Local’s guide to navigating New Orleans cuisine

Zachary Schultz, Contributing Reporter

mandina's restaurant in New Orleans
Mandina’s offers wonderful southern hospitality and food to match.

New Orleans is the cultural cornerstone of Louisiana and perhaps even the entire South. The city’s offerings are unique and vast, boasting jazz music, an alcohol-embracing environment like no other and, most notably, a wholly unique and world-renowned cuisine.  

Navigating the restaurant scene in New Orleans, however, can be difficult without guidance and can result in having a few bad experiences before landing a memorable meal. Taking advice from a local with extensive dining experience in New Orleans will help avoid falling victim to an unappetizing meal. 

On the hunt for a belt-loosening, homestyle meal at an affordable price? Look no further than Mandina’s Restaurant on Canal Street. Mandina’s is as local an establishment as one can find in the Big Easy, quenching the hunger of New Orleanians since 1932. Mandina’s exterior — a pink home outfitted with bright neon lights — is reflective of what patrons can expect on its interior: some of the best homestyle cookin’ in New Orleans. In this vein, Mandina’s is perhaps best known for their sizable seafood platters and delicious seafood gumbo and turtle soup. If visiting Mandina’s on a Monday, it is customary to order red beans and rice, an old New Orleans tradition. 

For those desiring an immersive, upscale dining experience while having a fun time, Galatoire’s Restaurant is a sure bet. Located on Bourbon Street in the historic French Quarter, Galatoire’s is known less for its cuisine than for the copious alcohol consumption and the elaborate costumes of its patrons, who have helped create a one-of-a-kind social environment comparable only to the fun-loving debauchery of the roaring ‘20s. At Galatoire’s, almost anything goes — and often does. 

In all of its decadence, Galatoire’s can overwhelm the unaccustomed patron. In that event, one has the convenient option of walking through the restaurant to the adjoining steak house, Galatoire’s 33, which is a much more low-key, but still interesting, environment. Aside from serving a delicious cut of meat, 33 has one of the best bars in New Orleans, stocked with a wide selection of spirits. 

There are multiple great steakhouses to choose from in the city, but the crème de la crème is Mr. John’s Steakhouse on St. Charles Avenue. Mr. John’s has become a hotspot for the political elite to gather for lunch; it is a good place to network, particularly on Fridays. At Mr. John’s, patrons can enjoy USDA prime steaks, one of the best cuts of meat in New Orleans while looking out at the sights of St. Charles Avenue.

Sometimes, even a Michelin-star meal is no substitute for a good old-fashioned hamburger. When this craving rears its mouth-watering head, no restaurant is better positioned to satisfy it than Port of Call on Esplanade Avenue. Port of Call is known best for its signature large burgers and loaded baked potatoes, the natural enemy of any hangover. 

These restaurants are a few gems in the treasure chest of New Orleans’ culinary offerings. However, for every good restaurant, there are at least a handful of not-so-good ones: Dooky Chase, Willie Mae’s Scotch House and Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar are all tourist traps, and the restaurant goer could do much better when searching for places specializing in these styles of cooking. 

When all is said and done, advice from a well-traveled restaurant goer will not substitute for firsthand experience. Others must discover for themselves which restaurants to frequent and which ones to avoid. It is a quest of the highest stakes — and that is the fun of it.