The name of the restaurant, deadpans John Phan, says it all. "We're an Asian and Cajun restaurant that features traditional Vietnamese food and Louisiana crawfish that's far superior to anywhere else in Denver," he says about the Asian Cajun, which opened this weekend at 2400 West Alameda Avenue, in a former taqueria.
Phan, a first-time restaurateur, says he's been to the other Cajun-Asian joints in the city -- Red Claw Seafood & Wings, the Yabby Hut and the Crawling Crab, which opened at the end of June on Federal Boulevard -- and he's issued a face-off: "I challenge people to go to the other places and then come here," he says.
If you take him up on his offer, he's got another mudbug challenge, too, namely the Blazin' Cajun, which requires participants to stuff three pounds of "the spiciest crawfish in town" down their gullets in less than twenty minutes. If you succeed, your mug shot graces the wall and you get a lousy T-shirt and 10 percent off your bill on future visits.
The evolution of Cajun-Asian crawfish started several years ago in Louisiana, when Vietnamese immigrants making a living in the crawfish industry became intrigued by the whole crawfish process. They watched, learned and listened, and when they figured out the ease of boiling the mudbugs, they added their own Vietnamese and French influences. And now, joints that encourage sucking (crawfish) heads are popping up all over the country.
"If you've ever lived in, or visited, some of the bigger cities, there are tons of places like ours, especially in Texas and Southern California. Denver is playing catch-up," explains Phan. "I don't know how many of these kinds of places Denver will support," he continues, "but our number-one item on the menu is crawfish, and I honestly think ours is better than anywhere else."
In addition to crawfish, oysters (both on the half shell and baked) and fried seafood baskets, including soft-shell crab, gumbo and Cajun chicken wings, Asian Cajun is also delving into traditional Vietnamese cuisine, including pho. "Pho is definitely one of our staples, and as we go forward, we'll continue to add more Vietnamese dishes," says Phan.
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"We're different from our competition," he insists. "We offer a full bar, which is unusual for places like this; we have pho, which most Asian-Cajun restaurants don't do; and we want to be more than a restaurant. We want to be a really fun place for friends and family, and we have a great drinking menu, plus we're thinking, too, of adding karaoke on the weekends, along with bottle service."
This, says Phan, is his dream. "I'm passionate about this. I've wanted to do a restaurant for the past five years, and when opportunity knocked, we went for it," he says.
Asian Cajun is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. For more info, dial 303-922-0699.