One of the biggest surprises I found in the course of dining at LA Bar -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- wasn't how expensive the Gulf oysters on the half-shell were ($12 a dozen) nor how much better those oysters tasted when topped with garlic butter and chargrilled (as seen above), but how good the spaghetti was at a Cajun restaurant.
The simple red sauce-topped spaghetti was my favorite dish of the dozens I tried at LA Bar, the newest restaurant from the arm of Houston's vast Mandola family which owns the neighboring Ragin' Cajun. The pasta was perfectly al dente while the silky sauce on top was light yet creamy, the soft texture tempered with an acidic tomato bite.
I shouldn't have been that surprised, however. The Mandola family runs some of the city's most notable Italian restaurants, from the giant Carrabba's chain to the demure Damian's, which recently turned 30 years old.
LA Bar owner Luke Mandola Sr. also runs Ragin' Cajun, which he opened in 1974 after graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and running a restaurant there called French Quarter Poboys. LA Bar is named after the time Luke Sr. spent in Lafayette, which is one of the best little dining destinations between here and New Orleans.
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But while Luke Sr.'s Cajun background is firmly entrenched, it's Italian food that his vast family really specializes in. Cousin Vincent runs Nino's, Vincent's, Pronto Cucinino and Grappino de Nino; cousin Tony runs Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen at Tony Mandola's Oyster Bar; cousin Josephine once ran the now-defunct but still legendary Josephine's downtown; cousin Ciro runs Ciro's; cousin Joseph runs Mandola's Deli; cousin Johnny runs Carrabba's; cousin Damian runs Damian's; and the list goes on.
The massive, multi-generational Mandola family first arrived in Houston in 1915 and has since left an indelible mark on our dining landscape. For a deeper look, peruse the detailed Mandola family tree that My Table Magazine recently put together, or for a deeper look at the latest Mandola family venture -- LA Bar -- check out this week's cafe review.