A plethora of television shows about funky but good greasy-spoon restaurants around the country has surprised us Orleanians. We thought we were the only ones who had a special attachment to restaurants with great food inside low-rent surroundings. But we do indeed like that duet. So much that no small number of restaurants intentionally design down.
Here is a list of the dozen most interesting of those. They are ranked according to their Funkiness Quotient. That’s the ratio of food goodness to surroundings. These restaurants all have excellent food from extensive menus. Yet all of them occupy premises that are minimal in their decor–or less.
Left out of the consideration were places you expect to be dumps (hamburger stands, barbecue joints, poor boy shops). And where’s Rocky And Carlo’s? someone will ask. The omission was intentional.
1. Pêche Seafood Grill. Warehouse District & Center City: 800 Magazine St. 504-522-1744. The food in Chef Donald Link’s much-awarded seafood house is excellent, fresh, and elemental. But the premises–an industrial building from the middle 1800s–is furnished with highly miscellaneous tables and chairs. And an open kitchen. It adds up to a very noisy spot. It’s much better-looking outside than in. But the kitchen delivers impressive work.
2. Mosca’s. Westwego: 4137 US 90. 504-436-9942. Mosca’s hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1943, although it did enlarge its kitchen and added a private dining room after Katrina. From the outside, it looks like a place where longshoremen might be hanging out drinking beer. The food, of course, is inimitable.
3. Tujague’s. French Quarter: 823 Decatur. 504-525-8676. Tujague’s is the second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans, occupying its spot across from the French Market since 1856. Its off-plumb floors and walls are in great need of major reconstruction. That won’t happen, because the restaurant’s historic status requires it to make do with its current premises. The superb menu reworking of a couple of years ago puts it near the top of this list.
4. Katie’s. Mid-City: 3701 Iberville. 504-488-6582. Katie’s is a candidate for Best Neighborhood Cafe Food In New Orleans. But this brings along side effect. The large number of customers jamming into the place, and the noise they make. It’s a little chaotic at times, but always worth putting up with.
5. Vincent’s. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. The original Vincent’s in Metairie was a small-tucked away trattoria that nevertheless attracted a cult-level crowd. When Vincent Catalanotto bought the former Compagno’s on St. Charles Avenue, he knew how to serve first-class food in a crammed-full space. I have a closet larger than one of the dining rooms at the Uptown Vincent’s. But who cares when the food is this lusty?
6. Dick & Jenny’s. Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 4501 Tchoupitoulas. 504-894-9880. A gourmet bistro in an old neighborhood bar (front room) and what looks like a large converted carport (back).
7. Fury’s. Metairie: 724 Martin Behrman Ave. 504-834-5646. A tiny L-shaped room in which everything seems only barely to fit into the space. And great fresh seafood done to order, Italian dishes, and fried chicken.
8. Liuzza’s By The Track. Esplanade Ridge: 1518 N Lopez. 504-218-7888. 1. Liuzza’s By The Track. Esplanade Ridge: 1518 N Lopez. 504-218-7888. More a bar than a restaurant, Liuzza’s by the Track is the current holder of the Uglesich’s Memorial Award for highest ratio of food goodness to creature comforts. Oh, those poor boys and platters! (Uglesich’s is long gone.)
9. Juan’s Flying Burrito. Garden District & Environs: 2018 Magazine. 504-569-0000. The industrial look was intentional, as the owners went after the large millennial dining population in this old commercial strip on Magazine Street. Those younger customers do like it. Any Baby Boomers who find their way to Juan’s may find it raucous. The food, however, is good Creole-Mexican. The Mid-City location of Juan’s is more agreeable.
10. Stein’s Deli. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 2207 Magazine . 504-527-0771. In a nearly 200-year-old building with low-end tenants until recently, this fantastic sandwich place is not only ramshackle but untidy to boot. Not for the squeamish (like my wife). But if you want deli–either Jewish or Italian style–this is the place.
11. Joey K’s. Uptown 2. 504-891-0997. The look of an ancient neighborhood joint is intentional, but entirely honest. They actually unrenovated the place to get its present decor.
12. Taj Mahal. Metairie 1: Old Metairie: 923-C Metairie Rd. 504-836-6859. Whatever this old commercial space used to be, it wasn’t changed much when it became a restaurant in the 1980s. The Indian furnishings and art only barely disguise the sub-utilitarian dining rooms. But the food lately may be the best Indian food in town.