By any measure, people in The Heights love crawfish. From January to June, diners fill patios at restaurants like BB's Cafe, Boil House, and The Boot to devour pound after pound of steaming mudbugs.
The area's only problem is that it lacks a place for Viet-Cajun crawfish, the butter-drenched style that's become an obsession for Houstonians. Nationally prominent chefs like David Chang and Andrew Zimmern have featured the style on TV episodes that focus on dining in Houston, and Crawfish and Noodles chef-owner Trong Nguyen has twice been named as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.
That's all going to change next year. By next crawfish season, Heights diners will have a Viet-Cajun restaurant of their very own.
Popular Chinatown restaurant Crawfish Cafe will serve as the anchor tenant of Braun Enterprises' Shepherd Row shopping center at 1002 N. Shepherd Dr., Braun leasing director Zach Wolf tells CultureMap. On track to open in February 2020, the restaurant will occupy an approximately 3,500-square-foot endcap space with a 1,000-square-foot patio (disguised in the rendering above as "Bella Italian Grill").
Crawfish Cafe owners Kiet Duong and Julie Nguyen opened their restaurant in early 2013 to take advantage of the growing interest in what was then a new style of crawfish, Duong tells CultureMap. In six years, the restaurant has become known for its flavorful boils, including a garlic butter flavor that local food writer Mai Pham writes "haunts me for days." Other menu items include salt and pepper shrimp and crab, turkey necks, and chicken wings.
"It’s been going really great. Better than expected," Duong says. "We get busier and busier every year. It doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon."
All that success led the partners to seek out a second location. Inspired, in part, by the success of Saigon House in Midtown, they decided to find a place inside the loop.
"The Heights is a really interesting place. I feel like it’s going through a lot of remodels and development," Duong says. Later, he adds, "It’s kind of a melting pot for local, homegrown restaurants. It’s a really cool place. ... We’re really happy with the location we got."
As noted above, The Heights is crawfish crazy, but it lacks a Viet-Cajun option. Duong realizes the opportunity he and Nguyen have with their second restaurant.
"There’s plenty of Cajun restaurants, but in that area there’s none [Viet-Cajun] at all," he says. "It’s a no-brainer to me when it comes to this style of food."