Ragin’ Asian

Even with a growing Vietnamese population in Acadiana, the taste for authentic Vietnamese food has taken a few years to cultivate. But these days, a few area kitchens are merging Asian and Cajun and creating spectacular cuisine; probably the most notable merging of the cultures is Driftwood Diner’s much-loved Viet Poboy or Bonsai Sushi’s Bonsai Special (tempura shrimp, fried crawfish, fried oyster, snow crab, roe, avocado and cucumber).

Another case in point: Tsunami’s Ragin’ Cajun Roll is fried alligator, avocado and roe. I’m still waiting on a Cajun pho, but slowly and surely, “Casian” cuisine is happening.

But until Casian is a full-fledged fusion and out there, we’ll have to stick with restaurants that primarily rely on one culture or the other.

Even with all the good food indicative of the local culture, even in Acadiana, everybody needs a favorite Asian restaurant.

Of course, ubiquitous Chinese buffets have popped up across Acadiana. Vast troughs of lo mein and vats of rice now dot the region. To be sure, massive buffets have their place and are loved by many, but there is more to Asian food than all-you-can-eat.

1753 Martin Luther King Blvd., Houma

According to its faithful, Emerald is one of those rare strip mall places (behind the Olive Garden, beside the Chuck E. Cheese’s) that turns out to be a little slice of heaven. From the chicken satay to the Tom Kha Gai soup to the crispy duck, in the truest of Thai traditions, Emerald aims to please.

Kim’s Chinese Restaurant
1518 Center St. and 1117 E. Main St., New Iberia
337/337-364-3464 and 337/367-6256

Kim’s used to be hole-in-the-wall-ish before the owners realized how popular they were. Years ago, they renovated the original restaurant, which is housed in an industrial exterior (as in “sheet metal building”), with kitschy interior style, which translates to all employees wearing “traditional” Chinese garb. But Kim’s is the kind of place that makes all of those details work.

Yes, they have a limited but popular buffet stocked with favorites. But Kim’s is the go-to source for Chinese food in New Iberia. Its chicken lo mein is a local favorite.

Magic Wok
2944 Johnston St., Lafayette

One great way to find the best Chinese food in a university town is to ask Chinese graduate students. They’ll tell you.

In Lafayette, hands down, ULL’s Chinese students choose the little-known-outside-university-circles Magic Wok (it’s the tiny place in the strip mall behind Mel’s Diner).

There is a small lunch buffet, but patrons are also welcome to order off the menu. The owners, a husband-and-wife chef-waitress team, are originally from Kunming, China, and seem to thrive on making sure they figure out the best dish for each repeat visit of their customers.

Most anyone who goes there regularly will heartily recommend the dumplings as some of the best you’ll find anywhere. The fried rice is also fantastic. Magic Wok is a dependable choice for surprisingly good Chinese food in Acadiana.

The restaurant is a particular favorite with Acadiana’s large Chinese adoption community. It’s worth noting that if your budget is limited and you need to feed a crowd who is tired of pizza, Magic Wok offers giant portions. The food is tasty, and the price is always right.
Mae Son Noodle House
4807 Johnston St., Suite K, Lafayette

People who love the Mae Son Noodle House are passionate about it. There are many of those people.
And I am one.

Loving Mae Son Noodle House is kind of like falling in love with someone you’ve known for a long time and never paid much attention to before. You’ve heard other people talking about him. Saying things like, “He’s cute” or “I just love him.” But you go along your merry way and don’t pay much attention. Yes, you talk to him when you see him – or in the case of Noodle House (as it is affectionately known by its loyal followers), you go there when you’re invited, but you really don’t see what all the fuss is about. And then. One day. It hits you. It hits you like a ton of bricks. This is the cutest guy/best food you’ve ever known. OK, I’ve gone far enough with the metaphor.

But seriously, that’s how it is with Noodle House. It’s a place you fall in love with. And then, you just love everything about it: the absolutely amazing fresh spring rolls and the way your family scarfs them down before the waitress makes her way back to the kitchen, its BYOB policy, the Thai soap opera magazines in the bathroom, the plastic flowers and plants, the way they serve unsuspecting Southerners Thai iced tea when they ordered iced tea, the fish tank – it all becomes endearing. Because you have fallen in love. With the spring rolls and the crazy-good dipping sauce. With your favorite dish that you know will taste that way that makes your mouth water.

Chances are high that your favorite dish is the No. 9, a salad beyond all Thai salads with noodles, chicken, shrimp, pork, lettuce, sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, basil and who knows what else in it. The inexplicable No. 9 is an entity far greater (and tastier) than the sum of its parts. If you’re not already in love with No. 9, legions of people feel the same way about the pad thai and pho – so they tell me, anyway. I wouldn’t know because I’m a No. 9 girl.

And I know how to stand by my man.

412 Jefferson St., Lafayette

As it is the grande dame of sushi places in Acadiana, no article on Asian food in Acadiana would be complete without a tip of the hat to Tsunami.

From the first bite of edamame to the last bite of the Chocolate Tsunami dessert and every delectable bite of sushi in between, Tsunami continues to lead the way in Acadiana’s burgeoning sushi market.

No, it’s not cheap, and reservations are a good idea, but Tsunami’s effort to raise the bar on the dining experience is no easy task and worth applauding. Tsunami is the kind of place where even the most persnickety foodie needs to just sit back and enjoy the experience.

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