Harold & Belle’s Is One Big Bite of New Orleans in Los Angeles

Through three generations, one menu item has remained exactly the same.

8 min read

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Imagine eating the same dish for 54 years, made by three different generations of the same family. Regulars at Harold & Belle’s in Los Angeles have done just that, indulging in the restaurant’s signature filé gumbo every day or every week for decades.

Located in the “New Orleans Corridor” of L.A.’s Jefferson Park neighborhood, Harold & Belle’s has had their filé gumbo on the menu since September 1969, when Harold Legaux Sr. and his wife, Mary Belle, opened the restaurant. The couple initially operated a hamburger stand called Hungry Harolds, but decided to pivot to the food they loved and missed from the South. Friends, family, and other NOLA expats lived near the restaurant, and they wanted to create a space for the community to gather around po’ boy sandwiches, red beans and rice, and their beloved gumbo.

“The most expensive thing was one dollar on the original menu, the drinks were flowing, and it was a party every day,” shares Ryan Legaux, grandchild of Harold Sr. and Mary Belle and the third-generation co-owner of Harold & Belle’s (along with his wife, Jessica). “It was a very different scene around here in the ’70s. It was a joint with pool tables, gambling, go-go dancers, and jukeboxes blasting. It wasn’t fancy at all.” 

Tragically, the revelry led to a pool fight in 1979 that resulted in Harold Sr.’s death. Following the incident, Ryan’s parents, Harold Jr. and Denise, took over. They transformed the space into a candlelit fine dining establishment with linen tablecloths and more upscale New Orleans fare, like their now-signature crawfish étouffée, clam chowder, and shrimp scampi. But they knew they had to keep the customer-favorite filé gumbo made with dark roux, ground sassafras, shrimp, sausage, ham, blue crab, and chicken. 

Ryan was just a kid at the time, often rolling out sleeping bags in the upstairs office with his sister while his parents worked on busy nights. He took note of the way his dad would create recipes for the restaurant.


“My dad wasn’t classically trained, so it all came from trial and error. He worked at grocery stores and hamburger stands,” Ryan explains. But the majority of the menu’s development came from the family archives. “He would call family members to get the best Louisiana recipes, like the aunt who made the best étouffée, whoever made the best meatloaf or potato salad — then he would make his own version of it.” Many of his additions are still on the menu all these years later.

Harold & Belle’s grew a steady base of regulars and what Ryan describes as a “Cheers environment” at the restaurant bar. He was there to witness it all firsthand — as well as the less cheerful days. Ryan studied food science and economics at UC Davis; after graduating in 2002, he worked at the restaurant off and on for years. He would suggest changes to his parents, but they were apprehensive. Then, when Harold Jr. was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009, it was an “immediate exit for him,” Ryan said. By that point, after the restaurant saw a 40 percent decrease in sales in the 2008 recession, he knew that they needed to make some major changes if they wanted to remain open.

But was Ryan ready to take over the family business? He asked his wife: “Do we want Harold & Belle’s to stick around?” If they did, he emphasized, it was going to take a lot of effort, money, sacrifice, and time. Ultimately, the pair decided that yes, it was worth it. “There’s a whole community surrounding this place that we couldn’t let down.” 

So in 2009 Ryan and Jessica stepped in as the new co-owners. Together, they made some “tough cuts to streamline the massive menu.” Over time, because Jessica is vegan, they’ve added plant-based options like a vegan BLT po’ boy, crispy wild mushrooms with vegan remoulade, and okra gumbo. Just like Ryan’s father, recipe development starts at home for the couple, “experimenting and trying to see what could be transformed” to create new vegan Creole classics.


Some of the dishes that make their way onto Harold & Belle’s menu are temporary specials, and others, like catfish nuggets and char-broiled oysters, are bestsellers that are here to stay. Ryan explains: “It’s a fine line you have to walk with keeping the tradition but keeping yourself relevant, especially in L.A., where people move on to the latest and greatest next new thing.” 

What sets them apart from other L.A. restaurants is that mix of old and new, traditional and modern. It’s a place where you can “feel the spirit of New Orleans,” he adds. “New Orleans is such a melting pot, a mixing of cultures, and it always has been, so we try to embody that as much as we can and make sure it’s clear that everyone is welcome. We keep the music going and the drinks flowing.”

When Harold & Belle’s experienced yet another bump in the road during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan says they were fortunate in some ways because “we’ve always had a strong takeout game and know how to package things to vent — so your catfish nuggets don’t get soggy but still stay hot.” He credits delivery apps for allowing them to “move light speeds ahead” during that time and helping people discover them now.

It’s the people that make it all worth it for Ryan, and why they knew Harold & Belle’s was worth saving 15 years ago. “People tell me all the time that they had their first date here, or they proposed to their wife at that table. We love being a part of those celebrations and creating lasting memories so that we become a part of their lives.” So many of those memories start with a bowl of filé gumbo.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Stan Lee