Cover.Wednesday, December 1, 2010

There’s no recession in Lafayette’s restaurantarama. by Mary Tutwiler
photos by Robin May

Mid-fall the drilling moratorium was still firmly capping production in the Gulf and the fear of job losses rippled through Acadiana. It seemed a shaky climate in which to start a new business. But either there is a lot more confidence in the local economy than the doom and gloom predictors admit, or Cajuns just love to eat. Whichever the reason, nearly a dozen restaurants have opened their doors (or will open within the month) since The Ind’s Restaurant Guide came out in October, with all sorts of offerings from signature sushi to tacos al pastor and just about every other cuisine in between.

Dozo Sushi
4702 Johnston St.
Open daily: Dinner

Restaurateur Alan Yen, who has run Shangri-La since 2000, opened the hibachi half of his swanky new Asian restaurant Dozo in mid-summer. A complex interior construction slowed the sushi side down, but it was worth the wait: The restaurant is a stunner. And I’m not even talking about the food. Yet. Yen had a yen for a modern Asian look. He spent a year traveling before settling on a look that is literally new wave. Working with Houston architect Si Dang of Andria Design and Lafayette interior designer Cheri Roane, Yen created a totally unique restaurant. Ceiling beams undulate above pods of light that illuminate individual tables. The soft salmon and wheat fabrics warm the cool granite top of the sushi bar. There are intimate booths and tables as well, but if you want a one-on-one with your dinner, the sushi bar is the place to discuss the inventive offerings with chef Peter Liang.

Dozo’s approach to sushi is as new wave as his décor. “Mixing things up,” says Yen. “We’re using different ingredients,
Dazzling interior design at Dozo;
Asian tapas: Lobster Mango Ceviche (at bottom)
different methods. It’s not old school, traditional Japanese sushi.”

Start with the small plates. The soft shell crab appetizer is a piled-high plate of halved buster crabs, nearly bite size and fried really crispy. There are all sorts of fusion dishes, edamame hummus, salmon tacos, tunacolada tartar, kabuki meatballs and a spicy tuna Napoleon.

Then move on to some of the best dishes in the house, the Asian Tapas. I loved the Hamachi Jalapeño, buttery yellow tail with a wasabi yuzu sauce that was so good I hung on to the empty plate and dipped everything else in it, too. The salmon capriccio paired unctuous sashimi salmon with wasabi aioli and truffle oil. Completely unexpected and astonishing. The lobster mango ceviche with its bright citrus notes is another lovely dish, both to look at and to eat.

For those who are still hungry after a raw fish interlude, Dozo offers some he-man steaks, braised short ribs and a Shanghai duck that comes with a duck spring roll.

There are all sorts of martinis and mixed drinks, but when it comes to sushi, I drink traditional. While I do love warm saké, Dozo has a nice cold saké list including Zipang, sparkling saké that pairs perfectly with the razzle dazzle of the sushi.  
Dozo’s grand opening will take place Dec. 9.

Paul Gibson and his chips-topped
Bazooka Burger at The Mess Hall
The Mess Hall

924 Kaliste Saloom Road
Mon.- Fri: Lunch

Eleven years cooking in the army will do one of two things to you. Either you’ll get kicked out on your butt for jungle cooking (hey, let’s dump some Tabasco in here and make it Cajun!) or you wind up a disciplined chef. Paul Gibson was recognized as a distinguished field baker, and his cooking team ultimately won third internationally with the Philip A. Connely Award for the best dining facility in the military. Honorably discharged in 1997, he went on to marry Bonnie Bell and they opened Bonnie Bell’s Bistro. That’s his fancy restaurant. One late night after service, he was drinking with his buddy Mike Norris (namesake of the high steaks Mike Norris burger at Bonnie Bell’s), when they came up with an Army-themed restaurant.

The Mess Hall features daily plate lunches, poboys, platters and burgers. I’m a huge fan of the Bazooka Burger, with its jalapeño-seasoned patty, melted pepper jack cheese, tart dill pickles and a heap of potato chips piled on top. Gibson’s fried shrimp poboy with poblano-dijon mustard has the unfortunate nomer of Mustard Gas Shrimp Poboy. Dare you to order that one. There’s standard military issue jackets on the walls, boots over the cash register, canteens, flack jackets and the Patriot, a foot-long corn dog with chili cheese and onions on French bread. No Scuds here.

China Wok
2429 Congress St.
Daily: Lunch and Dinner

China Wok is such a new restaurant that the day I went there was still a hand-lettered sign proclaiming the opening. It’s tucked into the strip mall at the intersection of Congress and Bertrand, right down from the AT&T store. The menu’s Chinese, but there’s no buffet here; every dish is cooked to order for a mostly take-out crowd. There are only four small tables, all occupied by people waiting for their orders. While you won’t find anything out of the ordinary on the menu, what is fresh and new about China Wok is the absolute freshness of the food. I’m a sucker for Moo Shu Pork, and they did a good job, as well as with the Hot and Spicy Beef and another fave, Salt and Pepper Shrimp. Portions are large, and the staff is friendly. Best to call in your order, as things get a bit stacked up at lunch.

CT Grill and Seafood
803 Pinhook Road
Daily: Lunch and Dinner

The CT Grill and Seafood is located in what was an old flower pot shop on Pinhook, right along restaurant row, between University and the Vermilion River. The fare is really all frying: shrimp, catfish, oysters, chicken (including livers and gizzards), eggrolls, cheese sticks and even donuts. The batter is Chinese, as are some of the offerings: lo mein, fried rice and the crab and cream cheese stuffed crab rangoon. There’s gumbo and burgers to round it off. Best bet is to come from the river side; a left on Pinhook any time of the day is deadly.

Taco Mama Irene Carreno and daughter
Elena Wilkerson
Taco Mama
Johnston Street in the parking lot of the old La Promenade Mall
Monday-Saturday: Lunch and Dinner

Finally, a taco truck in Lafayette! Drive up, park at random, order from the window and eat sitting on your tailgate. Irene Carreno, taco mama, makes all the authentic fillings and sauces. The Pastor (pork) is the standout. We liked our corn tacos soft, as well as crispy house fried. Flautas, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas and tamales (red and green) round out the south of the border menu. Her daughter Elena Wilkerson, wife of bar magnate Shannon, is part of the venture. Monday nights after 10 p.m. the truck trundles up to The Bulldog, where else, to help sober up the dollar night regulars.

Golden Wok
1809 Pinhook Road
Daily: Lunch and Dinner

Since Golden Wok opened its doors at the new Pinhook location, the parking lot has been jammed all day long. The buffet is clearly a hit, with dishes like Black Pepper Pork, Butter Shrimp, Pepper Steak, Ma Po Tofu, a selection of sushi, and standards like fried rice and lo mein. Dine in prices crest below $10, but it is the takeout, $3.50 per pound at lunch, $3.85 per pound of buffet food at dinner, that makes Golden Wok the best deal in town.  

413 Jefferson St.
Monday-Saturday: Lunch and Dinner

We loved the Middle Eastern food when Athena opened in a gas station on Kaliste Saloom. We loved it just as much when owner Joe Yousef opened a sit down restaurant in Ambassador Row. But the drive from downtown is a killer at noon. So it’s a pleasure to say that the new Athena opened Tuesday, November 30 in the former Zeus location on Jefferson Street.

Monday special: Red beans and rice with a side of
fried chicken at Rivals Sports Grill
Rivals Sports Grill
1020 Jefferson St.
Daily: Lunch and Dinner

The balconied brick building on the corner of Jefferson and Johnston streets has gone through so many transformations no one remembers what it was last. But Gil and Lori Guillory may have found the solution to dispel the cursed corner: a lively sports bar with fluttering banners outside and seven big screens showing everything from NFL football to Major League Soccer and championship boxing. The menu focuses on plate lunches, with daily specials like red beans and rice with a fried chicken side, smothered chicken and shrimp stew. There are burgers, wings, crab cakes and gator bites, and the Sunday barbecue is old school, cooked on a pit outside. Rivals is rapidly becoming the place to watch the Saints; last week there was standing room only for the Saints-Seahawks game.

116 E. Vermilion St.

Restaurateur Nidal Balbeisi has been hard at work renovating the former Stan’s, nee Masonic temple, into a white tablecloth restaurant. The swanky bar upstairs opened in July, and the restaurant is slated to be open by New Year’s Eve. The menu will be both traditional Italian and what Balbeisi characterizes as fusion, playful culinary twists on the Italian theme.

Panda House
1812 Pinhook Road

Located in the same new strip mall on Pinhook that houses Little Caesar’s Pizza and Saigon (which I thought for a brief shining moment was a Vietnamese restaurant; it’s a nail salon), Panda House will be a Chinese Restaurant. Slated for a December opening.

Pie Works
5423 Johnston St.

Pie Works will occupy the former Phoenician Grill in the Time Plaza shopping center on Johnston Street. Founded by Shreveport entrepreneur Marc Able, the Lafayette location will be the seventh Louisiana franchise location for the chain. Pie Works specializes in pizza with lots of speciality pies and design your own pizzas. Scheduled to open soon.

[Writer’s Note: While I try to be comprehensive, restaurants open faster than I can eat my way around town. If I have overlooked a new, locally owned eatery, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; I’ll be glad to help get the word out. MT]

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