'Tis the season for pinching tails and sucking heads, and with so many crawfish joints in Houston, how do we know which ones are the best? The Houston Press asked a few chefs and people in the biz where they like it boiled, how they like it spiced and what makes them keep coming back year after year.
Craft Burger's Shannen Tune says he's in love with Crawfish Cafe at 11209 Bellaire near Boone. Consistency is important and this place is always a hit "when other places seem to be hit-and-miss." One thing that draws Tune is the "smell of the boil as soon as you walk in the door. It's a balance of heat — it's hot, but not painful."
Tune adds, "This is where I take my son for father-son time. I tell him that the heat will put hair on his chest. No hair yet."
Chef Tune isn't the only person who loves Crawfish Cafe; Robin Wong, owner and operator of Midtown's popular Glitter Karaoke wanted to sound off on the crawfish craze. He mentions that there are several places in the city that his family loves like Cajun Kitchen, Crawfish & Noodles, Jenivi's Seafood Shoppe, but if he had to choose a favorite, that title definitely goes to Crawfish Cafe inside the Hong Kong City Mall next to the dim sum giant, Ocean Palace. The store opened back in 2013 and offers an extensive menu of seafood and Cajun fare along with a variety of wings and fried rice. Current price is $7.99 per pound for small to medium-sized crawfish.
The guys over at Peli Peli are suckers for the jumbo crawdads at Jenivi's Seafood Shoppe. Chef Paul Friedman and partner Thomas Nguyen say the garlicky, spicy dipping sauce "takes it over the top." Jenivi's Seafood Shoppe & Restaurant at 10555 Westheimer, Suite B, has been serving crawfish since 2008. What makes the sauce special is the abundance of garlic, cilantro, other spices and a hint of citrus. The tip is to get the sauce in a separate dipping bowl. Current price is $8.99 per pound and $11.99 per pound for jumbo crawfish.
Rikesh Patel, chef/owner of Night Market in Bellaire's Chinatown, says that "Crawfish & Beignets used to be the shit." Nowadays, however, his favorite crawfish can be found at Hank's at 4409 Highway 6 North. This was the first Viet(namese) crawfish I ever had, so it was an eye-opener for me."
Vietnamese crawfish tend to be boiled with lots of citrus, garlic and spices, and usually a whole heaping of minced garlic and spices gets ladled on top when they're served. Hank's also serves them up Cajun style if you're a traditionalist. We hear this is the place to go for female blue crabs as well. (Fans of blue crab know why that is super-special.) Current price is $8.99 per pound.
Chef Chris Williams of Lucille's agrees with chef Patel and shares his love for Hank's, but he spreads his crawfish love around town at another people's favorite, BB's Café. Current price is $7.95 per pound and $22.95 for three pounds.
Anamaris Cousins Price, a local pop-up chef of Chef It Yourself, says that her favorite for the past couple of years has been a little place that opened in Westchase at 1910 Wilcrest and Briar Forest between the McDonald's and a Valero station. 88 Boling Crawfish & Seafood is a Thai-family-run joint that cooks Asian-style crawfish, among lots of other Cajun fare. Price said that once she had them the Asian way, "she never looked back." Current price of crawfish here is $7.99 per pound.
More recently, she's come across a crawfish guy named Geojo Urbano who pops up occasionally in the beer garden at Axelrad. "I think he adds kumquats to his boil, which totally brightens them up." Beers and mudbugs, sounds like a winning combination to us.
Chef Lyle Bento of Southern Goods says T-Bones at 1971 West T C Jester in the Heights gets his vote. "I love that they put a shit-ton of dry seasoning on them after they are boiled. They are always big and fat," he says. T-Bones is usually a sports pub, but during the season, crawfish is available seven days week and industry folks love it because it's served late night until 1 a.m.
Local chef and paella-extraordinaire Jack Tyler says in spite of all the wonderful Vietnamese crawfish around, his favorite is still Ragin' Cajun. The crawfish is boiled Louisiana style, then sprinkled with cayenne and spices at this Houston favorite for Cajun fare. Current price is $6.99 per pound if dining in the store and $6 per pound if packing it to go.
Chef Jean-Philippe Gaston of Izakaya likes both the Vietnamese-style and the Cajun-style of crawfish. For Cajun-style, his roommate introduced him to a place in Crosby called Crawfish Shack at 5822 FM 2100, and Gaston says, "It’s amazing and BYOB, so even better."
We are fortunate to have so many great places to find Vietnamese-style crawfish in Houston. Jenivi's Seafood Shoppe appears on our list again as chef Gaston's favorite place for crawfish. He notes that there is usually lemongrass, garlic, butter and a great deal of heat that comes in different levels. "They also put cornmeal in the stock so it acts like bread and gets in between the shell and the meat, giving it a lot more flavor," he added.
Patrick Lam and Jim Nguyen, co-owners and chefs at Ono Poke, put in a shout-out for Cajun Fuze, a Cajun restaurant on the north side of town at 3702 FM 1960. Known for its Thai basil and citrus fusion flavors, Cajun Fuze also has a great happy hour and a variety of seafood buckets. Current price is $8.99 per pound.
Chef Arash Kharat of Beaver's West had a simple reason for his pick of LA Crawfish or Cajun Kitchen. "It's close by and delicious!" He is always craving crawfish and when you have to have it, I guess proximity plays a big role in that decision. Both places feature a hefty menu of Cajun and Vietnamese fare.
The Kitchen Special sauce at Cajun Kitchen is incredibly flavorful, with loads of lemon and onion slices, green onion and spices, but consider this a formal warning: Do not order the spicy level unless you plan on not having any feeling in your lips for a little while. The chargrilled Oysters Vietnam are quite special as well, topped with a sauce made of nuoc mam (fish sauce), green onions and olive oil. Current price is $9.99 per pound, with a special deal that includes a free pound with the purchase of six pounds of crawfish.
LA Crawfish has a complete section dedicated to pho, noodles and rice, with a variety of noodle soups like pho sate, crawfish pho and traditional pho. The crawfish at LA Crawfish is glove-worthy and spicy, with garlic galore. There are six locations in Houston, and the current price is $7.49 per pound.
Certainly there are beloved spots that our chefs did not mention; other industry favorites include The Cajun Stop both in EaDo and in Spring, The Boot in the Heights, and Lotus Seafood. Where are your favorite crawfish joints in Houston? Leave us your pick in the comments.