With its array of complementary flavors and a hint (well, maybe a little more than a hint!) of spice, Cajun food can transport you to the Big Easy with just one bite. Whether you’re hankering for gumbo, jambalaya or just a good ol’ crawfish boil, here’s where to take a culinary journey to NOLA just in time for Mardi Gras, and without leaving Philly. Just take note: You’re on your own when it comes to acquiring those plastic beads… – Chelsea Karnash
Beck’s Cajun Café
This Reading Terminal staple might be run by a Philadelphia native, but you’d never know it from the food. Serving up Cajun/Creole classics including red beans and rice, po’ boys and cornmeal-coated catfish, Beck’s has won three “Best of Philly” awards and stands out for its authentic eats and laidback service. Try the NOLA cheesesteak made with sausage for a new take on an old fave, or the famed Gator Gumbo for something with a little bit of bite.
This oh-so-pretty Manayunk eatery looks more like a castle than a down home New Orleans-style restaurant, but with one bite of the fried pickles or pecan pie, you’ll be whisked away to Bourbon Street. Add in the gigantic bloody mary bar on the weekends and the complimentary cornbread and seasoned butter, and you’ve got reason enough to make the journey from Center City. Hold out for warm weather, and you can enjoy your food on Bourbon Blue’s gorgeous canal-facing deck, a recent and much appreciated addition.
This tiny South Philly gem offers a range of delicious Southern-style foods, from fried green tomatoes to crawfish, plus American bar classics like buffalo wings and innovative takes on the burger. If you’re imbibing, try one of Catahoula’s creative cocktails, which is best sipped on the adorable outdoor patio. But perhaps the best thing about Catahoula? Delivery!
Formerly a dark, dingy den of debauchery, Khyber Pass has really reformed itself since the good ol’ days. Now, hipsters fill the Christmas light bedecked bar area, noshing on entrees such as vegan po’ boys or the brisket sandwich with collards and trying not to fill up on too much of the amazing bacon grease popcorn. If you stop by this Old City standby, make sure to enjoy a cocktail or two – the creole-infused bloody mary and classic mint julep are both standout.
Southern-inspired cuisine in beautiful Rittenhouse Square makes for a perfect combination at Rex 1516. In the winter, fill up with hearty fare like the brisket poutine or crawfish pot pie, while summer’s heat calls for sweet-tea brined chicken and a cold seasonal cocktail. Have dietary restrictions? Never fear – Rex offers a gluten-free menu, as well as a few veg-friendly choices like the new black-eyed pea hummus or farro risotto.
Sporting a new (and desperately needed) paint job, this landmark café set inside a dilapidated-ish, stand-alone rowhouse on the corner of 19th and Callowhill offers a surprise for anyone who ventures inside: It’s gorgeous. No, really. If you’re lucky enough to score a table upstairs, you’ll be charmed by the view overlooking the downstairs bar area, which is filled with leafy plants and climbing vines and inspires thoughts of the French Quarter in some long-lost decade. And the food at Rose Tattoo is nothing to scoff at, either – try the jambalaya or the barbecued shrimp and dirty rice, then wash it all down with a reasonably priced cocktail. Another menu favorite? The mushroom bisque, which might not be Cajun but is definitely tasty.
And one worth traveling for…
Two words: Crab cheesecake. It’s worth the 45 minute drive from Philly to New Hope just to try a spoonful of this rich, creamy, decadent, savory confection. In fact, it’s a good thing you’re in an old church, because you’ll be praising the Lord after a slice or two…and praying you don’t suffer a heart attack from all of the artery-clogging goodness.