This is My Town: Local foodie dishes out best spots to dine in NOLA

By: Ben deBoisblanc, MD, FCCP
Professor of Medicine and Physiology
Section of Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine and Allergy/Immunology
Louisiana State Health Sciences Center, New Orleans

Soon you will be in New Orleans, aka “The Big Easy,” “The Crescent City,” “The City that Care Forgot.” This is my hometown, the birthplace of jazz, the hub of Mardi Gras, and the home of the greatest cuisine in America. Whether you prefer elegant dining in a snug French Quarter courtyard overlooking the Mississippi River or eating snowballs on the stoop of a pastel pink and blue shotgun house in the old Garden District, New Orleans has a culturally unique dining experience waiting for you.

Years ago, my wife and I hatched a plan to try to eat in all of New Orleans’ great restaurants, but with over 1,200 restaurants to choose from in Orleans Parish alone and two new ones opening every week, we find ourselves getting further and further behind. What a wonderful problem to have! Below, you will find just a few of our favorites, but don’t be afraid to explore. Enjoy, and “laissez les bons temps rouler!”

Best Breakfast (tie)

3218 Dauphine St. (Faubourg Marigny) or 7901 Maple St. (Uptown)

Bearcat Café
2521 Jena St. (Freret Neighborhood)
Satsuma is my favorite and Bearcat is Barbara’s (my wife). Both are fun hipster coffeehouses that serve locally-sourced organic ingredients and freshly made juices.

Best Vegan

1000 Figs
3141 Ponce de Leon St. (Faubourg St. John)
Enjoy great Middle Eastern cuisine in a cozy space along Esplanade Ridge near City Park. 1000 Figs makes the city’s best falafel, tahini, and baba ghanoush. The roasted brussels sprouts are to die for. All menu items are served with unique dips and sauces or freshly made yogurt.

Best Lunch Near the Convention Center

516 Julia St. (Warehouse District)
Voted “Best New Restaurant” by Gambitmagazine, this is an Italian-inspired kitchen in a funky atmosphere. The small plates, pizzas, originally prepared meats and fish are perfectly portioned. Try their roasted farro, garbanza bean, and carrot salad.

Best Restaurant for Art Lovers

1413 Upperline St. (Uptown)
Why not have your duck andouille gumbo in a museum? JoAnn Clevenger’s restaurant will indulge your senses with classic New Orleans Creole dishes, fine wine, and a treasure trove of art and memorabilia. When you go there ask to meet her; she is a jewel.

Best Steak

La Boca
870 Tchoupitoulas St. (Warehouse District)
The city’s top Zagat-rated steakhouse. The finest cuts of beef are served with traditional Argentinian marinades and red wines from the Mendoza wine country. Get the hearts of palm salad and the Bife La Boca steak. You’ll love them!

Best Seafood

JW Fins
808 Bienville St. (French Quarter)
I am a seafood fanatic, and in a city known for its seafood, JW Fins stands out from the crowd. Chef Tenney Flynn, referred to as “the fishmonger czar of the South” by The Wall Street Journal, is a nationally-recognized expert on Gulf of Mexico Seafood. His menu changes daily and is not printed until after 4:00 pm> when the day’s catch arrives. Chances are your dinner was still swimming when you had lunch. There isn’t a thing on the menu that I wouldn’t recommend.

Best Po-boy Close to the Convention Center

Mother’s Restaurant
401 Poydras St. (Central Business District)
There’s only one word to describe the Ferdi Special … decadence. It starts with fresh-baked ham and roast beef, which is then smothered in débris and au jus gravy. For the uninitiated, débris is the black crusty stuff that falls to the bottom of a drip pan when you oven roast a large ham or roast. In a year’s time, Mother’s serves 50 tons of it.

Best Asian

611 O’Keefe Ave. (Warehouse District)
Chef Michael Gulotta’s cuisine can best be described as what you get when Asian meets Cajun. I have never had dish here that didn’t delight all of the senses simultaneously. Colorful, delightfully aromatic, and savory. It’s “food as art” at its best.

Best Italian

715 St. Charles Ave. (Warehouse District)
The Todaro Family will serve you fine Sicilian cuisine with a touch of Northern Italy in an elegant but relaxed atmosphere. I am a wine novitiate, so I appreciate that Marcello’s sommelier will patiently walk me through their comprehensive selection.

Best Courtyard Dining

819 Rue Conti (French Quarter)
October is a month for courtyard dining in New Orleans. It is the driest month of the year, and the air temperatures are usually ideal for a light sweater or shawl. Classic French dishes. Try the Creole turtle soup.

Most Eclectic Restaurant/Bar

Elysian Bar at Hotel Peter & Paul
2317 Burgundy St. (Faubourg Marigny)
Within the 150-year-old rectory of Saint Peter & Paul church, you will find a small dining room with windows looking over a courtyard and bar. After cocktails, award-winning chefs Alex Harrell and Martha Wiggins, formerly of Sylvain, will finish you off with their Roasted Gulf Shrimp or Grilled Okra and Crispy Eggplant.

Best Martini Before Dinner

The Bombay Club
830 Conti St. (Prince Conti Hotel in the French Quarter)
The extensive leather and wood finishes remind me of an old English library. Dozens of unusual gins. Voted best martini in New Orleans.

Best Bar for People Watching

The Carousel Bar
214 Royal St. (French Quarter inside the Hotel Monteleone)
Celebrating 70 years as one of New Orleans’ legendary cocktail bars. If you get there early enough, you can get a seat at the rotating bar, which will make your people watching less conspicuous. Live entertainment most nights.