Tucked away on Iberville Street in the shadows of looming hotels, Country Flame (620 Iberville St., 522-1138) is the kind of quaint hole-in-the-wall restaurant that often lands in tourists' blind spots. Many bar and hotel workers habitually stop by to fortify themselves before long shifts spent catering to French Quarter crowds.
"Mainly, (our customers) are people who work around here," says Loukia Christakis, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Michael. "We have some tourists, but only on the weekends."
Vivid murals depicting scarlet macaws and men in sombreros decorate the 1,200-square-foot restaurant, where salsa music, the Spanish banter of employees and the mechanical hum of upright freezers create a comfortable din. "We have no storage space, so you see all the equipment here. The restaurant is tiny," says Christakis, gesturing toward a long, narrow kitchen where three women hold court. "We only have ladies (cooking) in the kitchen. Because every time we have men, the kitchen is so small, we have some kind of friction. They can't take the pressure," she says, laughing.
Country Flame serves Spanish, Mexican and Cuban cuisine, with the occasional Louisiana staple (po-boys, seafood platters) thrown in for good measure. She shops daily for the meat and produce to ensure the menu of house-made dishes (which includes tamales, pork chops and vegetarian fajitas) meets her specifications.
"Everything is made from scratch. The fresher the products, the better the food," Christakis says. "That is the secret to Mexican food: Keep it as fresh as possible."
Natives of Greece, Christakis and her husband opened their restaurant in 1993. Some of the original employees still work at Country Flame, but some — like Christakis' two sons and her daughter, now surgeons, a biomedical engineer — have moved on. "(My children) all worked here; they all bussed tables; they all worked the bar, especially during Mardi Gras season," she says. "It was a family business in those days."
Christakis prices most entrees at less than $10 and offers frequent drink specials to accommodate her regulars. "We always try to keep our prices low so people around here are able to eat," she says. "Every day we have specials."
Though Christakis admits working in the French Quarter can be crazy, she says she wouldn't trade the experience for anything. "I've been other places, and there is nothing like being in the French Quarter," she says. "There's never a dull moment."