Feature

What the experts recommend: ‘Asian-Cajun’ restaurants

Vietnamese and Cajun flavors come together at these three restaurants.

Crawfish Shack Seafood AtlantaChef Hieu Pham “serves about a ton of Louisiana crayfish each week” at his surprisingly polished Atlanta restaurant, said John T. Edge in The New York Times. But they don’t taste quite the way you’d expect them to. Pham gives his crustaceans flavors inspired by his Vietnamese heritage, “boiling them in a slurry of commercial seasoning mix, garlic cloves, orange wedges, and lemongrass stalks.” His restaurant is one of a growing number of Vietnamese- or, in some cases, Cambodian-owned Cajun restaurants “built around liberal interpretations of Louisiana that are now suburban fixtures in Texas, California, and elsewhere.” The Gulf Coast is home to a vibrant Vietnamese community, and Pham first developed a love of crayfish during childhood summers at church camps near New Orleans, where he learned how to clean the creatures and season the cooking water. His preparations are “honest tributes to Louisiana, filtered through the life experiences and cooking repertories of Southeast Asian immigrants.” Nuoc mia, a Vietnamese sugar-cane juice, is pressed to order from Louisiana cane, while spring rolls are studded with shrimp from Louisiana waters. 4337 Buford Hwy., Suite 170, (404) 929-6789

The Cajun Crawfish Seattle For many Southeast Asians, sitting around a table patiently peeling and eating seafood is a “familiar and comforting ritual,” said Hugo Kugiya in the Seattle Crosscut.com. “It is common for Vietnamese families to simply boil seafood and dip the meat into a paste of salt, pepper, and lime juice.” Quan Do has transported this communal sensibility to his own Cajun restaurant. The fare—frog legs, crayfish, shrimp, crabs, snails—comes fried or cooked in sauce (Cajun, garlic butter, lemon pepper, or a combination of all three called the “whole boom-bang!”). Add-ons include potatoes, corn, and sausage at around a dollar per serving. The whole “steaming mess” is placed on the butcher paper–lined table in a plastic bag, complete with plastic bibs and rolls of paper towels. Yes, these “delicious, pungent” dishes are extremely labor-intensive to eat. So what? “Shellfish is food for the patient.” 6951 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., Suite 103, (206) 432-9488

Q Restaurant Westminster, Calif. The “Vietnamese Cajun-crayfish craze” has been spreading through Southern California for a few years now, said Edwin Goei in the Orange County, Calif., OC Weekly. But this “mom-’n’-pop” restaurant is the first I’ve seen where crayfish shares the menu with funnel cake. “I hope it isn’t the last, because if there were two more unrelated foods that should be seen on a menu together,” it’s this spicy and sweet pair. The classic New Orleans crayfish boil is loosely “honored” here with a Chinese-style interpretation, “kicked-up” with brown sugar, scallions, and onions. To soothe your palate after the satisfying but lip-scorching crawdads, stick to rice on the side. Avoiding other dishes also leaves room for the funnel cake. Splurge for a fruit-topped version—either strawberry or mango. “Not used to seeing mango on a funnel cake? Well, 10 years ago, you’d have said the same thing about Cajun crayfish in Little Saigon.” 15454 Beach Blvd., (714) 889-1580

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