To open a restaurant in New Orleans, one of the most restaurant-and-bar-dense cities in the U.S., is an act of pure faith. Today, Eater New Orleans celebrates those bold enough to put everything on the line with the winners of the 2023 Eater Awards, honoring those restaurants that have most impacted New Orleans’s dining scene this year (as well as in Eater’s other cities).
This year’s Eater Awards highlight five standouts that made a mark on New Orleans cuisine in late 2022 and throughout 2023: places that established a pathway between Senegambia and New Orleans, revived cherished dining traditions in a historic neighborhood, and centered joy and hospitality, among others. Some of these winners began their journeys as pop-ups; their new restaurants show the city’s increasing willingness to embrace new cuisines and approaches. Others serve to carry on the best of the city’s traditions, fostering community, mingling culinary influences, and reflecting its quirkiest sensibilities.
With that, please join us in celebrating the winners of Best New Restaurant, Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, Wine Bar of the Year, Pop-Up-Turned-Restaurant of the Year, and Best Vibes of Year.
Dakar NOLA: Best New Restaurant
Think you know fine dining? Dinner at Serigne Mbaye’s Dakar NOLA will humble you. The singularity of this communal experience is a journey connecting Dakar and New Orleans throughout seven dynamic courses. The soupa konja may call to mind a gumbo, though acidic with tomato and rich with palm oil, textured with crispy puffed rice and balanced with sweet, cool crabmeat. The crunch of the shrimp akara is otherworldly, and the sear on the Gulf fish yassa is firm, steadied by a bed of soft mushrooms and eggplant in a citrusy sauce. You will learn while you eat, not only about Senegalese ingredients and traditions, but about your tablemates through organic conversation, about Mbaye’s ambition for his food and approach to dining, and a bit about yourself: what ideas or assumptions you bring to the table, and your willingness to unlearn certain expectations about what fine dining is or can be.
MaMou: Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year
It’s easy to forget that the French Quarter is first and foremost a neighborhood, one with a long history of quality restaurants that serve as a gathering place for residents, not just tourists. MaMou carries that torch, much like Meauxbar, the restaurant in its humble corner space before it. Despite the fine-dining chops of its powerhouse chef and sommelier team, MaMou is a cozy neighborhood restaurant with a whimsical aesthetic — a perfect fit for the funky neighborhood. The sumptuous French dishes, while rich, are the kind you can eat over and over, whether the vibrant green romesco escargot tartlet, umami-rich garlic almond soup, creamy seasonal risotto, or piquant Gulf fish courtbouillon. At MaMou, what reads as and looks like fine dining feels like comfort food.
The Tell Me Bar: Wine Bar of the Year
This hidden wine bar in New Orleans’s Lower Garden District brings the world of ultra-modern wine to a tradition-rich city. A lush, moody destination tucked away on a dead-end street, the Tell Me Bar first uses candlelight and slinking vines to enchant you, and then a list of dozens of bottles and glasses of dynamic, low-intervention wines to ensure you stay for the second (or third) pour. Even the most well-versed connoisseur is likely to experience something new at Tell Me, whether it’s an under-appreciated sparkling Sicilian, a snazzy ancestral rosé, or a bold Nebbiolo blend. Like any good New Orleans bar, it also hosts the hottest pop-ups in town, whatever they may be that month, in addition to offering a trendy menu of tinned fish and Cajun caviar.
Hungry Eyes: Best Vibes of the Year
No, we don’t mean Instagrammable grass walls. At Hungry Eyes, the food doesn’t take a backseat to “vibes”; rather, the fun atmosphere of this ’80s-themed restaurant from the founders of Turkey and the Wolf just reinforces it as one of the most enjoyable rooms in town to dine and drink. The dishes conjoin with an inspired drinks menu, using luxe ingredients in unpretentious, affordable ways that result in several under-$20 plates: think mains like sweetbreads, Alaskan halibut, and hanger steak. It’s drinking food, leading to an inevitable emphasis on excellent cocktails, whether the classic martinis — Vespers, appletinis, espresso martinis, and cosmopolitans — or the succinct menu of sometimes savory, sometimes tropical concoctions. It’s simply easy to have fun here, by adopting the team’s playful spirit, appreciating the attention to detail in the surroundings, and enjoying scintillatingly creative food and drinks.
LUFU NOLA: Pop-Up Turned Restaurant of the Year
LUFU NOLA, one of New Orleans’s most hotly anticipated pop-up-turned-restaurants in recent years, did not fail to deliver. Its trio of chefs — Sarthak Samantray, Aman Kota, and Sachin Darade — has created a welcoming home for their elegant rendition of regional Indian cuisine, one they’ve evolved since their days as a food stall and mobile kitchen. The team has designed magnificent presentations for their biryani, chole bhature, and falooda; photo-worthy cocktails; and eye-catching backdrops at this first-time solo space, building a true hotspot that advances New Orleans’s growing Indian food scene.