You needn't despair of you wanna go out for Creole or Cajun in the Los Angeles metro area -- there are oodles of places you can go, from Altadena to Hermosa Beach. Most of 'em are within a reasonable drive from anywhere in the area, and many of them are worth an unreasonable drive!

In Memoriam -- Jase's Sid Cafe

Mr. Aquilla Jase, the owner of Sid's Cafe, passed away in early October, 1994. The restaurant is closed, the building is sold and you'd never know it had been there. I had hoped that his family would have kept it going, as it was a wonderful L.A. Creole institution, but taking a restaurant into an already-full life is nearly impossible to do.

My review of Sid's always led off this section, and I'm leaving it here in memory of Jase and his wonderful restaurant -- it was by far, bar none, my favorite place to eat Creole food in Los Angeles. I was a regular for 12 years, almost always had my birthday dinner there, never missed a Mardi Gras, and took countless friends to enjoy Jase's cooking. I miss Jase and his food very much ... he made me feel like family, and he really helped me feel at home in this land of expatriates.

Sid's Cafe, 1401 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 731-6598
Or, as the menu currently says, "Jase's Sid Cafe"; Mr. Jase, the current owner, bought it from the original Sid about 30 or so years ago.

A wonderful, quintessential neighborhood Creole restaurant, not unlike what you'd get back in New Orleans. In fact, stepping through the doors of this joint is like stepping through a teleportation portal that beams you directly to an old St. Claude Ave. neighbornood restaurant in the Lower Ninth Ward.

It's inexpensive (when I first dined there in 1982, a plate of red beans and rice was $1.85, and $2.95 with hot sausage; it never went up all that much), with huge portions, homey atmosphere, great food. Highly recommended are the red beans and rice with hot sausage (Jase makes the best hot sausage I've ever had), the gumbos, (filé, okra, and the sometimes-available seafood), the homemade Creole hot sausage in any of its incarnations (with the red beans, in the gumbo, or just sliced and served as a po-boy sandwich -- dressed, of course), and the fried seafood. Hush puppies are essential, and the stuffed crab is great (served in the actual crab shell; you can't even get them like this in New Orleans anymore).

Always check to see what's on special. Sometimes they have boiled seafood, sometimes jambalaya, and sometimes ... crawfish bisque. Jasemakes the best bisque I've ever had, anywhere -- thick, spicy and with at least a dozen stuffed crawfish heads.

The hours vary, since this is Jase's hobby more so than his sole source of income. Call to make sure when they'll be open. I've been a regular at this place for over ten years, and it feels like home. Highly recommended.

The Current Crop

More or less in my order of preference ... sorta. But not necessarily.

Harold & Belle's, 2920 W. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA. (213) 735-9023
This is the pinnacle of Creole dining in Los Angeles. Harold & Belle's is a fancy restaurant, with food to match. The red beans and the gumbo are superb. as is the crawfish étouffée and the crispy fried crab cakes. Bring your appetite too, because the portions are Gargantuan. It's moderate to pricey as well, but fortunately the huge servings make it certain you're getting your money's worth. The staff is beyond friendly, the food is wonderful, and you're guaranteed a great meal in this place that's served the Creole community of Los Angeles for many years. Highly recommended.

Uncle Darrow's Eatery, 2560 S. Lincoln Blvd., NE corner Washington, Marina del Rey, CA. (310) 306-4862
Now in their MUCH larger new location. Outstanding red beans, jambalaya, fried seafood; gumbo served on weekends. They make homemade hot sausage, with a nicely lower-fat touch of making them with chicken and turkey. Sweet potato pies are wonderful; shaped New-Orleans style, like Hubig's, but with a delicate crust and savory filling -- not fried! And they deliver to the Westside! (At least as far as Culver City; call for details)

Perhaps their masterpiece is a po-boy they call "Zeek", which is a huge pile of fried shrimp and fried catfish (perfectly fried and not a bit greasy), piping hot ... with a huge layer of cold potato salad right on the sandwich. It's about twice as big as the biggest big-mouth you could imagine, and it's pure heaven.

Stevie's on the Strip, 3403 Crenshaw Blvd. at Jefferson, (213) 734-6975. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
A great description of my last visit to Stevie's can be found here, from the New Times Los Angeles.

A Taste of New Orleans Seafood, 2545 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena, CA. (818) 791-6879
A tiny but fabulous little hole-in-the-wall in an easy-to-miss little micro-mini-mall, with the best fried seafood I've had in the L.A. area. Full dinner platters and po-boys, with shrimp, oysters, and a variety of fish including catfish, snapper, trout, sandab, stuffed crabs and more. Excellent jambalaya and red beans as well. Very much worth the drive up to Altadena. Closed Sundays (and don't forget this, like I always do).

Les Sisters' Southern Kitchen, 21818 Devonshire Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311. (818) 998-0755.
The northernmost stretch of locally-available Creole food that I know of, Les Sisters is homey and serves mighty good Southern soul food and a good selection of Creole and Cajun dishes. My favorites are the gumbo, seafood jambalaya and honey-glazed pork chops. I'd go here a lot more often if it weren't all the danged way up in Chatsworth (which is a bit of a drive for me), but if you're ever anywhere in the Valley definitely go!

Ragin' Cajun Cafe, 422 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach.
Opened several years ago by a native Louisianian (Steve Domingue, from New Iberia), this cozy, friendly little joint usually has a line going out the door. Good gumbo, red beans, crawfish etouffee as well! Lots o' fun, extremely popular (at least last time I was there; it's been a while, because Hermosa is no longer anywhere near my regular stomping grounds), and highly recommended.

The Gumbo Pot, Farmer's Market, 3rd and Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA.
They claim to have "the best gumbo in town" ... a spurious claim. The gumbo ain't like grandma used to make; it's very chunky, not terribly traditional, and just doesn't do it for me. Some folks like it, though.

Where the Pot excels is their red beans and rice (with pickle meat) and muffuletta sandwiches. (If you don't want your muffulettas heated, Napoleon House-style, and prefer them served in the original manner, just ask them to serve it cold.) Unfortunately their fried seafood po-boys are not quite up to snuff. The shrimp and/or oysters are fried very well, but there are never enough of them to satisfy me, plus the bread they use for the sandwiches is all wrong. Po-boys have to be on New Orleans-style French bread, with a crisp outer crust and a light but slightly crisp interior, not chewy at all. The bread they use at the Gumbo Pot is soft and squishy and entirely inappropriate for an authentic New Orleans po-boy experience; with bread like that, it's just a shrimp sandwich. Also, they add an annoyingly "nouvelle" touch of thinly sliced lemons on the sandwich; ask for the po-boys without lemons. In most cases there's nothing wrong with putting one's own personal touch on a refered classic, but y'know, there are some things you just don't mess with.) The "Cajun meatloaf" (well seasoned and tasty) is good, as are the various salads and some excellent side dishes including a grated raw sweet-potato and apple salad (which is a work of genius) and a Creole mustard potato salad.

Cafe au lait and beignets are served for dessert (the coffee was perfect, a rarity this city, but the beignets were gummy and doughy and heavy), and mint tea is available for those who like ... stuff ... in their iced tea. (Me, I like it with water, tea, lemon, maybe sugar, and NOTHING else. At least the Pot hasn't started serving that vile Paradise tea ...) Very good place to have lunch, with a Barq's and a bag o' Zapp's potato chips. Recommended, but caveat emptor on the gumbo. In the past I wasn't thrilled with their jambalaya either, but it's been quite a while since I've tried it.

The Cajun Bistro, 8301 W. Sunset Blvd. near Sweetzer, West Hollywood. (213) 656-6388
I do not recommend this restaurant. (Three awful meals and yer out, bra.)

Places I have yet to get to,
because I procrastinate,
but I will soon,
I promise

Bayou Grill, 1400 N La Brea Ave., Inglewood. (310) 673-0824.
I know nothing about this place; I only heard of it recently, but it's certainly worth a try. Apparently the chef is from back home, and they have a long list of "classic Creole dishes".

La Louisanne, 5812 Overhill Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90043, (323) 293-5073.
Oddly spelled, but it comes highly recommended by my next-door neighbor. Creole food, steaks and seafood, good po-boys. "Friendly and comfortable", live jazz on the weekends, and "tends to attract an older set".

Stevie's Creole Café, 16911 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA.
Stevie's on the Strip's longtime owner Steven Perry has opened this new Creole restaurant in the Valley in the latter part of 2000, and I understand it's doing very well. One reader wrote in with this gushing recommendation:

Stevie's in Encino is a must. I have visited on numerous occassions. For starters, there is valet parking. The food is fantastic, and I am one of the most picky eaters around). The entertainment is wonderful, and the crowd is very diverse. Stevie is so wonderful and I really can appreciate all the aspects of this restaurant. I cannot express to you enough how much I think you should visit this restaurant. Try to go on the weekend when there is entertainment.
It's next on the list. I love Stevie's on the Strip, but damn ... Encino's a long way from where I live!

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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)