With its large Vietnamese community, its close proximity to Louisiana, and its penchant for crawfish boils and big flavor, Houston has become a city synonymous with Viet-Cajun cuisine. But the newest restaurant cooking up this spice-laden fare is not homegrown. It’s coming from New Jersey.
Nauti Crab, a seafood restaurant hailing from Metuchen, New Jersey, will officially open its doors for full hours on Saturday, June 3. Located in Briar Forest just outside the Westchase area, the casual dining spot features a sports bar stocked with cocktails and local beers, and a seafood-focused menu, with “seafood buckets” filled with the diners’ choice of crawfish, shrimp, crab, and/or lobster and seasonings like Nauti Cajun, garlic butter, lemon pepper, and Old Bay. Diners can also enjoy wings, seafood po’boys, fried rice, crab cakes, crab cake sandwiches, and lobster stir fry.
For some Houstonians, such a restaurant could seem like bringing sand to the beach, but Jersey native and Vietnamese owner Ryan Mai says he’s done his homework.
Mai, who is of Vietnamese descent, says he was first introduced to Cajun spice in 2008 through his travels to Louisiana and California. With his wife already owning a Vietnamese restaurant, he decided to put his own spin on Viet-Cajun cuisine, making a seasoning recipe that was less salty than some other offerings, and in 2016, he opened the first Nauti Crab location in South New Jersey. Meanwhile, relatives in Houston encouraged him to move down. With it being a large and diverse food city, it seemed like a natural move for Nauti Crab’s second location.
“We thought we could bring something different to the Houston community,” he says.
Mai says Houstonians have already taken well to the restaurant, which has hosted limited hours before its grand opening Saturday. Aside from the roasted Dungeness crabs and the seafood fried rice, Mai says he’s been surprised that the crab fries — fries topped with crab meat, seasoning, and a homemade mayo — and the crabcakes — a popular dish on the East Coast — have been a top-seller here.
Similar to New Jersey, the seafood boils — or seafood buckets — in Houston have also been a hit — the only difference is the cost to ship the crawfish overnight to Houston from Louisiana is much less expensive than in New Jersey, he says.
Following its official opening on Saturday, June 3, Nauti Crab will be open from noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. 11660 Westheimer Road, Suite 101, 77077.