Thanks to our enterprising Vietnamese restaurateurs, Houston has become the best place in the country to sample the phenomenon called Viet-Cajun crawfish. The trend took root locally in the early 2000s when a place called Cajun Corner, located just down Beamer Road from the original Pho Binh trailer in Southbelt, started selling garlic butter crawfish. Soon, Viet-Cajun joints were popping up all over the city, each selling its own variations, complete with secret recipes and fancy ingredients like French butter.
What makes a Viet-style boil? Unlike Cajun-style crawfish, Vietnamese-style boils are often minimally seasoned, with spices and other accoutrements added after the bugs come out of the water. These spices and seasonings include traditional ingredients like cayenne pepper and garlic, but also Southeast Asian herbs such as lemongrass, ginger and Thai basil. Also unlike their Cajun counterparts, Viet-style crawfish are typically tossed with butter after cooking, then served with even more butter as a dipping sauce.
Though Houston’s Little Saigon area west of Beltway 8 on Bellaire Boulevard still has the strongest concentration of these Asian-Cajun spots, these days you’ll find them everywhere from Katy to Pearland. Here are Houston’s best.
This is a friendly, no-frills spot offering a couple of TVs, inexpensive beer, and both Cajun and Viet-Cajun mudbugs. The garlic butter sauce is more garlicky than others you’ll find in town; as for heat, there’s multiple levels, starting with spicy and extra spicy (we’re cool with extra). Other seafood boils are also available. Still hungry? Tack on an order of fried catfish with a side of vegetable fried rice.
13480 Veterans Memorial Dr. 281-583-5507
This is the kind of mom-and-pop place that’s a joy to stumble upon. The owner, Henry Tran, is a former shrimper and fisherman from Port Arthur who started doing boils for family and friends out of a trailer in Waller in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The trailer grew so popular, he eventually opened his own restaurant, whose new location on Beamer Road offers two crawfish flavors: traditional Cajun and a sweet-and-sour garlic glaze called Craven. Tran still drives down to Louisiana himself to pick out his crawfish, so it’s of impeccable quality and freshness.
12141 Beamer Rd. 281-922-7588
Featured everywhere from the Washington Post to PBS’s Mind of a Chef series, the crawfish here are cooked in a wok after being boiled in Cajun seasoning, in much the same way the Chinese prepare crab and lobster, for extra oomph. The Kitchen Special, tossed with green onion, garlic, lemons, orange, butter and garlic, is sweet, savory, tangy and wholly original, while the Thai Basil flavor conjures the streets of Bangkok.
6938 Wilcrest Dr. 281-495-8881
Chef/owner Trong Nguyen started offering mudbugs in mouth-numbing garlic butter more than a decade ago, just as that style was becoming a staple of the Houston diet. An order of Viet-Cajun medium here is fiery enough, but don’t stop there: Nguyen’s eclectic menu includes the Vietnamese fried chicken dish com ga xa xiu and deeply delicious hot-pots like the lau duoi bo with oxtail. Come prepared to wait up to an hour—totally worth it.
11360 Bellaire Blvd. 281-988-8098
At his café inside Hong Kong City Mall IV, owner Kiet Duong uses real butter as well as sugar, which makes his crawfish sweeter and, let’s be honest, more addictive. The flavors—Original Cajun, Kickin’ Cajun, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, Thai Basil and The Mix, a blend of garlic butter and lemon pepper—appeal to a range of palates. Duong says that customers like to customize their flavors, with Garlic Butter/Thai Basil now one of the most popular blended orders.
11209 Bellaire Blvd., #C36. 281-575-1746
Nab a seat beneath the covered front patio of this standby for moderately fiery crawfish in rich garlic butter—the best choice here. Try green mussels for an alternative boil option. Elsewhere on the menu two grilled catfish with three jumbo shrimp, fried rice, and salad is a steal at just $13.
1910 Wilcrest Dr. 713-789-8288
This family-run strip mall joint dishes out mudbugs in flavors including garlic butter, lemon pepper, Cajun, and Thai basil. An order of “mix all” combines everything but the Thai basil, with beautifully tangy, rich results. Tack on an order of the pork-and-shrimp fried rice and kick back in front of the TV with a beer or two.
10834 Beechnut St. 281-988-5870
What started out as a small stand inside 99 Ranch Market in Memorial has expanded to include 25 franchised locations across Texas, with 13 alone in the Houston area. It’s a counter-service model, so you’ll see customers park themselves at a table with a case of beer and go to town devouring flavors including Garlic Butter, Hot & Sour and House Cajun (the best) with dips they customize themselves. The Asian-fusion menu is also quite extensive, with interesting items like the crawfish pho and empanadas. Because it’s a franchise, quality varies from location to location.
Step into Lisa Carnley’s EaDo domain and feel transported to New Orleans. Her regulars, who follow her on social media religiously, come in as much for her hospitality as her menu. While much of her food is traditionally Cajun, Carnley—who is of Vietnamese descent and resettled in Houston after Hurricane Katrina—also offers a few Asian-esque crawfish flavors: garlicky lemon (our favorite), Hot Lips (super-spicy garlicky lemon), Krazie Asian (soy and basil), and Big Lips (buyer beware, this one’s really hot).
2130 Jefferson St. 713-222-8333
The popular House Special flavor—a blend of garlic, butter and myriad other spices—is far less sweet than anything you’ll find in the predominantly Vietnamese area on or around Bellaire Boulevard. And while the crawdads are delicious, they’re not always the main event. Owner James Duong says that their Hungry Home Platter—a mouthwatering mix of king crab, blue crab, snow crab, sausage, Gulf shrimp, crawfish, corn and potatoes for about $54 (a steal)—is a best-seller.
9820 Gulf Fwy., #7. 713-360-6547
The flavors here—garlic butter and Wild Cajun—are less buttery and sweet than other places, something that owner Lee Ngo says he was aiming for, because too much butter makes you want to eat less. And, frankly, since some joints tend to go way overboard with the stuff, we can’t disagree with his methods.
6533 Wilcrest Dr., #104. 832-328-4000
13602 Bellaire Blvd., #A1. 281-564-6500