The Best 25% Of The Local Dining Scene
The Number One Question when the conversation gets around to restaurants is, "What's the Number One Restaurant?"
If the question is directed at me, I say I'm not exactly sure which is the best restaurant in town, but that I am pretty sure which are the top twenty-five percent. Then I whip out this list. That doesn't end the argument, but it sure gets it bogged down in personal opinions and sudden recollections of great meals in places one hasn't been to lately.
My list is determined by a criterion I've used for years: essentialness. How important is a restaurant to the local dining picture? That's a different matter from the one that asks who serves the best food, in the best places, with the best service and prices and portions, etc. Great cooking is still critical, but essentialness brings in all the other things that make a restaurant attractive+: creativity, culinary uniqueness, history, location, romance, value, and a million other things.
Another way of defining a restaurant's essentialness is asking: How much would you regret losing this place? This reveals a fact we've always known: that the best poor boy shop is a more essential restaurant than the thirteenth best gourmet Creole bistro, even if the latter may have better food, service, and surroundings. If there's only one good Ethnikian restaurant in town, it becomes more essential than if there were many.
I think you'll find in this list how deep the New Orleans restaurant community has become. On the other hand, I know that even this is a personal opinion, and that other diners will certainly disagree with certain rankings. This is a good thing, and I hope you will make your known on our messageboard. If a large number of people like a restaurant better than I do, it will move up the Essential list. (Though not in my star ratings, which I think ought to be purely one man's opinion.)
When I first published this list in 1977, it only required 100 listings to give a good picture of the New Orleans restaurant scene. But even after Katrina and other setbacks, in 2012 we have more restaurants than at any time in the history of the city. This list--each item on which id linked to a full, current review--run to 380 establishments. That's about a fourth of the total number of restaurants open around town.
And new restaurants keep coming on. Several that opened during the past year certainly belong on this list, most of them in the top half of it. They're too new for me to have dined enough to give a solid rating, and they're not on the list. Yet. I update this thing constantly.
The splashiest new opening in 2012 was R'evolution, the cooperative venture from Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto with the Royal Sonesta Hotel. A major undertaking in every way, the investment seems to have paid off. The many diners hwo've reported back to me say it lives up to its hype. Which is saying something. As I publish this list, I've just been for the first time. I suspect that when I gather enough data with which to rate the place, it will fit somewhere in the top fifty.
Another big opening was that of Maurepas Foods in the burgeoning Bywater restaurant community. Reports have not been consistent, but it's about time I get there.--Tom Fitzmorris.