We're at the part of the crawfish season when peeling becomes less laborious, where miniature-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 up on 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.
While 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.
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, it's the best spot in this suburb, so Katy dwellers won't have to drive too far to satisfy their crawfish cravings.
8. BB's Cafe (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 also serves up solid mudbugs with traditional spices. While crawfish are up for grabs well into the wee hours of the night you can only get them here while in season. The spice-averse will love this crawfish because it's milder without sacrificing flavor. Plus, BB's Cafe has good Louisiana beer on tap.
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.
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.
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 to make sure that every meaty bite at The Cajun Stop has been marinating in the spices, instead of merely coating the bugs with a dry mix.
3. Boiling Crab
Pretty much anytime any of my friends return from their first time 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 a 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 isn'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.
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SHOW ME HOW
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.