There is a bright red giant crayfish inflatable arch marking the outdoor food court in the parking lot of the Ragin Cajun Café on PCH in Redondo Beach, looking in part like a decoration from a Mardi Gras float – and in part like a clip from a 1950s sci-fi movie about crayfish growing to immense size as a result of nuclear testing. (Remember “Them!” From 1954, about giant ants infesting the Los Angeles sewer system? To this day, I still think it was a documentary, not a monster movie!)
Either way, the giant crayfish are reminiscent of the general craziness the Ragin Cajun has brought to South Bay in its multiple incarnations – including two on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. I miss the originals. But I’m glad the PCH branch managed to survive – like N’awlins himself, no matter the storms, she’s always there, ready to party. As it says on the menu, “The easiest treat you can find west of Bourbon Street…”
It is also one of the spiciest.
If you ask, they’ll bring you a metal rack of homemade hot sauces, ranging from bearable to cleansing your sinuses for next year. I believe the hot sauces here could resuscitate the dead, if only they were a little hungrier. And it’s a place worth coming back to – a crazy joint serving food straight out of Crescent City, in a bustling space worthy of if not the (too touristy) French Quarter and then the nearby Warehouse District.
On a good night’s sleep, the aptly named Ragin Cajun captures the food, spirit and funk of The Big Easy. It’s a crazy amount of fun, especially if you’re going with a bunch of revelers who wanted to pretend it’s Mardi Gras, even when it’s not. And it’s a pleasure to enjoy the N’awlins atmosphere, without the risks of a night out on Bourbon Street, with its plastic containers filled with diabetic cocktails.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot to drink here. The drinks menu is as big as the food menu – bigger, in fact. And all the good brands are on the drink list – Abita Root Beer and Hank’s Orange Cream Soda, as well as five Abita beers from NO, including Purple Haze Raspberry Wheat and Turbo Dog Brown Ale. They make a Rum Hurricane (“Based on Pat O’Brien’s Original Recipe”), which revelers drink by the gallon in the neighborhood. (I’ve been there, I’ve never seen people so drunk – mid-afternoon!) There are also cocktails served in smoking skulls: Blue Voodoo, Reaper, El Diablo. There is a special edition Ragin Margarita served with food only. It helps the survival rate.
And what better with a strong drink, than strong flavors, which brings us to okra. It’s a wacky creation with so much in it: amazing chicken sausages, veggies, rice, broth and flavor – a bayou of flavor. It is mixed with jambalaya, a cousin of paella, turning into a homemade creation called “gumbalaya”. Get your gumbalaya with red beans & rice and sausage, accompanied by gravy shrimp or smothered crayfish. You can hear the Dixieland bands playing in the streets, I swear you can.
Much of the menu is built around the good things you can do with spices and gravy – like I said, the restaurant has their own brand of hot sauce on every table. Fried is a big deal too, but not essential. With fried, it is blackened and grilled.
There are levels of spiciness as well, for those who fear peppers, although there is a fair amount of spiciness. Like Sichuan cuisine, it comes with the territory. And regardless of the level of spice, the choices are plentiful. While okra is a no-brainer, the peeled shrimp eaten in the seafood boil is pretty good; I eat it all, because there is good in the shells.
There are fish preparations – especially catfish, which takes me back to the bayou childhood that I never had. Cajun fried chicken is always a good choice; if you are a little adventurous, try the “Gators & Tater”. And yes, the fried alligator really tastes like chicken. Or at least, a chicken that lives near a swamp.
Po’boys are grilled, blackened or fried; there is a 16 ounce rib eye; and this being the South Bay, there’s a vegan combo, a Beyond Burger vegan, fried okra, and fried cauliflower. There are silent puppies that would make Emeril Lagasse (do you remember him?) Say “Bam!” And there’s the pecan pie for dessert.
Giant crayfish outside are not hostile like ants in the sewers. Their message is in, and take a good cold Abita. You all.
Merrill Shindler is an independent Los Angeles-based food critic. Send an email to [email protected]
Ragin Cajun Coffee
- Rating: 2.5 stars
- Address: 525 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach
- Information: 310-540-7403; www.ragincajuncafe.com
- Cooked: cajun
- When: Lunch and dinner, every day
- Details: Complete bar; large reservations
- Atmosphere: The third incarnation of the beloved Ragin Cajun brings a lot of joy to a post-pandemic world with Cajun music, Cajun vibes… and Cajun food. As they say at the bottom of the Bayou, “Let the good times roll!” ” (“Let the good times roll!”)
- COVID-19 Security: Very good with a sprawling outdoor patio, limited indoor seating, and well-masked staff.
- Prices: About $ 35 per person
- Suggested dishes: 12 Appetizers ($ 11- $ 26), 8 Salads ($ 8-26), 9 Bols Bayou ($ 10- $ 31), 6 Po ‘Boys ($ 14- $ 19), 4 Sandwiches ($ 15), 7 Appetizers ($ 28- $ 48), 9 Cajun favorites ($ 19 – $ 48), 5 desserts ($ 9 – $ 10), 16 Happy Hour dishes ($ 7 – $ 9
- Credit card: MC, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Very excellent, if not exceptional. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth it. speak.)