For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Along with Texas oyster season, crawfish season is officially upon us. No Label Brewing out of Katy is offering an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil for only $10 at Ashford Pub this Saturday at 1 p.m., while the Heights Chamber of Commerce is busy prepping for its annual crawfish boil at the SSQQ Dance Studio on March 3. Yesterday, when I spoke to Jim Gossen -- hero of the New South and founder of Foodways Texas -- he talked of hosting a crawfish boil soon to promote membership in Foodways Texas and bring people together.
"I don't want to have a clique," he said of the young organization, which promotes Texas food history and culture. "I don't want it to be this small group of people. This is something that everyone can get involved in. I want everyone to feel welcome."
And that's exactly what a crawfish boil does. It's hard not to feel like part of a greater whole when you're eating crawfish with others: You're in the trenches together, battling through a field of mudbugs and emerging dirty yet victorious at the end of the meal.
10. Ragin' Cajun
This longtime Richmond haunt is where many Houstonians -- native or not -- tried their first crawfish. While there's usually a line out the door during crawfish season, that's just a sign of loyalty and quality. Ragin' Cajun gets bonus points for its wild Louisiana decor, fabulous zydeco music, handy sink right in the dining room, and the fact that it doesn't charge extra for corn or potatoes. It sells its crawfish in 1.75 pound or 3.5 pound buckets, for $12.99 and $23.99 respectively (which works out to roughly $6.85 a pound).
The closest to an authentic po-boy as you'll get in the Bayou City also has great crawfish, and owner Lisa Carnley also consistently pulls in some of the largest, so come prepared. The crawfish are $6.75 a pound right now and available on Fridays and Saturdays, but the price should drop back down to $6.25 a pound as the season rolls along. Calliope's crawfish are a little pricey, but Carnley only orders "jumbo" mudbugs for her restaurant, so you'll get what you pay for.
The crawfish at this Durham favorite are currently $6.99 a pound (although corn and potatoes are extra, at $1.99 for three of each), and its central location means that this Cajun shack gets swamped early and often despite the high-ish prices. But it also comes with a great backstory: This was the original Floyd's -- Floyd Landry, that is -- and was one of the first places to bring crawfish to Houston.
Speaking of... This location of Floyd's is our favorite, with a boat-shaped bar and all-you-can-eat crawfish specials that will keep you lingering all day in sea-breezy Webster, whether you meant to or not. Right now, crawfish is $5.95 a pound and the cayenne-heavy boil is so crazy-spicy, you'll be tasting it on your lips for days.
By far one of the cheapest crawfish joints in town right now, Daily Seafood in Westbury is offering mudbugs for $5.99 a pound -- closer to last season's prices than this year's -- and they come in one flavor only: garlic, which provides a pleasantly mild burn. The bare bones decor isn't much to look at, but who cares when your head is buried in a wonderfully smelly bag of bugs?
Hank's was given the coveted Best Crawfish award in the 2010 Best of Houston® issue. Part of the reason is that you don't just get an order of crawfish at this divey spot. As at Boiling Crab, you get to choose from a variety of different boil flavors. Crawfish are $6.99 a pound right now at both locations, and -- at least according to its Facebook page -- the restaurant is also experimenting with chicken and waffles right now. I say fry the crawfish and throw those on top, too.
One of the last holdouts of the once vibrant Richmond Strip, Concert Pub has managed to retain its fun, spirited, casual vibe -- important things in a crawfish-eating atmosphere. The place also has one of the cheaper deals in town right now at $5.99 a pound. Even better? Concert Pub seasons the water, not just the crawfish, so your bugs are done up the right way.
This Houston chain's best location is on FM 1960 and, as Robb Walsh once pointed out, feels more like Bolivar Peninsula than it does north Houston. And to quote a Cajun friend of mine who's had "an 85 percent success rate" at Blue Water, the key is to call ahead of time to make sure the crawfish are alive and ready to go. And right now -- like at Concert Pub -- they're only $5.99 a pound.
Back in 2009, Boiling Crab was given our Best Crawfish award, and it's still going strong, as evidenced by a nearly two-hour wait every night. When I asked the manager what he thought the best time to come was to not have to wait that long, he just laughed and said, "Now." As in 4 p.m. A pound of crawfish will run you $6.99 a pound right now, so go get in line.
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1. Wild Cajun
One of the most recent Viet-Cajun joints to crop up in southwest Houston, Wild Cajun is currently our favorite (and not just because it also serves sushi and amazing chargrilled oysters). There are only two flavors of boil here: garlic butter and the signature Wild Cajun. You can guess which one is the spicier of the two. The garlic butter, however, isn't overly garlicky and instead subtly enhances the sweet meat of the crawfish tails. The Wild Cajun will set your lips, cuticles and tongue aflame, but it's worth every fiery bite. Just don't seek solace in the potatoes that accompany the crawfish; they're even hotter.