I spent a large portion of my adult life living in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country. One of things that this portion of the United States is known for is Cajun cooking which has spread out to the rest of the country over the last decade. Cajun cooking is known for items such as Po-boys, Etouffee, Jambalaya, and fried seafood. Although there are several places within Lafayette that offer this cuisine, Lafayette has grown a lot over the last 20 years and in that time, has expanded its own culinary offerings with a variety of cuisine option for both visitors and residents.
Since Lafayette is the heart of Cajun country, I feel compelled to begin this list with the culinary options. One of the oldest restaurants in Lafayette, Don’s offers patrons all the Cajun cooking staples ranging from fried seafood platters and blackened catfish to crawfish etouffee and char-grilled oysters. If your goal is to enjoy a sampling of local cuisine, Don’s provides you a great option to sample all the local culinary staples.
Although it is common for patrons of this establishment to arrive in business casual attire, there is no strictly enforced dress code. Don’s offers a casual dining experience with a vibe that still caters to a higher end option. Although there may be other restaurants in town that provide more options for poboys or a larger friend seafood platter; Don’s offers a single location where you can enjoy the large variety of Cajun cooking. For anyone that wants to get a real unique taste of Louisiana, one popular item that Don’s offers are blackened Alligator. Throughout Louisiana, blackened seafood is very common and comes in a variety of fish options such as snapper or catfish. The term blackened simply refers to a mix of spices that are rubbed onto the seafood prior to cooking that gives it a blackened coating once cooked. Although items like blackened catfish are common, Don’s ability to offer blackened Alligator makes it stand apart from many other establishments.
Another unique menu item at Don’s is their trademarked Jacked Up Oysters which are grilled oysters that are topped with bacon, jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese. This gives oyster lovers another option to try in addition to Don’s chargrilled and raw oysters on the half shell. Another very popular item for travelers to Cajun country is a friend seafood platter and Don’s can meet that need as well. Their seafood platter is stuffed with options included crab, shrimp, catfish, and oysters; providing an excellent family platter to share for those who want to get an excellent sampling of the food of Louisiana.
Bon Temps Grill
From one staple of Cajun cooking to another; Bon Temps grill has not been around for as long as Don’s but they have established a great reputation in the time period offering Cajun staple items in addition to unique takes those items. Po-boys remain one of the most popular items that have come out of Louisiana. These are sandwiches like subs or hoagies but are on French Bread and have unique stuffing that are not found in other parts of the country. Bon Temps offers a unique po-boy with their Alligator Bang Bang poboy, which is a poboy stuffed with marinated alligator. Bang Bang alligator is also available as its own side item for those who want a sampling without the sandwich; this is a popular appetizer choice. Another popular appetizer option at Bon Temps is the sausage and boudin. Boudin is Cajun staple that is made up of rice and sausage stuffed into a sausage casing.
Like Don’s, Bon Temps also offers an excellent blackened seafood option with their blackened flounder. Bon Temps offers a very casual dining experience and an excellent place for a sit-down lunch while giving visitors to pick between classic Lafayette cooking for Bon Temp’s own twist on local staples. For anyone who wants to try seafood that have fewer spices added on, then mesquite grilled is an excellent option and Bon Temps offers this for Ahi Tuna, Speckled Trout, Red Fish, and chef’s catch. Chef’s catch is a common option for not only Louisiana restaurants but many restaurants that specialize in seafood and are by the water. It essentially means, the chef cooks whatever specialty items they were able to secure that day from vendors. These selections are always excellent cuts of great catches.
From Cajun cooking and Lafayette culinary staples to more hidden gems; the next restaurant I want to explore with my reader is Fuji Sushi. This has become of my favorite restaurants within the city. It is a very easy to miss restaurant despite being located near one of the city’s busiest streets. It is hidden within an older strip and hidden behind another building; Fuji Sushi offers one of the largest varieties of sushi rolls I have ever seen with each piece being extremely fresh and high quality. Among my favorite options that they offer is toro, a high-end fatty tuna cut of fish that is available as sushi or sashimi at Fuji. In addition, they offer a variety of unique specialty rolls. Some of these are extravagant in the best possible way. An example of what to expect is their Asian roll: spicy tuna, salmon, and scallops inside a roll that is topped with torched tuna, salmon, white tuna, and white fish; in addition to a mix of sauces and garnish. For those who want a variety of sushi to try, then Fuji’s sushi boat is an amazing option to either tackle yourself or split with a group of friends. These sushi boats are very large and come with a great variety of sushi and sashimi to enjoy.
In addition to sushi, Fuji offers other menu options such as Udon noodles, Teriyaki platters, and rice bowls. Fuji also features several options of appetizers that I have rarely seen in other restaurants around the country that I believe are worth trying. In addition to great tempura such as chicken, shrimp, and soft-shell crab; my personal favorite appetizer option available is their Squid steak; a whole squid that is thinly sliced and grilled with teriyaki sauce.
Ruffino’s on the River
The last restaurant that I will showcase in this week’s article is Ruffino’s on the River. This is a high-end restaurant that is complete with a dress code requirement. Located in the middle of the city’s affluent area, this has been one of the city’s longest standing fine dining establishments. Between the finely dressed wait staff, the business casual minimum dress code, and exceptionally prepared Italian cuisine; this is the quintessential example of where to go out for a nice dinner on a special occasion in town.
While Ruffino’s is known for its Italian food, they have expanded their menu to include a fine selection of steak and seafood as well. As with Bon Temps, Ruffino’s offers a fresh catch of the day option on their cedar plank board. Another popular seafood option is their BBQ shrimp pasta which is a great fusion of classic Italian pasta with regional BBQ shrimp. Their Italian menu options includes staples such as spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, and lasagna.
Living in the home of Cajun cooking has let me have many wonderful culinary experiences within Lafayette and it has been exciting to see the city grow before my eyes and seeing the cities restaurant selection spread expand. Although Lafayette is not the tourist mecca like nearby New Orleans; it does receive its fair share of visitors due to its association with the regional oil and gas industry. Whether you are visiting, passing through, or you are a resident of Lafayette; I hope I have provided ideas and inspiration for your next culinary adventure through Cajun country. I look forward to bring you more ideas, but that will have to wait for another day…