More than 850 million pounds of seafood are reeled in from Louisiana’s waters each year, so there’s no shortage of fresh fish, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, and crabs in New Orleans. With the Gulf of Mexico so close, you would be hard-pressed to find a quality New Orleans restaurant that serves previously frozen seafood.
With so many restaurants and so much variety, it was hard to choose which made this list. I purposely decided not to include the classic, well-known favorites like Galatoire’s, Commander’s Palace, and Arnaud’s, even though their seafood is superb. Instead, I focus on restaurants specializing in seafood and garnering rave reviews both from locals and critics; and I include a variety of price points. There are also multiple neighborhoods represented for visitors who have the time and the inclination to hop on a streetcar or take a cab or rideshare out of the French Quarter and get off the beaten path.
1. GW Fins
A signature dish at this longstanding French Quarter seafood hotspot will tell you all you need to know about GW Fins. The delicious and unique Fins’ Wings appetizer consists of tempura red snapper fin wings that are fried, glazed with a Korean gochujang-honey-mirin-ginger sauce, and plated atop a Thai fried noodle salad.
Focused on sustainability, Chef Michael Nelson is known for using all parts of a fish, purchasing directly from fishermen, and seeking fish caught by spear to reduce the possibility of bycatch. His original preparations are admired by the long waitlist of guests eager to try dishes like Scalibut — a GW Fins invention of halibut, sea scallops, Royal Red shrimp risotto, snow peas, and pea shoot butter.
Pro Tips: Make a reservation a month in advance or arrive when the restaurant opens at 5 p.m. and take a number to be seated at the bar. If you arrive by car, GW Fins will validate your parking ticket. Note that the restaurant’s spacious layout is conducive to scooters and that there’s a dress code.
2. Pȇche Seafood Grill
Foodies sat up and noticed when Pȇche was named Best New Restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2014, the same year that the foundation voted Chef Ryan Prewitt the Best Chef in the South. The seafood-centric jewel in the Link Restaurant Group’s crown, Pêche is notable for its open-hearth cooking over hardwood coals, a technique the chef studied in Uruguay.
It’s completely possible to fill up on regional oysters from the oyster bar and small dishes like creamy house-smoked tuna dip served with saltines, but then you’d miss out on the popular whole grilled fish and baked drum with mushroom broth and calas — Creole rice fritters that are like donut hole beignets. You won’t find tablecloths or a dress code in this Warehouse District restaurant.
Pro Tip: Pȇche is near the World War II Museum, so you can plan on combining a museum visit with a meal here.
3. Red Fish Grill
A lively and dependable seafood spot in the middle of the chaos of Bourbon Street, Red Fish Grill is owned by Ralph Brennan of the famous Brennan family of restaurateurs. The namesake menu item is grilled on hickory wood and plated with Louisiana crawfish and tasso ham. Their barbequed oysters also have a following: flash fried, they are drizzled with Crystal barbeque sauce and housemade blue cheese dressing. If you’re curious about alligator, this is a safe spot to try it. A dark and spicy seafood gumbo is enhanced by sliced alligator sausage.
Pro Tip: Take note, beer lovers. Cocktails are the stars of many bar menus, but Red Fish Grill is proud of its selection of 25 craft beers, many regional.
Inside the Intercontinental Hotel in the Central Business District, Trenasse is not on many visitors’ radar screens — even though it’s on the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar line and just steps from Canal Street and the French Quarter. This means it’s often possible to walk in without a reservation and order from the daily fresh-caught fish specials or opt for a signature entrée like Taste of Trenasse.
A good survey of local seafood, it includes Louisiana crawfish pie (a handmade pot pie filled with warm, creamy crawfish étouffée), pan-fried redfish Meunière, and shrimp and grits. If you’re more in the mood for a bouillabaisse-style dish, dig into Stinky’s Stew, a slow-cooked concoction of fish, a variety of shellfish, snow crab legs, roasted corn, and potatoes in a basil butter broth.
Oyster fans, take note: In addition to raw oysters, Trenasse has a delectable selection of chargrilled bivalves including preparations with smoked Gruyere and pancetta and with Champagne butter and Romano. A trenasse, in case you’re wondering, is a Cajun term for a water path cut through a marsh to get to a known fishing spot.
Pro Tips: If you’re dining with youngsters, Trenasse has a kids’ menu, which is not very common at seafood restaurants. If bottomless mimosas and blue crab cake Benedict served with scratch biscuits and boudin hash sounds appealing, stop in for brunch on Saturday or Sunday. Also, there’s a small outdoor area that’s easy to overlook in case you’re dining in fair weather.
5. Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar
Café du Monde’s beignets are to die for, but so are Superior Seafood’s crawfish beignets. Crawfish also makes appearances in mac and cheese, cornbread, and an etoufée that tops blackened catfish caught just minutes away.
My favorite dish here is reminiscent of a crawfish pasta I used to order at the restaurant that was in this space years ago, Copeland’s. Pasta Vieux Carré is packed with crawfish, grilled Gulf shrimp, and andouille sausage whose flavors all blend beautifully in a smoked tomato cream sauce tossed with penne.
With a bistro feel — 32-foot zinc oyster bar sourced from Paris, red banquettes, pressed tin ceiling, tiled floors, and colossal wood-framed mirrors — and outdoor seating, Superior Seafood is a dynamic neighborhood spot at the crossroads of St. Charles and Napoleon avenues. It is a convenient break if you’re taking the streetcar to admire Garden District mansions.
Pro Tip: Superior Seafood’s signature cocktail is so famous it has its own website. A refreshing adult lemonade, the Frozen French 75 combines gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a smile-inducing drink.
6. Casamento’s Restaurant
A Magazine Street institution for more than a century, Casamento’s is a restaurant known for oysters in a city where almost every dining establishment serves them. Small, narrow, and covered ceiling to floor in Italian tile, it has been family-run since opening in 1919.
Down the oysters raw, chargrilled, in a buttery stew, or fried in a sandwich called a loaf that’s made with toast instead of the more usual French bread. For variety, try their seafood gumbo, a dark stew of shrimp, crab, and okra that is flavorful but not overtly spicy.
Their fried seafood is gluten-free, so go ahead and indulge in platters of soft shell crabs, shrimp, catfish, and trout, washed down if you wish with a gluten-free beer.
Magazine Street has loads of restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops to explore, and is reachable by taking the streetcar to Napoleon Avenue followed by a seven-block walk; or, more directly, by bus or rideshare. Casamento’s and Superior Seafood are not that far from each other in case you’re interested in combining visits in a progressive-style dinner — perhaps oysters at Casamento’s followed by an entrée at Superior Seafood.
Pro Tips: Casamento’s only accepts cash. It is closed in summer, and also closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and all major holidays during the rest of the year. Bottom line: Check to ensure they’re open before you go.
7. Miss River
Caviar is not a usual menu item in New Orleans, and its appearance at Miss River in the new Four Seasons Hotel sets the tone for a refined, pricey dining experience. Contemporary in design, airy, and with many windows, Miss River is steps away from its namesake. At the foot of Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter on the ground floor of a tall building, the restaurant also has an outdoor patio, which is a nice option when humidity is low.
Enticing dishes from the kitchen of James Beard Award-nominated chef Alon Shaya include crawfish strudel with black truffles; salt-crusted gulf red snapper with rosemary, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil; and, diet be damned, blue crab baked with Gruyère and béchamel.
I didn’t have a chance to try Chemin a la Mer, the new Donald Link restaurant on a higher floor of the Four Seasons with views of the river, but it’s sure to follow the standards of his other award-winning restaurants, including Pȇche, Cochon, and Herbsaint.
Pro Tip: Locals rave about Miss River’s red beans and rice, made following the chef’s wife’s recipe.
8. Bevi Seafood Co.
A humble seafood shack with 13,000 Instagram followers, Bevi is a seafood market that’s a local go-to for backyard crawfish boils. But if you want a no-frills taste of regional in-season crawfish, crab, shrimp, oysters, and fish prepared by a chef born and raised in New Orleans, pull up a chair at their small restaurant and try some mudbugs, softshell crabs, or a seafood platter sampler with fried shrimp, oysters, and catfish.
Another popular item is barbequed shrimp cooked in Canebrake, a Louisiana wheat ale. Bevi is on the # 47 and #48 streetcar lines at Carrollton and Canal Street and is a convenient stop before or after a visit to City Park.
Pro Tip: In addition to seafood, Bevi also makes a killer daiquiri, with handcrafted flavors like Louisiana Strawberry Lemonade and Mango Basil Freeze.
Best New Orleans Seafood Tips
Crescent City chefs take their seafood very seriously, developing relationships with fishermen to bypass middleman suppliers and ensure less time from reel to plate; some even have invested in refrigerated kitchen work tables to maintain chilled temperatures as the seafood is being prepared. It’s always a good idea to order a special as it was probably just caught that day and won’t be available for long. When in doubt, ask your server. Everyone in this city is a foodie, none more than those in the business, and servers have insight into details about the preparation and popularity of dishes.
It’s also a good idea to eat seafood in season for best taste, price, and sustainability. Generally, crawfish are at their best January through June; shrimp April through August; oysters year-round but they’re plumpest in cooler months, so September through April; and crabs nearly year-round, with the soft shell crustaceans peaking May through September.