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Crazy for Crawfish

Houston's 10 best mudbug joints.

Top 10

We're at the part of the crawfish season when peeling becomes less laborious,whenminiature-lobster-sized crustaceans replace the teensy mudbugs that filled your bucket just weeks ago. This is the perfect time to strap on a bib and stock upon moist towelettes for high-yield shell peeling.

Since our local fare is almost synonymous with Viet-infused anything, Vietnamese-Cajun spots dominate the roundup of crawfish joints that I've assembled. While Chinatown hosts the most abundant concentration of mudbug places in town, there are still plenty of longtime haunts that offer traditional spice mixes for the Louisiana natives who might protest any twist on traditional Cajun blends.

Freshly boiled bugs at The Seafood Shoppe.
Troy Fields
Freshly boiled bugs at The Seafood Shoppe.
A big, beautiful breakfast at Tel-Wink Grill.
Dawn McGee
A big, beautiful breakfast at Tel-Wink Grill.
The barbecue that won Ronnie Killen first place at the 2013 Best Bites competition at the Rodeo will also be served at his pop-up dinners.
Katharine Shilcutt
The barbecue that won Ronnie Killen first place at the 2013 Best Bites competition at the Rodeo will also be served at his pop-up dinners.

10. Ragin' Cajun and Bayou City Seafood (tie)

Although plenty of food-critiquing locals and gourmands alike will dismiss these Richmond neighbors for their lack of hole-in-the-wall status, they offer consistently tasty crawfish with classic spice blends. An added bonus: Ragin' offers them in any season. You also won't want to miss the bread pudding à la mode at Ragin'. This rum-sauce-covered dessert makes even one pound of crawfish satisfy like an entire meal. And for a well-worth-it food coma, order a bowl of the chive-filled gumbo at Bayou to accompany your bugs.

9. Good Ole Boys

The sweetest-named spot on the list, this Katy Cajun favorite manages to pack a lot of flavor into its crawfish without overpowering the sweetness of the meat. The aroma that emanates from its boil hints at the flavorful but balanced Cajun spice mix that satisfies without setting your tongue ablaze. Plus, Good Ole Boys is the best spot in this suburb, so Katy dwellers won't have to drive too far to satisfy their crawfish cravings.

8. BB's Café (all locations)

For Inner Loopers who are reading this at midnight, it's not too late to sate your appetite for bugs right now, because this late-night favorite serves up solid mudbugs with traditional spices. While crawfish are up for grabs well into the wee hours of the night, you can get them here only while they're in season. The spice-averse will love this crawfish, because it's milder without sacrificing flavor. Plus, BB's Café has good Louisiana beer on tap.

7. Seafood Shoppe

This Cajun eatery has been in business for 27 years (15 at its current location), so the folks at The Seafood Shoppe know what they're doing when it comes to a classic cayenne spice mix. The Shoppe is so confident in its boil that it will serve you a cup of it on the side for dipping. While I'm still upset that it stopped cooking what was my favorite boudin in Houston, The Shoppe still offers its signature snow crabs.

6. Hank's Cajun Crawfish

I once walked into this longtime Press list-maker to find some of my friends wearing latex gloves to peel their bugs. Just before I could scold them or ask for an explanation, I caught a whiff of the bowl and understood right away: The bugs at Hank's are sinus-clearing spicy and will challenge even Ghost Pepper lovers. If you can't handle the heat, opt for Hank's famous fried rice topped with wings that come in a variety of flavors.

5. Crawfish and Noodles

If your friends don't like crawfish, first of all, get new friends. Then head over to this Chinatown staple for Asian-inspired bugs, super-filling noodle dishes and popular salt-and-pepper crabs. The spice mix at Crawfish and Noodles is hot with a slightly sweet tinge at the end that will inspire even the most devout tail-pincher to suck the heads instead of immediately tossing the shells.

4. The Cajun Stop (formerly known as Calliope's)

While this EaDo favorite is better known for its po-boys, Louisiana natives swear by the spice mix's authenticity. This BYOB establishment makes sure to put the cayenne and top-­secret spice recipe directly in the boil instead of merely coating the bugs with a dry mix to ­ensure that every meaty bite at The Cajun Stop has been marinating in the spices.

3. Boiling Crab

Pretty much anytime any of my friends return from their first visit here, I get all sorts of "Why didn't you tell me about this place before?" questions. So here you have it. Friends, future friends, everyone in between: Boiling Crab is legit. So much so that you'll find yourself waiting in line for a few hours. The crawfish here are still small right now, but larger ones should be on their way as the season progresses. Order "The Whole Shebang" for a combination of its lemon pepper, Cajun and garlic butter blends.

2. LA Crawfish

Hidden inside Asian grocery store 99 Ranch Market, this understated little bug bar offers garlicky, buttery crawfish that aren't too rich and won't weigh you down. Instead, the garlic tastes fresh and balanced with the butter and sweet meat. Bonus: LA Crawfish sells crawfish pho for those lazy no-peel days. Who'd have thought a bare-bones food court in the Memorial area would have crawfish and pho to rival Bellaire's best? Don't question it; just strap on a bib and dive in.

1. Wild Cajun

Choose from a spicy blend or a milder garlic and butter option; either iteration will be hot enough to satisfy heat-seekers. Fair warning: My parents frequent this spot and have vouched for the spiciness of the Cajun spice blend, and they eat habanero peppers on a daily basis. I prefer the milder version at Wild Cajun because the butter draws bits of minced garlic into the shells, directly infusing flavor, which makes these bugs the most obscenely addictive in town.
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Top 5

Erin Go Beef
5 corned beef dishes to try for St. Patrick's Day.

Molly Dunn

St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, and in addition to celebrating this Irish holiday with lots of alcohol and green-colored food, corned beef is a staple item during this time of year.

Don't settle for just a regular corned beef hash or corned beef and cabbage dish (delicious though they may be), because Houston is home to several restaurants offering creative corned beef dishes you probably won't find in Ireland.

Irish Nachos at Kenneally's Irish Pub

You've probably had nachos covered with cheese, ground beef, jalapeños, tomatoes and a smorgasbord of other toppings. But you probably haven't had corned beef on top of nachos. Instead of tortilla chips, Kenneally's serves thick potato slices underneath its cheese and corned beef as its signature item.

Shamrock Special at Kenneally's Irish Pub

Kenneally's offers another twist on ordinary corned beef dishes by topping its signature thin-crust pizzas with corned beef. Its Shamrock Special takes pizza to a whole new level with savory corned beef, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and, of course, cheese. Get your Irish food fix with this delicious thin-crust pizza.

The Big Reubowski at Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant

You can get just about anything with corned beef at Kenny & Ziggy's. But you don't want to miss its new burger menu, which features the Big Reubowski — a burger piled high with their house-cured corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. This is a hearty burger you'll want to try. So whether you're in the mood for a giant corned beef sandwich with pastrami, cole slaw and Russian dressing or a pancake-style omelet with corned beef, there are several ways for you to get your corned beef fix.

Corned Beef Burger at Brian O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant

Brian O'Neill's offers another corned beef burger to try in Houston — tender corned beef with gooey melted cheese on your choice of a sourdough, wheat or jalapeño cheese bun. You can order this burger off the restaurant's Deluxe Burger Bar menu or try corned beef sliders with sauerkraut and mustard during happy hour.

Irish Egg Rolls at Celtic Gardens

Celtic Gardens not only offers a lively atmosphere and great selection of drinks, it also serves up some tasty appetizers and entrées, including its Irish Egg Rolls. Order up these miniature egg rolls stuffed with a blend of cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut and corned beef. They're definitely not your everyday egg rolls. Dip them in the spicy whole-grain mustard sauce and you've got a finger-licking good appetizer.
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Top 10

Straighten Up and Fly Right
The 10 best restaurants near Hobby Airport.

Katharine Shilcutt

One of the questions I get most frequently from friends who travel is this: Why isn't there anywhere to eat around Hobby Airport? To which I say: There are lots of places. You're not looking hard enough.

Hobby is in one of those parts of town that require a finer-toothed comb than, say, the Montrose or Upper Kirby areas, where good restaurants are on prominent display. But this just makes finding truly great spots that much more rewarding.

Moreover, some of the genuinely best restaurants in Houston in their categories can be found in the neighborhoods near Hobby: Frank's Grill, where time in the old diner seems to stand still; Shuttle Burgers, just south of the airport on Almeda-Genoa; Dot Coffee Shop, in the massive Gulfgate shopping complex, an old-timer amidst a thicket of boring chain restaurants; 888 Chinese, where old-school American-Chinese cuisine has never gone out of style; and even an outpost of James Coney Island, Houston's oldest and most beloved hot dog joint.

And that's not even cracking the Top 10.

10. C&D Burger Shoppe

If you're on the way to Hobby from down south, C&D Burger Shoppe is an easy stop. Equidistant from Beltway 8 and I-45 at the corner of Beamer and Fuqua, this former Dairy Queen has been a mainstay in South Houston since the early 1980s. It turns out better burgers than you'd get at a fast-food joint, for the same price. And here, you can get a Frito pie and a grape Kool-Aid to go with your cheeseburger, along with a heady dose of nostalgia. At lunch, it's a working man's destination, but it's all sleepy small-town vibes at night — perfect for stopping in for a meal and decompressing on your way home.

9. Mannie's Seafood

As with another favorite, Joyce's Seafood and Steaks, Mannie's serves a hybrid of Mexican and Cajun food — two cuisines that have historically employed seafood to great acclaim. Mannie's is the only place I know where you can order horchata and gumbo, micheladas and fried frog legs. It's as reliable for its fresh seafood such as cheap Gulf oysters as it is for its fried shrimp and fish platters. And in the grand tradition of other Mexican seafood joints such as Tampico and Connie's, those fried platters usually come with a side of fried rice.

8. Airport Italian Deli

Located just north of Hobby on Airport Boulevard, the aptly named Airport Italian Deli is the closest dining destination on this list. But that's not all this Italian-Cajun deli has going for it. Try the New Orleans-style muffulettas on soft, squishy bread or the homemade lasagna if you're not in too much of a hurry. You'll notice, however, that most people take their po-boys and sandwiches on freshly baked bread to go. Both the price and the food itself will make the idea of stopping by a Subway on the way out of town simply anathema.

7. Thai Jasmine

For those days when you need to get good and liquored up before a flight — or want to celebrate touching back down in Houston — Thai Jasmine is the spot for you. The Thai restaurant is BYOB and doesn't have a corkage fee, so bring that classy hooch you bought at the duty-free shop on the way home. The restaurant has an allure beyond cheap booze, though, offering some of the honestly best Thai food in town for next to nothing. At lunch, most dishes are only $5.99. At dinner, the most expensive item on the menu isn't over $15.

6. Shan Hu Chinese

This is not your average Chinese restaurant. Shan Hu has specialized in Korean Chinese food for more than 30 years, a cuisine that has its roots in a mass emigration of Chinese from Korea in the 1960s after Korea enacted laws that prevented foreign ownership of property. The Chinese expats who had been living in Korea up until that time had invented their own hybrid cuisine, which lives on in places like Shan Hu, where you'll find dishes such as jaam-bong (a spicy seafood stew) alongside Korean favorites like bulgogi and Chinese favorites like crispy duck.

5. Tel-Wink Grill

This traditional American diner — a little piece of the old-school Telephone Road that borders Hobby Airport to the west — caters to the early birds rather than the night owls. Tel-Wink Grill will serve you breakfast whenever you want it — as long as you want it before 2:30 p.m., which is when it closes. The prices seem to have ignored inflation since the place first opened in the 1950s, and the dishes are the same, too — bacon and eggs, pancakes, chicken-fried steak, waffles, grits and homemade hash browns. If you get there anytime after 9 a.m., be ready for a long but reasonably quick-moving line. That said, this is not the place to get in and out quickly before a flight.

4. Casarez

As with Mannie's Seafood, Casarez specializes in a distinct blend of Cajun and Tex-Mex that it calls "Creole-Mex," with dual signs out front in Spanish and English that read simply: "Coma aquí! Eat here!" Look for shrimp and crawfish enchiladas topped with étouffée sauce or a battered and fried avocado stuffed with shrimp and served on a bed of rice and beans. Affable owners Bobby and Charlie are always on hand, visiting with regulars and making sure each table's order comes out correctly. And although it's not a fast-food joint, it's a terrific last lunch before boarding a plane headed away from our bounty of Cajun and Mexican food.

3. Burger Park

Burger Park — a humble, low-slung burger joint on Martin Luther King just off the South Loop — turns out anywhere from 400 to 500 burgers a day. Dinner is the 45-year-old restaurant's busiest time, with neighborhood residents crowding the tiny parking lot and lining up outside to get their burger fix before Burger Park closes at 7:30 p.m. But if you're swinging past on the Loop on your way to the airport, it's a breeze to grab a quick cheeseburger and fries from friendly owners Gil and Oak Kim. (Ask for your fries extra crispy, and don't forget a peach slush.)

2. City Cafe

Depending on which side of the house you sit in, City Cafe is a throwback to either the late '80s or the mid '50s. It's the latter that I prefer, and not just because you can smoke (!) on that side of the building (although the anachronistic sight of cigarettes and coffee at City Cafe's long diner counter is pretty mesmerizing). It's because this side is closer to the bustling kitchen, steam table and counter, which ensures you'll get plenty of sassy service and people-watching while you wait for your golden malted waffles at breakfast. Breakfast is the best time to go, too, and offers the same excellent Texas-style grits and biscuits as Tel-Wink Grill without the wait.

1. Pho Binh Trailer

The other two locations of Pho Binh (on Beechnut and Mangum) are larger and more convenient and offer more complete menus. But pho fanatics agree that it's worth the drive to the original Pho Binh in the trailer near I-45 and Beltway 8. Even if the pho tasted exactly the same, the colorful experience of eating an early-morning bowl of breakfast soup at Houston's favorite pho trailer is worth the extra effort. If you've been out of town for too long, this should be one of your first stops after arriving back in Houston — and it's one of the places we absolutely love to take out-of-towners.
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Brew Blog

Pro Tips
How to complete a Saint Arnold pub crawl intact.

Brooke Viggiano

I'm fairly certain I've reached pro status when it comes to the Saint Arnold Brewery Pub Crawl. Quite the feat — I know. I'd like to thank my friends, the good people at Saint Arnold and myself for having way too much time on my hands.

Texas's oldest craft brewery hosts the infamous pub crawls a few times a year, usually at the beginning of a season, to showcase their latest brews. The crawls are always a good time and, in my opinion, the perfect way to spend a Saturday — show up to the first bar on the list, get a punch card and a beer, follow the crawl to the next bar and repeat.

If all goes well, you'll finish the day with some good stories and one of the brewery's highly coveted souvenir pint glasses in your hand, further proving your worth and dominance over your sucker friends who stayed home.

Yes, it sounds easy in theory — but it does take a bit of expertise to complete one successfully like a boss. And because I like you guys, I'm sharing my pro tips on how to do just that:

1. Eat a hearty breakfast before the crawl.

Skip the most important meal on the day of the pub crawl and you'll be making some extremely regrettable food decisions by the time you get to the third or fourth bar. Take the Domino's conveniently located next to Big Easy, for example.

2. Be on time.

The pub crawls usually last about three to four hours, and there may be up to seven different bars on the hit list. Unless you want to spend your time at the last three bars playing a little game we like to call "Chug™," punctuality is a key.

3. Be sure to get a punch card.

The Saint Arnold crew will be handing out the cards only during the first hour of the crawl, and you'll need this golden ticket for the pint glass at the end.

4. Come prepared with a disguise or a really nice...smile.

You'll need one of these to pawn your way into a second punch card when your friend who promised to meet you there at 2 p.m. inevitably texts you at 2:55 saying he's "running late" and can you "get him a punch card, please, he'll buy you your next beer." Depending on the day and the hole-puncher, this could be a tricky task.

5. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.

Okay, well, it's not a marathon, either — it's a crawl, but you get the point. Take your time, enjoy the day and whatever you do, don't take your friend up on that stupid drinking bet he tries to pitch to you at bar number two.

6. Try out a new kind of brew.

The delicious in-season beer is why you're here, after all. And don't fret if the bar inside just tapped out of the Spring Bock you've been wanting to try. Take a step back and look around — there's most likely another beer line formed right behind your dumb ass.

7. If the crawl is themed, participate in it!

When else can you dress like an asshole on a Saturday afternoon? And speaking of looking like assholes...

8. Take lots of pictures.

You'll appreciate them tomorrow.

9. Watch the clock.

Be sure to actually A) make it to all the bars on the list and B) get your card punched at each bar. And if for some reason you forget, don't try to punch a hole in your card with your teeth. It doesn't work, and no one will appreciate being handed a chewed-up card at the end of the night.

10. Ladies: Bring extra toilet paper.

The bars will run out. Just trust me.

11. Finish strong.

You made it to the final bar! Now get in that long-ass line and collect your hard-earned pint glass. Don't worry — the line moves faster than you think.

You did it! You completed the crawl! But wait, you're not outta the woods yet. You still have to make it home and possibly to whatever unfortunate place you are about to go to for food. So...

12. Bring something to hold your glass in.

Otherwise, while you're ordering the largest cheesesteak Texadelphia has to offer, the glass may "squeeze" out of your back pocket and smash on the floor, resulting in a very angry mother of three scolding a very confused you as your friends laugh at you from the safety of their booth in the back corner.

That totally didn't happen; I'm just guessing that it could. Oh, also:

13. Tip well.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Main Street in Midtown gets more action.

Katharine Shilcutt

If you've been looking for former Eating...Our Words contributor and Zilla Street Eats chef Jason Kerr lately, look no further: Kerr is the new chef at the recently opened second location of Hollister Grill on Washington Avenue. According to Eater Houston, the menu at this newer Hollister Grill is being described "as 'Gulf coast regional cuisine with Southern accents' that also incorporates 'a little bit' of Central American influences."

Eater also reports that meat master Ronnie Killen is testing the waters for his upcoming barbecue restaurant by hosting a series of pop-up dinners at Killen's Steakhouse in Pearland. "Until the barbecue restaurant's location in Pearland is ready," writes editor Eric Sandler, "Killen will serve food Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until sold out at his steakhouse."

Elsewhere on the meat beat, La Casa de Caballo is now open for lunch starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. The Tex-Mex steakhouse in Montrose will also be launching brunch this Sunday, March 17, with a menu that features both steaks and breakfast items. (Steak and huevos, anyone?)

In other happy news, B4-U-Eat reports that b10 Vietnamese Cafe reopened last Wednesday after being closed for a week due to a small fire.

Sadly, however, there is one rather high-profile closing to report. David Guerrero, the chef we profiled in a feature last November, has closed his Peruvian restaurant, Alma Cebiche & Bar, which had been open for only a few short months. Alison Cook writes in 29-95 that Alma "never gained the traction it needed to compete in its west-side market," but reports that there's good news ahead: Guerrero still plans to move into a Montrose bungalow on California at Westheimer and reopen.

Readers may recall that this location was originally planned to house Guerrero's second restaurant, EVO, but Guerrero tells Eater Houston that both Alma and EVO will eventually take form in the space.

In that same post, Eater Houston also reports that Montrose BYOB Sophia closed its doors last week for good.

You can drown your sorrows in a new Midtown watering hole, however, as CultureMap reports that Capitol Bar has opened in a revamped auto repair shop built in the 1940s. Although it doesn't have a kitchen, Tyler Rudick writes that "Capitol Bar has carved out a dedicated space to host a revolving lineup of food trucks."

Capitol Bar is only a short block away from Leon's Lounge and Mongoose Versus Cobra and will soon have even more company: "A new craft beer joint named Worhals is slated to open several blocks north on Main," reports Rudick, "while former Bachelor contestant Brad Womack is planning a bar named Dogwood further west on Bagby." Looks like the stretch of Main Street in downtown where new bars Clutch City Squire, Bad News Bar, OKRA Charity Saloon and more are opening isn't the only part of Main getting lots of new action these days.

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1 comments
essenvolljetzt
essenvolljetzt

Bubba's near Memorial Park has a true-blue Cajun doing crawfish on the patio. Last weekend I  hit the spot after a bike ride and was impressed with $4.99/lb. crawfish/extras and beer priced like a Louisiana honky-tonk.

 
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