Crawfish is having its Minnesota moment, and the new Viet Cajun & Noodles is proof

This is the "before" photo. The aftermath is... messy.

This is the "before" photo. The aftermath is... messy. Aarohi Narain

Through all eight episodes of chef David Chang’s raw-hemmed, irreverent Netflix series Ugly Delicious, Minnesota is mentioned exactly once—and even then, it's as a punchline.

Seated at a prestigious round table in Houston’s Asiatown, Chang’s globe-trotting old boy’s club debates why shrimp, and not crawfish, dominates the American palate, despite the latter’s more robust flavor. They speculate—with all the expected histrionics—that shrimp’s popularity stems from the fact that it’s ubiquitous, familiar, and simpler to eat. As Chang holds the “kissing cousins” up for the camera—shrimp in one hand, crawfish in the other—one of his dinner guests, a Midwest-raised James Beard award-winning chef now based in Houston, quips about the one place where crawfish will never gain ascendancy: Minnesota.

But perhaps Chang’s posse pontificated too soon. As unlikely as it may seem, Viet Cajun cuisine is having its Minnesota moment. In the past few years, seafood-focused joints (among them Crazy Cajun and Grand Catch) have been mushrooming all over the Twin Cities, making it that much easier to snag a decent boil even in landlocked MN. Enter Woodbury’s newest fixture: Viet Cajun & Noodles.

Inside Viet Cajun in Woodbury

Inside Viet Cajun in Woodbury Aarohi Narain

The genesis story of Viet Cajun fare is as complex and vibrant as the cuisine itself. When the Vietnam War came to a close, Indochinese refugees fled to the U.S., and many found themselves in Louisiana. Although crawfish doesn't commonly feature in Vietnamese cuisine writ large, the marriage of the Mekong Delta and Gulf Coast spawned Viet Cajun: a colorful, pangaean style of cooking that evokes histories of displacement, migration, and culinary intermixing.

Today, the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American population in the metro area is blossoming, and Twin Cities locals are hungry for fusion food that’s both delicious and respectful of its influences. Viet Cajun & Noodles offers just that.

The restaurant, which had its grand opening only a couple of weeks ago, serves standard Vietnamese offerings including egg rolls, fried rice, and pho. But it's the hallmark of Viet Cajun (the cuisine), garlic butter-smothered crawfish, that's undoubtedly the star of the menu at Viet Cajun (the restaurant).

You can order the boil in varying spice levels, along with sides like white rice and baguette, as well as sausage, potato, and corn “teasers.” It all comes—abiding by tradition—in a plastic bag. The necessary trappings follow: gloves, lobster-emblazoned bibs, and for the unacquainted, a laminated guide to the indelicate dance of eating crawfish sans silverware. (Also: abundant paper towels.)

Hey there, little guy!

Hey there, little guy! Aarohi Narain

Staff members are eager to help you master, with only a few deft movements, the art of tearing apart, extracting the flesh, and sucking the juice out of the crawfish—or crayfish, as it’s typically known as in the Minnesconsin dialect—using your hands. The result is a glorious massacre: bay leaves and crimson claws sunk unceremoniously to the bottom of the bag, shellfish shrapnel strewn all over the place, and that fatty, garlic emulsion splashed on your bib like a Pollock painting.

Protip: Wear two pairs of gloves instead of just one. But either way, the aroma of your fatal feast will linger for days.

Viet Cajun & Noodles
437 Commerce Dr., Woodbury