Nestled in a growing Prince George’s County complex, La’ Caj Seafood brings the heat by marrying bold Cajun and Latin flavors in nearly every dish and drink. Atlanta-based restaurateur Monique Rose Sneed opened La’ Caj, short for “Latin Cajun,” earlier this month within Restaurant Row Apollo (4531 Telfair Boulevard, Camp Springs, Maryland).
She also owns Bodega on Main in College Park, Georgia, which recently earned high marks and huge exposure from Keith Lee, the viral influencer and TikTok food critic with an army of 15 million-plus followers. (The household name is also prepping for a pit stop in D.C. to review its own Black-owned restaurants.)
Sneed previously owned Milk & Honey, a Southern brunch chain she opened in 2016 with six locations across the DMV and Atlanta area. For her latest local act at La’ Caj, spicy collard greens come flavored with jalapeno-beef sausage, smoked turkey, and cayenne pepper. A fiery frozen margarita features a hot sauce bled, spiced rum floater, and Tajin chili-lime rim.
“You’ll see that there’s a lot of Latin dishes that are somehow made Cajun, or Cajun dishes that incorporate some type of Latin, whether it be through pico or cilantro or something that just makes it taste a little bit different than what you’re traditionally used to,” says Sneed.
She currently flies into the area every week from Atlanta to spends days at a time getting La’ Caj off the ground. Situated near the Branch Avenue Metro station, the 3,500-square-foot casual restaurant seats 120 inside and up to 38 on the outdoor patio.
La’ Caj is born out of Sneed’s 6-year friendship with Jorge Montoya, the restaurant’s opening chef and general manager. The duo met when Montoya, who is Mexican and Salvadoran, worked as a server and eventual manager at Chi’Bal Authentic Mexican Kitchen in Laurel, Maryland, a restaurant Sneed patronized. The two hit it off and she told him that if he ever needed a job, she’d be happy to hire him. A year later he did, and went on to oversee five Milk & Honey locations across the DMV.
“Everything that we are doing here and now, it’s like we make it with love, and we put a lot of energy to make sure the food was good, with flavor, good presentation, and everything,” says Montoya. “We are really a strong team.”
Montoya and other staffers spent time after hours at Milk & Honey’s area locations to cook late-night Latin dishes for themselves. Sneed still remembers chowing down on Montoya’s seafood empanadas, soups, pupusas, tacos, and fajitas.
“Everything was so good, I mean everything,” Sneed said. “And I said, ‘what is this, what is this?’ And I just have always loved the culture, especially Mexican culture. I travel to Mexico a lot. And a lot of the people that work in the kitchen are also from El Salvador.”
Those late-night kitchen experiments paid off. All those dishes, as well as Cajun shrimp quesadillas and a butterfly shrimp dish called camarones al ajillo, appear on the menu, but with a Southern twist, whether it’s Cajun sour cream or deviled eggs. Sneed plans on offering the pupusas as a special. Seafood enchiladas, stuffed with shrimp, crawfish, and crab meat, get topped with include Cajun salsa verde and sour cream.
After Sneed sold the Milk & Honey brand in 2020 to Thompson Hospitality, she continued to stay in touch with Montoya. She promised him if she opened another restaurant in the DMV area, she would incorporate Latin food, flavors, and culture. She, in turn, would show him how to cook Cajun items like collard greens and etouffee.
“I consider him family,” Sneed said of Montoya. “Anyone who protects your investment is family.”
The restaurant’s Cajun influence also comes from Sneed’s husband, Roderick. His family hails from Mobile, Alabama, home of America’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration dating back to 1703. Her husband isn’t Cajun, but he was raised eating those foods.
“His whole family, they cook that way, it’s just part of their culture down there, especially the seafood side of it,” she says. “I spent a lot of time down there in the last close to three years and just fell in love with a lot of their flavors and spices.”
She noticed that a lot of the seasonings used in Latin food also cross over into Cajun cuisine. As such, dishes employ lots of cilantro, pico de gallo, sriracha, jalapeno peppers, garlic, paprika, and onion powder.
The dominant seafood theme nods to its Maryland state that’s known for its blue crab and soft clams. Catfish, shrimp, mussels, and crawfish also play a prominent role on the menu. Other meat options, including chicken and beef, are available for customers who don’t eat seafood.
“I just really wanted to do both cultures justice, so I just made sure that it translated to the bar also,” she says.
The King Cake Martini II is mixed with vanilla vodka, RumChata, and white creme de cocoa, while the namesake La’ Caj margarita comes with a Grand Marnier floater.
Sneed does deviate from the menu theme once with a crowd-pleasing Creamsicle made with strawberry puree and six ounces of her homemade Italian limoncello. She recommends drinking the potent cocktail at the end of your meal as a palate cleanser.
“It’s probably the only item that’s not Latin or Cajun, but it was so good, I had to put it on the menu anyway, so they’ll have to forgive me,” Sneed said of the 150-proof-alcohol cocktail. “You can only have one.”