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David Lissner
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Top 10 places to celebrate Mardi Gras in Chicago

Texas de Brazil Strawberry Mango Caipirinha

The caipirinhas will be flowing during Texas de Brazil's Carnaval party.

Call it Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday or Carnival … it’s the last hurrah before Lent. If you don’t observe Lent, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. Here are our picks for Mardi Gras events around Chicagoland.

  1. Cactus Bar and Grill, Loop, 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, no cover, $25 entry fee for contestants.

    In Cactus’s Mardi Gras crawfish consumption contest, competitors will vie to be the first to consume 3 pounds of crawfish (donated by Supreme Lobster). First place will win a $50 gift certificate to Cactus Bar and Grill; second place a Chicago Bears Fire Pit and third place a beach chair. All contestants will receive a Cactus t-shirt. Entry fees and $1 from each sale of Louisiana Abita Turbo Dog, at $3 per pint, will benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds research on childhood cancers. Gumbo ($5 per bowl) and Mardi Gras beads and masks, will also be plentiful.

  2. Crazy Jaws, Morton Grove, from 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, no cover.

    This just-opened, Louisiana-inspired destination for Cajun fare and house-smoked barbecue holds a Fat Tuesday ribbon cutting and grand-opening celebration featuring food, booze, beads, giveaway and funky blues from Paul Allodi and the A Team. The new roadhouse is open daily until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. on Saturdays, with the kitchen serving till an hour before closing time.

  3. Las Tablas, Portage Park, 9 p.m. Friday, March 11, $7 in advance/$10 at the door.

    Las Tablas brings Colombia’s Carnaval de Barranquilla to Chicago with music from Chicago Colombian dance bands Cumbia Colombiana con Grupo Cumbe and Vallenato con Juvenato plus Afro-Colombian dance performances and free carimanolas (empanada-like pastries) from Macondo Colombian Coffee & Empanadas in Lakeview at midnight.

  4. O’Donovan’s Pub and Restaurant, North Center, 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday, March 8.

    Chef Victor DeLeon’s Cajun-inspired menu offers gumbo, jalapeno cornbread, po’ boy sandwiches, Cajun-style crab cakes and blackened salmon with Cajun aioli. Buffalo and BBQ chicken wings will be on sale for 30 cents each. Drink deals include $5 New Orleans style Hurricanes, $5 Bombs, and other New Orleans-inspired libations. Beads, zydeco music and trivia feature, too.

  5. Retro Bistro, Mount Prospect, Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, and Tuesday, March 8.

    Live Mardi Gras music features all weekend along with a special three-course menu.

  6. The Southern, Wicker Park, from 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8.

    The Southern will be serving “Lowcountry boil,” a mess of crawfish, andouille, red potatoes and corn on the cob cooked with Old Bay seasoning and served with red beans and rice, $12, plus Hurricanes and mai tais for $6 each.

  7. Sushisamba rio, River North, from 9 p.m. Saturday, March 5, no cover.

    Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnaval comes to Sushisamba with a special menu, samba dancers, batuccada drummers and a live feed from Brazil. Carnaval specials include casquinha do siri (blue crab with dende oil remoulade and fresh lime), $14, and acaraje (black bean fritters) with braised short ribs, $24.

  8. Texas de Brazil, River North, 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, advance tickets: $30.

    A Brazilian-style Carnaval party with Latin cocktails and appetizers benefits The Gateway for Cancer Research and American Theater Company.

  9. Sweet Baby Ray’s, Elk Grove Village, 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, no cover.

    Mardi Gras food and drink specialties are already on the menu at Sweet Baby Ray’s, but the Tuesday party offers live music from Sweet Potato Zydeco plus beads and other giveaways. Look for such Louisiana-inspired fare as andouille sausage po’ boys, Gulf oysters, jambalaya, etouffee and “Mr. Joseph’s Killer Bread Pudding,” as well as hurricanes, planter’s punch and voodoo queen cocktails.

  10. Trader Todd’s, Lakeview, 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, $15.

    It’s Fat (Cat) Tuesday at Trader Todd’s, where they’re partying to benefit Tree House Humane Society, a cageless, no-kill cat shelter and spay/neuter clinic. The cover charge includes beads, karaoke, three drink tickets an all-you-can eat vegetarian buffet featuring vegan gumbo, veggie burger sliders, cole slaw, Cajun fries, red-bean hummus with chips and vegan king cake.