It's no secret that many of the Vietnamese Cajun crawfish spots are located close to one another. In fact, two of the current best are literally across the street from each other—walking distance if you want to burn off some calories, and just a quick hop in the car if you want to do a mini progressive food tour — which is what a girlfriend and I found ourselves doing just last week.
I’d chosen Crawfish Café as the first stop of our rendezvous because I can’t seem to get their garlic butter flavor out of my head. They use real butter and sugar to season their sauce (other places use margarine), and every time I’ve had it, the flavor haunts me for days. I also like the fact that you can mix and match flavors, combining different sauces (six total, including flavors such as Thai Basil and Lemon Pepper) to change things up so that you have a little bit of variety.
As I wasn’t too sure which flavor my girlfriend Katherine would like better, I ordered two pounds each (at $7.99/pound) of the garlic butter and the garlic butter/Thai basil mix to start, figuring that we would just order more of whichever one we liked best.
For whatever reason, things seemed a bit off that evening. There was an unusually long wait before our order arrived at the table. When it did arrive, the crawfish were mostly medium in size, surprising because they are usually a lot bigger during prime season, which occurs around the time Lent kicks off. There were also several waterlogged critters that were inedible, and despite being bagged, our mudbugs came lukewarm instead of steaming hot.
On flavor, the garlic butter was exactly as I remembered. Super delicious and lip-smacking good. A-plus for flavor. We plowed through our two bowls pretty quickly, leaving a big pool of garlic butter sludge in the bottom of the bowl that would have made a great dipping sauce for a myriad of things. “That sauce is so good. I wish we had some hot buttered toast that we could just dip into the sauce,” Katherine said.
Still, when compared with past visits, it was definitely not the best I’ve had at Crawfish Cafe, so instead of ordering more, we opted to pop across the street to try out Crawfish & Noodles.
There, service was quick and efficient. At $9.99/pound, the mudbugs at Crawfish & Noodles were a couple dollars a more pound than across the street, but they were offering a pound free if we bought five. We didn’t think we could eat that much, so we settled on four pounds of the butter garlic crawfish (they only have one flavor), mild.
In contrast to Crawfish Cafe, we didn’t have to wait that long before we were presented with a large silver bowl filled with four pounds of bagged crawfish. And thankfully, these came piping hot, with billows of steam wafting upwards as we un-bagged the critters. These crawdads were also uniformly large in size, incredibly juicy, and not a single one was waterlogged. Two thumbs up for quality.
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On previous visits, their magnificent garlic butter would have me dredging the mudbugs through the bottom of the bowl to drench the crawfish in as much sauce as I could. On this visit, the butter was not as pronounced, so that instead of a thick garlic sludge, we had spicy, seasoned water at the bottom of the bowl. It was still good, and packed a nice wallop of spice despite us asking for mild, but it was not as good as it had been on previous visits.
So, the verdict? I wish I could say definitively that one was better than the other, but there were pluses and minuses to both establishments during that Wednesday evening mudbug run. Neither was totally on point that night, so it was basically a draw, though I give a slight edge to Crawfish & Noodles for quality.
Crawfish Cafe is slightly less expensive. Its sauces — especially the garlic butter — are crazy good. Pluses include the fact that they automatically give you a bowl of dipping sauces when you sit down, don't nickel-and-dime you for things like bibs and gloves (which are provided gratis), and open at 3 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.
Crawfish & Noodles may have been $2 more per pound, but the quality more than justified the price. Every single mudbug we had was large, plump and juicy. The garlic butter sauce, when it’s on point, is a thing of beauty, so if the restaurant can work on making it bit more consistent, that would be hard to beat. What's more, there were plates piled high with Crawfish & Noodles' famous salt-and-pepper blue crabs on just about every table, so while crawfish may be the main draw, you can always count on some fantastic Vietnamese food to supplement your crawfish meal.