(1) Irene’s Cuisine is today the very best restaurant in New Orleans. This is not a trivial statement. I have been coming to this town and appreciating it’s cuisine for over 40 years. Irene’s is the best today, located at 539 St. Philip Street, New Orleans, LA 70116. It has surpassed and now ranks (at the present time) solidly above the French Quarter’s traditional “ABC” of Antoine’s, Brennan’s, and Court of Two Sisters (and, justly, all of these old tourist magnets rank lower than either Irene’s or Upperline today—this is correct, although not all Zagat scores are). Irene’s Cuisine is equal and comparable, in my opinion, to the old (pre-Emeril) Delmonico’s for imagination and innovative quality.
(2) Apolline is the best on Uptown Magazine, giving my former favorite Martinique Bistro a major run for the money…4729 Magazine, New Orleans 70115. Apolline is comparable in quality not only to Martinique Bistro 5908 Magazine, New Orleans 70115 but also to Upperline, also close-by, at 1413 Upperline. Pay no attention to the two points difference between these three on Zagat. Apolline’s menu is more inventive/”cutting edge.” But Irene’s is the best in town, even though it only exceeds Martinique by one Zagat point.
(3) Casamento’s New Orleans at 4330 Magazine (just three doors downtown/riverside from Napoleon) is fabulous but its hours are so hopelessly erratic and limited, and the menu is just limited—but it’s still a wonderful landmark restaurant. Casamento’s is the only “simple Old New Orleans” place where I will still eat raw oysters. Their fried oysters are wonderful—basically this is the only place that still has oysters the way I remember them from my undergraduate years at Tulane in the 1970s—(i.e. big and juicy). Their Gumbo is authentic and good, but not quite as good as my absolute favorite “simple old New Orleans place”:
(4) The Trolley Stop at 1923 St. Charles Avenue (my father Charles was born in 1923, so I never have a problem remembering this address). I go to the Trolley stop several times a week because (a) it’s cheap and WITHOUT ANY DOUBT the absolute best value of ANY restaurant I’ve been to in Orleans Parish, (b) it’s excellent, (c) it’s authentic, (d) it’s consistent, (e) it’s close to where I live and open for breakfast/brunch/lunch (i.e. until 2:00 p.m.) every day (Sunday-Wednesday and 24 hours Thursday-Saturday). It is the ONLY place in town that is every BIT as good now as it used to be (except that it used to be open 24/7 before Katrina).
(5) Sushi was simply NOT a feature of New Orleans life or cuisine when I was in College over 33 years ago. I live within several blocks of Sushi Brothers and Hoshun on St. Charles (they are across the street from each other, respectively 1612 St. Charles and 1601 St. Charles, both in 70130). Sushi Brothers’ “Bye-Bye Katrina” is probably the best sushi roll I have ever had anywhere although their Tiger Roll is a close runner up. Hoshun has a more varied non-sushi menu including some “PF Change’s’” type “Nouvelle Chinese”—the steamed dumplings being perhaps my favorite there.
(6) Kyoto at 4920 Prytania and Sushi Brothers receive equal Zagat Ratings but I would give Sushi Brothers the edge only because of it’s specialty dishes. The quantities are greater and the value better at Kyoto, which is more of an Uptown Student hangout…. which is also the disadvantage of the place I often get sick listening to Law Students talking about their lives and careers—the conversations are totally symptomatic of what is wrong with law in America (nobody cares about anything but money—NOBODY in law is even REMOTELY interested in Law, Justice, or the Constitution).
(7) Another surprisingly good value in the 70130 neighborhood (in which I had never actually lived in any of my sojourns into New Orleans, though I certainly knew the Trolley Stop, Commander’s Palace, and Delmonico’s) is Casa Roma at 1901 Sophie Wright Place one block upriver (or uptown lakeside) from (the roughly triangular) Coliseum Square where Henry Morton Stanley’s family’s beautiful 1837 house is marked by a historic plaque at 1729 Coliseum. Casa Roma is as reasonable as the Trolley Stop but much larger and more spacious (of course Casamento’s is painfully small as a matter of space). Casa Roma has everything that you’d expect from a good middle class Italian Restaurant and, like the Trolley Stop, it’s staff is very “New Orleans” friendly in manner.
(8) Pascal’s Manale at 1838 Napoleon is another “recherches du temps perdue” place which hasn’t changed very much since the 1970s except it’s prices have gone way up with age and a place on the tourist map. Its menu combines excellent gumbo and other New Orleans creole specialties with excellent Italian, but you’ll pay twice as much as Casa Roma or the Trolley Stop for equivalent quality. Overall, I would rank Pascal’s Manale as a very agreeable experience in spite of the price rather than because of it, comparable in this sense to Tujague’s down in the Quarter at 823 Decatur.
(9) Sukho Thai at 4519 Magazine and LA Thai at 4938 Prytania (within walking distance of each other) are both excellent and on my “regular” list, but I cannot decide which I like better. The portions are slightly smaller at LA Thai (three doors uptown from Kyoto) but possibly very slightly higher quality. Sukho Thai has the worst cell-phone reception in all of New Orleans (don’t ask me why). The menu at Sukho Thai is slightly larger, more varied, but the staff is slightly surly for some reason. (Kyoto and Apolline both win, in the Uptown ratings, for friendliness although Trolley Stop overall wins on that score also—
(10) Upperline, right around the corner and to left from Kyoto and LA Thai, is extremely friendly (and the owner/manager JoAnn Clevenger almost always comes out to talk to you). The Zagat Guide numbers, rate Upperline and Irene’s Cuisine equally. Upperline is clearly the most expensive on this particular list, but that is the only possible criticism, and not much of one at that, because the food is superb.
(11) Fresh Market at Louisiana and St. Charles has been the biggest adjustment, psychologically, but also (right after the Trolley Stop) my most regular “off-campus” (Tulane University Center) hang-out of the past six months. Call me crazy (everyone else does why shouldn’t you?) but I cannot adjust to the fact that Fresh Market is operating in a building that functioned for over 100 years (including all my undergraduate years and afterwards) as a mortuary, one of New Orleans’ largest, most centrally located, and prominent. The old marble inscription is still there on St. Charles, and the exterior of the building is unaltered. But there’s nothing creepy about the inside—it is friendlier and better than Whole Foods way further up on Magazine in the old Bus Barn and they have some excellent sandwiches. I go to Fresh Market often because it’s a perfect “after Church lunch” place on Sunday and just few blocks from Christ Church Cathedral. Sometimes I will sit on the front (St. Charles side) porch of the old Columned Mortuary for the good shade and the breeze, or sit upstairs using wi-fi. And there I will pass away the whole Sunday afternoon around there because I have at least a half-dozen times or more gone both to one of the traditional morning choral services and the Cathedral’s highly innovative “Real Presence” (“pseudo-Iona Movement/Taize” and/or “out of the prayerbook completely”) “Sunday School for Adults” at 6:00 (complete with props and photos and “activity areas” for prayer and meditation during the eucharist, and the most exquisite soloist singer I have found recently in any church, actually, anywhere at all–the pure-voiced, angelic Kimberly Mouledoux).