Omnivore - The Crawfish Shack: Vietnam meets New Orleans

The Buford Highway restaurant still a hit.


My Friday-night pals and I visited the Crawfish Shack Seafood last week. This restaurant has received countless raves from critics everywhere, including John T. Edge in the New York Times.

The novelty here is Louisiana-style cooking by Vietnamese-American chef Hieu Pham, who also owns the restaurant. Pham, who was born and raised in Atlanta, is the son of Vietnamese refugees. As a child, he went to a summertime Baptist camp in Louisiana, where many other refugees established residency. The Low Country food, especially the crawfish boil, fascinated him. When he opened the restaurant in 2008, it was his intention to prepare seafood with Cajun and Vietnamese seasonings.

The Crawfish Shack has community tables only. Six of us sat at a table with a bunch of 20-something Vietnamese-Americans. One, a woman whose mother was among the refugees who settled in New Orleans, was flying through a huge bowl of crawfish at record speed. When one of our group, Frank, admitted he'd never eaten a crawfish in its shell, she showed him how to extract the nugget of flesh.

Most all of us ordered fried seafood. I got a po' boy made with fried crawfish, along with an order of "corn nuggets," which are like hushpuppies made with creamed-corn. There was a lot of fried shrimp and catfish at the table, too. Only Bobby departed from fried food and ordered a couple of gigantic king crab legs that set him back $26.

Honestly, I don't pick up much Vietnamese seasoning in the food here, except for a dash of lemon grass here and there. I especially like the super-light but crunchy coating of the fried food. It never occludes the flavor of the seafood whose freshness is a virtual obsession with Pham.