“Seafood & Grocery: You Buy, We Fry.” Who can resist a come-on like that?
Inside Lulu’s Seafood Mart at 2519 The Plaza, you’ll meet Luu Ngo smiling behind the counter. She’s a bouncy, bright-eyed Vietnamese grandmother with piping hot fish to sell — and a story to tell.
First, the fish. There’s whole porgie, grouper and other sea creatures on ice, ready for you to cook at home. But for the “You Buy, We Fry” option, choose shrimp or a fillet of whiting, perch, tilapia, catfish or croaker. Ngo plucks the fresh fish out of the chilled display case, dredges lightly in a mix of flour and cornmeal, then quickly into the fryer.
Golden brown, the seafood melts in your mouth. So simple. So good.
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Get it as a “sandwich,” which in true Southern fashion means “with two plain slices of white bread.” Or as a “plate” that comes with a side order. I favor the fried spring rolls, a Vietnamese tradition, handmade with bits of pork and napa cabbage.
Luu Ngo’s story? Wife of a Vietnamese air force officer, she fled with her four children after Vietnam fell to the Communists.
“We were ‘boat people,’ refugees,” she says.
Arriving in Charlotte in 1986, she found work at a West Boulevard seafood shop. She eventually saved enough to buy the business. It morphed into Overseas Market, an Asian grocery on South Boulevard.
“I thought my kids would take over,” she recalls, but they had their own career paths.
She sold out, and a developer bulldozed the market to build a car wash.
After a lengthy visit to her aging mother back in Vietnam, Ngo found herself chafing at retirement: “It’s boring. I used to work six days, seven days a week.”
Her son found the fish market on The Plaza. The previous owners were Vietnamese, too — refugees who’d worked shrimpboats in Louisiana. It’s tiny compared to Overseas Market, but Ngo is happy.
“Customers know me, I’ve been around so long,” she says. “I like them, they like me.”
Lulu’s Seafood Mart
Location: 2519 The Plaza.
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday.