These classic old New Orleans restaurants, where Creole cuisine was largely developed and certainly popularized, have been frequented by generations of New Orleanians, here to see and be seen, a tradition which has hardly faded. The price tags may be higher-than-average, but it's certainly worth visiting one of these fine establishments at least once to enjoy their classic European elegance and their old-school new-world cuisine.
Expect dazzling wine lists, large dinner checks, and ambiance and service that are occasionally much better than the food itself, but if you can get into the spirit, it's almost always worth it. Ladies, anything from business wear to formal evening wear is appropriate. Gents -- bring a jacket and tie, as they're required at most of the restaurants on this list and de rigueur at the rest.
Established in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore, Antoine's is New Orleans' oldest restaurant and, having remained in the same family over 17 decades, also holds the title of the oldest family-run restaurant in the United States. The 14 themed dining rooms have hosted Presidents, Popes, and celebrities of all kinds, and are available for both private parties and public dining. You'll likely be seated in the front room (you can request otherwise if you make a reservation, though it may not be possible), but your server will generally suggest that you have a tour of some of the unused rooms after dinner, where there's an impressive collection of New Orleans and show business memorabilia. While you're touring, keep an eye out for ghosts -- those in the know swear that they're there.
What to order: Antoine's is famous for inventing several classics of American fine cuisine, including Oysters Rockefeller, which should absolutely be your starter. For your mains, try the Trout Meunière or the Pompano Pontchartrain, or go all-out with the Chateaubriand for Two. For dessert, order one of the flambéed presentation dishes, Baked Alaska or Cherries Jubilee, and the house special flaming spiced coffee, Café Brulôt Diabolique. If you'd like to sample the menu without the full commitment, Hermes Bar (a separate entrance next door) serves an extensive bar menu from the same kitchen and good cocktails.
Arnaud's was founded in 1918 by Arnaud Cazenave, known as Count Arnaud, and has remained a French Quarter staple ever since. Legend has it that Arnaud's is haunted -- ask your server and he or she will almost certainly regale you with one or more spine-chilling stories. Most evenings, a Dixieland jazz trio entertains guests in the Jazz Bistro, one of two public dining choices. The signature room is the Main Dining Room, which does not feature the live jazz trio (expect for Sunday Jazz Brunch). There's a small but engaging Mardi Gras museum upstairs that's worth a peek.
What to order: Shrimp Arnaud is a house favorite, as are a variety of classic Creole seafood dishes, but if Chef Tommy DiGiovanni offers up some specials that evening, those are often an excellent choice, as they're a bit more forward-thinking than many of the classics, which are good, but are certainly not unique to Arnaud's. If you'd like the ambiance but without the large dinner check, consider stopping in for a French 75 at the adjacent bar that bears its name (try some of the other tasty cocktails it offers, too), and order snacks from the tempting bar menu.
Joseph Broussard and his bride, Rosalie Borrello, opened their restaurant in the Borrello family mansion in 1920, serving fine-dining Creole cuisine from the get-go. The main dining room, The Napoleon Room, is lovely, and the adjacent dining rooms have plenty of charm, as well. The real highlight, though, is the gorgeous courtyard. Make reservations well in advance for a courtyard table, if possible, and if there's a choice to wait for a table out there, wait. Truly, it's stunning.
What to order: You can't go wrong with any of the classics on the menu, particularly the fish dishes with their exceptionally rich sauces. The crab cakes are among the best in town.
Situated well away from the French Quarter, in the tony Garden District, the giant turquoise building that houses Commander's Palace was initially built as a tavern and saloon in 1880, but quickly became a restaurant of international renown. Celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme have come up through the venerable kitchen here, and the food itself is generally the best of any of the offerings on this list, with a menu that actually changes regularly (based on classic Creole preparations) in the hands of Chef Tory McPhail.
What to order: Try classics like turtle soup and the house gumbo, but don't be afraid to dig into the more unique parts of the menu: antelope, quail, escargot, and suckling pig have all graced the menu recently. If you're nearby (the Lafayette Cemetery #1 is directly across the street), the lunch special -- two courses for under $20, plus 25-cent martinis (yes, you read that right) -- is one of the best gourmet restaurant deals in the world. Finish any meal up with the bread pudding soufflé, possibly the best you'll ever have.
Smack in the middle of the hubbub of Bourbon Street, Galatoire's stands out as an echo of an earlier era (it was established in 1905, on the site of a restaurant that had existed since 1830) amongst a row of strip clubs and tourist-heavy bars. Still, it's an institution, and the food and decor are emblematic of high-class French Creole cuisine. Galatoire's is the place to be for lunch on Fridays (you'll need a reservation if you're lucky enough to get one) -- be prepared to dine and people-watch for several hours.
What to order: The souffléd potatoes are crispy little puffs of deliciousness, and the Poisson Meunière Amandine combines two classics of New Orleans cuisine into one decadent preparation. Crabmeat Sardou and Chicken Clemenceau are also tasty. For dessert, the banana bread pudding is the way to go.
The second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, Tujague's (pronounced "two-jacks") opened in 1856 as a saloon and restaurant that served simple food like shrimp remoulade and beef brisket to the dockworkers and market-people from the French Market, another landmark which is found just across Decatur Street. Over the years, it changed hands and moved further and further upscale. Its location makes it a little bit of a tourist trap, but its history makes it a worthwhile stop, nonetheless.
What to order: Tujague's offers a daily six-course table d'hôte menu (if you don't wish to partake in the full service, you can order smaller portions and some alternative dishes, including a noteworthy brisket po' boy, at the excellent bar). The menu costs around $50 per person, and offers limited but tasty choices of classic dishes, always starting with the house classic shrimp remoulade and offering the famous brisket as the main course. Drink a grasshopper if you like them; they were invented here.