In a city full of food cart operators and restaurateurs, it would be difficult to find someone more dedicated than Khang Nguyen, owner and operator of My Brother’s Crawfish in Portland’s Jade District. Khang has the kind of resolve that comes from being a restaurant owner for over a decade, having navigated everything from near-closures to smashed windows. Now, even in the middle of a pandemic, the restaurant is operating smoothly – with a beautiful mural covering one side of the building, a newly-built patio for outdoor dining and on the day we dropped by, a line out the door.
My Brother’s Crawfish opened its doors in 2008 but its origin story begins in his childhood kitchen. Khang’s mother, a first-generation Vietnamese transplant, adapted the popular crawfish boil spices to suit her style of cooking. What started as a loosely structured mix of dried bay, allspice, coriander and red pepper flakes, shifted over the years with a bolder blend of herbs and spices, chilies and Southeast Asian aromatics. The end result is a little cajun boil and a little Vietnamese hot-pot, more about the broth than heavy-handed seasoning.
The three of us prepared for the feast with an aperitif of Tiki Rum Cake cultivated by Rip City Roots. Perfect for standing up to the big flavors of a seafood boil, the TRC has a diesel-rich, savory profile with tiki-appropriate spice notes of clove, fruit and black pepper. A refreshingly clean exhale with lingering citrus aromas scented the nearby block as we took a short walk before settling into a booth near the bar.
“The broth is addictive, people crave it,” Khang says, describing why people keep returning to his eastside restaurant. “It is a little bit spicy, it has that heat that keeps you coming back bite after bite.” The place seems split between regulars out for a leisurely dinner and groups dressed up to celebrate. Khang mentions, “It’s not like a steakhouse where you might go once a year. It’s a more laid back and social experience.” The ladies at the table next to us were the perfect example – dressed to the nines, wearing complimentary plastic gloves to keep their hands pristine.
It wasn’t long until we had polished off a plate of fried lobster tails, knocked back a round of hurricanes, and had generously contributed to the pile of growing seafood shells on the table. We ordered our boil medium spicy, which Khang tells us is both the most popular and his personal favorite. At medium, we get a buzzy heat. Nothing a second round of drinks couldn’t fix. Any hotter and I’d be pleasantly sweating, waving our server down for another glass of water.
The Tiki Rum Cake did an excellent job of putting us into relaxation mode and kick-starting our appetites. Like most good meals, time seemed to take on a different quality as we joked and fought over who would take home the last few crab legs. Khang has built a place that shows off his love for good food and strong drink. The least we could do is show up, get a little stoned – and try to pack away as much of his craveable food as possible.
8230 SE Harrison St Portland, OR 97216
Hours: 1PM-10PM Sun-Wed | 1PM-11PM Thurs-Sat | Happy Hour Weekdays 3PM-6PM & 9PM-Close
mybrotherscrawfish.net | ripcityroots.com
@mybrotherscrawfish | @ripcityroots