Dining in New Orleans is like nowhere else in the world. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had more than 800 restaurants. Today, there are nearly 1,400—enough for you to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a different restaurant every day for the next 15 months.
The city’s international reputation for gourmet restaurants and celebrity chefs is well-deserved, and eating is a favorite pastime of many residents. New Orleans is especially known for its Creole/Cajun cuisine—but what is the difference between Creole and Cajun? Think of Cajun as the country while Creole is the city.
The Cajuns were the French colonists who came from Canada and settled in southwest Louisiana when the British took over Canada after the Seven Years’ War in 1763. The settlers of Acadia, who became known as Cajuns, continued their traditional ways of living off the land. They used all parts of the slaughtered animals. The food is well-seasoned but not necessarily spicy. The holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper is the basis of many dishes—typically one-pot meals. A Cajun roux is made from flour and oil or lard. Cajun dishes typically do not use tomatoes.
Creole is derived from the Spanish “criollo,” meaning “native to the place.” Louisiana Creoles are the individuals who were born to the colonial settlers and are distinguished from those who were born in the Old World. Creole food is considered French in tradition but uses the local ingredients of the New Orleans area. Creole food evolved as did the city to include not only the French culture, but also the Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese influences. Creole would be considered more sophisticated than Cajun. The Creole roux is made with butter and flour and Creole gumbo is made with tomatoes.
With that background, let’s get to the “meat” of this article: Where to eat during the 2014 AAOS Annual Meeting. The Morial Convention Center (MCC) is located on the edge of the Warehouse District, not far from the French Quarter or the Central Business District (CBD). Because reservations for some high-end dining places must be made months in advance, get out your phone now.
Lunch near the MCC
930 Tchoupitoulas Street
A butcher shop, a sandwich counter, and a wine bar. No reservations. House-made meats, terrines, and sausages. Serves a great house-made duck pastrami sandwich and other creative sandwiches—and not-the-usual Mac & Cheese.
Right next door is Cochon Restaurant (504-588-2123), which is open for lunch and dinner and will take reservations. It serves wonderful south Louisiana food, including boudin (sausages), alligator, cochon (pig) with turnips, wood-fired oysters, and rabbit and dumplings.
945 Magazine Street
This restaurant is part of the National World War II museum, but it’s run by John Besh, an ex-Marine who has become one of America’s top chefs. Menu items include modern takes of 1940s classic recipes; the “happy hour” is also a great deal. It’s open for lunch and dinner.
200 Julia Street
Rated as one of the 50 best new restaurants in 2012 by Bon Appétit, Root has a casual atmosphere but the food is Chef Lopez’s take on serious high-tech. Do not be turned off by this. Open for lunch and dinner.
Ruby Slipper Café
200 Magazine Street
The Ruby Slipper Café opened after Katrina and recalls Dorothy’s mantra from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Open for breakfast and lunch. Consistently named “Best Breakfast Spot,” it has great breakfast options, including the pancake special of the day.
High-end fine dining
777 Bienville Street
Although located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, Restaurant R’evolution is not your typical hotel restaurant. The result of a partnership between two great chefs—John Folse of south Louisiana and Rick Tramonto of Chicago—Restaurant R’evolution promises an exceptional dining experience. Food is modern interpretations of classic Cajun and Creole cuisine.
1032 Chartres Street
Dining with a very creative chef, with atypical New Orleans menu offerings. The prix fixe menu (4 or 7 courses) also includes vegetarian and a la carte options. Reservations are a must.
301 Tchoupitoulas Street
John Besh’s first restaurant, which he describes as contemporary French with a focus on local ingredients, August has been open for more than 10 years and has consistently been rated the best restaurant in town. For those who follow the Food Network, Aaron Sanchez voted an August dish—potato gnocchi with blue crab and Perigold truffle—as the “best thing I ever ate in a bowl.”
808 Bienville Street
Consistently rated the best place for seafood in New Orleans, G.W. Fins offers not only the best of Louisiana seafood but the best seafood from around the world. Not interested in seafood? Try the steak options; the executive chef was director of culinary operations for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Don’t eat too many of the biscuits, and save room for the individually made apple pie.
312 Exchange Alley
This hidden gem is located in Exchange Alley in the French Quarter. Food is Louisiana with an Asian spin. Can accommodate a larger group if needed.
123 Baronne Street
Another John Besh restaurant—but nothing like Restaurant August or American Sector. Here, the focus is on rustic country Italian fare: pizza baked in a 5-ton wood-fired oven, house-cured salumi, and house-made pasta. Don’t think that this will be your grandmother’s Italian food. Casual, can be noisy. Open for lunch and dinner.
620 Chartres Street
Although I’m going out on limb recommending this new restaurant because I have not been there yet, Doris Metropolitan has gotten good reviews. Try this if you are looking for something other than New Orleans food. It’s a steak house with a Mediterranean flair and a temperature-controlled dry-aging room that is visible from the street.
Obviously, this short list can’t cover the many New Orleans restaurants that serve great food. You can find more restaurants, as well as reviews, at www.nomenu.com
Michele M. Zembo, MD, MBA, is associate professor of clinical orthopaedics, Tulane University School of Medicine.