Hot Plate

Mexican Soft-shells
Years ago, I heard the late, great architect Charles Moore refer to a dish he'd just eaten as "crazy good." (It was the wonderfully ersatz chile relleno at the original Spanish Village, but that's another story.) I remember being charmed by the locution: it captured perfectly a sense of involuntary admiration, a certain wild-eyed abandonment to the pleasures of the moment.

It has been a long time since I thought of the phrase. But last week at Pico's Kirby Drive location, I ate some off-the-menu soft-shell crabs that were certifiably crazy good. Anybody who cares about soft-shells -- or about garlic, for that matter -- should proceed immediately to either

of Pico's two estimable Mexican restaurants and ask for the jaibas al mojo de ajo. Sauteed in garlicky olive oil, they are crisply gilded rather than fried, then strewn with a flurry of browned garlic chips that are mellower than they sound. Break a crab in half. Fold it inside a thin flour tortilla. Throw in some of those garlic chips. Prepare for your head to reel.

This is the kind of hybrid regional dish that makes living in l990s Houston rewarding. Better hurry if you want to try it: the soft-shell season will only last another two months.

-- Alison Cook

Pico's, 4527 Lomitas off Kirby , 942-9955; or 5941 Bellaire, 662-8383.


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