The Yabby Hut, one of a handful of eateries that sprang up a decade or so ago as part of a trend touting a combination of Cajun seasonings and Southeast Asian cooking, is ready to celebrate spring after a tough year.
Hung Le and Linh Tran, who spent time in a Vietnamese refugee camp in the Philippines before making their way to Colorado, opened their restaurant in 2010 at 3355 South Yarrow Street in Lakewood, giving the suburb a taste of something that was almost unheard of outside of Gulf Coast cities. At the Yabby Hut, crawfish (called "yabbies" in Australia), crab, shrimp, clams, lobster and other shellfish are steamed and doused in a variety of seasonings, then dialed up to the spice level of your choice. So you can go completely without heat (for "Noobs") or go four levels higher with the XXX ("We dare you!," the menu challenges).
"For the first couple of years, we weren't slow, but we've definitely grown," says manager Chris Byun, who has worked at the restaurant for nine years. "A weekend night back then was like our weekdays now."
Since Yabby Hut opened, other Asian-Cajun eateries have popped up around town. The Asian Cajun opened a year later on West Alameda Avenue, and so did the Crawling Crab on South Federal Boulevard, operated by a relative of Le and Tran's. These days, you can count more restaurants serving this style of seafood — from Aurora to Englewood to Denver's neighborhoods — than there are legs on a lobster.
Now that restrictions are relaxing, the new Colfax seafood house is taking off as a dining destination, especially on weekends, Byun says.
In January, the original Yabby Hut closed for a week — not because of COVID restrictions, but to expand the dining room. On January 21, the restaurant reopened better and bigger, having taken over a vacant retail space next door and inviting guests to fill a new graffiti wall with signatures and messages. Byun points out that when COVID restriction had restaurants seating at only 25 percent capacity, only a handful of customers could enjoy dinner inside at a total of eight tables, so the original eatery needed to expand just to survive. The new wing of the dining room nearly doubled the square footage, making it possible to spread out guests while selling enough seafood to last through the winter.
Of course, takeout is still an option. While to-go seafood may not immediately spring to mind as a great idea, shellfish steamed and then bagged in a sauce can only improve as everything marinates on your drive home; as long as the food stays warm, it won't suffer in transit. Byun says that takeout was a lifesaver in December and January, when indoor seating was prohibited, but he recommends taking food to go only if your drive is ten minutes or less. "We have people driving thirty minutes or more to get here," he states. "When they're driving from Aurora or Westminster, taking [food] home just doesn't work. That's why [the expansion] has been so good."
Whether you eat in one of Yabby Hut's dining rooms or your own, here are a few tips:
Make sure you order enough food. A pound of crawfish, for example, sounds like a lot, but there's not much meat to them, so a good rule of thumb is at least two pounds per person, if that's all you eat. But add-ons such as corn, potatoes and sausage will stretch that, and you can always mix it up with crab (whole blue crab or Dungeness and snow crab clusters), scallops or other options.
Since this is crawfish season, Yabby Hut will likely have fresh (not frozen) crawfish brought in from the Gulf Coast regularly. The restaurant's website gets updated regularly with a green smiley face icon when the fresh mudbugs are in.
When selecting sauces and heat levels, keep flavor in mind. If you go with the Yabby Cajun seasoning, any of the heat levels work, but the lemon pepper seasoning is better with mild or no heat. And the garlic butter seasoning comes with or without Cajun flavor, so you can dial it up based on your choice.
If you're ordering to go, choose your sides accordingly. Calamari and Cajun fries aren't going to hold up well, but wings, clam chowder and gumbo will — and they all make great leftovers.
Both Yabby Hut locations are open from 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Call 303-985-0231 to reach the Yarrow Street restaurant or 303-927-6431 for the West Colfax outpost. Visit yabbyhut.com for more details.