Wining & Dining
A Food Lover's Guide to SWLA
2/4/2019 12:48:09 PM
Food Lover's Guide: Harlequin Steak & Seafood

Southwest Louisiana is known for many wonderful qualities, most notably its amazing food! This area flourishes with restaurants serving most any kind of food you can imagine – some with a storied history, some brand new, and some that were here, were gone, and have come back in exciting and delicious ways. This month, we celebrate the gastronomic greatness that calls SWLA home. 

The establishments featured here are only a small fraction of the hundreds of excellent restaurants that dot our epicurean landscape. We encourage our readers to be adventurous when dining out. Sure, we all have our favorite go-tos, but step outside your culinary comfort zone now and then, try something new. You never know what you might discover!

Well-established Establishments

The places everyone knows and loves and have been around for decades. They have a legacy in the Lake Area. They’re packed full, even on weeknights, and sport a line out the door on weekends. And for good reason . . . awesome food!

Harlequin Steak and Seafood
Mr. And Mrs. Edward E. Hunter opened Harlequin Steaks and Seafood in 1956. When their grandson, Nic Hunter, was 13 years old, he started working in the restaurant from the ground up. By age 17, he was managing the establishment. "It has been a blessing and joy to continue the legacy of my grandparents,” says Hunter, current mayor of Lake Charles. "The restaurant has thrived thanks to hard work and the support of our loyal staff and customers. And we’re really excited today to be celebrating 63 years serving the Lake Area.”

Hunter says Lake Charles is home and he works hard to give back to the community he believes in. "I try to not only serve a great steak and baked potato, but to make this business a part of the community. The better community we have, the better in the long run it is for everybody. Here at Harlequin Steaks and Seafood, we try to make a positive impact on every aspect of Southwest Louisiana.”

Darrell’s Po’boys
Darrell’s has been thrilling friends and fans since 1985. Initially, the concept was simply a means for Darrell DeRouen and his friends to have a place to hang out and play cards when they got off work. For big events such as Super Bowl Sundays, Darrell and his wife Susie would prepare po’boys for the crowd. The sandwiches were such a hit, their friends encouraged them to start selling them. Now at their third location at 119 W College St. (the first two were on Ryan St. and then Common St.), they continue to grow. This Lake Charles foodie destination recently opened a new drive-through window for faster take-out service. Their menu has not changed over the years – eight po’boys offered . . . with chips. "Why fix something that isn’t broken,” Darrell always said. Their Darrell's Special and the Surf & Turf po'boys are the most often ordered, but the smoked BBQ brisket, sautéed shrimp, BBQ sausage, ham, turkey, and roast beef each have respectable followings of their own. The bread is cooked to order and their BBQ sauces and gravies are cooked in-house daily. Darrell passed away in August 2013. Susie now owns the establishment and his grandson Tyler Benoit manages the place. All six of their grandchildren have worked at Darrell’s at some point. Check them out and see for yourself why Darrell’s is consistently voted the best po’boys in SWLA. Just be sure you have plenty of napkins!

Nelson's Donuts
Mr. Nelson Rodgers and his wife Joyce opened Nelson’s Donuts at 813 E. McNeese St. in December 1968 and celebrate their business’s golden anniversary this year. Mr. Rodgers is now retired and his son Kevin Rodgers runs the day-to-day operations. His grandson Nelson (Gage) Rodgers works as a cutter while attending SOWELA. Initially, only donuts were sold at the shop. Over the years, their menu expanded to include kolaches, croissant sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, King cakes, and custom orders such as donuts for weddings. While the menu has changed, one thing has remained the same – hot fresh-glazed donuts are still their most popular item. Nelson’s sells 300-500 dozen glazed donuts PER DAY! 

Peking Garden 
Mr. and Mrs. Tong Thy "Jay” Huang immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1976. They worked in the restaurant business in New Orleans, Houston, and here in Lake Charles. In 1984, they bought the China Garden Restaurant and re-opened it as the Peking Garden. It’s been one of the area’s most popular Chinese restaurants for 35 years.

Yueh Shing Chen Huang, aka "Mrs. Jay” developed the Hunan-style Chinese menu and recipes. Several dishes, such as Dr. Bono’s Soup, Robert McHale's Shrimp Noodles, and Dr. Cormier’s Eggrolls are named after long-time regular customers. Peking Garden is also well known for their large, colorful tiki drinks, such as the Mai Tai and the Flaming Volcano (big enough for two!) In addition to great food, visiting Peking Garden is like entering a Chinese art museum. It is furnished with fine furniture and antiques, dark wood paneling, large traditional Chinese paintings, lamps, bronze lions, a wooden Buddha, and other works of art.
Sadly, Mr. Jay, a good friend to many area residents, passed away in 2017. The restaurant is now run by Mrs. Jay, who keeps her husband’s legacy alive. 

Southern Spice
Myron and Danita Leleux opened Southern Spice at 3612 Ryan Street in 1997, along with Roger Benoit, who has since retired.  By 2002, they outgrew that original location and moved to their current spot at 3901 Ryan Street. After Hurricane Rita in 2005, Southern Spice was one of the few restaurants that re-opened quickly. Even with a limited menu, they were quite busy, as one can imagine. A couple of waitresses have worked for the LeLeux’s since the restaurant opened. They say Southern Spice has a loyal customer base and has seen the same regulars for 21 years. Good food would explain their dedication. While they do have daily specials and occasionally offer a new item, the menu has basically remained the same over the years – plate lunches, seafood, steaks, po’boys, and burgers. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In 2011, the LeLeux’s son, Brandon, opened a second Southern Spice in Moss Bluff.

Pronia’s Deli and Bakery
Pronia’s has been in the deli business since 1989. Three generations of the Pronia family work on the premises. Founders Leroy and Annette Pronia still come in daily to help. Several of their children and grandchildren also work at the Deli, including son-in-law Bryan Bergeron. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, they continue to provide Lake Charles food lovers with authentic deli sandwiches, made with homemade bread, Cajun sauce, sweet pickles, and olive mix. "We try to incorporate our own signature flavors as much as possible to make our products unique to us,” says Bergeron. The bakery, which was added more recently, specializes in cupcakes, wedding cakes, sweet dough pies, cannolis, and king cakes.

New on the Scene

New restaurants in the lake area seem to pop up every day. Many are chains; our thriving local economy naturally lures big businesses, and that’s great! Others are family-owned. In either case, our collective community tends to enthusiastically support these grand openings before the ribbon is even cut – everyone wants a taste of the new place! Over time, a new business settles into a rhythm, and they either make it, or they don’t. Lake Charles can be fickle when it comes to food. 

Laguna’s Mexican Grill and Cantina
Laguna’s opened just last fall but quickly became a household name for local diners in the know. Noble Simpson and Mr. Honorio, businessmen and friends from Alexandria, La., knew Lake Charles was ripe for a new Mexican restaurant and they found the ideal spot at 1201 Lakeshore Dr. It’s the perfect location for watching the sunset over Lake Charles, whether dining indoors or on their large patio, says bartender and assistant manager Shay Dunnehoo. Open a mere four months, foodies across the lake area are raving about Laguna’s menu items, particularly their beef fajitas, carne asada, fish tacos, and quesadillas. Dunnehoo mans a fully-stocked bar and is well-known for his cucumber margarita and mango margarita with a sugar rim. It you’re looking for a great place to eat and relax after all the Mardi Gras festivities, stop in at Laguna’s Mexican Grill and Cantina.

Paul's Rib Shack
SWLA meat lovers are likely familiar with the bright red food truck, Paul’s Rib Shack and BBQ. Paul Pettefer opened this popular event staple in 2017. Inspired by a catering gig last spring at tree-covered Citgo Park, Pettefer began searching for a permanent location. "I asked God to help me find my own set of trees to open a barbecue joint under,” he says. He found the perfect spot at 4800 Nelson Road, where he serves his BBQ on Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., as well as on Waitr during those hours. He’s been remodeling the building onsite and plans to open his brick and mortar establishment sometime this March or April. There will be indoor dining, a back porch, and outdoor tables with all-day shade under the majestic oak trees. And that tantalizing smell of smoked meats!

Bahama Buck's
With the popularity of mom and pop shaved ice stands throughout Southwest Louisiana, national snow cone chain Bahama Buck’s took a daring chance on Lake Charles and opened a franchise at 4740 Nelson Rd. Touted as 'the greatest sno® on earth' and open year around, they also serve smoothies, signature sodas and Bahamian beverages, Frostalattes, lemonades,  fruit bowls with the superfood Açaí berry and tropical fruit cups (in season). Get into an island groove this winter and check out Bahama Buck’s. 

Next up on the lake area dining horizon, watch for Salata Salad Company, Poké Geaux, and Nothing Bundt Cakes (Now Open!). Seafood lovers can look forward to Shuck’s Louisiana Seafood House, out of Abbeville and known for their premium oysters, and the Fiery Crab Juicy Seafood and Bar coming from Lafayette.

What was Old is New Again

Then there are those establishments that were popular back in the day, were closed for various reasons, and have make a spectacular comeback. The owners’ ingenuity allowed them to reinvent a dining concept and come back bigger and better than ever.

The Villa
During the 1990s, Mike Sperandeo worked alongside his father in their popular family-owned restaurant, Italian Villa, on Ryan St. That establishment closed in 2004, but in early 2017, Sperandeo revived his father’s legacy and opened The Villa, located at 324 Pujo St., Lake Charles. For posterity, and because they were really great dishes, he kept some of his father’s best recipes on the menu, but he also added an element of gourmet flair and sophistication, with items such as pan seared scallops with butternut squash risotto, and lamb sirloin with hasselback potato, caramelized fennel, crispy leeks, and red wine demi-glaze. "The menus still change from time to time which includes changing the wine and cocktail lists as well,” says Sperandeo. And he continues to revamp his business plan. Last year, he added Sunday Brunch, 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m. He also added a Happy Hour, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tues.-Sat., with drink specials and a happy hour menu. 

Panorama Music House
Jay Ecker managed the popular original Rikenjaks at 331 Broad St. back in the early to mid-2000s. After it closed in 2006, the location was home to several other establishments over the years. After sitting empty for a number of months last year, Ecker, who successfully revived the Rikenjaks concept at 3716 Ryan St. in early 2016, developed a plan for a brand new use of the Broad St. site. Panorama Music House, which Ecker plans to open March 4, will focus on food, spirits, and of course, music. The venue will feature local, regional, and touring bands. Open seven days a week for lunch, dinner, and late night with an available private party room. The name Panorama comes from the vintage sign Ecker is repurposing from the old Panorama Burger House.
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