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Cravin’ Crawfish now open in Tacoma with menu of seafood boil

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Opening during a pandemic is a crazy venture, but Vu Nguyen was up for the challenge.

Since opening his Louisiana-themed restaurant Cravin’ Crawfish in Tacoma, he’s met a surprising number of people who love seafood boil.

“It’s been crazy – a good kind of crazy – but it’s been crazy how busy we’ve been,” said the first-time restaurant owner. 

Back in February, when I first wrote about Nguyen’s plans right here in this story, Nguyen told me he was aiming for a soft opening sometime this spring. That day came May 16 – with a big line of diners at his new space at 5015 Tacoma Mall Boulevard. Cravin’ Crawfish is in the former home of Build-A-Burger, which closed in 2019. 

It’s a small miracle he was able to clear all the hurdles of opening a restaurant in the middle of the worst era for restaurants in modern times. 

“Getting open, it was tough,” he explained. “The back-and-forth. The licensing part and trying to get the permit. Everybody is understaffed.” 

He persisted and opened with a menu of order-by-the-pound seafood, fried seafood served with fries and his wife’s specialty, Vietnamese chicken wings. 

Nguyen is a self-taught chef and this is his first restaurant, but he is not new to small businesses. He and wife Hana Nguyen own Chehalis Nails in Lewis County (they live in Olympia). 

Opening this kind of restaurant has been a longtime dream and also a return to his culinary roots. Nguyen immigrated to New Orleans from Vietnam when he was young and he grew up eating on the bayou before moving to California and then Washington. 

For those who are new to seafood boil, it’s a style of dining in which your choice of seafood is boiled in a flavored broth and meant to be peeled and eaten by hand. Cravin’ Cajun is the same style of restaurant as Dragon’s Crawfish in Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood and Boiling Crawfish in South Hill. Both those restaurants offer the same kind of service and menu, with seafood served by-the-pound. 

During normal times, when dining in a restaurant will be allowed again, the boiled seafood is dumped in a bowl and brought to your table for eating by hand. You enjoy the feast communally with your dining partners. Now, of course, no in-person dining is allowed, so Nguyen has been selling seafood to-go. 

The menu, courtesy of Cravin’ Crawfish.

At Cravin’ Cajun, seafood is boiled with three different sauces/seasonings – a choice of lemon pepper, garlic and Cajun. Diners choose from three levels of heat – mild, medium or spicy.

The by-the-pound seafood menu lists crawfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, Dungeness crab, snow crab legs and blue crabs. 

After COVID-19 dining restrictions are lifted and dining room service is allowed, he’ll start serving lobster and raw or steamed oysters. 

Pricing is market priced, which means that the cost will fluctuate over time. Right now, for a ballpark amount, Nguyen said he’s got crawfish at $12 a pound, head-on shrimp for $14 a pound, Dungeness crab at $21 a pound, snow crab at $24 a pound and blue crab at $12 a pound. Those prices will flex up and down over time, as is the case with all restaurants that serve seafood at market prices. 

Watch Cravin’ Crawfish’s social media for specials. A half-pound special he ran was extremely popular with diners, he said. He offered a half-pound each of crawfish, snow crab legs and shrimp, plus a choice of a half pound of clams or mussels, for $32. He also had a one-pound deal for $60. He expects to add a lunch deal soon, so keep an eye out. 

As is true for most restaurants serving this style of seafood boil, there’s corn, sausage and potatoes available to go with the boil (75 cents to $1.49). Diners also can add French bread or steamed rice to the order ($1.49 each). 

There’s a whole list of fried seafood, too, which they bread-to-order using seasoned flour. They also dip the fish in an egg batter. There’s fried catfish, calamari, oysters, shrimp and chicken. They’re all priced $8.99 and served with fries. 

Nguyen predicts his wife’s fish sauce Vietnamese-style wings will be popular ($8.99). He described her recipe, “She dips it in our special seasoned flour, fries it and afterwards puts the sauce on it and stir fries it in the pan,” he said.

CRAVIN’ CRAWFISH

Where: 5015 Tacoma Mall Boulevard, Tacoma; 253-300-8130

Open: Noon to 10 p.m. daily, but check social media for hours

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cravin-Crawfish-LLC-107242827572998/

Insta: https://www.instagram.com/cravincrawfishtacoma/

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