Every day when lunchtime rolls around, New Orleans' French Quarter offers a curse of plenty at every price point. There are so many wonderful restaurants to choose from that it’s nearly impossible for a newcomer to narrow them down. Where to begin? These eight great spots, which offer everything from quick and easy po-boys to three-course gourmet tasting menus, should get you set up quite nicely.
There are a number of fast-casual companions to traditional gourmet sit-down restaurants in the French Quarter, but Petite Amelie is my favorite. This little sister of the also-lovely Café Amelie offers sandwiches, salads, soup, quiche, pastry, coffee, and other easy-to-enjoy gourmet treats at surprisingly low prices. The light-filled room offers plenty of window seats for people-watching, too.
900 Royal St. / (504) 412-8065
Chef Susan Spicer’s flagship restaurant has been serving up high-end Louisiana food with an international flair for over 25 years. The restaurant itself, tucked into a sweet old Creole cottage with a gorgeous courtyard, is as lovely and elegant as the menu. Soups, salads, and a variety of composed plates are on offer at lunchtime. The carefully-curated wine list is, too.
430 Dauphine St. / (504) 525-4455
Verti Marte’s got you covered if your idea of lunch is a po-boy on the go. Find your way to the counter in the back of this hole-in-the-wall bodega and make your selection from the enormous list of ingredients. (Overwhelmed? An oyster po-boy is always a solid choice.) Grab your sammich, a bottle of Barq’s, and a bag of Zapp’s chips and stroll to the nearest bench (Jackson Square’s not far) to dig in.
1201 Royal St. / (504) 525-4767
Lunch on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square? Yes, please! Even better, Muriel’s offers a steal of a two-course lunch deal: soup or a salad plus one of a variety of traditional Creole entrées (blackened catfish, shrimp, and andouille-stuffed mirliton are just a few of the options).
801 Chartres St. / (504) 568-1885
To call Antoine’s a French Quarter institution would be an understatement. Opened in 1840, it claims to be the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States. The food is classic Creole (Oysters Rockefeller was invented here), and sort of proudly dated, and the decor and typical clientèle are entirely old-line New Orleans. Three-course lunch specials are ~$20, and at that price, it’s a worthy way to spend a couple of hours, for sure.
713 St. Louis St. / (504) 581-4422
This snug little restaurant sits on Exchange Alley, a short pedestrianized street in the Upper Quarter, and offers some sweet outdoor seating in the alley itself — a great option on nice days. The food is centered around local ingredients but is prepared with a worldly approach; expect everything from Vietnamese to Indian to Afro-Latin flavors on the often-shifting menu, and don’t be surprised if there’s nothing resembling Cajun or Creole food to be found. (The proprietors will point out that there’s no shortage of that in the neighborhood.) Vegetarians and vegans, in particular, should check Green Goddess out, as a large number of dishes on the menu either are veg or can easily be made veg by the knowledgeable staff. (Meat-eaters, don’t worry, you’re taken care of, too.)
307 Exchange Pl. / (504) 301-3347
If you’re looking for the iconic on-the-go lunch in New Orleans, the muffuletta at Central Grocery is it. This sandwich, made with mixed Italian cold cuts, provolone cheese, and chunky olive salad, was invented by the grocery’s Sicilian owners to feed the young men working on the nearby docks. The docks are gone, but there are still plenty of Sicilians afoot, and the muffuletta is now coveted by locals and visitors from all walks of life. A half plus a bag of chips is more than enough for all but the hungriest adult. A few tables and a counter are available at the grocery, but there are also benches just across the way in the French Market where you can sit quietly and enjoy.
923 Decatur St. / (504) 523-1620
SoBou belongs to the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants, and, like its glamorous uptown sister, offers a smashing lunch special. Two gourmet courses for ~$20 and — the kicker — CHEAP martinis to go with. Reasonably-priced small plates, salads, and sandwiches, all focused on local ingredients and elevated southern flavors, offer à la carte options, as well. If you’re dining alone, SoBou has a particularly nice bar where solo diners are made to feel right at home.
310 Chartres St. / (504) 552-4095