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A metal bowl of gumbo with rice on an orange table
A bowl of gumbo at the new L.A. location of legendary New Orleans restaurant Willie Mae’s.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Celebrate Mardi Gras at these L.A. restaurants with New Orleans charm

“Laissez les bon temps rouler!” This Mardi Gras mantra that translates to “Let the good times roll!” is more than a call to party — although it serves as that, too. It’s a petition to live with abandon, to embrace excess and decadence if only for one night and to bring friends, family and even strangers along for the ride. While New Orleans may be the capital of Mardi Gras, there are plenty of ways to celebrate here in Los Angeles, thanks to restaurants dedicated to showcasing the Big Easy’s melting pot of food cultures.

“It’s an opportunity to share our culture with people who’ve never been to New Orleans or people who miss home, to have a little bit of that here in L.A.,” said Jessica LeGaux, who runs popular Creole restaurant Harold & Belle’s with her husband, Ryan LeGaux. When we spoke, the pair had just landed in New Orleans, where they were purchasing authentic bead necklaces to give to customers during their annual party.

“It’s a celebration of life and our favorite things in life — friends, family, food, music and culture,” Ryan agreed.

For Norwood Clark Jr., a New Orleans native and owner of Darrow’s New Orleans Grill, it’s important to share the trademark Southern hospitality that his hometown is so beloved for. “People don’t care if they don’t know your name or if you’re a stranger. You immediately become family,” he said.


Clark implements a similar ethos at Darrow’s. As he said: “We don’t do customers, we do family.”

From po’ boys to gumbo, beignets to king cake, here’s where to find a slice of New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, which lands on Feb. 21 this year.

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A selection of dishes from Harold & Belle's.
(© Kathryn Ballay/Harold & Belle’s)

Harold & Belle's

Jefferson Park Creole Cajun Soul Food $$
This jewel in Jefferson Park has been going strong since Harold Legaux Sr. and his wife, Mary Belle, first opened its doors in 1969. Today it’s operated by third-generation husband-and-wife team Ryan and Jessica LeGaux, but you can still expect the same homestyle Cajun cooking that first put the restaurant on the map. Mardi Gras is always a good time at Harold & Belle’s, with festivities running from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., including live bands, DJs, face painting, a photo booth and a special all-day menu. Stop by before 2 p.m. to enjoy the fun without a cover; entry afterward will run you $20. Harold & Belle’s is known for its seafood-saturated menu, with hits such as Louisiana-style catfish, Cajun-charbroiled salmon and fried oysters, but can make most items vegan upon request. Harold & Belle’s Mardi Gras celebration is first-come, first-served, but with indoor and outdoor bars, plus a casual to-go operation on the back patio, you won’t be standing around bored.
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A spread of fried catfish, red beans and rice, a muffuletta, a shrimp po' boy and smothered fries rest on a red tray.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Little Jewel of New Orleans

Chinatown Cajun and Creole $
Sporting the mack daddy of local Cajun and Creole menus, Chinatown’s Little Jewel is a true gem. The menu of po’ boys is one of the most extensive in the region, offering classics such as fried shrimp, fried oyster and blackened catfish options alongside surf-and-turf, BLT, ham-and-cheese and hot-sausage po’ boys — really, anything that you can stick on the fresh 10-inch rolls fully loaded with pickles, mayo, hot sauce, tomatoes, onions and shredded cabbage. Beyond the dozens of po’ boys, Little Jewel sells the iconic muffuletta sandwich as well as beignets, crawdad-topped mac ’n’ cheese, fried catfish platters, house-made hush puppies, red beans and rice, fried okra and daily specials such as jambalaya fritters and dark-roux seafood gumbo. Next door, the little market alcove is a treasure trove with shelves of hot sauces, jarred roux, Creole seasoning, dried beans, grits and other specialty ingredients. It’s L.A.’s one-stop shop for casual Cajun and Creole fare, done right, or for bringing a little bit of the Bayou back home.
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Zeek po'boy
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Darrow's New Orleans Grill

Carson Creole Cajun Soul Food $
Situated across the street from Carson City Hall on a redeveloped stretch of Avalon Boulevard, you’ll feel transported to the Bayou as soon as you step inside Darrow’s New Orleans Grill. That’s in large part due to the warm Southern hospitality, with staff immediately stepping out from behind the counter to greet you, explain the menu and offer up samples of a gently bubbling roux. The pandemic shrunk restaurant staff from 27 to just seven workers and while Darrow’s is usually only open from Thursday through Sunday, they’re happily making an exception for Fat Tuesday. Owner and New Orleans native Norwood Clark Jr. is flying in fresh crawfish for a boil, ordering king cake and hosting live music throughout the day. The restaurant doesn’t serve any pork products, meaning sides such as red beans and rice and a Bayou blend of collard, mustard, kale and turnip greens are vegetarian-friendly. If you’re not averse to meat, you can’t go wrong with any of the “lagniappe” specials (a French-Creole term that indicates a gift from a business owner to a customer), such as the Zeek po’ boy with fried catfish, fried shrimp and a smear of potato salad. The filé gumbo ya ya, a seafood gumbo with jambalaya rice, is another specialty that you won’t find at many Creole restaurants in L.A.
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A family meal-sized plate of fried chicken at the new L.A. location of the legendary New Orleans restaurant Willie Mae's.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Willie Mae's Restaurant

Venice Southern $
I once waited 90 minutes in 98-degree, humid weather for chicken at the Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans. It was some of the best fried chicken I’d ever tasted. The crust was jagged and crisp, with a distinct red-tinged golden hue. And that first bite released a rush of hot juice. Owner Kerry Seaton-Steward said she ships a lot of ingredients to Los Angeles to keep the chicken, red beans and cornbread muffins the restaurant is known for consistent in Los Angeles. Seaton-Stewart’s great-grandmother Willie Mae Seaton opened Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans in 1957. “And we’re doing things the same,” she said. “The same same.” That is, except for the gumbo that’s exclusive to the Venice location.
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A horizontal photo of a shrimp po' boy, bag of beignets, fried-okra mac and cheese, and iced chicory coffee on a black table
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

The Rising Sun

Downtown L.A. Southern Cuisine $
The menu is brief but the vibe is just right at the Rising Sun, a charming walk-up window serving New Orleans-leaning breakfast and lunch within the Arts District. The all-black French Quarter-inspired building provides a moody backdrop for shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, biscuit waffles with andouille gravy, fried-okra-topped mac ’n’ cheese and po’ boys. Best of all are the freshly fried beignets, exquisitely fluffy but with a perfect layer of crisp on the outside, tossed in a paper bag full of powdered sugar. For the more unique spin, opt for the side of house-made strawberry-and-gin preserves for dipping. Take a seat on the patio’s black wrought-iron furniture, with brass-band tunes drifting through the air, and sip on Cafe Du Monde chicory coffee for the full effect.
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Clockwise from top: Shrimp etoufee, a Creole platter with jambalaya, gumbo, beans, candied yams and fried chicken and a dish of collard greens from La Louisanne.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

La Louisanne

View Park-Windsor Hills Creole Cajun Soul Food $$
No website, social media or phone number, and you won’t find the menu online, yet La Louisanne, which sits across the street from Simply Wholesome on Overhill Drive, is packed nightly with locals who love Creole cuisine and live jazz and blues music. Enjoy all of the classics at this long-running restaurant, including shrimp and crawfish étouffée; a Creole platter with jambalaya, gumbo, fried chicken and sides such as candied yams and collard greens; and a wide selection of fried seafood such as oysters and catfish. There’s also a full bar and spacious patio that overlooks a lively section of View Park-Windsor Hills. Expect a packed house on Mardi Gras and a second line — a traditional parade with a live brass band and participants spinning parasols and handkerchiefs as they invite spectators to dance and march along with them — to stop by at some point during the day.
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New Orleans sampler from Les Sisters' Southern Kitchen.
(Les Sisters’ Southern Kitchen)

Les Sisters' Southern Kitchen

Chatsworth Creole Cajun Soul Food $$
This Southern kitchen was first opened by three Black women in 1986 and has weathered everything from the 1994 Northridge earthquake to a kitchen fire. Today they have two locations in Chatsworth, with third-generation owner Jessica Huling at the helm. Head to the original outpost on Devonshire for barbecue, Southern staples like po’ boys, smothered pork chops and fried seafood with fresh hush puppies, or visit the newer location on Nordhoff for a brunch-focused menu with biscuits and country gravy, country-fried steak, a jambalaya omelette and Cajun shrimp and grits. Both locations are offering a handful of specials for Mardi Gras, including a New Orleans sampler with jambalaya, chicken Creole, a cup of gumbo and grilled bread or biscuits and shrimp and grits with fried catfish.
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A king cake with beads
(Little Dom’s)

Little Dom's

Los Feliz Italian $$
Chef Brandon Boudet is a New Orleans native and makes sure that his home-style Italian restaurant in Los Feliz goes all out for Mardi Gras. While Cajun and Creole spots might dominate this list, part of what makes New Orleans unique is the rich amalgamation of cultures that came to define the city’s food scene, including Indigenous Americans, African Americans, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Germans and, yes, Italians. The restaurant is offering a special Mardi Gras menu from Feb. 18 through Feb. 21, including a smoked roast beef po’ boy, BBQ oysters, jambalaya balls, beignets with raspberry sauce and slices of king cake. Cocktail specials include the Cheri Carnival with rye, sweet vermouth, cherry heering, herbsaint and Amarena cherry.
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Stevie’s Creole Cafe

Mid-Wilshire Creole Cajun Soul Food $$
A lightbox sign announces Stevie’s Creole Cafe on Pico and lures diners inside with three tempting words emblazoned across its forest green awning: po’ boys, BBQ and gumbo. First opened by Stephen Perry in 1986, the soul food restaurant excels at classic New Orleans cuisine and proudly brags that longtime Times critic Jonathan Gold once called their gumbo the best on “this side of New Orleans.” The titular dish — along with the rest of the menu — remains as consistent and flavorful as ever, stewed in a thick seafood stock with heaps of crab, shrimp, chicken, sausage and soft, caramelized vegetables that’s poured over steamed white rice and served with French bread. Creole- and Cajun-leaning dishes such as jambalaya, Creole pasta and shrimp étouffée are worthy of your attention, but don’t disregard the customer-favorite hot honey wings, a Tuesday taco menu that spans catfish, red beans, jerk chicken and soft shell crab or daily specials such as catfish and grits drenched in a spicy Creole sauce and topped with crispy onions. Stevie’s has a cozy interior for dining in, but you’d do well to arrive before your hunger hits as there’s often a wait.
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