One of the most beloved comfort food restaurants on the west side of Phoenix is not a Mexican taco spot or a homegrown burger parlor. No, the West Valley kitchen boasting maybe the biggest cult following west of 83rd Avenue represents something slightly more improbable and intriguing: a family-owned restaurant with a menu dedicated to classic Cajun and Creole cooking.
Despite its somewhat obscure address, which places it deep in the recesses of west-side suburbia, the dining room is nearly always bustling at Flavors of Louisiana. A first trip to the restaurant often involves getting slightly disoriented and turned around amid the curvilinear streets and traffic-choked, big-box plazas that are hallmarks of the fastest-growing corners of the Valley, including this particular swath of Avondale. But eventually, you spot the place over there, far removed from street view, tucked in between an upscale hair salon and hookah lounge, in a shopping center anchored by a massive glass-and-steel fortress that turns out to be, upon closer inspection, a neighborhood LA Fitness.
If you’re a west-sider with a penchant for deep-fried gator and jambalaya, though, most likely you can already drive to Flavors of Louisiana in your sleep. The restaurant has been serving Avondale for almost a decade now, and in that time, it has happily thrived in a section of the I-10 corridor dominated by big chains and fast food outlets.
You might say that Flavors of Louisiana fills a specific niche that’s hard to find in the Valley: the full-flavored cooking of southern Louisiana, served in a friendly, low-frills neighborhood dining room spruced up with tributes to the Pelican State. Bright red bags of Community Coffee are sold in the restaurant lobby, along with a handful of other Cajun and Creole specialty grocery items. Part of a wall has been adorned with LSU regalia, and a bayou-inspired mural inside the main dining room is a like a set piece tribute to the Louisiana lowlands. Overall, though, Flavors of Louisiana is mostly a simple and comfortable space, where you can take comfort in novelty tablecloths protected by see-thru plastic coverings, just like at your Aunt Gladys’ house.
You order at the counter, and you’ll probably find that it’s hard to resist the call of the appetizers list, which is replete with all manner of delicious and deep-fried grizzled things: thick, crispy onion rings; thinly sliced pickles encased in almost-translucent sheaths of breading; fried green tomatoes, sliced very thin and cleanly fried; and hush puppies, fried to a vaguely craggy, dark-caramel exterior, each bite yielding softly to its yellow cornmeal nucleus. If you can’t decide, there’s always the fais do do, a sort of mix-and-match Cajun dance party on a plate that comes with three appetizers of your choice.
There are deep-fried alligator bites, too, which you can order as an appetizer or as the main ingredient in one of the restaurant’s specialty po’ boy sandwiches. If you’ve never eaten deep-fried gator, the tired old joke rings true — it does taste an awful lot like chicken — and the meat tastes particularly good dressed in the restaurant’s fine homemade tartar sauce, and then stuffed into a freshly toasted French roll.
Speaking of po’ boys, it’s hard to go wrong with most of the sandwich options, which include standouts like a savory blackened catfish sandwich, a fried oyster po’ boy, or a shrimp po’ boy that erupts with the crunchy, grizzled, and nicely seasoned deep-fried crustaceans.
There is gumbo, of course, available in two varieties: chicken and sausage and seafood, of which the latter seems to be slightly richer. The stew is thick and deeply flavored, and mottled with plump hunks of shrimp, oysters, and crab. There is something particularly good and timeless about scooping up the stew-dampened bundles of soft, fragrant rice that sink to the bottom of your cup.
There are probably as many ways to make jambalaya as there are crawfish shacks in Louisiana, but the one made at Flavors of Louisiana is pretty great. The rice is very tender and moist, wrapped up in notes of garlic and pepper, with a pleasing spice level that mostly just tickles your palate.
And there’s a wonderful version of Joliet rouge, featuring a buttery, crispy blackened catfish fillet in a rich, peppery-sweet tomato sauce embedded with small, juicy shrimp. The house étouffée is another menu highlight, served with a gravy-thick, light blonde house roux and generous amounts of well-cooked shrimp, plus a snowball of soft white rice to help soak up all the richness.
As with the other house entrees, the étouffée comes with a couple of slices of soft, garlic-rubbed French bread on the side. You might say that using your soft puck of bread to wipe the last traces of rich, garlicky roux from your bowl is kind of the point of eating at a place like Flavors of Louisiana.
A devoted following has sprung up around the restaurant’s crawfish pie, which is available only with an order of the so-called Cajun Trio plate. The dish is an old Hank Williams song on a plate: a serving of chicken and sausage jambalaya, a small cup of gumbo, and a crawfish pie, all designed to feed you in ultra-rich harmony. The crawfish pie, on a recent visit, was flaky and buttery, the pastry stuffed full of silky lumps of the faintly cayenne-scented crustacean. A little more seasoning would have made the crawfish sing, but the overall effect of eating the pie has been known to produce feelings of pure comfort and joy.
You might say the same thing about indulging in the dessert menu at Flavors of Louisiana, where it’s hard to go wrong with the homemade peach cobbler topped with a fat scoop of vanilla ice cream. But maybe leave room for fresh-fried beignets, the sweet airy doughnut parcels shimmering with a generous dusting of confectioner’s sugar. If there’s a sweeter and fonder way to remember Flavors of Louisiana, I haven’t found it yet.
Flavors of Louisiana
13025 West Rancho Santa Fe Boulevard, Avondale
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Sunday
Fais do do appetizer trio $12.99
Small alligator po’ boy $12.99