One of the best crawfish dishes I ate last year didn't involve a boil, peeling or shucking of any kind. It was a very simple, very extraordinary plate of crawfish tails poached in butter over al dente Texas-grown rice with green coriander and fermented carrot at Oxheart.
While that particular dish is no longer on the menu -- this was last June, and the Warehouse District restaurant is famous for changing up its menu with regularity -- the fact remains that there are plenty of enjoyable crawfish dishes to be found in Houston that don't involve burning cuticles or lips. Because for every person who enjoys barreling face-first into five pounds of boiled crawfish, there is another for whom the process simply isn't that enjoyable.
For those folks -- and for everyone who enjoys a creative twist on our precious mudbugs -- here are 10 crawfish dishes to try in Houston where the focus is solely on that sweet tail meat.
Crawfish pho at LA Crawfish
LA Crawfish -- the food stand inside 99 Ranch Market -- is rightly proud of its crawfish pho. It's the only pho of its kind in the city, and it's damned delicious for something that could be gimmicky and underwhelming. LA Crawfish gets the balance of the broth just right for the sweet crawfish by spiking it with cinnamon and andouille sausage. It's not your typical pho, but it's a downright magical pairing of two insanely popular Houston Vietnamese specialties. Consider it the best and most natural celebrity marriage in the world, like if Ryan Gosling and Rachael McAdams finally got back together.
Crawfish cheesecake at Backstreet Cafe
Sommelier Sean Beck calls the oddly named "crawfish cheesecake" created by chef Hugo Ortega at Backstreet Cafe "a decadent version of a quiche with a healthy kick of spice." Served with a roasted red pepper hollandaise sauce and green salad on the side, I call it lunch -- especially when eaten al fresco on Backstreet's pretty patio.
Crawfish bread at Beaucoup Bar & Grill
The Cajun restaurant off Highway 288 near the Medical Center is known as much for this famous appetizer as it is for gumbo, po-boys and deep-fried hamburger. Imagine the best garlic bread you've ever eaten, topped with juicy crawfish meat and melting, bubbling cheese. The crawfish bread is one of the major reasons Beaucoup was awarded a Best of Houston® award for Best Cajun in 2009.
Crawfish enchiladas at Casarez
Casarez bills itself as Creole-Mex. As such, you shouldn't find it odd to encounter items like the popular crawfish enchiladas that are stuffed with tail meat, then covered in both "etouffee sauce" and queso. God in heaven. Just writing that gives me goosebumps.
Cajun egg rolls at St. John's Fire
This is the very first item I ever tried from the St. John's Fire food truck and still my favorite. Not only are the Cajun egg rolls stuffed full of plump crawfish tails, they also come with shrimp and Tasso ham inside. It's a Bayou buffet inside a bubbly, crunchy wrapper.
Crawfish half and half at Joyce's Seafood & Steaks
The best of both worlds is on one plate at Joyce's Seafood & Steaks: fried crawfish and crawfish etouffee. While this is not particularly creative, it bears mentioning because of two things. First, the fried crawfish at Joyce's are the best and biggest I've had anywhere in Houston. And second, although it's not everyone's cup of gumbo, I love the buttery blonde roux at Joyce's for its soft, subtle way of enhancing the crawfish's natural sweetness.
Crawfish bisque at Bayou City Seafood
I can count on two fingers the number of places where the bisque never disappoints: Gaido's in Galveston and Bayou City Seafood on Richmond at the Loop. The crawfish bisque here is always pitch-perfect: creamy without being too dense or oily, spiked with a rush of flavor instead of flat and one-note, and flush with plump crawfish tails.
Crawfish rolls at Fraîche Mobile Kitchen
Maine and the rest of New England can keep their lobster rolls. We have something sweeter down here: the crawfish roll, thanks to Fraîche Mobile Kitchen. It's the creation of the Fraîche team: former pastry chef Kristen Schafbuch and chef Balmore Gomez, both of whom you can find onboard their food truck at the City Hall Farmers Market every Wednesday.
Crawfish tostada at BB's Cafe
This is exactly what it sounds like. If, for some reason, you aren't in the mood for a BB Gun (the crawfish po-boy) or one of BB's Cajun crawfish boils, you can get your crawfish atop a crispy corn disc loaded up with a blend of Cajun, Southwestern and Tex-Mex ingredients: red beans, Cajun slaw, avocado, black bean corn relish, salsa verde and sour cream. BB's Cafe tends to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks; the tostada is a shining example of what happens when it all does.
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Crawfish enchiladas at Cyclone Anaya's
Unlike the enchiladas at Casarez, these are more straightforward Tex-Mex than anything else -- plus, they're only available at Cyclone Anaya's during March. The crawfish enchiladas are a yearly seasonal special, just like the mudbugs themselves, and are even better when washed down with one of Cyclone's tornado-strength margaritas.