Serve me an excellent gumbo, and I’ll show you a gumbo that someone hates.
Gumbo is as divisive as it is delicious because its ingredients aren’t prescribed. Meat, seafood, poultry and vegetables can appear in any combination. As for the broth, any blend of roux, okra or filé (powdered sassafras leaves) can render it thick or thin. And inevitably, that gumbo you ate as a child formed what you consider proper gumbo now.
Of course, Los Angeles puts its own unique stamp on the Cajun stew, ranging from homey and traditional to downright radical. Grab a spoon and the hot sauce from your bag (swag) to check out this list of L.A.’s top 10 gumbos.
Uncle Andre's BBQ
Situated in a corner strip mall in Studio City, Uncle Andre’s is a local soul food favorite, especially for its seafood gumbo served only on Fridays. The thin soup packs plenty of flavor, heat and a lot of protein. Seriously, there’s so much shrimp, chicken, crab and andouille sausage (was the whole link cut up in there?) that only a tiny portion of rice is served on the side. Call ahead to order a portion and make sure to ask for extra rice and cornbread. 11715 Moorpark St., Studio City; (818) 763-8414, uncleandresbbq.com.
My Two Cents
This quaint eatery just south of Little Ethiopia gives soulful Southern food a healthy L.A. twist. In this case, that means its seafood gumbo is gluten-free (read: no roux) and pescatarian friendly. A generous portion of crab comes with a helpful leg cracker on the side, and shrimp, crumbly veggie andouille sausage and pickled okra fill the herbaceous, slightly spicy broth. Quinoa subs for rice in this dish and gives it textual interest. 5583 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City; (323) 938-1012, mytwocentsla.com.
Fishing With Dynamite
Chef David LeFevre of M.B. Post couldn’t ignore gumbo in his love letter to seafood at Fishing With Dynamite. It’s a somewhat refined dish in which shrimp, a beautiful cut of sous vide chicken and smoky linguiça are accompanied by just the right amount of fluffy jasmine rice on the side. The chef has already added hot sauce to the thick stew so you don’t have to. 1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach; (310) 893-6299, eatfwd.com.
The Little Easy
This dimly lit but happening downtown bar is the place to order a cast-iron skillet chock-full of blackened catfish, okra, green and red peppers, shrimp and even crawfish, which is a rarity in Los Angeles outside of the Boiling Crab–style eateries. It’s a homey, tomato-y dish that pairs well with a cool brew or ginger beer, and even though you may be offered hot sauce, you won’t need to use it. 216 W. Fifth St., downtown; (213) 628-3113, littleeasybar.com.
Orleans and York Deli
Gumbo gets the po’ boy treatment at this New Orleans–themed deli in the Gumbo Mumbo sandwich. Juicy shrimp, hot links, beef sirloin, chicken and bell pepper are drenched in a spicy stew and then crammed inside a flaky French baguette that soaks up all of that flavor. If you want to keep your hands clean, order the Gumbo Mumbo platter over rice, but either way come hungry because both are hefty enough to share. 333 S. Spring St., downtown; (213) 687-0400, orleansandyorkdeli.com.
Darrow's New Orleans Grill
Arrive after 5 p.m. to get Darrow’s satisfying and traditional filé gumbo, which is a dark, rich and peppery concoction cooked long and slow. It’s on the stewier side and favors more herbs for spice rather than hot sauce. Plenty of crab legs, chicken, andouille sausage and shrimp will fill you up, along with the garlic bread on the side. 21720 Avalon Blvd., Suite 102-B, Carson; (424) 570-0531, darrowsneworleansgrill.com.
Sal's Gumbo Shack
Hello, roux! The first taste of this broth hits you with its deep, earthy flavor yet contains no heat for the spice-shy. The down-home stew is loaded with crab legs, shrimp, sausage, turkey and even ham, depending on what’s on hand. All three sizes are a great value, and you can feed a family with the $16.99, 32-oz. portion. Rice can be served within the gumbo or on the side. 6148 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 422-8100, salsgumboshack.com.
Preux & Proper
No meat, no seafood, no problem! Don’t be fooled by this vegan-ish take on gumbo, because it’s so satisfying and unctuous that you won’t miss your proteins. Chef Samuel Monsour’s riff on okra gumbo includes red laurel-aged sticky rice, tobacco leeks and a fried-onion crumble that is reminiscent of what you’d find atop Vietnamese bánh cuon. What gives the broth its complex and gratifying taste, however, is that it’s mounted with butter and a scratch-made Worchestershire, which is infused with vinegar, spices, brown sugar, blackstrap molasses and Red Boat fish sauce. It’s simple but note-perfect in its execution. 840 S. Spring St., downtown; (213) 896-0090, preuxandproper.com.
Little Jewel of New Orleans
In Chinatown, Little Jewel is killing it with its Cajun/Creole fare, and while its po’ boys deservedly hog much of the attention, the gumbo special served only on Saturdays is also a winner. The roux and okra impart rich flavor to the thick stew of chicken and housemade sausage, and the small-diced red onions on the rice add both crunch and bite. It’s familiar and very filling, and the cornbread on the side guarantees satiation. Little Jewel offers a seafood version at certain times of the year. 207 Ord St., Chinatown; (213) 620-0461, littlejewel.la.
Harold & Belle's
There’s a reason that this stalwart has lasted in L.A. for 40 years. The dark roux filé gumbo puts the sass in sassafras and evokes the complexity and richness of New Orleans upon first sip. Every component within is perfect: succulent ham and chicken, plump shrimp, fall-apart tender sausage, and a huge piece of crab that’s cooked until the shell is soft and pliable. You may want to order this to go so you can get properly dirty by tearing into the crab. A unique touch is Ritz crackers instead of the usual cornbread or garlic toast on the side. 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Jefferson Park; (323) 735-9918, haroldandbellesrestaurant.com.