Mardi Gras in the San Francisco Bay Area
Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is a centuries-old tradition celebrated annually on the day before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Rooted in the cultural heritage of New Orleans but observed in various regions worldwide, Mardi Gras is synonymous with fun (and a little crazy) parades, elaborate costumes, beads and a whole lot of partying. If you aren’t able to make the trek to New Orleans to see it first hand (which should definitely be added to your bucket list), there are plenty of ways to get in the Mardi Gras spirit in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mardi Gras Foods
Mardi Gras has roots in christianity. It was always celebrated on the eve of the forty day fasting period known as lent. Today it has become a popular secular tradition, all over the globe, especially in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the perfect excuse to feast on some delicious cajun creole cuisine. Try a recipe at home or head out to one of SF’s best New Orleans-inspired eateries. Here are some dishes we highly recommend:
Deliciously decadent sandwiches, typically prepared on crusty french bread with lettuce, tomato, pickles and a mayonnaise based sauce and various proteins, typically fried, such as shrimp, oysters, as well as roast beef or fried chicken to name a few. The Po’ Boy was proceeded by a dish known as the “Oyster Loaf”. Its history is murky at best. There is debate surrounding the origins of the oyster loaf. Some believe it was invented in San Francisco, while others maintain it was invented in Louisiana. The term oyster loaf is still used, on occasion, in Louisiana. The once common oyster loaf has all but disappeared in in the Bay Area today. We have dug up some historic recipes. Here is one of our favorites, if you want to give it a whirl at home. Otherwise an Oyster Po’ Boy at one of San Francisco’s New Orleans style eateries will definitely hit the spot. Order the famous french bread from New Orleans to create an authentic experience at home.
Thick, flavorful, protein rich stew that is often served for special occasions in Louisiana. Gumbo recipes vary widely and home cooks take pride in their family recipes. The dish is the ultimate comfort food dish and can serve as a meal, along with some Louisiana Crystal Hot Sauce and crusty french bread. The dish usually starts with a roux and a thickening agent such as okra or file and has proteins such as chicken, gulf prawns, andouille sausage, crab, oysters, fish or any combination thereof. It also typically has veggies, particularly tomatoes.It is served accompanied by rice.Try some of the best in SF at Queens Louisiana Po’ Boy Cafe or try making some at home.This dish is certain to warm you up when Karl the fog rears his ugly head.
A rice based dish that is similar to gumbo but does not contain a roux or thickening agent. The rice proteins, vegetables and cajun spices are cooked together in one pot, like a cajun creole Paella. Head to Po’ Boys kitchen to try some of the best in SF or give it a whirl at home.
Shrimp and Grits
Southern comfort food staple that has become the symbol of southern hospitality. It is a must have dish at San Francisco’s Brenda’s French Soul Food Cafe in the Tenderloin.
A dish that means, “smothered” in French. It is a roux and butter based sauce, usually containing the “holy trinity” of vegetables, i.e. onions celery and bell pepper, with delicious cajun and creole spices, typically one protein, most commonly craw dads but also with shrimp or sometimes other variations such as chicken. The thick flavorful sauce is served over rice. Don’t miss the Crawfish Étouffée at Voodoo Love in San Francisco.
Beignets are a thick, square, fried dough that is covered in powdered sugar and often enjoyed with chicory based cafe au lait. The most famous destination for this addictive pastry is Cafe Du Mond in New Orleans, next to the French Market. You can purchase their coffee and beignet mix on line Here or just head to Brenda’s French Soul Food Cafe for the real deal, right here in SF. Brenda’s also offers delicious savory beignets, including their signature, made with crawfish.
Cajun Restaurants in the Bay Area
Where can you find Cajun Food in the San Francisco Bay Area?
There is no shortage of delicious cajun, creole cuisine in the Bay Area. Here are some of CrawlSF’s Favorites:
Opened in 2007 , and no stranger to the San Francisco Chronicle’s top 100 list, Brenda’s offers delicious creole cuisine. The Chef/owner, Brenda Buenviaja, who grew up in Louisiana, has given us plenty of reasons to venture into San Francisco’s Tenderloin, including, some of the tastiest fried chicken in the city, delicious sweet and savory beignets, flaky buttery biscuits worth every last calorie, just to name a few. Brenda’s is the perfect spot to celebrate Mardi Gras with friends. It is comfortable, casual and offers all of the Cajun influenced French and Southern foods we all crave. What a better excuse to indulge in all of your favorites in one meal, than Mardi Gras. Reservations are highly recommended, as Brenda’s is the quintesential San Francisco restaurant for New Orleans inspired cuisine.
Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
This southern style cafe, with cuisine that is a tip of the cap to the cuisine of the Big Easy, is a second restaurant opened by the people that brought SF Brenda’s French Soul Food Cafe. Located in the trendy Nopa neighborhood, it is open for breakfast, lunch dinner and most holidays. Brenda’s famous sweet and savory beignets are offered on all three menus.
Brenda’s Meat and Three
919 Divisadero Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Tucked away in the Inner Richmond, just off Clement, is a seafood lover’s paradise with a cajun inspired menu. They boast the best Crawdads in SF. They offer a wide array of dishes, including some traditional cuisine from Louisiana, a variety of fried seafood and even frog’s legs, but, the stars of the show are their seafood boils, which are offered in a variety of types and flavors.
308 5th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
CreoLa is a quaint, creole restaurant located in Cole Valley. It’s sister restaurant in San Carlos offered delicious traditional creole fare for over 20 years before they expanded into Cole Valley. They offer a delicious array of small bites and appetizers such as their Dungeness Crab hushpuppies with remoulade and boudin balls as well as classic dishes like fried catfish, shrimp and grits, Jambalaya, Étouffée and all the essential New Orleans favorites.
900 Stanyan St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Since 2006, the Front Porch has been offering down-home southern style comfort foods with a heaping side of southern hospitality, in San Francisco’s Mission District. Their menu offers an array of southern cuisine and traditional New Orleans inspired fare. Do not miss their fried chicken, which is some of the best the city has to offer. It is offered as chicken and waffles or by the bucket.
65 29th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
as well as the Outer Sunset Farmer’s market and the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.
This very San Francisco, cajun/creole inspired pop-up, is a great option for vegans and vegetarians who want to enjoy the delicious flavors of the south and Louisiana . They offer a wide array of, you guessed it, Gumbo, including a vegan version featuring the holy trinity.They also offer several delicious Po’ Boys and a few other dishes.
5176 3rd St
San Francisco, CA 94124
This Portrero Hill based canal eatery specializes in Po’ Boys with a San Francisco twist. The famous sandwich of New Orleans is offered on SF’s favorite Sandwich bread, the Dutch Crunch Roll. The menu has many offerings beyond its namesake dish, including Jambalaya, Cajun Caesar Salad, Gumbo, Fried Okra, Collard Greens and even quail.
Po Boy’s Kitchen
317 Connecticut St
San Francisco, CA 94107
This counter service style cajun restaurant serves award winning Gumbo. The menu is heavy on fried seafood items, including a wide array of Po’ Boys. It is a more casual style eatery with very affordable prices.It is a great place to soak up the alcohol after 1 too many hurricanes this Mardi Gras.
Queen’s Louisiana Po Boy Cafe
33 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94133
Cook at Home
If you love to cook, you can try to make one of the popular cajun dishes right in your own kitchen. You can even order some authentic ingredients from Zatarains to make it extra special and delicious.
King Cake is a festive dessert that plays a big part in Mardi Gras celebrations. This circular pastry, often adorned with colorful icing in traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold, hides a tiny trinket or figurine inside. As per tradition, whoever discovers the hidden charm in their slice is bestowed with good luck and the honor of hosting the next King Cake party. With its sweet dough and symbolic significance, King Cake is a delectable treat that embodies the spirit of joy & community during the Mardi Gras season.
Where to buy King Cake in San Francisco
Noe Valley Bakery (Noe Valley)
4073 24th St
San Francisco CA 94114
Hours: M-F 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM/ Sat-Sun 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Noe Valley Bakery (West Portal)
28 W Portal Ave
San Francisco CA 94127
Hours: M-F 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM/ Sat-Sun 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
King Cakes are available through February 13th. The Noe Valley Baking Company is one of the best bakeries in SF, especially for traditional holiday baked goods. In addition to full sized King Cakes, they offer Prince Cakes, and Mardi Gras cup cakes. Pre-orders are highly recommended, as they often sell out.
You can also order king cakes for delivery on Amazon.
Dress the Part
Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold and symbolize health, wealth and prosperity. Trinkets were traditionally thrown from floats in the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade annually, dating back over 100 years. The beads became the most popular trinkets and were originally made of glass. By the 1960’s the plastic version of the beads was common place. Masks are also an ancient European and African Traditions, passed on from Carnival Celebrations hundreds of years ago, that became part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions. Because Mardi Gras is such a flamboyant celebration, it was only natural that feather boas in the Mardi Gras colors soon became an integral part of the Mardi Gras celebration attire.
If you want to get into the spirit of Fat Tuesday by dressing the part, here are some spots we recommend to buy feather boas, Masks and beads in the Bay Area:
479 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114
The One Stop Party Shop
1600 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94131
1452 Haight St
San Francisco, CA
You can also order online Here
New Orleans Inspired Drinks
Famous Cocktails of New Orleans and where to try em’ in SF
In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature declared the Sazerac as the official cocktail of New Orleans. The Sazerac was invented at the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans Louisiana, owned by Antoine Peychaud, whose namesake bitters are a key component of the drink. This riff on the Old Fashioned cocktail was originally made with Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy. However, due to the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, which devastated European vineyards and disrupted brandy production, the cocktail transitioned to using rye whiskey. The cocktail is served in an Old Fashioned Glass, rinsed in absinthe or Herbsaint and served neat. It is a combination of Paychaud’s Bitters, Sugar, Rye whiskey, diluted by stirring and garnished with fresh lemon zest.
Where to try a Sazerac in San Francisco:
The Alembic Restaurant has an incredible craft cocktail program and a large array of rye whiskey to choose from. This Haight Street destination has become a go to spot for some of the most expertly executed Sazeracs in the city. Celebrate Mardi Gras with New Orleans official cocktail at this popular Bay Area haunt to celebrate Fat Tuesday in style.
1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
This classic New Orleans cocktail, invented by Walter Bergeron, at the famous Hotel Monteleone during the 1930’s is still the most popular drink at the Carousel Bar in New Orleans French Quarter. Made with a combination of rye, brandy, vermouth, benedictine and bitters. Where to try a Vieux Carre in San Francisco:
This “Tendernob” bar offers all the post prohibition mid 20th Century Classics in an art deco ambiance. They offer all the most popular classics executed to perfection, including Walter Bergeron’s original Vieux Carre recipe from the 1930’s. If you plan a cocktail crawl to celebrate Mardi Gras this year, you would be remiss not to include Stookey’s on your list.
Stookey’s Club Modern
895 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108
New Orleans Inspired Bars
This Marina dive-bar will make you feel like you have been whisked away to Bourbon Street. The Black Magic Voodoo Lounge is where Saints fans go to drink, socialize and catch games when their team is playing. The decor is understated and inspired by the bars of the French Quarter. they serve a stiff drink at a reasonable price and offer New Orleans Favorite Beer, Abita. Many patrons and staff members hail from New Orleans, so everyone there should be in the spirit of Mardi Gras if you stop in for a while.
Black Magic Voodoo Lounge
1400 Lombard Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
New Orlean’s Style Concerts
Cajun, Zydeco and New Orleans Brass Band Music
Tom Rigney & Flambeau: A band specializing in blazing Cajun and Zydeco two-steps, low-down Blues, funky New Orleans grooves, Boogie Woogie piano, as well as, ballads and waltzes.
The Aux Cajunals: This band plays kickass Cajun dance music in the style of the Balfa Brothers, Harry Choates, and other fiddle-driven Cajun legends.
Where: Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center (1317 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702)
When: Tuesday February 13, 2024 at 7:00 PM
What: A Mardi Gras Dance, complete with lessons and live music. Costumes, masks and beads highly encouraged.
Black Sheep Brass Band: An 11 piece brass band, from Sonoma that plays funk, soul, new Orleans second line style, rhythm and rhymes and original jams
When: Saturday February 10, 2024 at 6:00 pm
Where: Petaluma Music Festival’s Tenth Annual Mardi Gras Party at the Mystic Theatre (23 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA, 94952)
New Orleans is known for its excellent music scene, especially the wide availability of venues to hear live jazz. The Bay Area has quite a few excellent jazz clubs to choose from, as well. Here are some of our favorites:
The Dawn Club
This newcomer to SF’s downtown scene is a sexy venue, with a cool history and some of the best F’ing cocktails in the city. It is a creation of Future Bars, the team who brought SF some of its most unforgettable nightlife destinations such as Bourbon and Branch, Pagan Idol, Local Edition and Devil’s Acre, just to name a few. Some of the best bartenders in the city are employed by Future Bars. Enjoy an expertly prepared cocktail in SF’s Sexiest room to hear live jazz. It will not disappoint.
The Dawn Club
10 Annie St
San Francisco, CA 94103
The Sound Room
Location: 3022 Broadway Oakland, CA 94611
This music venue, located in Oakland, will be featuring a concert put on by Jazz Mafia, celebrating Mardi Gras and New Orleans the Saturday before fat Tuesday, Tickets start at $25.
The Sound Room
Oakland, CA 94611
Mardi Gras Events
11th Annual North Beach Mardi Gras Parade
When: Saturday, February 10th from 1:30PM to 6PM
Where: Start at Tupelo, where there will be drink specials, traditional New Orleans Cuisine and plenty of Mardi Gras Beads to go around. Dance the afternoon away to two incredible bands; MJ’s Brass Boppers and Second Line Brass Band. At 3;30 parade behind Second Line Brass Band en route to the North Star, where they will perform on stage until the event comes to a close.
The Mission District
46th Annual Carnaval SF Mardi Gras Celebration
When: Tuesday, February 13, 2024 from 5PM to 10PM
Where: Mission District (2243 Mission St San Francisco, Ca 94110)
This annual block party, featuring Latin Music, Dance performances, elaborate costumes and food and beverage trucks is a great way to celebrate Mardi Gras 2024. Attendees are encouraged to dress in costumes. Get tickets and more information at this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2024-carnaval-sf-mardi-gras-celebration-tickets-792714419167
Sonoma Wine Country
Mardi Gras Party
When: Tuesday February 13, 2024 from 2PM to 10PM
Where: The Parrish Cafe (60 Mill Street Healdsburg, CA 95448)
Enjoy a huge Mardi Gras celebration, complete with New Orleans inspired cuisine, dancing and live music provide by 3 amazing bands bringing the sounds of New Oleans to the Bay Area, including Brian Boudoin and the Swampdawgs, Spike Sikes and His Awesome Hotcakes andKing Street Giants. To purchase tickets go to this link: