Full disclosure: I’ve never had a bad meal in New Orleans, Louisiana. This is a town that knows how to eat. Competition is fierce for dining dollars, and that is all to the good for visitors. New Orleans has much more than po boys and beignet. You might have the best meal of your life here. Here’s how we ate our way through New Orleans fine dining on a recent visit.

New Orleans, Louisiana knows how to eat. Competition is fierce for dining dollars, and that is all to the good for visitors. Some tips on where to go.

Steak at King Fish in New Orleans, Louisiana (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Where to Eat in New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is a mecca for Creole, Cajun, and other fine dining. On a recent visit from Philadelphia with our two college age kids, we ate at many great places. These are a few. All are pricey but worth it, and require reservations.

A carnivore's delight at Clancy's. New Orleans, Louisiana knows how to eat. Competition is fierce for dining dollars, and that is all to the good for visitors. Some tips on where to go.

Clancy’s is a neighborhood gem in New Orleans (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Uptown neighborhood

We felt like the only out-of-towners at Clancy’s, located in a converted house in the residential Uptown neighborhood. Skip the bread to save room for elegant, Creole-inspired food and appetizers, like the best gnocchi I’ve tasted.

My husband’s smoked duck was perfect. My son’s mashed potatoes were the creamiest he’s had. He loved his filet mignon but should have taken the waiter’s advice to omit the strong blue cheese.

The table next to us, regulars at Clancy’s, enjoyed veal specials. Lemon icebox tart, a classic frozen Southern dessert, was new to me – and delicious. Clancy’s, a local favorite, is outside the tourist area and they helpfully called a taxi for our return to our French Quarter hotel.

Emeril's barbecued shrimp tempts visitors to NOLA. New Orleans, Louisiana knows how to eat. Competition is fierce for dining dollars, and that is all to the good for visitors. Some tips on where to go.

Emeril’s signature barbecued shrimp (Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Warehouse District

Emeril Lagasse now is a celebrity chef and food icon. But he started in 1990 with Emeril’s New Orleans, an elegant but unpretentious converted warehouse that serves lighter versions of classic New Orleans dishes.

We munched on small rosemary biscuits and corn bread before ordering the signature barbecued shrimp, grilled rainbow trout, and salmon. I didn’t have room for dessert but my son chowed down on a deconstructed chocolate peanut butter pie. We walked to Emeril’s from the French Quarter, about a mile away.

French Quarter

There are a ton of great restaurants in the French Quarter, the tourist center of New Orleans. In a vacation of spectacular eating, Bayona may have been our favorite. Chef/owner Susan Spicer is inspired by Mediterranean and African flavors, and the quiet upscale atmosphere encourages conversation.

I guarantee your life will be improved by her roasted garlic soup. My daughter’s salmon with mild sauerkraut was delicious and my son’s grilled pork chop was perfection. The creative desserts were tasty, if a little precious.

It was too chilly to eat in the pretty courtyard of Court of Two Sisters, a family-owned New Orleans establishment where our waiter told us he’s been making tableside Caesar salad for 37 years. The restaurant is famous for its jazz brunch. We had a classic Louisiana dinner: shrimp and grits, and corn fried catfish.

New Orleans, Louisiana is a great restaurant town

Pretty interior of Atchafalaya in the Garden District (Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

My carnivore son loved his steak at King Fish. While it was loud at Sylvains, this French Quarter restaurant had a funky vibe and good grilled fish. We were lucky to get a lunch table without a reservation at Mr. B’s Bistro, a more casual restaurant owned by the same family as the venerable Brennan’s. My husband’s rosemary chicken at Mr. B’s was moist and my grilled fish special was a delicious light lunch.

Garden District

A local tipped us off to the contemporary Creole food of Atchafalaya, a pretty, airy restaurant located in the Garden District residential neighborhood. My husband enjoyed fried chicken and biscuits, and my daughter and I both got Eggs Atchafalaya: poached eggs, fried green tomatoes, jumbo lump crab, and hollandaise. Wonderful! This delicious lunch was a good way to wrap up our walking tour of the mansions and cemetery in the Garden District.

Practical tips for eating in New Orleans

Tip: Forget the diet and plunge right ahead to enjoy the pleasure of eating well in New Orleans. Enjoy, and walk it off in this lovely walkable city. To work off that good eating, we booked walking tours of the French Quarter, an above-ground cemetery, and the voodoo history of New Orleans, spent a morning walking around the fascinating Whitney Plantation, which tells the story of slavery from an enslaved person’s perspective, and walked a lot in the French Quarter and Garden District.

Garlic soup is on the menu! New Orleans, Louisiana knows how to eat. Competition is fierce for dining dollars, and that is all to the good for visitors. Some tips on where to go.

Garlic soup at Bayona will improve your life (Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to make reservations in advance. Especially if you’re like me and won’t wait in lines.

While we were disappointed that no reservations were available at August, Couchon, or the Israeli restaurant Shaya, and the line was too long for us to try Mother’s, a favorite local dive for breakfast, those are just more good reasons for us to return to New Orleans.

TravelingMom Tip: Every restaurant we visited was able to accommodate both my fish-loving daughter and my carnivore son.

New Orleans also is famous for its casual food – the fresh hot donuts called beignet, po boy sandwiches, and muffaletta, a sandwich with olive tapenade introduced by Italian immigrants. My advice: don’t wait in line for any of those foods. They are offered by plenty of places. New Orleans is packed with too many fun distractions to spend time waiting in line.

Fair warning: New Orleans loves its air conditioning, even in winter. To avoid shivering through dinner, be sure to bring a sweater to wear inside.

Do any restaurants in New Orleans tempt you? Tell us about it in the comments.

New Orleans, Louisiana is foodie heaven. While you can't get a bad meal in NOLA, here are restaurants we love in New Orleans.

New Orleans, Louisiana is foodie heaven. While you can’t get a bad meal in NOLA, here are restaurants we love in New Orleans.