The James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating all the chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and restaurateurs who dedicate their lives to not just creating delicious food and drink, but delivering an exceptional experience and level of service as a whole — one that lingers long after you’ve cleaned your plate or put down your glass. And with that feeling and those flavors in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that New Orleans chefs and restaurants make the list time and again. Experience the cuisine of James Beard finalists at these restaurants… try them all in one day for a great (if awfully decadent) restaurant crawl.
James Beard Chef and Restaurant Finalists 2017
Compere Lapin (Best Chef: South, Nina Compton)
Chef Nina Compton made a name for herself on Bravo’s Top Chef: New Orleans. She also happened to love the city so much she made it her home. Her restaurant, Compere Lapin, pairs flavors from her native St. Lucia with those of the city — think subtly Caribbean comfort food in the most elegant presentations possible. The ambience of the restaurant, housed in the Old No. 77 Hotel, sets the tone for a meal to remember.
Upperline (Outstanding Restaurateur, JoAnn Clevenger)
Since opening the restaurant in 1987, JoAnn Clevenger has charmed diners with tales of New Orleans’ past, a passion for the local cuisine, and an infectious laugh that’s as unique as the restaurant itself. You’ll find that dishes like the fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade (an Upperline signature dish), roast duck with ginger peach sauce, or shrimp sauté over creamy grits are a delightful contrast of vibrant flavors in combination with the brightly colored art that lines the walls.
Emeril’s Restaurant (Outstanding Wine Program)
Celebrating 27 years, Emeril Lagasse’s flagship restaurant, Emeril’s, led to several spinoffs like Delmonico and, most recently, Meril. Emeril’s is housed in a renovated pharmacy in the Warehouse District that perfectly encapsulates the restaurant’s contemporary New Orleans cuisine. And for every incredible dish, there’s a standout glass (or bottle) of wine to go along with it — in addition to being a Beard finalist, Emeril’s has received Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” for 14 consecutive years.
Galatoire’s (Outstanding Service)
The Bourbon Street stalwart of fine dining always ups the ante with service. Go for lunch or dinner to experience a step back in time and plenty of local flavor.
Willa Jean (Outstanding Pastry Chef, Kelly Fields)
At her new digs in the South Market District, pastry chef Kelly Fields (previously at fellow Besh restaurant August) consistently rocks the house with her confection masterpieces. And you might choose something savory with tempting items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner… but no matter what you do, order the chocolate chip cookies.
Herbsaint (Best Chef: South, Rebecca Wilcomb; Outstanding Chef, Donald Link)
You know it’s gotta be good when a restaurant scoops up not one but two nods for its powerhouse chefs. So, make a reservation, then sip namesake Herbsaint Champagne cocktails while watching the streetcars pass at this outstanding St. Charles Avenue restaurant. Small plates should include the house-made spaghetti with guanciale and fried-poached farm egg or the seasonal gnocchi. Main courses change often but the Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique is a mainstay and always a solid choice. Dessert should be none other than the warm chocolate pudding cake with peanut brittle ice cream.
French 75 Bar (Outstanding Bar Program)
Toast any delicious meal with cocktails at one of New Orleans most famous bars inside Arnaud’s restaurant in the French Quarter. Acclaimed cocktail master Chris Hannah will impress with a combination of stories and spirits that will leave you wanting more. Enjoy a cigar and the classic Champagne cocktail for which the bar is named — garnished, as always, with a twist.
Shaya (Rising Star Chef of the Year, Zachary Engel)
After pioneering some bomb pizza at Domenica and more casual spinoff Pizza Domenica, Chef Alon Shaya opened his namesake restaurant bursting with Israeli flavors to critical acclaim that just hasn’t stopped. Which, really, is no wonder once you try the pita bread. Chef de cuisine Zachary Engel turns out spectacularly delicious dishes, from hummus and shakshouka to lamb and chocolate babka.
Cure (Outstanding Bar Program)
This Freret Street bar definitely has the cure for what ails ya. With sleek confines and a gorgeous patio, Cure’s the place for carefully crafted cocktails housed in a former firehouse.
Brigtsen’s (Outstanding Service)
Chef Frank Brigtsen and his wife, Marna, have operated the Creole/Acadian restaurant with love since 1986. The restaurant is their home and all who dine in it are made to feel welcome and appreciated. Enjoy the classics like shrimp remoulade, file gumbo, and one heck of a seafood platter that includes grilled drum, baked oyster Rockefeller, baked oysters LeRuth, shrimp with Napa cabbage cole slaw, and shrimp cornbread.
Coquette (Best Chef: South, Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig)
Coquette is a lovely place to have lunch or dinner, but we suggest grabbing a seat at the bar for drinks and dessert. The bartenders can make the classics, like a Ramos gin fizz, but the house cocktail menu shouldn’t be ignored. Just be sure to order something that will pair well with desserts like strawberries with tarragon, cream and chocolate cremeaux (a rich, dense pudding) garnished with salted caramel.
Brennan’s (Best Chef: South, Slade Rushing)
Walk over to Royal Street for brunch at the recently renovated Brennan’s. Chef Slade Rushing has breathed fresh air into a classic menu, giving us a taste of something new and improving on the old standbys. Start with the egg yolk carpaccio with grilled shrimp, Andouille vinaigrette and a tangled topping of crispy sweet potato strands. For egg dishes, try the Rabbit Rushing, Rushing’s popular comfort food dish of fried Mississippi rabbit with creamed collards and two over-easy eggs. The Bananas Foster dessert comes with vanilla ice cream, a tableside flambé show and stories by the wait staff.