In its early days, New Orleans was populated by the descendants of French colonists who retained essential elements of their native culinary tradition while blending others to create a New Orleans Creole food culture. Louisiana ingredients were combined with French techniques and presentation methods, creating a powerful fusion that is now iconic of NOLA. This is our local pick of the best French and French-inspired restaurants in New Orleans.
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Named for the French Impressionist painter, Edgar Degas, Café Degas strives to serve authentic Gallic French cuisine. Degas lived in New Orleans for a short time in 1872, in a house near the restaurant on Esplanade Avenue. Owner Jacques Soulas, himself a painter, moved to New Orleans in 1980 and collaborated with his friend and co-owner to open Cafe Degas, a restaurant which would pay homage to his home in France. In addition to the three-course prix fixe menu served on Wednesdays, Café Degas cooks up excellent brunches, lunches and dinners with protagonists such as the ever-popular gratiné d’oignon, a hearty onion soup typical of the French countryside.
Opened in 1840, Antoine’s has been in operation for 174 years, making it, allegedly, the oldest restaurant in the country. Today, it is still owned and operated by the family of Antoine Alciatore, the original owner. Antoine’s son Jules studied cooking in France and returned to New Orleans in the late 1800s where he invented the dish Oysters Rockefeller, a staple of New Orleans Creole cuisine. Today Antoine’s is considered one of the Grand Dames of Creole restaurants with an elegant, regal interior composed of several meticulously decorated dining rooms and a menu that overflows with mouth-watering fish and seafood dishes.
Tucked away on Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans, Lilette is a favourite among locals. The dining room was once an apothecary, with tile floors, a tin ceiling, and cast iron columns. Chef and owner John Harris apprenticed in France at Amphyclese and Le Pre Catalin restaurants, during which time he also lived with the family of Lilette Mauri, who taught him to love and appreciate French cuisine. Today, NOLA’s Lilette is simple to the point of being understated, but the food is always top-quality with entrées such as the roasted poulet breast served with Brussels sprouts, balsamic-glazed onions and a mushroom vinaigrette, or the sautéed branzino fish with hen of the woods mushrooms and wilted spinach, smothered with marsala cream.
In 1918 Arnaud Cazenave, a fun-loving French wine salesman, opened up Arnaud’s in the French Quarter, and made it into one of the most buzzing, popular dining spots in town. In addition to the food and drinks on offer, Arnaud’s regularly hosts live Dixieland jazz in the restaurant for diners’ enjoyment. The restaurant is decidedly Creole, but French influence is evident in menu items such as frog legs provencale and escargots en casserole, which exemplify the best of French culinary tradition. Adjoining the restaurant is the famous French 75 Bar, which was originally ‘for gentlemen only’.
La Petite Grocery
La Petite Grocery is named in honour of the building that houses it. The structure was first the Central Tea, Coffee, and Butter Bistro, but after a 1908 fire, in was reincarnated as Frank W. Mackie Grocer, specialising in fine foods. Today, La Petite Grocery is owned and operated by Justin and Mia Devillier. Justin has won numerous culinary awards and competed in the 2013 season of Top Chef, then learned about the subtleties of French cuisine at Peristyle, a New Orleans restaurant that closed its doors in 2008. La Petite Grocery is all about injecting dishes with a distinct French flavour, from the panéed rabbit with spaetzle and sauce grenobloise to the succulent pan-roasted tendeloin with potatoes, grilled rapini and bordelaise.
La Boulangerie is an authentic French bakery in Uptown New Orleans, serving classic French pastries like pain au chocolat and crisp croissants, as well as savoury options like the quiche florentine. Open for morning coffee, breakfast, and lunch, the bakery also bakes fresh baguettes and offers a daily soup special for those wanting a quick lunch fix, in fact, all the breads and pastries are made fresh each morning, guaranteeing a solid French bakery experience. La Boulangerie’s location on Magazine Street means that a post-snack trip to the shops that line the street is mandatory.
After immigrating from Pardies, France, Jean Galatoire opened Galatoire’s in New Orleans in 1905. His fifth-generation relatives are still part-owners of the restaurant. Since opening, Galatoire’s has hosted some historical figures, including various politicians, and author Tennessee Williams, who mentioned the restaurant in his novel A Streetcar Named Desire. In addition to its renowned, competent staff, Galatoire’s is known for its adherence to local tradition. The menu boasts both Creole specialties, like turtle soup and shrimp Creole, and French specialties, like bouillabaisse and crabmeat au gratin, making the dining experience a journey across Louisiana’s culinary heritage.
La Crepe Nanou
Opened in 1983 and hailed as one of the most romantic restaurants in the city, La Crepe Nanou is a French creperie and bistro. The menu features French classics such as the breakfast favourites croque monsieur and croque madame, sweet and savoury crepes, escargots, moules frites, and a variety of omelettes with delectable toppings. La Crepe Nanou is Uptown and located across the street from St. James Cheese Company, one of New Orleans’s premier cheese shops, and the perfect spot to explore a selection of French cheeses before your meal.