Let the Good Times Roll

Good food to get you in the mood for Mardi Gras

Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food

1815 Rosewood, 474-5652
Monday-Tuesday, 11am-6:45pm; Wednesday-Friday, 11am-8:45pm; Saturday, 5-8:45pm

"Nubian Queen" Lola Stephens has a genuine Cajun pedigree, having relocated to Austin from Lake Charles, La., after learning to cook soul and Cajun food next to her mother and grandmother. Stephens learned well. She got sucked into the Austin vortex in 1980, sidetracked on her way to California. After some rough times, she saw a "For Rent" sign on what used to be Nanny's, a neighborhood soul-food joint at Rosewood and Chicon. With the $500 she scraped together from savings, friends, and her church, she secured the spot for a month, cleaned it up, and did some painting and decorating, the predominant colors being purple and yellow. "It's the colors of Mardi Gras and Jacob's Coat," she says.

Word got around, and now Lola's is a go-to spot on Austin's Cajun soul-food radar. You can start with her amazing Queen Cajun Special Taco with egg, potato, peppers, onion, bacon, and shrimp for $3.25, or Mother's Cajun Breakfast Rice ($7.50). Think spicy, garlicky Cajun fried rice; get it with pork chop, chicken wings, fish, or shrimp for $8.95. The lunch specials are fantastic. Monday's is pork chop with red beans and rice (of course) for $6.50. Wednesday's is jambalaya and two sides ($8.95), while Thursday's is crawfish étouffée with yams and cabbage ($8.50), leading up to all-you-can-eat gumbo on Friday ($9.99, regularly $6.50-8.95 per bowl). The Cajun stews are all rich and lustily spiced; you can taste the native preparation in every bite.

The best of all worlds might be the dinners, which come with a Cajun entrée and soul food sides: crawfish étouffée, fried shrimp, or fried catfish (all $8.95; shrimp and catfish combo, $10.95). Stephens fries up some of the tastiest catfish in Central Texas, so remember that when you consider the excellent po'boys (pork or chicken, $7.95; shrimp or fish, $8.95; shrimp and catfish, $9.95). Last but not least, you can top it off with beignets and coffee or tea for $3.

The seating is communal, the decor is straight out of central casting's Mardi Gras dreams, and the welcome you'll receive is embracing. Space is a little tight, but you get to meet your table neighbors. You can digest better knowing that the little money you spent helps Stephens feed the homeless every Sunday and that you just earned some good karma while stuffing your belly with great Cajun food. PS: The burgers are dynamite!

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