In the fourth episode of Ugly Delicious, the new hit Netflix series from David Chang (the chef behind the famed Momofuku restaurants) and Peter Meehan (the cofounder of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine), the duo explores the Cajun and Vietnamese fusion cuisine of New Orleans and Houston. Both cities have large communities of Vietnamese immigrants, and many popular Viet-Cajun dishes were born out of melding the flavors and techniques from their home country with Southern Cajun flavors. One such dish they explored on the show: Vietnamese-style crawfish boils, which often add a buttery sauce to the seasoned crawfish post-boil.
It was hard to resist the call for Vietnamese crawfish once the episode ended. With a Houston-born friend in tow, I headed out to Kajun Crab, a new restaurant from two Vietnamese chefs who moved here from California. Opened in January in the same shopping center as Food Terminal, Kajun Crab isn’t the first to bring Viet-Cajun dishes to Atlanta. Crawfish Shack, a New Orleans-style seafood spot owned by a second generation Vietnamese-American Hieu Pham, is a Buford Highway institution. Shaking Crawfish has a lot of local fans, and newcomer Crayhouse also opened its doors in January. But while those restaurants mainly focus on seafood, at Kajun Crab, you can also order a steaming bowl of pho alongside your crawfish.
There are numerous seafood combinations you can choose from—$32.99 buys you three pounds of a choice of clams, shrimp, crawfish, and mussels; or for $69.99, you can get four pounds of a choice of clams, shrimp, crawfish, mussels, plus a choice of Canadian crab, snow crab, or king crab and a lobster tail. You can have your seafood topped with Cajun, lemon pepper, and garlic butter sauces (all of which are served at your requested level of spiciness), but take our server’s suggestion and order the Torpedo sauce, which is a combination of all three. The deep red sauce has bright hints of citrus, a lot of heat, and is, quite frankly, addictive. The fresh boiled seafood was tossed in the sauce and served in a plastic bag set inside an enameled red dutch oven.
If you’ve feasted on any type of seafood boil before, you know this meal is a messy proposition. The restaurant covers the table with fresh white paper and you are given a plastic bib and gloves. Full disclosure: the gloves may not be enough to keep you from getting covered in spicy sauce. But if you really don’t like getting your hands dirty, no worries—there are plenty of other (less messy) Vietnamese dishes you can order such as pho, bún (cold noodle salads), and beef stew served with rice noodles. The restaurant also makes excellent chicken wings in a variety of sauces, including a Cajun-style that is as deep brown as a gumbo roux. But the messy route is a ton of fun, and your server will end the meal by bringing out a bubbling cauldron of soap and water for you to wash your hands. That finale is reason enough to come here, and kids will love it.
Above: The bubbling hand-washing station puts on a show of its own
The menu has various sides, but this noodle lover had to try the garlic noodles—thin spaghetti tossed in a mix of butter, sliced fresh garlic, Cajun seasoning, and Parmesan. Toward the end of our meal, while in total glutton mode, we dumped some of our excess Torpedo sauce over the noodles and the impact was indeed like a torpedo to our brains’ pleasure receptors.
But wait, there’s more. The “Ocean Fog” drinks are not to be missed. Above is the “Mermaid,” a mixture of passion fruit juice, rainbow jelly (which adds a texture similar to tapioca pearls), and basil seeds that is rendered bubbling with dry ice. You pour the concoction over cups of pellet ice and sip it with thick bubble tea straws. 5000 Buford Highway Northeast, Chamblee, 678-580-0294