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Surprise Package at LA Crawfish

American, Cajun, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai all flow together in one jumble of LA Crawfish-brand cuisine.

See the perpetually packed dining room and crowded kitchen at LA Crawfish in this week's slideshow.

LA Crawfish is everything I love about Houston in one untidy package.

Tucked into the middle of the food court inside Chinese grocery store 99 Ranch Market (which was first built as a Fiesta), LA Crawfish has enough real estate in its immediate fenced-in area to accommodate about 40 customers. I have never eaten at LA Crawfish when I've been able to do so in that area, however, because the sheer number of guests who flock to the Vietnamese crawfish joint pack the small dining area in the first hour that it's open every day.

Crawfish pho is the culmination of the way Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines have entangled themselves in Houston.
Troy Fields
Crawfish pho is the culmination of the way Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines have entangled themselves in Houston.

Location Info

Map

LA Crawfish

1005 Blalock
Houston, TX 77055

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Details

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Sundays.
Crawfish empanadas: $2.99
Chicken wings: $3.99
Cheese curds: $3.99
Crawfish pho: $6.99
Crawfish per pound: $6.99
Snow crab per pound: $12.99

READ MORE:
SLIDESHOW: Crawfish in Every Form at LA Crawfish
BLOG: How Much Pho Can You Eat in 30 Minutes?

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By 11 a.m., customers have sprawled out into every other section of the food court that's not fenced in. I've sucked crawfish heads next to the dangling bodies of roasted Peking ducks in one corner of the massive food court. I've snapped open snow crab claws next to a steam table filled with puffy chicken feet in another. I've gulped down crawfish pho next to tables pushed together to contain a mountain of discarded crimson husks as the people who sit around them chat and visit over the feast.

To eat at LA Crawfish — or at least near it — is to experience a microcosm of Houston's great bounty of ethnic cuisines and its friendly, energetic, welcoming charm. Cozy up to the table next to you and start a conversation; let a stranger who knows a trick show you the best way to crack into a king crab leg; spot a few friends across the food court and form a super-table to enjoy your bounty together. This is the kind of dining that LA Crawfish encourages.

It also offers a far wider variety of food than just crawfish. Here, American and Cajun and Vietnamese and Chinese and even Thai all flow together in one jumble of LA Crawfish-brand cuisine. It's as natural a development as Malaysian cuisine, in which the southeast Asian country functions as a crossroads among Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and more and has adopted all the best foods from each culture over the years.

Houston functions in much the same way these days, and second-generation immigrants like the young faces who run LA Crawfish think nothing of co-opting a Chinese five-spice blend or Thai tamarind sauce for their Hong Kong-style crispy chicken wings, or of putting Cajun andouille sausage and crawfish tails into pho. Some dishes make a little more sense than others — crawfish empanadas with a buttery, flaky dough, for example, as opposed to Canadian cheese curds (delicious yet still odd to find here) — but what really matters is that eating at LA Crawfish is always interesting and always satisfying.
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I was wary of that crawfish pho at first, though. I'll admit that. It seemed as though the pho could cut one of two ways: Either it would be gimmicky and disappointing or I'd be slapped in the face with the recognition that the dish was the culmination of the charmingly messy way in which Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines have entangled themselves in port cities like Houston and New Orleans. I was hoping for a sharp slap.

And I got it with that first sip of cinnamon-laced pho broth. If regular pho can be compared to a dark roux, thick with the complex, jostling flavors of a handful of various spices — musky cloves and bitter anise and briny fish sauce — the crawfish pho broth is its blond sister.

It's subtle and graceful, a delicate broth to match the delicate seafood inside. The sweet tail meat of the crawfish is enhanced instead of overshadowed, as it absolutely would be in a heavier, beefier broth. Coins of andouille sausage bobbing in the broth serve to underscore this flavor, the pork adding its own zip of vivid spice while still keeping things light.

I am now convinced that this crawfish pho is one of an increasing number of reasons I can never leave Houston. Would I ever be able to find this again anywhere else? Even re-create it at home? Unlikely. I could definitely replicate the boiled crawfish, and perhaps even LA Crawfish's crawfish-stuffed empanadas, but never the pho.

To be perfectly honest, it's the pho and other assorted dishes that are more of a draw for me at LA Crawfish than the actual sacks of boiled crawfish. There is a silly joy to eating them — being handed an entire roll of paper towels and a giant plastic tablecloth after you order, setting up shop at a vacant table by filling miniature tubs with melted butter and mayonnaise topped with spices from LA Crawfish's condiments bar, grabbing that hot sack of bugs from across the counter mere minutes after paying (the crawfish come out very fast here) — but the bugs themselves are generally average.

This is doubly true if you go later in the evening, when the crawfish have been sitting in hot water for many hours and are nearly falling apart. And there's that line of demarcation between Cajun and Vietnamese-style crawfish that some Houstonians simply won't cross: The crawfish here are tossed with butter and spices after being boiled, the Vietnamese way of serving crawfish that many Cajuns simply can't abide. This is a matter of personal preference, of course, but consider yourself warned.

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14 comments
CarlosSW
CarlosSW

Not a bad dish.  Would have preferred that the garnishes come on the side rather than all in the bowl at once.  The one whole crawfish was a nice touch until I saw an employee eating the same dish (on her break).  Her order came with two whole crawfish that were the size of lobsters when compared to what I received.  

Brian Dahl
Brian Dahl

Planning to check it out next weekend!

LACrawfish
LACrawfish

One correction: Our Crawfish is currently $5.99 per pound. Thanks Katharine! See you around our little place again soon!

TaliaMirai
TaliaMirai

Methinks I know what I'll be having for lunch this Saturday. Thanks, HP, for the spotlight! I love Crawfish Season!

fmontes
fmontes

It's 8am and I'm reading this and my stomach is growling at me. Damnit

OldGoat7
OldGoat7

99 Ranch Market is a Korean grocery store and not Chinese.

chula0814
chula0814

I totally disagree, LA Crawfish's crawfish are the closest to New Orleans style crawfish in this city.  You must of gotten the mild.  I was raised in NoLa and the only thing missing for me are the ridiculous random foods that people put in a pot at a REAL crawfish boil (i.e. mushrooms, eggs, garlic, carrot, you get the point)

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

I have got to go try the Crawfish Pho!!!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@OldGoat7 I guess technically 99 Ranch is American, since it was founded in California. But it's a predominately Chinese and Taiwanese store. Even the website is in English and Mandarin Chinese: 99ranch.com

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@chula0814 And artichokes! Can't forget artichokes.

 
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