Whether it’s brunch, lunch, dinner, second dinner or dessert, New Orleans’ lush Garden District is full of can’t-miss dishes from restaurants locals have sworn by for years, as well as from some new kids on the block. Delve into both and treat your taste buds to a hyper-local sampling of the true flavors of the Crescent City.
1. Louisiana wild white shrimp at Commander’s Palace
If Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave) didn’t invent the jazz brunch, they certainly perfected it. A Garden District landmark since 1893, Commander’s, where chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse got their starts, serves one of the finest brunches in a city that runs on them. Order wild-caught Louisiana white shrimp for true Gulf flavor. Fat, fresh shrimp are seared and served over a dish of red beans made with the Creole trinity (onions, bell peppers and celery), spicy Andouille sausage, grilled corn, basil and rich smoked butter in chef Tory McPhail’s Southern classic dish. Commander’s proprietress cousins Ti Martin and Lally Brennan literally wrote the book on cocktail culture, In the Land of Cocktails, so read up in advance for tips. Their Bloody Mary, spiked tableside with ice-block vodka, practically serves as a side salad with its generous garnishes. And plan to dance off a little of the meal as the jazz band passes your table — they take requests. This is one meal to dress up for, so pack your seersucker and a snappy hat, and prepare for some quality people watching. Jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace is definitely worth the wake-up call to dive right back into the party after a late night out.
2. Tofu bun at Lilly’s Café
Lilly’s Café (1813 Magazine St) is a Vietnamese standout in a city that has become full of ethnic food choices. Though the restaurant is still a local secret, actor John Goodman is a fan, as are other New Orleans gourmands. A fresh and healthy lunch choice is the garlic tofu vermicelli-bun made with vermicelli noodles, crisp beansprouts, iceberg lettuce, pickled carrots, cucumbers and peanuts, and served with fresh egg rolls. Add in a bowl of pho (rice-noodle soup slowly simmered with jalapenos) to turn up the heat, and hydrate with a refreshing jasmine tea.
3. Lamb kebab at Shaya
New restaurant Shaya (4213 Magazine St), specializing in modern Israeli cuisine, is not just good, it’s James Beard Award good; the organization named the restaurant its Best New Restaurant in the United States for 2016. As tempting as it will be to fill up on chef Alon Shaya’s critically acclaimed pita and cauliflower hummus plate, save room for the sizzling lamb kebab served with fresh tomatoes, tahini and cilantro, and sprinkled with pine nuts. The most difficult part about dining at Shaya is scoring reservations, so book a table as soon as you know you’re headed to New Orleans.
4. Abita Root Beer-glazed chicken at Babin’s Bar & Bistro
At Babin’s Bar & Bistro (2203 St Charles Ave), go local for dinner with the juicy Abita Root Beer-glazed chicken with sides of spicy Cajun-seasoned potatoes and vegetables. Keep with the Louisiana brewery theme and pair the dish with a locally brewed Abita Amber blonde beer, brewed from the spring waters of Abita. The bistro, located inside Hotel Indigo New Orleans Garden District, opens up onto the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line so you can dine al fresco while people watching at twilight.
5. Banana split at Gautreau’s Restaurant
Tucked into a former pharmacy in a residential neighborhood, fine-dining favorite Gautreau’s Restaurant (1728 Soniat St) serves entrees including succulent steaks the size of a brick. But save room for their decadent desserts, which are part of the reason the Crescent City has long been a foodie’s paradise. Their standout is a caramelized banana split consisting of warm banana bread, drizzled butterscotch, rich chocolate sauce, toasted walnuts and, of course, rich vanilla ice cream. The dress code is business casual, and if at all possible, an elastic waistband is helpful.
With these can’t-miss dishes in mind, your well-planned Garden District dining tour will help you hit every gustatory note slightly off the tourists’ beaten path.