You know a city has an enviable culinary scene when its celebrity alums include Food Network superstar Emeril Lagasse and world-renowned chef John Besh. You also know it’s doing something right when the cuisine is as highly regarded as an acclaimed music scene and stunning French architecture. In addition to drawing and honing top-line talent, New Orleans features restaurants housed in beautiful historic buildings and pairs its decadent meals with famous Southern hospitality. Plus, the prices are generally well below what you’d find in other hot spots such as Manhattan and San Francisco. Whether you go Cajun, Creole, farmers-market fresh or all of the above, these celebrity restaurants will leave you feeling more than satisfied.
In N’Awlins, John Besh is something of a cultural institution, with no less than eight restaurants in the area (as well as one in San Antonio), not to mention the Food Network show Chef John Besh’s New Orleans. August is the superstar’s signature outpost in the city, adorned with crystal chandeliers and a two-story wine room, and featuring a menu where the fancy (foie gras), fresh (farmers market veggies) and regional (Cajun "dirty rice") meet. No need to go broke for a brush with Besh’s acclaimed cuisine: a Friday three-course prix fixe menu costs just $20.13.
Emeril Lagasse, the "kick it up a notch" TV personality, first rose to fame as executive chef at Commander’s Palace. Though he’s since moved on, he continues to stake a claim in the city with this popular, casual Southern-cooking restaurant. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, it features an open kitchen and wood-fired oven, and serves pizzas, soups and salads alongside regional specialties such as shrimp and grits and cornmeal-crusted catfish with pork cracklins. Accent the Southern cuisine with—what else?—a superb Mint Julep with Kentucky bourbon. Bam, indeed.
Opened in 1880, this upscale restaurant is a New Orleans classic. Once helmed by Emeril, today it’s overseen by Tory McPhail, who last year was named best chef in the South by the James Beard Foundation. Having grown up on a farm, it’s no wonder McPhail focuses on farm-raised products, with a policy that 90 percent of ingredients be sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant. This attention to freshness shines through in dishes including a strawberry salad and seared gulf fish with Creole tomatoes and Louisiana soybeans. Word to the wise: At lunch, the restaurant has a 25-cent martini special.
A boucherie is a southern Louisiana tradition wherein a community comes together to cook a pig and share the feast. Chef Zimet continues to serve the people at his acclaimed restaurant where satisfying Southern cuisine won’t break the bank. For just $12, you can enjoy a hearty stew with poached oysters, caramelized ramp, andouille sausage and a wild rice potato croquette; the splurge-worthy Krispy Kreme bread pudding is only $6. The prices are low despite the formidable cache of Zimet, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu and recently won Food Network’s Chopped.
A leisurely pace invites guests to kick back at this "slow food" staple housed in a two-century-old French Quarter cottage. Chef Spicer, a Top Chef alum with several restaurants in the city, opened Bayona in 1990. Three years later, she won the James Beard Award, and the restaurant itself has since been inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. The acclaim comes courtesy of a fine-dining menu where dishes, from peppered lamb loin to chile-dusted duck breast, are prepared with abundant care.