By Elizabeth Sturgeon | Photos by Blair Ramsey
Char-grilled oysters, packed and delivered on ice when you need them most—that’s not listed on the menu. (Well, the oysters are). Cajun Seafood House Owner and Chef Avi Soto and his team are prepared to do almost anything for their regulars. That includes making a special oyster delivery to the hospital, or booking out the restaurant for a family gathering, or celebrating the highs and lows alongside the people they serve.
Across nearly 10 years of business, each meal and story joins a collection of memories Avi has made through his cooking and generosity. The Cajun classics as well as the restaurant’s involvement in the community have made it a Vestavia Hills staple. “We’re just a small family and a small family restaurant business, and I’m just a cook and just one member of the team,” he says. “This is one of the best cities to open a restaurant, and with customers who have supported us for nine years, we have been proud to be part of the city of Vestavia.”
In 2014, Avi decided to open his own restaurant after working and cooking in other Cajun kitchens. He learned, throughout his time preparing all the Louisiana favorites, how many people are drawn to Cajun food and decided to focus on those dishes in his own restaurant.
Avi says that, when people first think of Cajun food, they think about the spice—but he hopes to cook within a range of cayenne with dishes for every taste palette. The variety of what his customers enjoy ordering is what’s always made him like Cajun cooking, and that’s only grown at Cajun Seafood House.
At the restaurant, you’ll find the standards—like gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice—as well as Creole and Cajun-inspired dishes and Avi’s Specialties, including the red snapper and stuffed shrimp. “When you’re cooking a dish, you see what people like and if people come back for that dish or see something different on the menu,” Avi says. “You know it’s good once you see what people like and see them coming back.”
Restaurant managers Savannah and Killan Duran joined Soto’s team shortly after the restaurant opened and have stayed ever since, helping the restaurant grow and find its place in the community.
The day Savannah came in to try the food—after Killan started his role at the restaurant—was a short-staffed day, and Savannah began to wait tables almost immediately. She’s been at the front of the restaurant throughout her time serving, bartending, and now taking on managerial duties. “And I’ve eaten every shift for the seven years I’ve worked here,” Savannah says.
Savannah and Killan have been with Avi through some of the restaurant’s biggest moments, one being the restaurant’s five-year anniversary, which they celebrated with a customer appreciation party alongside all their regulars with all the favorite drinks and apps. “We got to see everybody who’s been supporting us throughout the years,” Savannah says. Now approaching year ten and making it through the pandemic, there is always more to celebrate, and they love to share that with the customers and city that has always supported them.
Avi and his team are generous in opening up their doors for any occasion. It’s become a space for every kind of event from Vestavia sports dinners to police events to wedding parties to church meetings. They love to hang up the posters they receive and find ways to give back to the people who walk through their doors. “We love to help, and we love to share a little bit of that generosity back to Vestavia,” Avi says.
Savannah knows customers from the neighborhood and beyond by name, and she’s had quite a few Louisiana natives sing their praises for the food. And, Avi is always looking for ways to make customers an important part of the restaurant, always curious of what people like and are looking for on the menu, and always aiming to be an active partner in the community.
Avi and Savannah know their recommendations—often pointing to Avi’s Specialties, daily or seasonal specials, and dishes based on someone’s spice preference—as well as their own day-to-day favorites from the kitchen. Savannah says that she’s never eaten during every shift at another restaurant the way she does at Cajun Seafood House, and there’s always something new on the menu for her to try.
The crabcakes were an early favorite of hers, and now Savannah loves to grab the blackened shrimp or gator tacos for lunch. Avi also has his favorites for the day too, usually some combination of potatoes, a po’boy and a cup of gumbo—the classics that still bring people into the space.
Many of the first people who walked in and sat at the bar when Avi opened are the same ones at the same barstools, which is something all the Cajun Seafood House staff hold high. In approaching year 10, they’ve created traditions of their own while keeping up the traditional Cajun cuisine people love.
“It’s a lot of good memories,” Avi says. “I think that’s the reason people are still supporting us. We’re successful in our location, and with the people working for us, we’re still here for them.”
Avi can usually read someone who asks him for a recommendation. “You’ve got to recognize your customers,” he says. “Everything is on the menu because people ask for it, and people like it.”
He and Savannah shared some favorite dishes to try when you come in to sit down for a bite.
Drink: Go with a hurricane! While Cajun Seafood House has a great selection of beer, wine and classic cocktails, try a Louisiana favorite from their crafted cocktails menu.
Starter: Savannah says Avi’s crabcakes—with his made-from-scratch remoulade—are some of the best she’s ever had. And, you can’t go wrong with a cup of gumbo added to any order.
Entrée: Anything on Avi’s Specialties is going to be great way to start your meal as they all demonstrate his culinary expertise in fresh seafood and various seasonal specialties. The Mardi Gras Pasta is also a favorite among po’boys, pots to share and platters.
Dessert: Cajun Seafood House has a Southern line-up of desserts with pies and puddings, but get the beignets to complete your Cajun meal.