Tucked away in White Center, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in greater Seattle, the Crawfish House brings an expertise in Louisiana-style seafood to the local cuisine scene that is hard to match.
At first, it seems like a typical dive bar. But under the surface is the passion and hard work dedicated to serving the freshest Cajun food in Seattle.
In 1988, owner Hiep Ngo, a native of Vietnam, was sent from his home country to Louisiana to live with his aunt at age 14.
Three years later, Ngo came to Seattle to visit a few friends who had moved here from Louisiana. He immediately fell in love with the city.
“I lived with friends and it was something new,” said Ngo.
But something was missing.
“When I first came [to Seattle], I wanted to eat crawfish,” Ngo recalled. “There was nowhere to go, and if we did find somewhere, it was very expensive. In Louisiana, we could get it for 99 cents, and up here, it was like $6, $7 or $8.”
He thought that was too much.
Eventually, one of Hiep’s friends from Louisiana asked him to partner up and start a new restaurant together.
“He asked me because I had a brand new idea to do healthy sandwiches,” Ngo said.
But while they were in the process of looking for locations, Hiep’s business partner suggested Cajun food instead. Ngo was hesitant at first, but decided to go with the idea due to an interest spike in crawfish.
They decided to settle in White Center since it was a lot cheaper compared to other neighborhoods. Plus, there was an absence of Cajun food in that area. “The idea was that everyone wanted Cajun food, and we had a different method of cooking, so we thought we would try it out,” Ngo said.
Ngo knew that whatever he did, he wanted to do everything fresh, and oysters, shrimp, crab and crawfish are all served fresh.
Ngo and his partner started the business, then called Be’s Restaurant, two years ago. But a year ago, he began the conversion from Be’s to Crawfish House. “About six months in [my business partner] bailed out,” Ngo explained. Ngo recreated the entire menu since they had created their own recipes, and half of them were his friend’s.
Today at Crawfish House customers can begin their meals with typical southern starters such as fried pickles, fried gizzards, fried rice or catfish, and then top it off with the “boils”— seafood sold by the pound.
The choices are crawfish, which comes with sausage and corn, Dungeness crab, snow crab legs, king crab legs, clams or shrimp. The seafood comes with a choice of sauce, including Ngo’s special house creation.
“The beginning of this year I came out with a new flavor for the crawfish, the house sauce; it’s very popular,” he said.
West Seattle resident Eugene Wong, 20, concurs. “The crawfish are huge,” Wong exclaimed. “It’s so tasty.”
After selecting signature seafood sauces, patrons pick the spice level, ranging from “chillin,” to “can’t feel my mouth … Wowza … milk please?!?!”
If seafood isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There are also burgers and sandwiches on the menu, with a Cajun kick to them, of course.
Price-wise, you can get an entrée of fresh seafood, including a side, for under $10. And you’re likely to run into a variety of options. Ngo said he creates new items on his menu every couple of months to change the flavor.
The owner said he gets a lot of his shipments directly from Louisiana, and that a lot of visitors from Louisiana have enjoyed dining there.
“It’s like pizza,” Ngo said. “Everyone eats pizza here (in Seattle), and everyone eats crawfish in the South.”
The restaurant gets crawfish every day from the airport, and during prime crawfish season, “we sell 200 pounds a day,” said Ngo.
Ngo said their approach to cooking is different than at most restaurants.
The only downfall to having all of the food so fresh is that if business is slow, the crawfish die, and Ngo has to throw them out.
The restaurant owner from Louisiana is still interested in developing healthy sandwiches at some point.
But Crawfish House has been successful overall. Ngo has been asked to expand the restaurant into a chain by numerous people, but hesitates.
“I work really hard,” Ngo said. “If I do a franchise, my mission won’t be the same.”
To learn more about the Crawfish House, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/crawfishhouseseattle.