Crawfish season is upon us and the excitement I reserve just for this is on the same level as my excitement for Texas State Fair fried foods, fried chicken and Backstreet Boys. The endless pounds of delicious, fat, mud bugs that’ll put me in a dreamy state of seafood coma sub-consciousness will probably require someone to sedate me so I don’t injure myself shoveling food in my mouth and accidentally choking on a claw.
If you share the same enthusiasm about crawfish, or seafood in general, I have great news for you: I am prepared to dub Tasty Tails the best crawfish in Dallas.
Tasty Tails is a gem, hidden in the Asian food court next to Asia World Market in Plano off Legacy Drive. It’s definitely easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. Tasty Tails is anything but “food court food.” This Asian food court isn’t your typical greasy pizza and hot dogs. Think Korean BBQ ribs with the pickled sides, Taiwanese shaved ice and hot buns filled with minced meats. Think options. (Did I mention the food court is BYOB?!)
Khanh Tran and Vu Tran opened the crawfish joint last April in hopes of bringing an authentic New Orleans style of crawfish to the seafood scene in Dallas. The eldest brother, Khanh, moved to Dallas 15 years ago from New Orleans and brought with him recipes he learned from family and friends during the 20 years he lived in Louisiana. After many years of hosting crawfish boils at home, Khanh dreamed of opening a crawfish joint for years and finally made it happen.
“For years I always thought about opening a crawfish shop. We always held crawfish boils. We would have a party just for friends and family,” Khanh said, “It wasn’t an overnight thing. We’ve been working on the recipes for over 15 years. That’s on top of what I learned from family back in New Orleans.”
Before the opening of Tasty Tails, Khanh worked as a theatre installation specialist and Vu attended school for court reporting, neither were really want they wanted to do with their lives. So, when the opportunity to take over the 200 sq. ft. space that once belonged to a Thai restaurant presented itself, they jumped on it.
At any given day of the week, the Tran family — which consists of brothers Khanh, Vu, Michael, sisters Juliee, Charlye, Vi, Alex, and a number of cousins and close friends — are manning the restaurant and serving lines of people waiting to get their crawfish fix. The family business is young and energetic and eager to share good New Orleans Cajun-style cooking.
Over the past year, popularity for the charming seafood joint has spread through social media and word of mouth. Khanh believes the quality of food and freshness of product has customers returning for more and telling their friends.
“Even though we offer same types of things as other restaurants, we try to keep it as close to roots as possible. For po’boys, we get the bread flown in from New Orleans. We get our shrimp from the gulf. All the seafood is flown in, like the king crab and Dungeness crab. We wash it(seafood) often and throw dead things away,” said Khanh, “We cook like how we would eat it. We want to bring to everyone what we would eat if we were at home.”
The Trans take extra steps to ensure the freshness of all their products and fly much of it in from Louisiana vendors. Tasty Tails is known for the large sizes of the crawfish, especially during peak season, because they take the time to find the right vendors with the best crawfish and pay the premium for it. Anything dead is thrown away and never served customers.
There is a huge difference in how Tasty Tails serves their crawfish. Most typical seafood restaurants in Dallas boil the crawfish in water before adding butter, garlic, or other seasonings for flavor. More often than not, the seasoning doesn’t get through the shells and into the meat of the crawfish, making each bite lacking in flavor or in need of some sort of dipping sauce. (For all the work it takes to crack these suckers open, it better taste good.)
Juliee explains their crawfish is first boiled in different seasonings, spices, and other secret family ingredients to really fuse the many flavors into the meat of the crawfish. They do the same with their shrimp, clams, and crabs. Customers choose between the traditional New Orleans flavor, where the crawfish is cooked in various spices, fruits, and veggies or with the Who Dat sauce, which is the traditional crawfish with added garlic and butter(for those who really need their butter), and whatever the level of spiciness they can handle.
“That’s how we would eat it from back home. Dallas people aren’t used to eating it this way without the garlic butter or dry rub. We thought why don’t we try and introduce it to Dallas since it’s hard to find in Dallas,” said Juliee.
Tasty Tails offers different flavor options to their crawfish lovers to achieve a bigger goal outside of just satisfying hungry bellies.
“People in this area are very accustomed to that type of flavoring(butter and garlic) when it comes to crawfish. We want to be able to serve Louisiana natives “crawfish from home” but we also want to give non-natives what they want while teaching them the importance of flavoring the seafood right from the get-go, the boiling process,” said Juliee, “We want to be able to show them that the seafood should be flavored from within, not just the after thought.”
The menu extends past just seabugs and offers po’boys fully stuffed with shrimp or catfish, fried catfish or shrimp baskets, gumbo, and of course sides of corn, potatoes, sausage or Cajun fries. You’ll also find specialties items such as crawfish pies and turkey necks.
The Trans emphasize the authenticity they are bringing to each seafood lover’s plate and are doing a bang up job. Before even reaching the shops one year anniversary, there are talks of opening a second Tasty Tails location possibly later this year. No locations or contracts have been inked yet, but Khanh hints it would be an expanded version with more featured New Orleans-native menu items such as charbroiled oysters and hand grenades, reminiscent of Bourbon Street.
Love for the bags of delicious mud bugs is evident in how often the restaurant sells out. When asked how they handle the demand, Khanh says they only purchase enough for the day to guarantee the freshness. Keeping crawfish overnight effects the freshness and the taste and just simply isn’t an option.
Easily selling thousands of pounds a month during busy season, it is easy for the restaurant to sell out of crawfish at least several days throughout the week on a regular basis. This is one indication they have some serious crawdad fans. The food court holds up to 200 people, and at one point or another, it is filled with mostly diners cracking and peeling their dinners.
Regulars know better than to just show up, knowing there’s a chance of food running out. They go as far as calling to reserve several pounds of their favorite crawlers before arriving or checking for availability and even sizes.
“We try to make sure we update social media to let people know when we run out,” Juliee Tran said, “People are calling now a lot because they know we sell out really quickly. One Saturday, we sold out before we even got the crawfish.”
What makes Tasty Tails truly special doesn’t stop at the delectable menu or its unique location (Did I mention BYOB?? Just wanted to be clear). It’s the family ties that has really made the restaurant successful.
“I’m most proud of my family. The way they supported the restaurant. They all have full time jobs and still come out here at least two or three times a week just to help out. We make it fun. We don’t run it like a corporation. We chill and have fun,” Khanh said.
Juliee acts as their main social media point person and despite working full time for a digital marketing and advertising company, makes it out often to help out.
“It’s a family thing where we want to see each other succeed and help them get to where they want to be,” she said, “It’s rewarding because they work so hard. It brings us all together. We already hang out a lot together as a family, but this gives us an excuse to hang out even more”.
More on the Tran family: They participated in the well known game show Family Feud. Check out the video below and see how they did: