Last week, I had the great pleasure of introducing a friend to one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Houston: Lotus Seafood Market. I say pleasure because there's nothing like taking a newcomer to Lotus for the first time—and I know I'm not alone. Located on the southwest side of town, the seafood restaurant's fan base has grown exponentially over the last few years, mostly through word of mouth. Circa 2010, Lotus was just a simple seafood restaurant. In addition to their combo options of fish, shrimp, and fries, they also sold whole catfish and tilapia. “You buy, we fry,” was the rule of thumb, but those simple days are gone.
After a recent visit last summer, I noticed the menu had expanded to include boiled seafood, crawfish (when in season), and the most expensive and ambitious item—fried lobster. Instead of the near-empty restaurant I'd always found in the past, I found myself in a line making its way around the room, and all six tables full of customers waiting for their order. Today, Lotus has only gotten more popular since then. You may hear the ocassional “Did anyone have a call-in order?” over the din of the line only to be greeted with silence by everyone. No one seems to plan ahead. They just show up.
While you wait, you can gaze at their hot pink menus or gaze at the t-shirts emblazoned with Lotus's unofficial motto—“FWM You Know I Got It!”—while an R&B and hip hop soundtrack plays on a Beats by Dre Pill sitting on top of their soda machine. Behind the ordering counter is a flat-screen TV that plays a loop of photos taken by devoted fans of the food. You might occasionally spot a familiar face who once visited, like former Destiny’s Child member and artist LeToya Luckett, or hometown rapper Lil’ Flip.
My friend and I were caught in a cozy Tuesday evening rush, but the wait time wasn't bad (bad happens on the weekends, when wait times can stretch up to an hour). While my favorite dish is the insanely good popcorn shrimp, I wanted to try something new: the boiled shrimp with Louisiana fried rice, which is Lotus's shrimp fried rice with added crawfish and an extra kick of spice. To offset the heat, they suggest you pair the rice with their homemade garlic sauce, which they call “crack sauce.” The savory, mild sauce blends beautifully with the spicy rice—and you just might find it a little addictive.
Lotus does not offer much dining space, so you automatically receive your order in a Stryrofoam to-go container. If you bring someone with you, you have a better chance of scoring a table while one of you waits in line if you choose to sit down and eat. Some people do, but most gather their seafood treasure and disappear into the evening. Friday and Saturday nights are the more popular nights, when the entire parking lot of the shopping center is full of cars and seafood lovers. If you ever decide to have a Friday night adventure, come with your appetite but, more importantly, a great deal of patience.
Lotus is not big on advertising; the food pretty much speaks for itself. Literally. An off-the-menu dish affectionately called the “Loud Pack” (10 boiled shrimp and Louisiana fried rice) is frequently featured on their Instagram account, which boasts a staggering 23,000-plus followers (as far as I know, that’s the most of any restaurant in the city). Initially, I felt tinges of jealousy over all the recent newcomers, but the jealousy fades each time I see the good people at Lotus beckoning them all—and each time I get to bring someone new, too. Just a simple walk nearby the Braes Bayou off Gessner, and the spicy, savory scent will no doubt invite you in as well.
Lotus Seafood Market, 8550 S. Braeswood Blvd., 713-270-7987, instagram.com/lotusseafood1