As New Orleans celebrates its 300thbirthday this month, as well as the second long weekend of the Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 4-6), there’s no better time to check out what’s on the tables of the “new” New Orleans. While landmark spots such as Commander’s Palace, Atchafalaya, Clancy’s, and Brennan’s have ramped up their games in the fiery heat of incoming rebel-chef competition, the city has embraced nearly every genre and style of cooking.
Closer to its roots, the port is now a hub for formidable barbecue pits (taking cues from Louisiana’s bayou-and-back-country boucheries). “New Vietnamese” is no longer so new, as for the past five years its Vietnamese-populated West Bank has shrimp-boated over to the Crescent City for inspired renditions of that classic fare. Gourmet pizzerias have opened everywhere. There are at least a dozen home breweries, serving accomplished comfort food with its indigenous hops and malts (not to mention all the food trucks). Mexican, authentic Mexican, is everywhere. And Israeli-Mediterranean is the thing that gastronauts are reserving for in advance, now that Chef Alon Shaya’s namesake restaurant has become the hot seat to score when coming or living here.
If you’re inclined to visit New Orleans during Jazz Fest (itself an embarrassment of richness, such as the Crawfish Monica), fill in the off days by trying on some of the newcomers, leaving the rental car behind for Blue Bike, the city’s new share-a-cycle program. Never has the breezy spring weather been more befitting for two-wheeling jaunts, sucking in the fabled architecture, the swoon-inducing magnolias, Confederate jasmine, and gardenia bushes blossoming, and the invigorated local color. Here’s a pick of the incoming and recently situated you shouldn’t miss out on.
Hummus, ho-hum? Not so. Chef Alon Shaya, who won the “Best New Restaurant in America” James Beard Award in 2015 for his Israeli cuisine outpost Shaya, is opening this new Magazine Street outpost in May. While there is some after-taste in the remnants of sexual misconduct allegations against his once-acclaimed Shaya partner John Besh, Saba (“grandfather,” in Hebrew) will mark Shaya’s clean slate, focusing on family-style fare and pita breads (cooked in a wood-burning oven), inspired by Mideast influences, from Bulgaria to Palestine. Walk it off in the tranquil neighboring Audubon Park. eatwithsaba.com
Bywater American Bistro
Heralded Top Chef runner-up Nina Compton just opened her second New Orleans restaurant (her Compère Lapin earned her national recognition). The Bywater neighborhood is the most vibrant of all the city’s recently reinvigorated corridors. Think “local” here. This restaurant, described by Compton as a “melting pot” of local and Americana fare, is housed in a restored rice mill-turned-luxury-condo building. It’s a stone’s throw from the city’s new Crescent Park, a 20-acre, Mississippi river–hugging sprawl buffered by wharves and train tracks. bywateramericanbistro.com
New Orleans has peerless cocktail pedigree (the French 75, the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned, the Grasshopper, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Pimm’s Cup). James Beard Award–winning bartender Chris Hannah, still presiding with aplomb at Arnaud’s French 75, makes them all better than anyone. Now he has just opened this Cuban cocktail bar and café in a historic French Quarter location. Expect the same purism and flavor he has brought to the legendary bar adjoining the French-Creole classic Arnaud’s. manolitonola.com
Restaurant impresario Robert LeBlanc and his partners have a long history of unpretentious New Orleans spots that cater to youthful professionals, both downtown and up (among them Sylvain, Barrel Proof, Meauxbar, and newcomer Cavan), all boasting spaces as captivating as their fare. Now comes this casual American comfort food spot, featuring alcohol-absorbing dishes (local takes on steak sandwiches and calamari, for example), classic cocktails, and a rock-leaning jukebox. It opens in May inside a circa-1794 space on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter, but will feel miles away from the neighboring tourist traps of Bourbon Street. longwaytavern.com
Auction House Market
This fluctuating 10-venue open-air food market opened this month. Vendors include oyster bars, poke and sushi outfits, and coffee purveyors. It’s a proverbial jambalaya of authentic New Orleans tastes situated in the French Quarter-neighboring Warehouse District, right by a cluster of captivating cultural institutions including the Ogden Museum, the Cultural Art Center, and the National WWII Museum. auctionhousemarket.com
Nestled in a renovated Creole cottage built in 1832, this classic oyster bar opened a few doors down from the fledgling Ace Hotel two years ago but feels like it’s been there as long as the building. Besides Gulf Coast oyster selects, there are mollusks of note from the East and West coasts, and various raw bar and hot local seafood selects. “Wild-caught” is the norm. The drinks are exceptional, the vibe is bustling. While New Orleans boasts some of the most value-minded oyster happy hours in the country (see Pascale’s Manale, Superior Seafood), there’s something to be said for doing it without a budget in mind. Shell it out. seaworthynola.com
This Louisiana Creole-Cajun hybrid was one of the city’s classics until it closed post-Hurricane Katrina. It reopened last year in the Treme. This is a hometown revival like few others. Get your rabbit, their signature slow-roasted duck, gumbos, barbecued shrimp (NB: not actually barbecued), and assorted fish, in a much-missed iconic restaurant that is experiencing a comeback much like its once-blighted, now-hopping neighborhood, off the usual-suspects fray. facebook.com
Turkey and the Wolf
This tiny corner sandwich shop and bar, merely two years old, managed to win Bon Appetit magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” of 2017 topping the glossy’s “Hot 10” list. Its mismatched plates and cutlery hold dreamy sandwiches made by two local chefs who have paid their dues in respected local kitchens. Playful and delicious is the only way to describe its collard green melt, homemade-bologna sandwich, and perhaps the finest wedge salad on the planet (the dried garlic doesn’t hurt). The bar drinks are made with fun homemade syrups too. Sunny and crammed, a true New Orleans experience worth the wait for a seat or bar stool. turkeyandthewolf.com
More to Try
La Crepe Nanou, since 1983, a romantic and consistent bistro for casual French fare favored by Uptown locals and shrouded in bamboo Atchafalaya Café, for do-it-yourself bloody Marys, new Bayou dishes, and a packed jazz brunch scene, on Saturdays; Commander’s Palace, for lunch on Fridays, and $25-cent martinis served with classic French-Creole dishes of splendor (catty-corner Lafayette Cemetery stroll required); Galatoire’s, for Friday second-seating lunch among the city’s movers and shakers (order anything crabmeat and off-the-menu fried chicken—dress code mandatory, people); Casa Borrega, for Mexican cuisine and live bands, set in a gorgeous courtyard on the grounds of a 19th-century Greek Revival; the Drifter Hotel, a new local hotspot situated in a mod ‘60s motel that features a top-optional pool scene, tiki drinks, and exceptional food trucks; and Dos Jefes, a breezy cigar bar and live jazz club Uptown way that features weekly food trucks outside its tropical courtyard. Do not leave New Orleans without getting in line for Port of Call, home to the toxic Monsoon rum drink and charbroiled burgers served with dressed baked potato. There’s a reason the regulars are called “Port-oholics."