Whenever a customer orders a side of hush puppies, Seafood Cafe manager Asad Jawad likes to joke with them a bit. "Ma'am, there is a little problem," he'll say. "When I got these puppies, they were little, and now they are grown dogs." Whether or not this elicits a chuckle, it only takes a glance at the eatery's portion sizes to see what Asad means. At Seafood Cafe, helpings of Cajun-style seafood are as generous as the staff is friendly.
That should be no surprise, since Seafood Cafe is built on a foundation of friendship. Asad and his friends John Herpin and Misael Cortez, also known as The Three Amigos, started the restaurant after they met working at another eatery five years ago. Bringing together traditional recipes from Louisiana with their restaurant-industry experience, they mix up each recipe with their own twist. The cuisine blends classic Cajun dishes such as blackened catfish and gumbo with Mexican-inflected meals including tilapia tacos. The trio only cooks up food they feel passionate about, and will even distribute free samples to convert people to the menu's more unique flavors. They also plan to encourage big appetites with a wall of fame that will honor those patrons who have made the most of the menu's all-you-can-eat catfish option. And on the weekends, jazz and reggae bands play, filling the dining room with jaunty melodies to match spicy Cajun scents.
The original Ragin Cajun joint opened in 1974, treating visitors to hearty po' boys, spicy red beans and rice, and authentic boiled crawfish. Today, visitors make the pilgrimage to one of five area locations, including the Woodlands location, newly-opened in 2014, plopping down at tables clad in red-checker cloth to sup on meals of Gulf shrimp and crab, grilled rib eye, and homemade bread pudding. The intense flavors and ocean-fresh cuisine of southwestern Louisiana unfold in a dining room decked with vintage signage, college-sports memorabilia, and buzzing neon. Ragin Cajun also keeps customers in the know with a Craw Club and can customize buffet catering packages for off-site Acadian feasts, filling banquet halls with food, DJs, live zydeco bands, and complimentary gift bags filled with silent Xs.
Southern Italian dishes adorn white linen tablecloths inside both locations of Little Napoli Italian Cuisine. Chefs plate casual classics such as baked ziti and calzones as well as more elaborate entrees such as linguine pescatore, loaded with shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels. The downtown location heats up its griddles for breakfast on weekday mornings, and the Westheimer location dishes out brunch fare such as omelets, waffles, and Napoli pasta on Saturdays and Sundays. Also on Westheimer Road, Friday nights entertain patrons with karaoke, and both locations host a VIP private-dining section that can seat up to 40 people or one very hungry velociraptor.
The Fish Place ebbs cravings for Cajun fare with platefuls of deep-fried and grilled tilapia, blackened catfish, and creole favorites. Dinner guests edify taste buds by licking scientific journals or introducing them to dapper appetizers, such as the shrimp brochette, crab ball, or stuffed jalapeño. Then chefs immerse five pieces of catfish, tilapia, oyster, shrimp, or chicken tenders in a deep fryer and serve the crispy morsels with garlic bread and two selections of jambalaya rice, Cajun fries, or hush puppies. For quick nourishment between meetings or poetry throw-downs, the kitchen yields portable eats such as po boys and crawfish étouffée.
At most restaurants, behind-the-bar activities include popping off the tops of beer bottles, shaking cocktails, and cutting lemons into wedges. At Jimmy G’s Cajun Seafood Restaurant, the staff boils crawfish and shucks fresh oysters behind the bar, granting customers the opportunity to see seafood preparation and check oysters for leftover pearls. Guests then dig into these southern specialties and others, including shrimp creole, crawfish étouffée, broiled catfish, grilled choice-cut ribeye, broiled redfish, chicken-and-sausage gumbo.
Mop's Grill's hearty surf-centric menu features Southern-style seafood augmented with specialty burgers, kabobs, tacos, and wings. Split an order of 12 wings and fries with fellow diners to open a meal ($12.99). Mop's famous mahi-mahi burger ($10) furnishes exotic appetites with inventive eating alongside the other proteins that Mop's can mold into patty form—including fried catfish, turkey, grilled rosemary chicken, and even beef ($8 each). For foldable fare, Uncle Boone's tacos are stuffed with fish, shrimp, or chicken ($4.50) and left under the restaurant's pillow each night by the taco fairy. Mop's menu also contains aqueous entrees capable of quelling the raging tide of hunger, such as Burma Jean's fried catfish ($13.70).