Mardi Gras, which has a wide range of traditions, lands on Feb. 13 this year. Cajun and Creole foods — like gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and shrimp étouffée— can make you feel like you’re in Louisiana fueling up before the evening’s parades.
Now the experience is easier to find in Spring Branch with the recent opening of a Ragin’ Cajun restaurant. And if you want something sweet, Ragin’ Cajun also has beignets, as does another recent Spring Branch District addition: PJ’s Coffee.
Northwest Houston fans of po’ boys, muffaletta sandwiches and the other classics were eager to see the new outpost open. But they had a bit of a wait, as owner Dominic Mandola is aware.
“It only took 29 months to get this restaurant open!” he posted on Facebook in December.
Mandola closed the Ragin’ Cajun Westchase location at 9600 Westheimer amid the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, Mandola — a Spring Branch resident — said that “when the world turns back to normal,” he planned to open a location in his neighborhood.
Two years plus a few months is a drop in the bucket compared to the restaurant’s legacy in Houston. The original Ragin’ Cajun on Richmond Avenue will celebrate 50 years in business this year.
Ragin’ Cajun got its start in 1974 as Ray Hay’s Cajun Po-Boys with Luke Mandola Sr. (Dominic’s father) as a partner. In 1976, Ray Hay’s introduced crawfish boils in the parking lot. The restaurant’s name was changed to Ragin’ Cajun in 1981 and from then on offered a full menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.
The new Ragin’ Cajun at 1725 Wirt Rd. offers the same menu as the original, but the outlet is unique. The 3,100-square-foot restaurant features a large bar and even larger patio, with seating for more than 100, and it seemed there were nearly that many little kids running around in the grassy kids’ area on a recent weekday evening.
It was the perfect setting for a family team dinner: Catfish for the parents and cupcakes for the kids — plus participation trophies, of course.
Speaking of kids, they eat free on Wednesdays with the purchase of an adult meal. And speaking of awards, the new location has received high marks from reviewers online.
“They did a great job with the building,” one reviewer said. “The layout makes great use of space, indoor and outdoor dining and a very attractive bar.”
Another reviewer said she wished she could have given the new Spring Branch location 10 stars instead of 5 because, while they were “super busy,” they still did a great job with her party of 10 and even found her husband’s wallet, which he had dropped.
“So thankful for their awesome, honest staff and management. Welcome to the neighborhood,” she wrote. “We are so glad you are here.”
Like at the original location, you can go up to the counter as you walk in and order and pay. The Spring Branch restaurant also has servers who will come to your table, take your receipt (or your order) and bring you your food, as well as fill any additional orders for drinks or extras like dessert.
I had forgotten to order hush puppies at the counter, which anyone who loves hush puppies knows is a serious oversight. But our waiter made sure I got the hot, bite-sized fritters made of cornmeal batter with my meal.
We also went for the Canal St. Catfish — grilled or blackened catfish fillets served on a bed of dirty rice with roasted Brussel sprouts in a lemon butter garlic sauce.
And we ordered the Zydeco Shrimp, eight Gulf Coast shrimp that you can order blackened or grilled, which also can come with dirty rice with the Brussel sprouts.
There was no way my dining partner was going to leave without getting a cup of chicken and sausage gumbo, his all-time favorite.
All three dishes were fresh, tasty and as well-prepared as the dishes we’ve had at the original location. And the hush puppies were perfectly crisp on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside, just like I like them.
Entrees start at $18 and mostly go up to about $24. For for those whose New Year’s resolutions included saving money, Ragin’ Cajun offers daily specials in the form of Red Bean Monday, Jambalaya Tuesday and Gumbo Wednesday. The specials run between $10 and $13.
Or, grab a po’ boy special seven days a week for $16. It comes with a cup of gumbo and a drink.
Also be sure to check out their “Happiest Hour” Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., when you can enjoy drink specials as well as a dozen Gulf Coast oysters on the half shell for $16 or a dozen chargrilled “New Orleans Style” oysters for $24.
Satisfying another niche of eager customers, the restaurant has started serving lunch (opening at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday and noon on Sunday).
What’s all the fuss about? Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Ragin’ Cajun gained a reputation for serving high-quality Cajun cuisine. Customers have been known to drive 100 miles and more for the crawfish.
It’s about 360 miles from Spring Branch to the French Quarter in New Orleans, and many Houstonians will make the trek for Mardi Gras. But if you’re ready to get warmed up now, there’s no need to even leave the neighborhood.
1725 Wirt Rd
Houston, TX 77055
— by Dorothy Puch Lillig