How to know you’re eating in the right place in New Orleans

There are over 1,400 restaurants in New Orleans, and that’s honestly too many choices for anyone to make. You need to examine the landscape. Use all five senses, and it starts from when you walk up to the building.

by Eric Marshall
November 11, 2019

Eating at the right places in New Orleans often comes down to awareness. It can be difficult to discern the best destination when staring down two, or six, restaurants with identical concepts. There are over 1,400 restaurants in New Orleans, and that’s honestly too many choices for anyone to make.

You need to examine the landscape. Use all five senses. And it starts from when you walk up to the building.

Paint and Signage

The Buttermilk Drop sign welcomes everyone beneath its large oak.

New Orleans has a long tradition of hand-painted facades. The famous Lester Carey’s work extended beyond restaurants and let everybody know someone helpful would be on the other side.

The subject of the paint is important because it’s the first indication of what the restaurant, or store, wants you to know about. They’re hoping you’re paying attention.

However, this is not to tell you to find and eat where the paint is for paint’s sake. If there are more than 4 or 5 offerings you should remain suspicious. Any number above that can be described as ‘Daily Specials’—more on that later. In a best-case scenario, you find 3-4 items on a sign accompanied by a narrative scene or posing iconic figures.

Photographs and Paper Towel Dispensers

Paper towel holders, and signed photographs are two overlooked interior touches that show you you’re in the right place. When these are around you know that people eat here are respected. The dispenser being homemade is always a plus, and prepares you for a meal that will require your participation.

A signed photograph on the wall is a moment in time. It lets you know when this restaurant had the juice. Signed photographs with stars from the last four decades lets you know the have the recipe for the sauce. If the guy who seats you on a Friday night put the picture of him and Sylvester Stallone next to the host stand, it’s because that’s where it belongs.

That signed promotional poster from the Faith Hill music video they shot down the road a couple years ago? It’s taking up half a wall next to the alligator gar skull because this spot was hot then and hot still.

Daily Specials and Hot Lunch

This is make or break for the restaurant. They’re telling you what’s good that day and it’s up to you to listen, and on them to deliver. New Orleans is filled with great restaurants that honor the daily special. Neyow’s, Stein’s, and Betsy’s are only a few of the countless restaurants that feature a steady rotation of favorites.

Often noted as HOT LUNCH, a plate of rice and cabbage with fried catfish, chicken, or a pork chop with a side of sweet potatoes will gather a crowd. A stuffed bell pepper with mac and cheese and cornbread dressing at Neyow’s will make a number of people get to lunch early on a Saturday. A daily special lets you know that they care, and that’s more than you need most days.

A Place You Can Ask

The people who staff the restaurants of New Orleans are a special group of people. Their professionalism, skills, and capacity to care are unmatched. This is an incredible asset you can take advantage of.

Take a look at the menu. Enjoy it. If you aren’t certain about your order, cook up some questions. Ask them which items they’d choose if they wanted to keep it light, or what you shouldn’t miss if it’s your first time. It’s easier on everyone when people get what they need. Helpful people want you to enjoy yourself and they’ve got nothing to hide. The question in your head can often be answered better by someone who’s seen the food and knows what people like.

All The Signs Are Here

These signs should give you the confidence to enjoy yourself. Paper towels provide the composure that hungry people need to relax and know they’ll be clean when they need to. That picture of Sly on the wall isn’t for the host to look at, it’s there to motivate you to get on the wall—daring you to be great. Eating smart in New Orleans requires you to activate all your senses and not to let an assumption blind your path. But if you know where you want to go, all the signs are there.

Places You Can Check Out

C & A Seafood — A large menu, with most anything you’d want at this Broadmoor staple.

The Buttermilk Drop — Great donuts and hot breakfast options at this 7th Ward spot.

Buttermilk Drop Bakery
Getting there
1781 N Dorgenois St, New Orleans, LA 70119, USA
Mon-Sat 6am–4pm
Sun 6am–3pm
More Info

Taqueria Guerrero Mexico — Hearty Mexican classics available on Carrollton.

Taqueria Guerrero Mexico Inc
Getting there
208 N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119, USA
Mon Closed
Tue-Sun 9am–9pm
More Info

B&C Seafood Riverside & Cajun Restaurant — If you’re ever in Vacherie, stop by B&C for some fresh seafood and a photo-op with Faith and the Gar.

B&C Seafood Riverside & Cajun Restaurant
Getting there
2155 LA-18, Vacherie, LA 70090, USA
Mon-Sat 9am–5pm
Sun Closed
More Info

Betsy’s Pancake House — A Mid-City spot that’s always moving, unless it’s Saturday, or after 2 p.m.

Betsy's Pancake House
Getting there
2542 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70119, USA
Mon-Fri 5:30am–2pm
Sat-Sun Closed
More Info

Eric Marshall is originally from Houston, and has lived in New Orleans for the last five years. He has his masters in Public History from UNO and has worked as a cook, teacher, and tour guide in the city. His chapter in "Say it Forward: A Guide to Social Justice Storytelling" chronicled his oral history project that interviewed individuals who relocated from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina. You can follow his garden and two shibas on instagram @theholyoaks or commiserate about the Pelicans and most anything @hotlunchplate on Twitter.

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