Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Lake Charles
It’s almost a sin to eat at a chain restaurant when you visit Louisiana. Between the jambalaya and the gumbo, the fresh blue crab and the shrimp, folks in Louisiana have perfected recipes for generations and have singlehandedly reinvented the term “comfort food” time and again. They know their seafood, they love their bold flavors, and they're mighty proud to show it off.
That’s especially true for Lake Charles, Louisiana. This southwestern town is located on the cusp of the coastal waterways, offering fresh seafood from the Gulf and other delights (alligator bites, anyone?) that are the signatures of Cajun cuisine. The rich flavors and seasonings are as authentic as they come, meaning you'll be hard pressed to come across a bad meal while you're visiting. Our team of editors put in some hard work and long hours sampling the fares of Lake Charles while they were in town, bravely telling us, "It's a tough job, but someone has to do it." Here are their top recommendations for when you visit this gem in southwest Louisiana.
Gumbo and Alligator Bites at Seafood Palace
Gumbo is a Cajun family tradition. Nearly every family has their own recipe — and no restaurant can top Mama’s homemade batch of gumbo. If you can’t find mama’s gumbo recipe, you can find something pretty close to it at the Seafood Palace. The roux for their traditional chicken and sausage gumbo is a shade or two darker than most so be sure to enjoy every last spoonful. The restaurant stays packed during peak lunch and dinner times, so we’d recommend heading there early — and asking the waitress for an order of alligator bites as an appetizer while you wait for the main course.
Winner, Winner Fish Dinner from Luna Bar & Grill
The marsh, lakes and surrounding tributaries of Lake Charles offer an abundance of fresh fish, including yellowfin tuna and redfish, a fish native to Louisiana’s coastal waterways. To truly savor the flavors of the fish, head to Luna Bar & Grill, where you can expect the best grilled and seared fish on the block. The 8-ounce Dragon Tuna is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and pairs nicely with a cup of the crawfish corn bisque. Stick around for a local beer or two afterward. The restaurant’s funky décor is just as great as its food and drinks!
Surf ‘n Turf Po’Boy from Darrell’s
Picture this: Three types of cheeses, sliced roast beef, sautéed shrimp fresh off the boat and all the fixings, dripping in a dark roux styled gravy on a freshly baked, perfectly toasted bun. That, my friends, is what Darrell’s Po’boys calls the Surf & Turf Po’Boy. Traditionalists might say a po’boy is a shrimp sandwich, but we’ll kindly tell them they’re incorrect. Darrell’s Famous Po’boys’ traditional Louisiana sandwiches have a flair for the dramatics, and that flair helped propel them to the top five po’boys in the entire state. Tuck in, grab some napkins, and stay a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Cheeseburgers from Chesson’s Grocery
This local joint is within easy proximity of the eastern end of the Creole Nature Trail — and a must stop after a day of adventuring. While the gas station and convenience store is a no frills sort of joint that’s popular for local fishermen and other wildlife enthusiasts in the area, their burgers would get the gold star of approval from celebrity grill masters like Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay. The meat is tender and perfectly seasoned (like everything in Louisiana), the fries crispy, and the burgers juicy. Remember, if you come here, these burgers are best enjoyed with a soda pop. And, it's worth mentioning, all soda pop in Louisiana is referred to as a "coke." Be ready to be asked what kind you want — Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Diet Coke, Pepsi, etc.
Local Brews and Boudin at Rikenjaks Brewing
Like Bayou Rum Rikenjaks Brewing is relatively new to Lake Charles. With a massive patio that includes a separate bar, a corner stage and outdoor pool hall favorites, the brewery is open seven days a week due to popular demand. On tap are a large selection of Louisiana drafts, including a Bayou Kolsch and local favorite drafts from Crying Eagle, and a menu that plates up Cajun favorites like boudin, a Cajun sausage made with rice and pork, and pistolettes, fried bread stuffed with seafood like crawfish and shrimp étouffée.
Champagne Cupcakes at A Spoonful of Sugar
Walking into A Spoonful of Sugar is like walking into heaven itself. The smells envelope you and the smiling faces behind the counter are contagious; before you know it, you’ll have purchased half the baked goods they have to offer! The baked goods at A Spoonful of Sugar are made with love, every item is carefully decorated and each morsel tastes better than the last. The champagne cupcakes are some of the best we’ve had here at iExplore (and that’s not the full cup of champagne added to the batter talking either). By the way, the buttermilk mini pies are the owner’s great-grandmother’s recipe, and the crispy, flaky crust tastes every bit as homemade as you’d hope it would be. Be sure to grab a few treats for later before you leave.
Satsuma Rum from Bayou Rum
Bayou Rum has been on the scene for a relatively short amount of time, but it’s already managed to take the rum scene by storm, at home and abroad. Now in 42 states and 18 countries and featured on major cruise lines, Bayou Rum is the most decorated rum company in the US. Of the four rums it produces, the Satsuma rum liquor is one of its most popular. The rum is made using — you guessed it — the Satsuma, a small mandarin orange native to Louisiana. You can find Bayou Rum at most bars and restaurants in the area and can order a special “satsauma rum mimosa” for brunch on Sundays (which we highly recommend). Bayou Rum is about 40 minutes outside Lake Charles. Distillery tours are available Tuesday through Saturday every hour on the hour from 10am to 4pm. Tastings are free.
Drive-Thru Daiquiris from Paradise Daiquiris
Yup, you read that one correctly. Drive-thru daiquiri bars are a big hit in the southern parts of the state so much so that one could even go so far as to say that they’re the drink choice for most Louisiana residents. While there are several in and around the Lake Charles area, Paradise Daiquiris is the most popular. The concept is pretty simple: Simply roll through the drive-thru as you would any location, pick your concoction (locals always order an extra shot, FYI), then enjoy it once you’re safely off the road and back at your hotel. While there are open container laws in Louisiana, the rule of thumb is as long as the wrapper stays on the straw and the lid remains taped to your cup, you’re good! Remember, to drink responsibly.