Soft-Shell Crab (Legs) at Patu's Thai Cusine

I try to eat, or should I say, enjoy as much soft-shell crab possible while it's in season, but for the second time in a row, I have failed. Recently at Reef, I attempted to order their gigonzo tempura soft-shell crab (big as my forearm, no joke) only to find out they were out that night. Although the dinner that followed was absolutely flawless, I still left craving my favorite crustacean.

And then this past weekend, I visited Patu's, the hole-in-the-stripmall restaurant in Rice Village. I ordered the Pad Ped ($15), fried soft-shell crabs in chili sauce with mushrooms, carrots and snow peas. I requested brown rice, but they only had steamed white.

Now, I admit I probably share some of the blame for this Soft-Shell Crab Fail. The menu described the dish as "spicy," and since my tolerance for heat has really declined in the last few years, I requested it "very mild." And even though I know there's no way to completely dumb down chiles, there must have been some miscommunication because my mouth immediately began to burn such that I had trouble recognizing any flavor but hot. The gummy consistency of the sauce compounded its unappetizing quality, as did the sparse vegetables.

And the crabs? My first thought was that they forgot them until I realized that only their appendages were present. That's right: $15 plus tax only bought me about six scrawny soft-shell crab legs, no torsos. For a dollar more I could have enjoyed one of Reef's tempura monsters plus some decent ambience.

Third time better be the freakin' charm in my search for soft-shell crabs. I know I could settle for a po-boy at any number of places, but I also know that full-bodied jumbo varieties surely can be found for a decent price somewhere in Houston. I dream that a restaurant chain emerges called "Texas Fried Soft-Shell Crab" (or TFSSC) that offers them by the bucket. In the meantime, any suggestions?

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