Ask Ray Sanders about the once vibrant North Claiborne Avenue dining and entertainment corridor, and his memories are crystal clear. Sanders co-founded The Claiborne Avenue History Project in 2013, working with filmmaker Katherine Cecil and a team of local researchers to keep the corridor’s rich history alive. Sanders likens the bustling avenue to 125th Street in Harlem, a hub of Black-owned businesses, entertainment venues, and restaurants. It was the epicenter of Black Mardi Gras in the early 20th century into the 1950s and ’60s, the historic center of Black culture for nearly 200 years.
What happened in New Orleans parallels the effects of systemic racism in Black communities across America. When the I-10 overpass was built between 1966 and 1969, more than 500 homes were razed, and more than 100 businesses were forced to close, including many iconic Black-owned bars and restaurants. Concrete pillars replaced the 200 live oaks that long towered above the grassy neutral ground.
Prior to the building of the overpass, “Most of the entertainment, bars, and restaurants ran between the Lafitte Greenway and Elysian Fields, through the Treme neighborhood,” says Sanders. Sanders’ grandmother lived just one block off Claiborne. “That’s where we went to pass the time.”
He recalls popular restaurants like Steve’s and Penny’s sandwich shop, renowned for po’ boys. Labranche’s Drug Store, opened in 1907 and owned by three generations of Xavier graduates, had a busy soda fountain. For many couples, Dewy’s was a date night dress-up spot for Creole cuisine. The Rosey Taylor Locker Room Lounge was a sports bar owned by the famous NFL player on St. Ann Street. Lavata’s Oyster House drew throngs for raw and charbroiled oysters. “You couldn’t get in there on a Friday or Saturday night,” Sanders recalls. Most of these places opened in the post-war 1940s and ’50s when the commercial district was at its peak, and the majority were razed for the building of the highway in the ’60s. Others closed in the years following, having been cut off from the rest of the city by the interstate.
“Most of today’s generation don’t understand what this particular street meant to our community,” says Sanders.
The restaurants that have since emerged on or close to Claiborne Avenue between the Lafitte Greenway and Elysian Fields Avenue, the majority of them Black-owned, are reviving the legacy of many who came before them. Here’s what to explore for food, drinks, and live music today.
8 Fresh Food Assassin Restaurant & Lounge
1900 N. Claiborne Avenue
After working at Galatoire’s for 17 years, chef Manny January opened his own place on Claiborne in 2022, across from the neutral ground where he started working for himself under the name Da Street Kitchen. His restaurant’s name, 8 Fresh Food Assassin, pays tribute to his 8th Ward roots and penchant for killing it in the kitchen. His menu offers grilled lamb chops, fried seafood platters, oversized T-bone steaks, tender fried ribs, and grilled salmon with a sweet hot honey barbecue sauce.
1500 Elysian Fields Avenue
Madame Vic’s is doing its part to keep live music rolling near North Claiborne Avenue. There is live music five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday, featuring local musicians playing all kinds of music, including jazz, folk, and blues. There’s no cover but tipping the musicians is a must — not just here but all over town. This is a real neighborhood place, the kind of spot where the owner knows most of the customers and everybody feels welcome.
AJ’s Jazzy Grill
1525 N. Claiborne Avenue
AJ’s Jazzy Grill is popular for its family-style comfort fare, heaping platters of crawfish fries, seafood pasta, wings, ribeye steaks, po’ boys, and more. Bread pudding is a must for dessert, plenty for three. Family owned and run, AJ’s does most of its business in takeout, but there are a few tables for dining in. All the food is cooked to order and for veggie fans, regulars go on and on about the broccoli.
Dee’s Xquisite Seafood
1401 St. Bernard Avenue
Here’s another chef-driven spot, Dee’s Xquisite Seafood, which started as a street food side hustle for Demond “Dee” Matthews, when he worked full-time as a mental health tech at University Medical Center. Now he’s got not one but two places, the original spot off Claiborne on St. Bernard Avenue and a larger restaurant in the East. Beyond po’ boys, pasta, and seafood platters, his buttery, garlicky boiled seafood is a claim to fame. He boils the likes of snow crab legs, shrimp, and other shellfish to soak up the spice, then adds a hint of smokiness on the grill.
Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge
1500 N. Claiborne Avenue
Although Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge is definitely not a restaurant, the local trumpet player loves to feed his guests red beans and rice in the bar or barbecued meat in the back courtyard, one reason he calls his band the barbecue swingers. But the place has been an entertainment venue since Ernie K-Doe, the self-described “Emperor of the Universe,” opened it in 1994. It closed in 2010, with Kermit reviving the mural-covered club in 2014.
Manchu Food Store
1413 N. Claiborne Avenue
You can smell fried chicken from Manchu’s long before you pull up to the bright purple chicken shack. Back when Claiborne was hopping, there was a Black-owned gas station on the site. Take away chicken, Chinese fast food, yak-a-mein, fried seafood, and sandwiches —a go-to for the budget-minded.
Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe
1500 Esplanade Avenue
Li’l Dizzy’s sits a block off Claiborne on leafy Esplanade Avenue. The soul food breakfast and lunch spot has been run by the Baquet family since 1995, but the family’s restaurant roots go back to the 1940s and the Chicken Coop that used to be on Bienville Street. Arkesha and Wayne Baquet Jr. now run the Treme corner restaurant, known for its sultry gumbo, fried chicken and seafood, po’ boys, and bread pudding.
925 N. Robertson Street
The Candlelight Lounge is an iconic venue for brass bands — the Treme Brass band played here on Thursdays for years. Music is back on Thursdays as of July 6, great news for fans who mourned its closing. The space has been operating as a party room for some time, after being shuttered when much-loved owner Leona Grandison died of Coronavirus in 2020 at 69. That’s her smiling face on the building’s facade, and Uncle Lionel Batiste next to her keeping the beat.
1501 St. Philip Street
The Treme Coffeehouse is a low-key family-owned cafe serving coffee, pastries, and sandwiches. There’s a sweet courtyard out back, perfect for slurping sno-balls flavored with housemade syrup. The art-filled eclectic space is welcoming to all and is proud to respectfully serve “the first Black Indigenous American neighborhood under colonialism,” as stated on their website.
810 N. Claiborne Avenue
I-Tal Garden is one of a handful of excellent Black-owned plant-based restaurants around town. The business started first as a pop-up, providing healthy alternatives to traditional New Orleans-style soul cuisine. Owners Joseph “Chef Ra” Robinson and his wife, head baker, Aisaba Regina Hall Robinson, serve a menu of chickpea-battered avocado, cauli-wings, salads, quinoa bowls, and panko fried mushroom bites.
1535 Basin Street
One of the reasons chef Charly Pierre chose his restaurant’s location close to Claiborne Avenue on Basin Street was because of the neighborhood’s historic significance. The Haitian-American chef opened Fritai in 2021. His menu showcases a shared culinary lexicon with New Orleans, in dishes like dira kole, a traditional one-pot dish made of rice, red beans, garlic, parsley, and cloves, similar to the Monday local go-to. Most dishes are flavored by epis, a blend of spices, garlic, and herbs akin to the Creole Holy Trinity. A simple stewed Creole chicken is kissing cousins to the smothered chicken served by New Orleans home cooks. The rum-forward cocktail program is equally inspired.