Photo: Jody Horton

Chefs Andy and Minson Ngo win The 2013 Cross-Cultural Mash-Up Award in our Trailblazing Chef Awards.

Scott Mowbray
October 18, 2013

The Korean taco burst from its L.A. origins to national prominence in very short order, proving the appeal of the combi-cultural cooking that's happening in food trucks and strip-mall food-court kitchens across the country. Hybrid cooking is nothing new: You only have to eat in Malaysia to see what happened when local, British, Indian, and Chinese kitchens bumped into each other over the centuries. But the mash-up trend is white hot, right now, right here.

Behold LA Crawfish, a restaurant its family owners call Viet-Cajun. Big piles of spicy mudbugs sit next to 5 Spice Wings and Crawfish Pho. That last dish embodies the spirit of the whole operation. It's glorious, built on a textbook meaty, aromatic pho broth, with the familiar cilantro, bean sprouts, rice noodles, and peppers. Plain, it's a fine bowl of pho. But the Cajun version, laced with New Orleans spices, crawfish, and andouille sausage, is a profound, moving handshake between two culinary cultures.

Chef Andy Ngo (son Minson cooks, too) also puts crawfish in eggrolls and empanadas at their buzzing 3-year-old food-court restaurant, located in the suburban Houston 99 Ranch Market. "Our clientele reflects the cultural melting pot of Houston," says Minson. "We've got Hispanic and African-American customers, students of all backgrounds coming from the University of Houston. A lot of food truck chefs come here. Sometimes we get folks in the kitchen to come and translate for the customers."

LA Crawfish has flat-screen digital wall menus, cheerful staff, giddy eaters, a BYOB policy, and even an offer to cook any crustaceans a customer happens to have in his or her shopping bag from the great Asian supermarket next door. Minson says he doesn't see Viet-Cajun catching on outside their planned second location downtown. We would hope otherwise: Where the banh mi sandwich went, cross-cultural pho must surely follow.

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