Along with the neighborhood bar culture, the New Orleans neighborhood restaurant scene is one of our most beloved features of the city. There’s something so very “New Orleans” about walking a couple of blocks to an establishment that feels damn near as familiar as your own home. During our time in New Orleans, we’ve been fortunate to live close to a quintessential neighborhood restaurant: Liuzza’s by the Track (hereon called Liuzza’s). From our home in Faubourg St. John, the walk to Liuzza’s is short and pleasant, on brick sidewalk-lined streets dotted with shotgun houses and Creole cottages. For us, taking in the scene and walking there is nearly half of the fun!
While each neighborhood restaurant is unique, the defining characteristic of a neighborhood restaurant is that it’s comfortable, relaxed, and rather casual. The place doesn’t have to be a dump, but it won’t have white table cloths or china. Of course, Liuzza’s fits this bill. It’s not fancy, at all, but it’s comfortable and homey. It’s the kind of place where you can watch a Saints game on Sundays while eating potluck food (the bar is cash but the food is free since the kitchen is closed). Watching Saints games at Liuzza’s is even better than at home because you’ve access to a full bar and the best fried chicken in New Orleans (McHardy’s on Broad St.). It’s also the type of place where locals gather to watch Jeopardy each weekday, just before the evening news. For 30 minutes, the jukebox goes silent and all attention is focused on the answers as they appear. It’s the most fun way to watch Jeopardy, period.
A second significant attribute of a good neighborhood restaurant is that it’s often filled with people who actually live in the neighborhood. A good neighborhood restaurant, like Liuzza’s, has a robust roster of regulars. Since Liuzza’s has a bar along one side of the restaurant, it lends itself well to being a bar-restaurant hybrid. At most hours of the day, you’ll find people who live within a block or two on their usual stools, having their usual drinks and their usual meals. We have one neighbor who eats dinner there every night. He runs through a roster of stalwart dishes and has a Barq’s root beer. Once he’s done, he transitions to his nightly cocktail. This attractiveness to locals is yet another way that Liuzza’s excels and is a key reason it’s in the top echelon of neighborhood restaurants.
A third defining characteristic of the neighborhood restaurant is familiar food done well. It’s not enough that these culinary gems reside among the houses and homes of a particular neighborhood. Meaning, proximity is a key aspect, but the restaurant must also deliver tasty food. Of course, Liuzza’s has this one in the bag. They serve an all-star lineup of New Orleans classics including dishes like BBQ shrimp, various po-boys and seafood platters, and even turtle soup and a to-die-for gumbo. Best part? They do all of these things very well. Nothing at Liuzza’s is “okay.” They even manage to make one of my favorite burgers in the city (seriously!). There’s nothing better than being greeted by a friendly server who’s eager to give you her favorite dishes of the day. When my server says “get the turtle soup,” guess what, I get the turtle soup!
Finally, the best part of neighborhood restaurants: getting home. After filling our bellies with delicious food and frosty chalices of Abita Amber, we simply saunter home. We don’t have to think about driving or parking or logistics when eating at Liuzza’s. We simply exit and leisurely walk home. While the neighborhood restaurant is conveniently located and packed with people we know, the real advantage is that it serves as home away from home, even if it’s only for a meal or just a couple of beers.