For decades, Mississippi restaurateur and part-time New Orleanian Robert St. John has kept a journal of his favorite restaurants in the Big Easy. Here are his recommendations.
In a poll of national food critics, I believe New Orleans would be listed among the top three food cities in America. To my taste – and I’ve eaten extensively in most of America’s top restaurant cities – New Orleans is number one. Period. No question. End of discussion.
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up 90 minutes away from this culinary mecca. As a restaurateur and part-time New Orleanian, I’m blessed to have spent over six decades eating my way through the city, typically logging in more than 120 New Orleans restaurant meals annually.
For the past couple of decades, I’ve kept a journal of my restaurant visits in New Orleans. I also keep a to-do list of new restaurants I have yet to visit, and a separate list of restaurants I plan to re-visit. I typically field hundreds of requests for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans each year.
There are a few dozen restaurants that aren’t on any to-do or re-visit list because they are places that I frequent on a regular basis. The following is that list.
MY FAVORITE BREAKFAST SPOT
4600 Magazine Street
Most mornings I drive from the Marigny to Uptown Magazine just west of Napoleon, because the croissants made at Donald Link’s bakery are worth the drive.
OTHER BREAKFAST JOINTS I FREQUENT
5433 Laurel Street
I bounce between the Uptown location and the one near the fairgrounds. Toast is 100% local New Orleans in the morning.
MY FAVORITE BRUNCH SPOT
511 Marigny Street
This is the place I eat brunch most often, and not just because it’s in our building. The huevos rancheros and the lemon-ricotta blueberry pancakes are stellar. I can never choose between the two, so I always order both. The Eggs Benedict is unique and loaded with corn and crabmeat. They offer a great dinner menu as well.
OTHER BRUNCH SPOTS I FREQUENT
417 Royal Street
Of the four old-line French Quarter institutions— Galitoire’s, Arnaud’s Antoine’s, and Brennan’s— I eat at the latter most often, and almost always for brunch. Ralph Brennan did the city a huge favor when he took over the reins several years back.
1403 Washington Avenue
The old blue lady in the Garden District never disappoints and has been the launching pad for some of the nation’s most legendary chefs. Meg Bickford is currently under the toque and carrying that flame.
1800 Magazine Street
Eric Cook is a hard-working, dedicated chef who has excellent touch when it comes to food and a keen eye in knowing what his guests want. The brunch is great, but so are lunch and dinner. It’s a great Monday spot, too. Cook also owns Saint John in the French Quarter, definitely worth a visit.
MY FAVORITE DINNER SPOT
723 Dante Street
This restaurant and this chef have been at the top of my list for more than three decades. Frank Brigtsen is the heir apparent to his longtime mentor, Paul Prudhomme. The Butternut Shrimp Bisque is one of the best soups I have ever tasted (second only to Paul Bocuse’s mushroom soup in Lyon). The seafood platter makes use of Warren LeRuth’s baked oyster recipe. I could seriously make a meal of the crawfish cornbread, and mashed potatoes, and often do. This is real New Orleans. Long live Frank Brigtsen.
OTHER DINNER SPOTS I FREQUENT
La Petit Grocery
4238 Magazine Street
The birthplace of the Blue Crab Beignet. Chef Justin Devillier is certainly one of the city’s best.
3637 Magazine St
Also, a perfect spot for lunch.
Bywater American Bistro
2900 Chartres St
Nina Compton runs my wife’s favorite New Orleans restaurant.
MY FAVORITE PLACE FOR FINE DINING
301 Tchoupitoulas Street
I love the room, the service is always impeccable, and it keeps getting better. The meal I enjoyed there two nights ago was the best— of many— I’ve ever eaten in that establishment.
OTHER FINE DINING I FREQUENT
3054 St. Claude Avenue
It’s not about the atmosphere, it’s about the food. The chefs at Saint Germaine have excellent “touch.” It’s a tough reservation to get. Partially because there are only 12 seats inside, but also because it is so good.
MY FAVORITE STEAKHOUSE
620 Chartres Street
Their aged prime beef is excellent. Never misses.
OTHER STEAKHOUSES I FREQUENT
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
716 Iberville Street
Great steaks with Brennan family service. No matter which branch of the family one eats with, the service is stellar. It’s in their genes.
MY FAVORITE PO-BOY SHOP
5240 Annunciation Street
My go-to for po-boys for over 30 years.
OTHER PO-BOY SHOPS I FREQUENT
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
538 Hagan Avenue
There’s always a line so schedule accordingly.
R&O Restaurant and Catering
216 Metairie-Hammond Highway
A great roast beef po-boy, and excellent fried seafood.
If there’s no line out of the door (rare) at the Acme in the Quarter dash in, be seated, order the best roast beef po-boy in town, and a dozen on the half shell with the hottest horseradish known to man. Excellent. I wrote it off as a tourist trap years ago, but it’s still legit.
MY FAVORITE SANDWICH
The Sam at Stein’s Deli
2207 Magazine Street
In years past I have driven from Hattiesburg, ordered this sandwich, eaten it, and driven home.
OTHER AWESOME AND ORIGINAL SANDWICHES
Turkey & the Wolf
739 Jackson Avenue
Mason Herford—my favorite Instagram follow—turned the sandwich world upside down, in the most beautiful and hilarious way. The Collard Green Melt and Fried Bologna Sandwiches are, on one hand, everyman’s food, and on the other hand, brilliantly inspired.
The Deli Deluxe at Martin’s Wine Cellar is a close cousin to the Sam at Stein’s
MY FAVORITE APPETIZER
Oyster BLT, Gris Gris
1800 Magazine Street
Perfection on a plate. Smoked pork belly, tomato jam, crispy fried oysters, and sugarcane vinegar with a touch of heat.
OTHER FAVORITE APPETIZERS
Shrimp and Tasso with Five-Pepper Jelly, Commander’s Palace
1403 Washington Avenue
The first time I ate it I immediately ordered another before my entrée arrived.
MY FAVORITE ITALIAN
I spend 12 weeks a year working in Italy. When I’m home I typically don’t eat much Italian— not because I’m a Italophile or food snob about it, not at all— it’s just that I get my fill over there and want to enjoy other cuisines when I’m home. These three are all can’t-miss options.
700 Magazine Street
123 Baronne Street
The Italian Barrel
1240 Decatur Street
MY FAVORITE MEXICAN CUISINE
El Gato Negro
French Quarter, Lakeview, and Gretna
Get the wet-aged skirt steak any way they prepare it.
MY FAVORITE PIZZA
617 Piety Street
MY FAVORITE BURGER
4600 Freret Street
Everything I want in a burger joint.
(Note: Those who wait in line at Port of Call can get the same burger at Snug Harbor a few blocks away, without the wait)
MY FAVORITE THAI RESTAURANT
2200 Royal St
My family eats a fair amount of Thai food. This place is always spot on.
MY FAVORITE CHINESE
3009 Magazine Street
I hate when I ask a server, “What’s good?” and the reply is, “It’s all good.” So, it pains me to say, with this recommendation, and in reference to their menu, it’s all good. It’s true.
MY FAVORITE OYSTER BAR
1838 Napoleon Avenue
It’s an old-school stand-up oyster bar. The oysters are always cold and salty. My son and I go there for the raw oysters and always eat dinner somewhere else. He would probably tell you that Casamento’s is his favorite.
I also like eating oysters at Cooter Brown’s at the Riverbend (oysters always taste better in a dive bar).
MY FAVORITE ATMOSPHERE
630 Carondelet Street
The designers did such a great job on all aspects of this interior. Nothing formal. I love it. Killer oyster selection, too.
MY OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH FAVORITE
801 Rosedale Drive
You have to be going there to get there, but this Susan Spicer restaurant almost feels as if it were 100% tailor made for me— very casual, comfortable, with great service and excellent food. The barbeque shrimp served there should be the gold standard for all others. The fried chicken thighs ARE perfect.
MY FAVORITE TACOS
3060 St. Claude Avenue
The barbacoa tacos here are spot on. The converted gas station vibe is perfect, and there’s almost always a place to park on the neutral ground of St. Claude.
OTHER TACO JOINT
There must be something about tacos served in a converted gas station that appeals to me.
MY FAVORITE GUMBO
1800 Magazine Street
Eric Cook is quickly becoming one of my top-five favorite chefs in the city. His gumbo is so good it’s where I take out-of-town guests who have never eaten that particular dish before.
OTHER GUMBOS I LIKE
701 St. Charles Avenue
105 Metairie-Hammond Highway
MY FAVORITE SOUP
Shrimp and Squash Bisque: Brigtsen’s
723 Dante Street
So good it’s worth mentioning twice in this list. I get a pint and take it home.
MY OFTEN-RECOMMENDED NOT-IN-ANOTHER-CATEGORY FAVORITES (the Link trifecta)
All are solid and never disappoint.
701 St Charles Avenue
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
800 Magazine Street
THE RESTAURANTS I TAKE MY VISITING EUROPEAN FRIENDS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN TO NEW ORLEANS
417 Royal Street
To me this is the quintessential New Orleans dining experience. Galitoire’s, Arnaud’s Antoine’s certainly all represent the city well, but Ralph Brennan is one of the country’s great restaurateurs. Best to leave my guest’s restaurant fate in his hands.
OTHER RANDOM FAVORITES
The best red gravy in town. Also, the best spot for Monday lunch red beans and rice. No need to make decisions, get the Spaghetti Bordelaise and the Oysters Mosca and eat them together.
Cool outdoor area. Solid French-inspired cuisine.
Another great locals-only breakfast spot.
Three words: Kung Pao Pastrami.
This week’s recipe: Andouille Cheese Grits
This recipe is something I’ve served friends and family for years. It’s a great breakfast to make for a large group. The recipe will be included in my upcoming book release, Mississippi Mornings.
- 1 Tbs bacon fat or clarified butter
- ½ pound andouille sausage, medium dice
- 2 tsp garlic
- 4 cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbs Hot Sauce
- 2 Tbs Creole Seasoning
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup white grits, quick cooking (stone ground or regular grits can be used- adjust cooking time)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
In a large skillet, heat clarified butter until hot. Add andouille and garlic and sauté for 4–5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain off excess fat using a fine mesh strainer. Set the andouille and garlic aside. In a large saucepan, bring the milk, seasonings, and butter to a boil. Slowly pour in grits while stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Continue to stir for 15 minutes. Add the sautéed andouille and garlic mix, and cheese. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8-10 servings