History & Culture
Long before Europeans arrived in the bayous of southwest Louisiana, indigenous groups, including the Atakapa-Ishak, Choctaw, Chitimacha and Opelousa, made their homes among the cypress trees. In the mid-18th century, French, Spanish and Acadian colonists began settling along the Vermilion River.
This coincided with the Great Upheaval, or le Grande Dérangement, during which time French Canadians were forced from their homes, and many found a home in the areas around where Lafayette now stands. The city, now generally regarded as the hub of Acadiana, started as Vermilionville but was renamed in the 1880s in honor of the Revolutionary War icon the Marquis de Lafayette.
Farming and fishing made up the bulk of the economy until the 1950s when oil drilling became a significant engine for growth. Lafayette’s charming and eminently walkable downtown area features dozens of dining options, shops and cultural institutions.
Folks visiting Lafayette will want to come hungry, because the restaurants, diners and specialty shops in the area all serve up tasty dishes they won’t want to miss. Acadian Superette serves up Cajun classics like smothered rice dishes and fried seafood platters, along with barbecue and a selection of diner favorites.
A live-fire cooking area in the spacious back courtyard adds to the experience. Not far away, near the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus, Olde Tyme Grocery has made a name for itself for 40 years with its traditional po’ boys. Since Lafayette and the surrounding towns are situated so close to the Gulf, seafood shops like Shucks! in nearby Abbeville have thrived. They’re best-known for the spicy crawfish they serve each spring, but the selection of raw and grilled oysters is hard to beat.
Over the past few years, Lafayette has seen a renaissance of new restaurants that respect the area’s Cajun roots while serving thoughtful variations on them. The French Press has emerged as a popular breakfast and lunch joint with dishes like Sweet Baby Breesus (buttermilk biscuit sliders with fried boudin balls, crispy bacon and a sweet cane syrup drizzle) and Chicken & Waffles (LeBlanc’s Cane Jelly fried chicken with Cheddar waffles).
Similarly, Pop’s Poboys takes the familiar Louisiana sandwich and ups the game with options that include Banh Banh Shrimp (grilled marinated shrimp with a chili garlic mayonnaise) and the Surf & Turf (rich stewed beef and crispy Gulf oysters with a horseradish peppercorn sauce).
The newest addition to the downtown dining scene, Vestal, aims to take Lafayette’s regional bounty and culinary traditions and elevate them to fine dining. Chargrilled local oysters with a Japanese flavor profile, tamarind-scented pork ribs with coconut cracklin’ and a variety of Gulf fish cooked over a live fire in Vestal’s open kitchen showcase the diversity of the restaurant’s offering.
Not far from Downtown Lafayette, visitors will find Vermilionville, a living museum that showcases the history, culture and natural resources of the Native Americans, Acadians, Creoles and peoples of African descent who were in the region through the end of the 19th century.
The 23-acre site features 19 attractions, seven restored homes, and artisans in period attire who demonstrate crafts from the period. In addition to the historical architecture and helpful folks on-site, visitors can participate in Cajun dances with live local music each weekend.
Vermilionville’s restaurant, La Cuisine de Maman, serves Cajun specialties for breakfast and lunch. A few of the dishes include Pork Jambalaya, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo and Shrimp Etouffée, along with more modern Louisiana favorites like po’ boys and fried seafood platters. Throughout the year, the facility also hosts popular events like the Blackpot Festival & Cookoff in late October.
Specialty meat shops like Johnson’s Boucaniere offer a taste of traditional Cajun cookery. This shop, located near the picturesque Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, serves up hot boudin and pork cracklin’s along with andouille and other Cajun classics. Don’t miss the Parrain Special, a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with house-made boudin sausage.
Without rice, boudin would just be sausage, and the Lafayette area has been growing lots of rice for hundreds of years. The Conrad Rice Mill in nearby New Iberia offers visitors a glimpse into rice production through a tour of its facility. The connected gift shop has a cross section of its Konriko rice products (including its pecan rice) as well as a selection of Louisiana items and hot coffee.
Options for zydeco, swamp pop, and Cajun music are many around Lafayette. Newcomer to the scene Hideaway on Lee is a short walk from the downtown restaurants and even offers a menu that includes shareable appetizers and a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Down the street, locals have danced the night away at the Blue Moon Saloon for more than 20 years. Like Hideaway on Lee, the Blue Moon Saloon offers live music a few nights each week.
Must-Dos in Lafayette
• Have an epic brunch in Downtown Lafayette at Scratch Farm Kitchen.
• Listen to live Cajun music at the Hideaway on Lee or Blue Moon Saloon.
• Freshen your wardrobe at Parish Ink.
• Peruse local art at Sans Souci Fine Crafts Gallery.
• Taste around town with Cajun Food Tours.