck, and locals are liable to start proselytizing about grit fries and pointing you in the general direction of Tipitina’s, a popular nightclub uptown on Napolean. That’s where Nathanial Zimet’s mobile barbecue business (painted Barney purple) is parked Thursday through Sunday nights. Educated at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney and London, Zimet uses his gourmet chops to offer up surprisingly nuanced versions of southern and Cajun junk-food favorites on his ever-rotating menu. Some staples include pulled pork po boys (topped with a sweet cilantro slaw nearly the color of the truck), fresh-cut French fries, 12-hour smoked ribs, and home-made Carolina barbecue and hot sauces (Zimet hails from North Carolina, and expertly adds a kick of vinegar to the local ’que culture). He also typically offers at least one out-of-nowhere surprise — snowcrab wontons with wasabi oil, crawfish boudin balls, brownies cooked with bits of bacon. And those grit fries: Zimet makes extra-creamy cheese grits, cools them off in a sheet pan, and cuts them into thick rectangles once they’ve hardened; then he deep fries them and finishes with a multi-spice rub. It’s the perfect late-night snack for the city’s weary revelers (quecrawl.com).
6078 Laurel Street, 504.895.9441
Night after Night, uptown locals pack in to Patois to gorge on chef Aaron Burgeau’s French-accented Louisiana contemporary cuisine. Try the roasted duck breast with bacon potato apple hash, brussels sprouts, and an apple cider reduction; the bacon adds an intense and muscular salty punch. Their excellent cocktail menu includes the Pickled Patois, a mixture of Vodka and homemade pickle juice, a sweet and easy concoction. But Patois’s greatest contribution to the dining scene has been its emergence as one of the best Sunday brunches in the city — including a decadent shrimp and grits with onions, poblano peppers and a sherry vinegar garlic butter; and country fried Mississippi rabbit in a gorgeous mess of sausage gravy and poached egg, with a first bite so overpoweringly tasty new cuss words need be invented to properly express the thrill (patoisnola.com).
3025 Magazine Street, 504.520.9311
Duck out of the dingy antique-and-thrift bustle of Magazine Street into Sucre and you will find yourself in a long, cool, well-lit room out of Willy Wonka. The sleek design features an array of pastel colors to match the “French macaroons” (bite-sized, cream-filled meringues) stacked up on the counter in pinks, teals, and lime-greens. Smiling girls sweetly cajole you to try the sparkle-topped pastries behind a glass display case. These are the creations of Food Network regular Tariq Hanna, and his work shows off both incomparable taste and a keen eye for the lavish architecture of a treat — he calls them “artisan” sweets, and they are truly art, as attune to fantasy as to flavor (the offerings, all lovely, vary; if the Pistachio Griottine is available, grab one before they run out). Hanna decries the repetitive dessert menus that one tends to find at even New Orleans’s best restaurants, and Sucre has added a needed jolt to the city’s sweet scene. Still, the French-style desserts have some local touches, including a Nectar Cream ice cream (patterned after a popular sno-ball flavor) and the “New Orleans Collection” of luxury chocolates, which includes a white chocolate ganache designed as a miniature version of Paul Blange’s famous Bananas Foster. Sucre also serves excellent sandwiches, soups, and salads for lunch, but the sweet tooth is the key — one’s hopes for a light lunch would be quickly dashed by the temptation for a taste of toasted almond gelato or champagne rose petal sorbet. A spare but elegant wine list makes it the perfect after-dinner spot for a date, or some solo gluttony (shopsucre.com).
333 St. Charles Avenue, 504.378.2840
Local culinary lion and former Iron Chef contestant John Besh’s concept for Luke was an old-fashioned, unpretentious brassiere — an homage to the legendary, now-defunct Old World New Orleans restaurants, like Gluck’s and Kolb’s. Besh, who had his first date with his wife at Kolb’s, describes the offerings at Luke as “Alsace meets New Orleans,” mixing the influence of French, German, and Jewish immigrants with fresh local food and Cajun flair. The resulting menu is large and impressively diverse — everything from gumbo to matzo ball soup, hearty German specialities like the slow-cooked beef brisket with horseradish ravigote sacue, the simple elegance of the French Bistro Meunière sauce on locally caught fish, and an extensive raw bar. The emphasis is on big portions and well-prepared food, whether you want a burger and fries or duck cassoulet. “This is everyday food,” Besh explains. “It may not be special occasion fare per se, but it’s comforting and wholesome.” Start your meal with the unrivalled chacutterie plate, which includes a refreshingly subtle hogs head cheese and a duck-rabbit pate so rich it could pass for dessert, along with a variety of house-made garnishes like watermelon pickles and pepper marmalade. End your meal with the bread pudding, a New Orleans classic done right; it’s dense, piping hot, and rum-generous (lukeneworleans.com).