Of the 39 U.S. cities and counties named for the French and American hero, the Marquis de La Fayette, Lafayette, Louisiana is the place that will show you the best time.
Located about 128 miles west of New Orleans on the Vermilion River, Lafayette is a stirring gumbo of Cajun and Creole cultures, brought to life in the city’s artwork, music, and especially, food. With Lafayette at its center, Cajun country sprawls through several South Louisiana parishes and includes a constellation of small towns like Eunice, St. Martinville, New Iberia, and Breaux Bridge, all worth the drive.
The local Cajun cuisine is prized for its array of rustic, rib-sticking specialties including crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo, spiked with garlicky andouille sausage. The region is famous for boudin, links of spiced pork and rice that are reason enough for a road trip.
Coffee and breakfast at Edie’s Biscuits
1400 W Pinhook Road
For early birds, the sweet spot to be is Edie’s Biscuits, known for sunrise morning hours and oversized fluffy scratch biscuits. A local’s fave, Edie’s divides its menu into sweet and meat, with options like blueberry and cinnamon roll and catfish egg and cheese. The fried chicken biscuit is earth-shattering.
Late morning snack at Scratch Farm Kitchen
406 Garfield Street
When it’s time for a late morning snack, head to Scratch Farm Kitchen, a farm-to-table locally owned eatery downtown. Maybe share a Pretty Plate, the kitchen’s fresh and natural version of the traditional plate lunch. Pick a protein, from smoked tofu to eggs and chicken, and enjoy whatever’s fresh — might be limas, broccoli salad, grilled zucchini, or oyster mushrooms. Or, just sit with a Vietnamese coffee and a muffin and soak up the Kitchen’s artsy good vibes.
Lunch at Dwyer’s Cafe or Cafe Coachella
323 Jefferson Street; 1224 NE Evangeline Thruway
The meat and three plate lunch special is so deeply ingrained in this area’s gastronomic vernacular that there’s an actual plate lunch trail where roadway meets foodway at the intersection of comfort and food. Places like Dwyer’s Café downtown, open since 1965, where a steam table in the back simmers with smothered chicken and pork chops. If it’s Tuesday, braised calf tongue in gravy is an especially popular dish. On the Northside, Cafe Coachella is the right choice, a haven for soulful Southern cuisine. Meat might be chicken stew, fried pork chops, or stuffed turkey wings, rounded out with red beans, smothered potatoes, mac and cheese, and okra.
Afternoon coffee at Reve Coffee Roasters
200-A Jefferson Street
Stave off that nap with a coffee from Reve Coffee Roasters, a locally owned cafe that roasts and distributes its own beans. Belly up to the coffee lab for one of the specialty drinks, like the Bourboneaux, a blend of barrel-aged cold brew, pecan syrup, orange peel, and orange bitters. Or maybe boost that immune system with Golden Days, a turmeric-laced ginger tea spiked with coconut and chili and sweetened with honey, hot or cold. Pair with a homemade pastry of the day to complete a golden afternoon stop.
Early evening drinks, fancy or dive
201 Settlers Trace Boulevard; 1377 Henderson Levee Road
When cocktails come with flower petals, the bar is set high. Lafayette’s latest swanky place to see and be seen is the Palmyre, a funky setting with peacock prints and red velvet wing chairs. Take a deep dive into the composed cocktails, powered by top-shelf booze and fresh juices and garnishes. Mezcal lovers will appreciate the smoky Johann Goes to Mexico, bright with a balance of citrus, sugar, and bitters. There’s an array of beer on draft, world wines, and of course bubbles, which pair beautifully with the bowfin caviar service or the beef tartare.
For an entirely different experience, head to Turtle’s Bar, a local watering hole extraordinaire. Situated in a rustic shack on the Henderson Levee overlooking the Atchafalaya Basin, Turtle’s is no frills all the way. This is the place for ice-cold beer, straightforward libations, and if it’s a special night, pudding shots. A super friendly crowd makes it even better.
Dinner at Vestal
555 Jefferson Street
There are plenty of great dinner spots in Lafayette, spots like Pamplona for tapas and Jane’s for French cuisine. But reserve a table at Vestal, where chef Ryan Trahan is playing with fire, literally. Much of his stellar menu sizzles on the 14-foot fireplace central to the restaurant, with impressive results. But first, try some pristine raw seafood, from Gulf oysters to white fish ceviche with salted strawberry and the tuna crudo with ponzu and smoked chili. Try not to eat too much of the housemade sourdough — it will be difficult — and sample a few small plates, like the Caesar with spicy greens and the pork ribs with tamarind, peanut, and coconut cracklin.’ For the main event, steak eaters will swoon over the wagyu or the 16-ounce ribeye from Southern Farms, perfectly caramelized by fire. There’s also a whole grilled fish and a smoky beef cheek Bolognese lasagna, which is the stuff of dreams. If there’s room, a miso mousse is an umami-laden end note.
Late Night at Blue Moon Saloon
215 E Convent Street
Dance off some of these calories at the Blue Moon Saloon, where a range of live music is featured Wednesday through Sunday. Afterward, head to Mel’s Diner, a classic 24-hour diner recently reopened nearly two years after a kitchen fire. Share an order of the wets with cheese — fries swimming in brown gravy topped with cheddar — devour a catfish po’ boy, or red beans and rice, available seven days a week, not just Mondays. Breakfast is served around the clock, for anybody ready to start again.