If you consider yourself a foodie and have many friends who are the same way, you might discover that there are different types of foodies. After being in New Orleans for a few years now, I realize that I am a foodie who is not only biased towards delicious food, but towards delicious food coupled with a unique dining experience. In many college towns, this may be a lot to ask for, but in New Orleans and near Tulane, the opportunity for delicious food and a dining atmosphere that is out of the ordinary is all around you. 

One of the many things that makes the New Orleans restaurant scene so special is that when you go somewhere to eat, you are not just eating but interacting and experiencing what food and drinks can mean to you in new ways. Even though most nights of the week my friends and I eat in, New Orleans has inspired us to make dinner an occasion, something to share, and something to look forward to. On the nights that call for eating out, if you are looking to not only eat, but to indulge in Experience, this is a beginner’s guide to those exceptional New Orleans places.

Bacchanal: Bacchanal is a restaurant that specializes in wine, cheese, and meats. When you walk in, you choose your drinks and food from a dark and cozy store. As you check out, you get a number and find a seat. A short time later, a server brings out everything you picked on a well-organized board. The band plays as you sit outside and watch the sky grow darker and the instruments, stringed lights, and heat lamps become your new source of shine. The crunch of the gravel under you reminds you every time you move that you are not inside and the open air eating and socializing is energizing.

Photos by Kate Hohman

Justine: Justine is a lively and playful French restaurant located downtown on Chartres Street and is one of those places that you just can’t seem to get out of your mind. Whether you sit at the front of the restaurant, with the tall doors open to the life and music that make up the street, or in the back of the restaurant- where the pink tiles, mirrors, and intricate artwork make it feel normal when a street performer painted and dressed completely in gold dances by your table- you will remember your time there fondly. It is an exciting place to eat, no matter if you go for brunch or dinner. The food is mouthwatering and the burger or the croque monsieur are always a hit.

Photo by Emily Ryan

Elysian Bar/Hotel Peter and Paul: This bar is perfect not only to surprise your visitors but also for extremely socially distanced indoor dining. It is the sister restaurant of Bacchanal, and while the two are very different, they both are places that challenge the usual eating and drinking experience. Elysian Bar takes it a step further though, as it is located in the beautiful, spacious, and historic church at Peter and Paul. 

Photo by Emily Ryan

Bar Marilou Bar Marilou absolutely transports you as soon as you step inside. The ceilings and walls are red, the carpet is zebra-print, and the chairs are an assortment of warm greens, blues, and browns. The long red drapes make you feel snug yet special, and the book shelves are full. While you take in the exclusive library yet cool lounge feel, your waiter offers you a menu of somewhat small plates and drinks with color palettes that light up your table. This is the place to be to distract yourself, but also to engage with whoever joins you, with the thoughtful design, and with your own thoughts if you want a place to eat alone.

Photo by Emily Ryan

Commander’s Palace: Commander’s Palace is located in the Garden District and serves American, Cajun and Creole food, as well as seafood. The flavors, service, and atmosphere are spectacular. It is known for its “Commander’s Blue” exterior and its striped awnings, which are visible from inside as well. The feeling in the restaurant is formal yet celebratory and the ceilings are decorated with chandeliers. When your food comes to the table, a waiter is designated for each customer and in a synchronized swift action, each plate is placed in front of each person at the same time. Any meal here is special, whether it be brunch or dinner, but going to Commander’s Palace on a birthday is especially noteworthy, as they sing to you and place a bundle of balloons in the middle of the table. 

Photo by Emily Ryan

Val’s: While at first glance, Val’s may seem like just another visually appealing and cool outdoor eating spot, it is on this list because of something I have noticed when I have been there; it attracts many different age groups and both locals and non-locals. At dinner there, you are just as likely to see Tulane friends as you are a group of toddlers playing together and rolling around on the grass area. While Freret Street can seem crowded with many stores and restaurants directly next to each other, Val’s does an amazing job of making their corner seem like it is in the middle of a vast expanse of land that somehow always feels like summertime. Their tacos are also a must have.

Left: photo by Emily Ryan. Right: photo by Kate Hohman.

The Country Club: The Country Club truly offers one of the most unique dining experiences you can find in New Orleans. Located about 20 minutes from Tulane’s campus in the Bywater, The Country Club is a worth-the-trip destination. On Saturdays and Sundays, they host Drag Brunch at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. While this is not currently happening due to Covid, it will certainly come back and has been successful and exciting in the past. The lively and stylish “Southern Barbitchuates” perform and interact with the people dining there, and the microphone has a very good chance of ending up at your table. The brunch menu is delicious and a personal favorite is the truffle mac and cheese. 

Photos by Kate Hohman

Yo Nashi: Yo Nashi is a fairly new Japanese restaurant located in the Central Business District on Carondelet Street. This is an omakase style restaurant that serves an eight to ten course tasting menu. The seats in the restaurant face an orange and blue glowing bar, and the small part of the counter that is designated as your own becomes your snug and luxurious spot to be pampered with pretty plate after pretty plate. We hear it tastes pretty amazing too. 

Photos by Janie Karp

**For those reading this that are new to New Orleans or have been here for years and are wondering why your go-tos are not on this list, I wanted to leave a note: This does not begin to cover all of the best restaurants this city has to offer, and none of these restaurants are more genuinely New Orleans than any other place in the city. I include so many over the top and extravagant options here to highlight how amazing it is to have all of these options so close to Tulane. Additionally, I know it is not remotely practical to make these your weekly spots, but if you ever find that your schedule, savings, and desires lead you to wanting something unique and special, these restaurants are a fabulous place to start!