With the city’s close proximity to the Gulf, it’s no surprise that Houstonians eagerly await crawfish season each year. From January through June, the crustacean appears on menus all over town, available by the pound at barbecue joints, patio bars and Cajun restaurants galore. In the last two decades, the rise in popularity of Viet-Cajun crawfish, a combination of a Louisiana-style boil with Vietnamese spices that famously originated in Southeast Texas, has resulted in more and more people seeking out the specific variety. The unique blend of flavors, enhanced with garlic, ginger, peppers, onions and citrus, packs a sweet and spicy punch and is a tasty alternative to the original.
Indulging at the peak of the season when mudbugs are at their plumpest is a no-brainer. And thankfully, some Houston restaurants serve up the highly sought-after Viet-Cajun style year-round, should a craving hit during the off season. Consider these restaurants serving stellar Viet-Cajun crawfish on your next crawl.
Crawfish & Noodles was famously featured on celeb chef David Chang’s Ugly Delicious and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and it remains a favorite among Houstonians for its Viet-Cajun-seasoned seafood offerings. Helmed by James Beard Award-nominated chef Trong Nguyen, the restaurant draws in visitors for its Viet-Cajun crawfish, tossed in a zesty garlic butter seasoning. Batches are hearty with corn, potato and sausage in the mix, but if you’re still hungry, explore some of the other specialties, like bo luc lac, wok-fried noodles and pho. Crawfish & Noodles has also opened a second location at the Houston Farmers Market in the Heights following its original Asiatown outpost.
This Asiatown stalwart relies on sourcing mudbugs from Louisiana, Oregon and California to provide its diners with ample fresh crawfish throughout the year. The restaurant’s claim to fame is its “Kitchen Special style,” in which they soak their crawfish in a spicy Louisiana boil before wok-tossing them in garlic butter with onions, scallions, spices, and sliced lemon and orange. The resulting tart and savory flavor is finger-licking good to the last bite. Cajun Kitchen’s Thai basil-seasoned crawfish is an equally popular flavor, and the rest of the menu is worth saving room for, with highlights including Oysters Vietnam and blue crabs in garlic butter.
What started as a counter inside Asiatown’s Hong Kong City Mall in the early aughts has since grown into a brick and mortar restaurant with a cult following. As its name suggests, Crawfish & Beignets combines a hefty menu of mudbugs with Cajun specialties. Start with the Viet-Cajun crawfish, tossed in a signature garlic butter sauce and stir-fried with white and green onions, and follow it up with a shrimp po-boy or a fried oyster platter with a side of boudin egg rolls. Alternatively, crawfish with Thai citrus sauce, tossed with oranges, offer a hint of sweetness. If you can’t get enough of Crawfish & Beignets’ signature or Thai citrus sauces, give them a try with boiled snow crab, clams or shrimp.
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Crawfish Cafe has three outposts around the greater Houston area — in the Heights, Alief and the Woodlands — making it a convenient option when a fierce crawfish craving hits. The menu incorporates crawfish meat in dishes like cheesy crawfish bread, crawfish empanadas and crawfish egg rolls, but it’s the year-round Viet-Cajun crawfish that most diners long for. The Thai basil flavor offers a balanced blend of sweetness and spice, while “The Mix” is a zingy combination of garlic butter and lemon butter.
South X Saigon offers a mix of Vietnamese and Cajun eats that touts a healthy dose of southern flair. Expect frog legs over rice; dark roux gumbo with shrimp, sausage and crab; and crawfish tossed in the restaurant’s signature Southside sauce, a mix of garlic butter with peppers and onions. Pair your meal with a mango slushie or Vietnamese iced coffee if you need solace from the spice, or go whole hog and order a Hurricane. As a bonus, this Westchase-area gem goes beyond crawfish when it comes to its Viet-Cajun offerings. Creative dishes like the banh boy, a sandwich that is part banh mi and part po-boy, that’s built with fried fish or shrimp, grilled chicken or sausage, will have you returning to South X Saigon sooner than later.
This East Coast restaurant was recently brought to Houston by New Jersey native and Vietnamese American Ryan Mai, and it has quickly garnered interest from locals for its polished restaurant and bar, loaded seafood buckets and Viet-Cajun crawfish. Guests are welcome to create their own seafood boils, choosing their protein (which includes frozen crawfish and fresh, when it’s in season), spice level (running from mild to extra hot), sauce and add-ons. Flavors include Cajun, lemon pepper, and garlic butter, but the Nauti Cajun — a blend of all three — is the house favorite. Beyond the boils, Nauti Crab has plenty of other enticing dishes on offer, including raw oysters, seafood noodles, fried fish platters and po-boys.
On any given day, expect to see crawfish-loving Houstonians gathered on 88 Boiling’s patio, huddled over plastic sacks full of goodness. This lai- back Asiatown restaurant draws in crowds from around the city for its tasty, budget-friendly seafood offerings, including Viet-Cajun crawfish. Here, the must-have is the 88 Special sauce, a flavorful mix of the restaurant’s three seasonings, that can be amped up in spice for an extra fiery punch.
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