Katharine Shilcutt's 10 Favorite Dishes in Houston
7. Crawfish pho at LA Crawfish
Photo by Troy Fields
To eat at LA Crawfish is to experience a microcosm of Houston's great bounty of ethnic cuisines and its friendly, energetic, welcoming charm. Cozy up to the table next to you and start a conversation; let a stranger who knows a trick show you the best way to crack into a king crab leg; spot a few friends across the food court and form a super-table to enjoy your bounty together. This is the kind of dining that LA Crawfish encourages.
It also offers a far wider variety of food than just crawfish. Here, American and Cajun and Vietnamese and Chinese and even Thai all flow together in one jumble of LA Crawfish-brand cuisine. It's as natural a development as Malaysian cuisine, in which the southeast Asian country functions as a crossroads among Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and more and has adopted all the best foods from each culture over the years.
Houston functions in much the same way these days, and second-generation immigrants like the young faces who run LA Crawfish think nothing of co-opting a Chinese five-spice blend or Thai tamarind sauce for their Hong Kong-style crispy chicken wings, or of putting Cajun andouille sausage and crawfish tails into pho.
If regular pho can be compared to a dark roux, thick with the complex, jostling flavors of a handful of various spices -- musky cloves and bitter anise and briny fish sauce -- the crawfish pho broth is its blond sister. It's subtle and graceful, a delicate broth to match the delicate seafood inside. The sweet tail meat of the crawfish is enhanced instead of overshadowed, as it absolutely would be in a heavier, beefier broth. Coins of andouille sausage bobbing in the broth serve to underscore this flavor, the pork adding its own zip of vivid spice while still keeping things light.
I am convinced that this crawfish pho is one of an increasing number of reasons I can never leave Houston. Would I ever be able to find this again anywhere else? Even re-create it at home? Unlikely. I could definitely replicate the boiled crawfish, but never the pho.