New Orleans

Here Are New Orleans' Best New Restaurants of 2018

Denny Culburt
Denny Culburt
Denny Culburt

It was a year of upheaval for New Orleans restaurants. Dozens have shuttered, including beloved institutions like Feelings Cafe and Pizza NOLA. But what’s emerged from the rubble has been a smattering of establishments bringing much-desired cuisines to the Crescent City, including vegan soul food, Latin American fare, and even more from beloved chefs like Alon Shaya and Nina Compton. All of these and more are featured on this list of the best New Orleans restaurants of that opened this year. Dig in.

Denny Culbert
Denny Culbert
Denny Culbert

Bywater American Bistro

BywaterNina Compton’s latest in locally sourced fare
Since its March 2018 opening, Bywater American Bistro has graced numerous best-of lists (including Thrillist’s own!) with its bold takes on spaghetti pomodoro and roasted chicken. The restaurant is Top Chef alum and recent James Beard award-winner Nina Compton’s second in the city, with Compton, husband Larry Miller and former Compère Lapin sous chef Levi Raines running the show. Raines helms BAB’s blue-tiled open kitchen, dreaming up prixe fixe menus for special events and pushing the boundaries of brunch with runaway hits like the rich, smooth chicken liver parfait and rice and egg dishes that borrow from the rich tapestry of Louisiana cuisine that Bywater American Bistro claims inspiration from.

Avila

French QuarterVenezuelan staples in a cozy, off-Bourbon bar
Avila is a welcome addition to the Starlight bar, nestled off Bourbon in a nearly 240 year old townhouse that retains old school elements like pocket doors and chandeliers suspended from rosettes. Owned by husband-wife duo and native Venezuelans Harold and Monica Angola, it follows the trend of pop-ups getting a proper glow up with brick and mortar real estate at least five nights a week. In Avila’s case, the kitchen stays open Tuesday through Sunday, dishing out arepas and appetizers like tequeños and empanadas with late night service that runs until 4am on Fridays. Expect a possible menu expansion, as Avila’s begun branching out and offering specials like patacón — hearty shredded beef sandwiches that swap bread for fried plantains.

BOIL Seafood House
BOIL Seafood House
BOIL Seafood House

Boil

Garden DistrictCustomizable seafood options with Viet-Cajun flair
With platters, poboys, and buckets of seafood, there’s something for everyone at the former Louisiana Music Exchange location that Boil now occupies. Jacques-Imo’s muralist Rain Webb sets the scene in vibrant purples and oranges celebrating owner Hieu Doan’s Louisiana and Vietnamese roots. Doan, who also owns Namese, has a savvy way of preparing the crawfish, crab, shrimp, mussels, and clams on offer year-round: steamed, boiled, then tossed in a mixture of your choice of spices, ranging from a rich garlic butter to the citrusy-cilantro Asian style. Oysters receive a similar treatment, and guests can choose just how spicy they want their meal.

Luvi

UptownAsian fusion reflects a lifelong passion for cooking
Almost every dish at Luvi is a reflection of former Sake cafe head chef Hao Gong’s career path, with subtle nods to his family. Named for his two children, Luvi celebrates the Shanghai flavors of Hao’s childhood while offering an impressive raw bar that showcases the over two decades Hao spent cooking Japanese cuisine. Mama’s dumplings melt in your mouth while the spicy dan dan noodles come in a light chicken broth perfectly balanced by ghost chili oil. Hao’s wife, Jennifer Wade, keeps the aesthetics in mind with her transformation of the double shotgun space, picking out everything from the graphic wallpaper and teal paint to the floral-patterned chairs and cherry wood bar.

Catalino's
Catalino’s
Catalino’s

Catalino’s

UptownMaple St. restaurant celebrating all facets of Guatemalan cuisine
Catalino’s hit its stride out the gate, with customers readily lining up for elote loco and carnitas — always with a side of fresh corn tortillas — as soon as it opened in late July 2018. The restaurant has since expanded its fare and expanded its hours, celebrating its first taco Tuesday in November. Run by husband and wife Addie and Hugo Vasquez, Catalino’s riffs on grab-and-go street food and Mayan fusion that includes hearty stews featuring local produce. The jocon is a particular standout, pairing fried chicken with mirliton and a smattering of greens. Catalino’s is BYOB and ready to cater to any liquor you may bring, with pitchers of fresh virgin mojitos or margaritas on offer.

Estaño

MarignySpanish small plates in a cozy, affordable café
Basque cuisine gets its due in the Marigny thanks to musician Bruce McDaniel and Arabella Casa di Pasta owner Mowgli Pierlas, who teamed up to open Estaño over the summer. Situated just one door from Arabella, the shotgun-style space stretches from counter seating in the front, to a small lounge in the back, followed by a cozy courtyard. Come for the café con leche, stay for the pintxos that change with seasons but always come with fresh-baked homemade crostinis and conservas shipped straight from Spain. Besides lunch and dinner, Estaño offers weekend brunch dishes that run a reasonable $5-$10 and include its signature truffled egg toast.

Gris-Gris

Lower Garden DistrictElevated New Orleans classics plus family recipes
An open kitchen with wrap-around counter seating greets Gris-Gris on the first floor, while there’s a standard dining room and bar upstairs along with outdoor balcony seating — all designed by the building’s previous tenant, Square Root. What has changed in in the Lower Garden District space is the cuisine, care of executive chef Eric Cook, who finally got his hands on his own restaurant after stints at NOLA gems like Commander’s Palace, Bourbon House, and Tommy’s Cuisine. Cook includes his own mother’s chicken and dumplings on the menu, along with decadent stuffed crab and sugarcane seared duck breast. With cocktails dreamed up by fellow Commander’s alum Ferrel Dugas, Gris-Gris feels at once timeless and trendy.

Manolito

French QuarterCuban staples and cocktails inspired by Havana’s Floridita
Lauded bartenders Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich bring the wisdom of Cuban bartending legend (and drink-slinger to Ernest Hemingway himself) Carbajo Aguiar to Manolito. The cozy French Quarter spot boasts papa dobles and daiquiris thrown together in the traditional style, though just as dazzling is chef Cesar Nuñez’s short and sweet menu. The former Coquette chef de cuisine delivers hit after hit, including fresh shrimp ceviche and ropa vieja arepas. Nuñez recently dished out croquetas as part of a special Tin Roof beer pairing event — surely not Manolito’s last — shrinking shrimp and grits into breaded, bite-sized treats.

Morrow's
Morrow’s
Morrow’s

Morrow’s

MarignyNew Orleans and Korean classics, combined
The open, airy decor of Morrow’s may make you wonder if you’re hip enough to enter, until you gaze up at the cursive neon sign behind the bar that reads “The Morrow of the story…” That kind of dad joke humor reminds you it’s a family affair at Morrow: Owner and event promoter Larry Morrow and his mother, chef Lenora Chong, run the restaurant. Chong, who previously helmed Lenora’s Grill in Pontchartrain Park, brings classics like file gumbo and BBQ shrimp to the menu, along with Korean fare. The bibimbap allows its fresh ingredients to shine, while sesame ginger wings pay homage to Korea’s love affair with huraideu-chikin.

Sweet Soulfood

TremeThe new spot for vegan comfort food in New Orleans
Plenty of cities can boast of vegan soul food restaurants but there’s nothing quite like Sweet Soulfood’s New Orleans spin on the classics. And demand is certainly high for it: the cafeteria-style restaurant ran out of food on its April 2018 opening day. Sweet Soulfood follows the city’s sacred food calendar with red beans and rice served up Mondays and fried catfish swapped out for crispy chickpea cakes on Fridays. Portions are as large as they are flavorful, though the price is anything but hefty. Vegan ice cream and cookies round out a substantial menu that includes lighter fare like jerk cauliflower wraps and green goddess salads.

Sara Yongue
Sara Yongue
Sara Yongue

Trilly

Mid-CityPhilly-style cheesesteaks for vegans and carnivores alike
After a year of pop-ups, Trilly found a permanent home in Mid-City with a brick and mortar building attached to neighborhood watering hole Banks Street Bar. Owner Chris Beegle stays true to the cheesesteak’s roots, using Amoroso rolls shipped from Philadelphia as a base, but takes the added step of making his own cheese wiz and offering a vegan answer to every meat-heavy option on the menu. The vegan buffalo swaps chicken for seitan, while the Vegan Far East Philly includes a vegan cream cheese to temper the sweetness of its ginger soy sauce-soaked seitan. Desserts and sides also get the animal product-free treatment. The vegan poutine is a particular standout and may be even better than its original iteration.

Saba

UptownContemporary Israeli cuisine, served by workers with benefits
Saba marks award-winning chef Alon Shaya’s first restaurant with his Pomegranate Hospitality group, and reveals a conscientious approach from the top down. Employees have two consecutive days off (Monday and Tuesday), stand-up meetings that include a daily shift meal, and health benefits — a rarity in the service industry. It’s this approach that makes for a family atmosphere, as is the menu, which encourages sharing. Pita is baked fresh to sop up sizzling skillets of shakshuka and dip into blue crab hummus. Cocktails lean on Middle Eastern spices like turmeric and cardamom. Save room for dessert, because the melty banana-coconut halvah is heavenly.Sign up here for our daily New Orleans email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Big Easy.

April Siese is a contributor to Thrillist. 

New Orleans

Where to Go on a Perfect Date in New Orleans This Spring

Woo that special someone with sultry live music and inviting outdoor date ideas.

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Travel
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Travel
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Travel

Whether you’re searching for the perfect spot for a first date or looking to spend some time with your longtime love, you should have no problem planning a romantic outing in New Orleans. Our amazing restaurants and bars are classic settings for some quality time, but think outside the date night box and literally get outside. Spring is the most gorgeous time of year here, so you can score some serious romance points. From strolls in the park and outdoor music to cozy wine bars and sultry jazz nights, here are some can’t-miss ideas for the perfect date in New Orleans.

Spend an afternoon in City Park

Mid-City
One could spend hours strolling beneath City Park’s moss-drenched oaks, but combine this beautiful setting with the park’s other offerings and you’ve got yourself a date. Start with coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde to ease into things. Explore the collections at the New Orleans Museum of Art or stroll through the sculpture garden. Continue your romantic walk around the Big Lake, or rent a boat and paddle your way around. If things are going well, finish up with a well-earned drink and a bite at Ralph’s on the Park.

Grab bagels and bike on the Greenway

Mid-City
Bike the Lafitte Greenway and you’ll get moving while having plenty of time to connect. Fuel up at Flour Moon Bagels with coffee and stellar carbs before you hit the pavement. The Greenway’s linear path is 2.7 miles, but you can make it a longer ride by linking up with the Wisner Trail or the Norman C. Francis bike path. The Greenway goes all the way to the Quarter, but you can save that for another date. End up back where you started and cool down with a pint or two at Skeeta Hawk Brewing.

Create some Magazine Street magic

Uptown/Garden District
Magazine Street boasts six miles of unique, locally owned businesses. There are plenty of one-off date options along the street (like grabbing coffee and chocolate at Piety and Desire, having a romantic dinner at Coquette or Saffron, or ordering wine and small plates at Saba). But for a longer get-to-know-you date, the street is perfect for an all-day stroll. Browse esteemed art galleries and shops, have a well-made cocktail at Bouligny Tavern, stop for fresh oysters at Basin, taste a few wines at Spirit Wine, and admire the mix of architecture along the street. Why stop there? Shop for some vinyl at Peaches, grab a casual dinner at Picnic Provisions & Whiskey or Tito’s, then see who’s playing at Le Bon Temps.

Take in the West Bank nature and noodles

Marrero
Take the Crescent City Connection and head down to the Barataria Preserve to explore acres of secluded wetlands that’ll confirm you’re really in south Louisiana. A boardwalk winds through swampy land packed with all the best regional flora and fauna, including alligators. April is typically peak iris season, so check the bloom forecast. Before you head back across the river, stop by Tan Dinh or 9 Roses for excellent pho and other Vietnamese faves.

Nevbrown/Flickr
Nevbrown/Flickr
Nevbrown/Flickr

Go on a wine bar crawl

Various locations
A wine bar presents a perfect middle ground between grabbing casual beers and sipping superior cocktails. You’ve got chill environs, curated selections, and just enough nibbles to sustain your conversation. Second Vine Wines and Faubourg Wines are thoughtfully curated shops that serve wines by the glass, so you can start off with a couple of glasses then buy a bottle if the date moves to another location. Tell Me Bar and Pluck offer rotating selections of intriguing wines you’ll want to learn more about. And of course there’s Bacchanal, where you can enjoy wine, good vibes, and live music under the stars.

Cross the river by boat

Algiers Point
There’s something undeniably romantic about standing at the bow of a boat with wind blowing through your lover’s hair, so take the Algiers Ferry to behold the mighty Mississippi and gorgeous views of the city. Stroll charming Algiers Point, grab a drink with the locals at the Old Point Bar or Crown and Anchor, and then enjoy dinner at Tavolino, Tonti’s Hand, or Plume.

Saunter down St. Charles Ave

Uptown/French Quarter
The streetcar is an underrated date option-get to know each other while rolling past the majestic St. Charles Avenue mansions. Start with a late afternoon drink at The Chloe before hopping aboard. Once you’re in the Quarter, take a spin around the bar with a cocktail at Hotel Monteleone, take a stroll through Jackson Square, then pick from swoon-worthy dining options like St. John, Jewel of the South, Cane & Table, Doris Metropolitan, or MaMou.

Explore Lake Pontchartrain

Lakefront
Take a trip out to Lake Pontchartrain for some sun, fresh air, and seafood. Cruise Lakeshore Drive, check out the Mardi Gras Fountain, maybe take a roll down the levee to connect with your inner child, then sit and watch as the boats and birds go by. As the sun sets, head over to The Blue Crab for fresh seafood or JB’s Fuel Dock at West End Park for pizza and beers.

Photo courtesy of Three Keys NOLA
Photo courtesy of Three Keys NOLA
Photo courtesy of Three Keys NOLA

Let music and lounge vibes set the mood

Various locations
Let someone special know just how you feel by taking them out for a classy evening of fine cocktails and world-class jazz. Grab a prime spot to watch Jeremy Davenport do his thing at his namesake lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, listen to the smooth sounds of solo artists at the intimate Bayou Bar at the Pontchartrain Hotel, or pop into the Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta next time you do a French Quarter outing. For a new-school option, check out a performance at the Ace Hotel’s Three Keys.

Go the extra mile with a day trip

Covington/Abita Springs
Driving the Causeway’s 24 miles will give you plenty of time to go beyond small talk, making a nearby road trip the ideal activity for upping the ante on your relationship. Head to Covington to enjoy the boutiques and galleries of the quaint historic downtown before grabbing a bite at Lola or Tavi, or rent bikes and ride the Tammany Trace to the Abita Brewery where you can take a tour and sample some of the finest local beers. Even better, head over when the brewery is hosting one of its food truck roundups or live music.

Photo courtesy of Urban South Brewery
Photo courtesy of Urban South Brewery
Photo courtesy of Urban South Brewery

Peel crawfish and sip local beer

Various locations
Spring means crawfish boils, and the city is loaded with experts bringing their boil skills to some of the top local breweries. Crawfish and beer make a perfect pair, and what better way to gauge relationship potential than by observing peel technique and spice tolerance? Check their calendars, but breweries including Faubourg Brewing, Urban South, NOLA Brewing, Miel, and Parleaux usually host boils on weekends throughout the season.

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Gerrish Lopez is a Thrillist contributor.

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