Far from the white tablecloth dining of New Orleans’ French Quarter, you’ll find grocery stores, gas stations and diners where plate lunches are served. Ordering up a meal at one of these spots is a satisfying, delicious way to discover Cajun Country during your travels in the Pelican State.
But first, some background is in order. According to legend, the plate lunch originated in Hawaii, where dockworkers and plantation laborers would line up for a box filled with meat and vegetables. Eventually, the tradition made its way to south Louisiana, where the ingredients were different but the concept was the same: hearty portions of meat, a starch, vegetables and (usually) a slice of bread or roll, served in a Styrofoam or paper box at a reasonable price.
Cajun ingenuity brought a distinctive twist to plate lunches. Historically, country meat markets would take unsold cuts of meat and slather them in gravy, pairing them with rice and stewed vegetables, and serving them up to a clientele that consisted largely of working-class men and women. Over time, Cajun flavors made their way into the mix, so that these days you’re as likely to see étouffée on a plate lunch menu as you are fried chicken.
Lafayette is home to some of the best plate lunches you’ll find in the region known as Acadiana. Here are five of our favorites:
Landry’s Café is a meat-and-three restaurant with lunch specials that change by the day. Red beans and rice is served on Mondays (as is the case at so many Louisiana restaurants); fried catfish is on Wednesdays; shrimp stew is on Friday.... Every day offers a different taste of Acadiana.
T-Coon’s, another popular Lafayette lunch restaurant, is run by David Billeaud, a sixth-generation Cajun from the town of Broussard. The man knows his way around a kitchen, billing his meals as “zydeco cooking” in honor of the Cajun and Creole influences of the region. Lunch specials are served with sides that include jambalaya and rice dressing, and the meals themselves are pure soul food goodness — try the catfish courtboullion or crawfish etouffee.
Talk about truth-in-advertising: The Lunch Box is home to hundreds of lunch boxes, many of which were donated by customers who have been coming here since it opened in 1990. Its décor is just part of the charm, though. Plate lunches are the main attraction, with specials that change daily. Order up a box full of fried oysters or grilled fish, with sides of fries and green beans. And if you’re lucky enough to show up on a Friday, order up a helping of the homemade bread pudding. You’ll thank us later.
Laura’s 2 NEXT Generation is a family affair, with three generations of the Broussard family handling kitchen duties. This lunchtime eatery serves up big, hearty portions of chicken and waffles, oxtail, red beans and baked turkey wings, making it one of the most authentic soul food lunch spots in Lafayette.
Want to know how much Lafayette loves a good plate lunch? Well, consider the fact that there’s a festival celebrating it. Plate Lunch-A-Palooza honors the men and women who bring the Styrofoam to the masses. Bring your appetite and your dancin’ shoes, because this party is a big one. For just a few dollars you can order plate lunches from more than a dozen vendors from local eateries, and get down to good Cajun music from the likes of Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band.