We think Paul Simon must have accidentally left out a few lyrics from "Take Me to the Mardi Gras." Sure, we love the "music in the street both night and day" and the chance to "jingle to the beat." But what about the celebratory New Orleans-style food and drinks? Jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish and etouffee. Hurricanes and Sazeracs.
Many restaurants offer this fare year-round. But Fat Tuesday, also called Mardi Gras, is one of the best times to indulge. Diners don fanciful masks and dress up in green, purple and gold (representing justice, faith and power, respectively). On this day, even the cheapest plastic beads will do. Partygoers venture out prepared to eat, drink and live it up -- whether or not they plan to follow Lent's strict prohibitions in the morning. "The people sing and play," and the "dancing is elite," as Simon sings. L.A. isn't New Orleans. But we do know a few good places that offer the appropriate foods or jubilant spirit. Check out our alphabetical list below, and let the good meals roll.
10. Boiling Crab:
Why not celebrate the universal appeal of Mardi Gras at Boiling Crab, a Louisiana Cajun joint owned by Houston-raised Vietnamese? Their seafood is spicy, the crawfish and crab particularly noteworthy. Info: 742 W. Valley Blvd, Alhambra, (626) 576-9368; 33 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 300-5898; 18902 E. Gale Ave., #A, Rowland Heights, (626) 964-9300; 3377 Wilshire Blvd., #115, (213) 389-2722.
Pico Boulevard near the Westside Pavilion isn't exactly Bourbon Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. But you may find that Bourbon Street Shrimp's menu of classic Cajun dishes -- po' boy, jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee -- looks similar to its Louisianan counterparts. And yes, shrimp plays a significant role. Info: 10928 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 474-0007.
8. Cafe Brasil:
Americans often celebrate Mardi Gras with cuisine of the Big Easy, but Brazil's Rio de Janeiro is another city that takes the holiday seriously, with a weeklong festival widely considered the biggest and brightest on the world's streets. Hundreds of samba schools dance in parades, more than 400 parties invite revelers to sing and groove, and hundreds of thousands of participants (including 850,000 tourists this year, according to the Associated Press) join in the fun. Cafe Brasil, though lively, may seem tame by comparison. But it's still the taste of a country that knows how to party. Info: 10831 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957; 11736 W. Washington Blvd., Mar Vista, (310) 391-1216.
What are two Italian restaurants doing with red beans and rice, barbecued oysters, gumbo, muffuletta, beignets and king cake on the menu? That's what you get with a New Orleans-born chef. For the week leading up to and including Fat Tuesday, Brandon Boudet pays homage to his roots and the memories of a day when "You wake up really early ... with the smell of fried food in the air." Info: 8715 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 652-2335 (Dominick's); 2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 661-0055 (Little Dom's).
With its white tablecloths, starched napkins, lace curtains and flower bouquets, Harold and Belle's exudes simple elegance. Many see it as an iconic institution. The restaurant attracted more than 500 patrons for its 40th anniversary in 2009. For Mardi Gras, Harold and Belle's is selling two rum-laden Hurricanes for the price of one -- the perfect complement to smoked sausage, fried seafood, crawfish etouffee and oyster po' boys. Info: 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 735-9023.
The House of Blues restaurants could be called the Kitchens of Soul. Pan-seared shrimp, rosemary cornbread, barbecue baby back ribs, Cajun meatloaf, jambalaya and bread pudding all reflect a Southern influence. That regional flair extends to the decor, which is colorful and funky with its emphasis on folk art. Info: 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-5136; 1530 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, (714) 778-2583.
With its Jet Age architecture, tall-backed velour chairs and prim wooden banisters, La Louisianne may appear old-fashioned. But the vibe on days like Mardi Gras is hip and of-the-moment, with diners noshing on crawfish etouffee or jambalaya and dancing to live jazz decked out in beads. Tonight, La Louisianne will give prizes for best dressed. Info: 5812 Overhill, Los Angeles, (323) 293-5073.
Nola's, open just since last July, bills itself as offering "a taste of New Orleans." The restaurant certainly looks that way, with deep purple and gold accents and a fleur-de-lis motif. For Fat Tuesday, a 10-piece band will take to a modest stage near a Duke Ellington portrait. A staffer says the evening will be "loud, busy and lots of fun." Info: 734 E. Third St., downtown, (213) 680-3003.
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2. Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen:
Disneyland is probably the closest we can get to seeing the French Quarter without leaving Southern California. If you have the time, energy and means, visit New Orleans Square inside the theme park for dining at Blue Bayou, Cafe Orleans or the French Market. As an alternative, reserve a spot at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen at Downtown Disney, where entrance is free. The upscale but not-too-fancy restaurant is housed in what looks like a building plucked from the French Quarter. A menu of crab cakes, gumbo, pasta jambalaya and bread pudding helps keep the illusion alive. Info: 1590 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, (714) 776-5200.
One of the pricier options on our list, Stevie's is comfortable and upscale, known for a vibrant nightlife and live music scene. The menu is often described as "soul," and includes smoky fried chicken and grits casserole with andouille sausage. Info: 16911 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-528-3500.