King cake is the food to celebrate Mardi Gras: a ring of dough, cinnamon-streaked, filled or plain, liberally topped with sugar in purple, green and gold, the traditional colors of Carnival. Die-hard Louisiana expats often have it shipped, but sometimes find it at a local bakery. As a proud member of the New Orleans diaspora, I'm always delighted when manifestations of Crescent City culture appear in unanticipated corners, says Mark Plotkin, president of Amazon Conservation Team in Arlington, Va., a rainforest-saving nonprofit.
If you can't make it to New Orleans, check out some of the other best places to snag the traditional Mardi Gras fare.
Randazzo's Camellia City Bakery in Slidell, La.
The Randazzo family has been a synonym for King Cake since 1965 when they opened their first bakery. Nothing but King Cakes with cream cheese or fruit filling or plain, topped with thick white icing are hand-made at this bakery across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, which packages the cakes with Mardi Gras beads, doubloons, a feather mask and a poster. Voted the No. 1 place for king cake in a 2013 readers' poll by Gambit, a local weekly, this location offers next-day shipping, a smartphone app and a website that blares Mardi Gras music. Other Randazzo-owned bakeries can be found in Metairie and Covington. kingcakes.com
Haydel's Bakery in Jefferson, La.
This local favorite's King Cakes have praline pecan and German chocolate or strawberry cream cheese fillings, and come packaged with Mardi Gras beads, a king cake history scroll and often French Market coffee, and can be shipped internationally. Seasonal varieties for Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays are sold year-round. The Guinness World Record-holder for the biggest King Cake a 5,300-foot cake wrapped around the Superdome in 2010 this family-owned bakery is just outside New Orleans. haydelbakery.com
Domenica Restaurant in New Orleans, La.
A gourmet twist king cake stuffed with bananas, roasted pecans, salted caramel and mascarpone cheese, topped with a gold leaf-flecked praline glaze is served (on 24-hour notice) at this Italian restaurant owned by John Besh, a James Beard Best Chef winner. domenicarestaurant.com
Poupart Bakery in Lafayette, La.
The only genuine French bakery in Cajun country since 1967, Poupart bakes both king cakes with nut, fruit and/or cream or half-and-half fillings and the original French galette des Roi, a plain round puff pastry filled with almond cream. Beignets, pastries, eclairs and fruit tarts are also sold. poupartsbakery.com
Delicious Donuts & Bakery in Lake Charles, La.
The house specialty is pecan praline or pecan fudge king cake, but the two dozen fillings include Zulu coconut/cream filling and chocolate/coconut icing named after the New Orleans African-American krewe famed for tossing coconuts from their floats. Cakes come with Mardi Gras cups, a mask and throws. deliciouskingcakes.com
Mara's Homemade in Syosset, N.Y.
King Cakes with Nutella, pecan praline or cream cheese fillings are baked to order year-round for pickup or shipping at this Louisiana seafood and BBQ restaurant, now on Long Island, formerly in New York's East Village. The HBO Treme crew distributed her cakes in Manhattan to mark the show's season two premiere. marashomemade.com
Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, Va.
King Cake with cream cheese filling plus a Mardi Gras catering menu featuring shrimp etouffee and chicken/andouille gumbo are available. Chef/owner and New Orleans native David Guas will demonstrate his king cake on the Today show February 25. His bakery holds an annual block party with Carnival foods and a costume contest on Fat Tuesday. bayoubakeryva.com
Swedish Bakery in Chicago, Ill.
King cakes with almond/cinnamon filling and a cherry baked inside, topped by beads and a tiny baby, plus Mardi Gras cupcakes with buttercream frosting and crown- and mask-shaped cookies are sold through Easter here. European-style pastries and cakes are also sold at this bakery opened in the 1920s in the Andersonville neighborhood. swedishbakery.com
Suarez Bakery in Charlotte, N.C.
King cakes fillings are apple, apricot, blueberry, cherry, raspberry and cream cheese -- are sold in-store the week before Mardi Gras, but can be ordered year-round (no shipping). facebook.com/suarezbakery
Boxing Room in San Francisco, Calif.
Slices of cream cheese-filled King Cake, topped by sugar colored with mint, hibiscus and saffron, with braised pineapple on the side, are generally served for $8 at this Louisiana-menu restaurant in Hayes Valley whose chef is a New Orleans native. boxingroom.com