Courtesy of Aubrey Stallard

How to really eat like a local, right now

David Landsel
Updated January 02, 2019

From iconic bistros to humble sandwich shops, the little neighborhood restaurant has always been an essential piece of the New Orleans experience. Nothing’s changed there, unless you count just how many new and noteworthy addresses have recently joined the old standbys. Don’t come expecting one particular style, do come expecting to eat very well. Here are fifteen greats, some old, some new, all essential. 

Neyow’s 

There are other Creole restaurants with more gravitas, and certainly more widespread acclaim, but right now, packed-to-the-rafters, thoroughly unstuffy Neyow’s feels like the one you’re looking for. Gumbo, chargrilled oysters, fried chicken, a decent Shrimp creole, red beans and rice with spicy local sausage, delicious sides of carrot souffle and a pudding-like macaroni and cheese, bell peppers stuffed with shrimp and crab, you’re having it all, along with—if you dare—the signature Bow Wow rum drink, which comes in what is perhaps the largest go cup in existence.  

Mais Arepas 

This Central City institution has always flown somewhat under the radar, maybe it’s because people don’t come to New Orleans looking for Colombian cooking, or maybe it’s the slightly less romantic location, a few blocks on the wrong side of I-10 from the tourist-friendly Warehouse District. Take the plunge—night after night, this is one of the city’s liveliest rooms; start with the addicting street corn, then tuck into surprisingly light arepas, stuffed with slow cooked and grilled meats, cheese and bright pickled red onions. A recent addition, the Arepa de Choclo, with grilled house chorizo, queso fresco, brûléed pearl onions, and smoked red pepper sauce is a winner; so are the stunning cocktails—make sure to try the Colombian Hot Buttered Rum.  

Bevi Seafood Co.

Locals know this unpretentious corner seafood market and restaurant as one of the best places for quality crawfish; step up to the counter and order your feast, which comes with a thorough and patient tutorial—when the season ends, fear not, you’ve always got local shrimp and oysters to fall back on. Lurking on the seafood-focused menu is one of the city’s finest non-seafood po boys, the Cochon de Lait, overstuffed with pecan smoked pork, spicy Coleslaw, pickled peppers and a zipped up mayonnaise made with charred onion. (There’s a reason why they leave a giant roll of paper towels on your table.) 

1000 Figs 

People do eat light around here, and they do so quite often, actually—see for yourself at this little Mediterranean joint in sleepy Bayou St. John, the brick and mortar (and, apparently, here to stay) follow-up to a popular local food truck. The menu here isn’t exactly adventurous - falafel, hummus, creative veggies —but it all makes for a delicious lunch on your typical hot and humid New Orleans afternoon. The crisp-leaved, tender fried Brussels sprouts are legendary, so are the fries, dolloped with very garlicky toum.

Venezia 

This magnificent Mid City Creole-Italian has survived it all, and while a post-Katrina renovation changed the layout of the restaurant, the food remains untouched by time; come for crispy paneed veal and luscious fettuccine alfredo, one of those old-school New Orleans combinations long-timers can’t get enough of, order the delicious red gravy that derives much of its sweetness from copious amounts of bell pepper, try the meatballs and the sausage, and the remarkably tasty pizzas, leading off with cold, crispy antipasto salads. You’re in good hands here. Dessert is next door at Angelo Brocato’s, one of America’s oldest (and best) Italian bakeries. 

Heard Dat Kitchen

Gumbo and grilled cheese sandwiches—if you’re from around here you know those two things just go together, and Jeffrey Heard’s Central City takeout joint is a fine place to sample this simple and delicious pairing. Also find New Year’s resolution-thwarting lobster-studded mashed potatoes and blackened fish, steak specials, fried fish with a creamy crawfish sauce, and wings tossed in the house Skeesh sauce. There is a newly added dining room, or stay put where you are and order on Uber Eats.

Echo’s Pizza 

Gorgeous, simple food, wood-fired pizzas, and a casual, come-as-you-are vibe in a pleasingly minimal setting have seen this recent Mid-City arrival (from the duo behind 1000 Figs) become nearly essential in almost no time at all; when weather permits, a leisurely dinner on the back patio is a treat. Don't miss the dandelion greens and yogurt starter, and make sure to order the arugula pizza, with fresh mozzarella, ricotta and preserved lemon. 

Cafe Porche 

A back house on a quiet Central City block just steps from both tourist-friendly St. Charles Avenue and the up-and-coming Oretha Castle Haley strip is where you’ll find one of the best breakfasts in the city too few people are talking about—the smothered liver with onions and grits special here will put you under the table, and you won’t mind in the slightest. The omelets are also standout and fried grits cakes with a light creamy shrimp sauce may be your new favorite thing.

Piece of Meat 

Two graduates of the city’s acclaimed Cochon Butcher now own and operate the city’s best neighborhood butcher, and there are a few—Leighann Smith and Daniel Jackson work tirelessly to source and process the very best product from around the region, somehow finding time to simultaneously operate one of the city’s best places for a meat-centric lunch, not to mention Tuesday steak night dinners. Easily one of the best new restaurants in New Orleans.  

Iacovone Kitchen 

There are restaurants galore on Freret Street these days, but this gourmet takeout joint with just a couple of chairs for eating in is where you’ll find some of the neighborhood’s very best cooking, courtesy of one of the city’s most talented chefs, Bob Iacovone, who left a high-profile kitchen downtown a decade ago to focus on being a dad; with wife Joanna, he launched this casual (in appearance only) labor of love a couple of years back—plenty of time-starved and hungry Uptown families remain forever grateful. Want a more relaxed eat-in experience? Book a private dinner. 

Ba Mien 

A well-rounded New Orleans diet includes plenty of pho; in recent years, Vietnamese cooking has started making its presence felt in the more heavily touristed corridors, but for the real experience, make tracks to unglamorous New Orleans East, home to one of the best restaurants in town. Your best food bets here are the special eggrolls (cha gio dac biet), and the Bo Thai Chanh - rare beef salad with thin slices of raw onion, citrus juices, herbs and nuoc mam. Pair your meal here with a stop at the legendary Dong Phuong Bakery, for take-home buns and turnovers and cakes and breads, and, if you’re still hungry, some of the city’s most budget-friendly banh mi.

Guy’s 

Most people think of Magazine Street as a destination for sophisticated shopping; one taste of the best shrimp po boy in the city, and they’re never confused again—this tough-as-nails spot that’s seen and endured it all might look a little more spiffed up than some (having two cars crash through your window does require a certain amount of renovation work, turns out), but don’t be fooled, this is the real article. The batter for the shrimp is just one part of the appeal—completely gluten free, and shot through with a ton of black pepper. Looking for other kinds of po boys? Try two deep-cut local favorites, glazed ham and cheese, and cheeseburger, both typically made with great care at Mahony’s, another Magazine Street gem.

R&O's 

People hang around the doors of this modest Metairie institution, night after night, the way barbecue lovers flock to the newest and hottest joints in Texas, except that R&O has been around since the ’80’s, that’s how much people love it here, and why shouldn’t they—the roast beef po boys are some of the most distinctive in town, but there’s so much else to eat here, too—shrimp salads, eggplant parmesan lunch specials, thin crust pizza, the works. Fancy it’s not, unforgettable all the same.

Mayhew Bakery 

When Iraq war veteran Kelly Mayhew’s life fell apart, he started baking—these days, he’s not-so-secretly one of the most capable bakers in town, selling basket loads of baguettes (and so much more) from an old snowball stand in the middle of a residential section of Old Metairie on Mondays and Fridays. If there’s anything left by the time you get there, the regulars might just fight you for it.  

Chinese Kitchen 

Very likely the last thing you were probably looking for in New Orleans, this iconic American-Chinese classic way up on Carrollton Avenue is a neighborhood essential, at it since forever and wholly uninterested in impressing outsiders, though if you can successfully tune into the vibe here—one of their oversized tiki cocktails might do the trick—this could just end up one of your favorite restaurants in the city. Once you try their gargantuan egg rolls, overstuffed with cabbage, housemade roast pork and whole shrimp, the rest pale in comparison. The ribs, covered in hoisin, are a sticky must.

with additional reporting by Lorin Gaudin