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Crawfish Roundup

FarleyFlavors Apr 6, 2011 06:30 AM

It's been a while since I was in Houston during crawfish season so on my latest visit a few days back I went a little mudbug crazy.

Hank's Crawfish on Highway 6. $6.99 per pound, 2lb minimum order, corn'n'taters extra. A choice of 5 heat levels - mild, medium, spicy, extra spicy and "New Orleans" and an option to add garlic for an extra 20 cents. The waitress talked me out of the New Orleans and almost talked me out of the extra spicy too. Glad she didn't succeed - the sauce was indeed quite spicy but easily handleable. And hugely tasty too, especially with the chunks of garlic added. As for the crawfish themselves - a bit mushy and overcooked. It was mid-afternoon, the restaurant was fairly quiet and the order arrived suspiciously fast so I reckon they'd been hanging around for a while and steaming away in the plastic bag.

Ragin Cajun on Westheimer. $12.99 for a half bucket (1.75lb), $22.99 (I think) for a full bucket (3.5lb). One potato and a half corn cob included with the half bucket. This wouldn't have been my first choice of destination but when I turned up at The Boiling Crab at 4.30 on Friday afternoon the queue was already snaking out the door. Small, mushy, overcooked bugs with virtually no discernible flavour. Adding some cajun spice mix helped a little but these were easily the worst I tried all week. And what's with the strange "1.75lb" portion ? My suspicion is that it's to disguise the fact that these were also the priciest I had all week, at $7.42 per pound. Even so, the place does seem to have its fans. A couple next to me at the bar polished off five full buckets while I was there. There are surely many finer places in Houston in which to blow a hundred bucks on crawfish.

Mardi Gras Grill on Durham. $4.99 per pound, 2lb minimum, corn'n'taters extra. Excellent. Perfectly cooked to order and the biggest I had all week. Bonus points for being the cheapest too. I could have used a little more seasoning but these were still the best I had.

Orleans Seafood Kitchen on the I-10 in Katy (thanks for the rec, Jaymes !). $5.99 per pound, 2lb minimum order, corn and potatoes included. Very good indeed, nicely cooked if a little on the small side. Again, could have used a little more seasoning. Bonus points for having superb oysters on the half shell for only $6.99 per dozen.

The Boiling Crab on the Beltway at Beechnut. $6.99 per pound, minimum order 1lb, corn included with a 2lb order. Choice of seasonings (Lemon Pepper, Cajun, Garlic Butter or "The Whole Shebang" which is all three) and choice of four heat levels. This place is crazy popular. In an attempt to avoid the queues we turned up 15 minutes before they opened at 3 on Monday afternoon and there were already several other cars parked outside. By the time we left at 4.15, there was a queue of ten people waiting for a table. I can understand why. Perfectly cooked crawfish and excellent sauces. We had 2lb "Whole Shebang" extra spicy and 1lb Garlic Butter mild. Good though the Whole Shebang was, there was maybe a bit much going on and I preferred the Garlic Butter. Both could have used a little extra salt. Their hottest spice level was about the same as Hanks' "extra spicy". Bonus points for allowing a 1lb order, allowing us to sample a couple of different seasonings.

In summary, if I could have Mardi Gras' crawfish with Hank's sauce I'd be a very happy man. I'd definitely go back to Hank's when the place was busier to see if the quality improves as a result.

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Mardi Gras Grill
1200 Durham, Houston, TX 77007

Boiling Crab
8300 W Sam Houston Pkwy S Ste 268, Houston, TX 77072

Orleans Seafood Kitchen
20940 Katy Fwy, Katy, TX 77449

  1. texasredtop Apr 6, 2011 07:14 AM

    I haven't had Floyd's crawfish but hear they are very good. I've never had anything bad there.

    I cannot stand anything Ragin Cajun makes - yuck. Gumbo is colored water with heavy Tabasco - downright nasty. There is not much cajun about that place.

    When I don't want to drive too far, I eat Willie's boiled crawfish. Pretty good and very convenient.

    Haven't had Mardi Gras Grill crawfish but love everything else I've had there.

    17 Replies
    1. re: texasredtop
      FarleyFlavors Apr 7, 2011 01:08 AM

      Thanks texasredtop, I'll add Willie's and Floyd's to the list for next time, which sadly won't be for another year. There's also Repka's to check out which was recommended by zorra.

      (And I forgot to thank James Cristinian for recommending Mardi Gras' crawfish).

      1. re: FarleyFlavors
        Lambowner Feb 17, 2012 09:45 AM

        The only good thing about the end of oyster season is the beginning of crawfish season. Crawfish fever seems to be striking early this year, perhaps because of our truncated oyster season on the Texas Gulf Coast. While driving around this morning, I spotted a cook firing up a huge vat in the parking lot of an office building preparing to boil up bug lunch for some lucky cubicle dwellers. Whatever the reason for the early season, I aim to try Repka's in Brookshire this year, I have seen it recommended by many an enthusiastic Hound. Farley, did you make it there last year?

        http://repkas.com/

        1. re: Lambowner
          j
          James Cristinian Feb 17, 2012 01:01 PM

          I tried to kick off crawfish season today as HEB advertised them for this weekend, but they didn't get any. Allison, the very nice manager of the seafood department at Bunker Hill 'splained (I've been watching Lucy reruns) that the folks that do the ads were brain dead on this one, as supplies can be spotty this early in the season. I understand perfectly and was not going to go idiot customer and scream false advertising at them, I work retail and know the game. I can't bring myself to pay six or seven bucks a pound for crawfish, and have been doing them myself the last two years. So I go to the Louisiana Foods store front and got my first oysters of the dwindling season, a couple of pounds and a few shrimp to fry today, and do the rest this weekend in my rip off version of Benno's grillled oysters. I sampled a couple and they were nice sized and salty, though of couse not as good as freshly shucked. They also had a pack of turtle meat in the case, you just never know what they'll have there.

          1. re: Lambowner
            FarleyFlavors Feb 18, 2012 01:40 AM

            I haven't been back to Houston since the original posting; my next trip is at the end of March. I'll do my best to head out to Repka's. I've already purchased coupons for both Spanky's Crawfish and Bar (which got a half-decent decent write-up in the Press) and The Concert Pub on Richmond (which I remember having rather good bugs a few years back).

            Speaking of the Press, it was a bit of a surprise to see Ragin' Cajun listed last week as the tenth best place in town for crawfish. In the comments section, Shilcutt explained that it's because she can get crawfish there out of season. Really ? That's a good reason to rate it so highly ?

            http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/...

            P.S. Noticed your posts over on the U.K. board recently, Lambowner. You get around a bit, huh ?

            1. re: FarleyFlavors
              j
              James Cristinian Feb 18, 2012 04:20 PM

              Getting crawfish out of season is a terrible reason to rank Rajun' Cajun highly. I had some in September a few years ago, the staff described them as very clean tasting. from the Sacramento River in California. They were so clean, they had no flavor, a waste of money. Just for fun I looked up Sacramento River crawfish and came up with a twenty-five year old articule on the subject from the Los Angeles Times.

              http://articles.latimes.com/1986-12-1...

              1. re: James Cristinian
                FarleyFlavors Feb 20, 2012 01:57 AM

                Interesting article. "Not many people in California have ever seen a crayfish and fewer still actually eat them". The same is true in the U.K., despite the fact that our rivers and ponds are teeming with invasive American crawfish which have all but wiped out our native species and which cause $2.6 billion in environmental damage per annum.

                http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/e...

                A few months back my local fishing tackle shop had crawfish nets on sale. Thinking I'd get an easy free meal or two, I investigated what was required to legally catch them, but there was so much red tape involved in getting a licence and land-owners' permissions it wasn't worth the effort.

              2. re: FarleyFlavors
                Lambowner Feb 18, 2012 08:41 PM

                I do get around as much as I can! Agree on Ragin' Cajun, although I generally trust Katharine Shilcutt's judgment, occasionally she comes up with a head scratcher. Haven't been to either Spanky's or Concert (not Last Concert, I assume, the Tex-Mex hideaway). Must cut my nails back and remove the polish and make a date at some of these places.

                1. re: Lambowner
                  FarleyFlavors Feb 20, 2012 01:59 AM

                  Loved her demolition job on the "sexy tex-mex" place this week !

                  1. re: FarleyFlavors
                    Lambowner Feb 20, 2012 06:23 AM

                    She's absolutely right about that place. Horrible food. I like that it made her angry: "I sat and stared at them, head down, anger building in my chest." I have the same reaction to badly prepared, low quality restaurant food. In analyzing that, it feels like forceful robbery and as if they are mocking their guests. You can't refuse to pay after you've ordered, and yet it's not edible. And that horrid place has very high prices, having marketed itself as high end Tex-Mex. I was glad to see her excoriate the owners. They deserve that. Thank you KS.

                    1. re: Lambowner
                      FarleyFlavors Feb 21, 2012 09:21 AM

                      So you've tried it out ? Spill the beans then. What did you order and was the food truly as bad as it sounds ?

                      Must admit, the arrogance and cluelessness of the owners in thinking that they could run a high-end Tex-Mex place without hiring a chef is quite shocking.

                      1. re: FarleyFlavors
                        Lambowner Feb 21, 2012 10:22 AM

                        I was there as the guest of a friend and ordered the crab enchiladas. I pushed them around my plate but still my friend noticed I wasn't eating it. I felt bad, but it was truly awful and I could not eat it. I would never go there again.

                        Katharine's hatchet job was a public service announcement.

                        1. re: Lambowner
                          texasredtop Feb 21, 2012 03:51 PM

                          I'm confused, what restaurant are you talking about?

                          1. re: texasredtop
                            j
                            James Cristinian Feb 21, 2012 05:15 PM

                            It confused me too, and I reread all the posts three times looking for the answer. I found clues which lead me to this, Vida Tex Mex.

                            http://www.houstonpress.com/2012-02-1...

                            1. re: James Cristinian
                              Lambowner Feb 21, 2012 06:55 PM

                              Sorry, that is correct. Terrible place. I just knew what article Farley was referring to.

                              1. re: Lambowner
                                texasredtop Feb 22, 2012 05:16 AM

                                Thanks for clearing it up. At first I thought you were talking about Ragin' Cajun which I would totally agree is awful but then I realized it was a mexican restaurant and couldn't figure it out. I've never heard of it anyway. Another Mexican place that I totally don't get the love for is Pico's on Bellaire. I had one horrible meal there and had to beg for more salsa and chips so I could fill my tummy before going back to work. The salsa was excellent but they just ignored my request for more for an hour. I would have thought it was just what I ordered but there were several of us and only one person ate their lunch and no one ordered the same dish. But people rave about it.

                                1. re: texasredtop
                                  FarleyFlavors Feb 23, 2012 01:18 AM

                                  I've only ever been to Pico's once for breakfast. My other half's Beef Chilaquiles was indeed fairly poor and most of it was left behind.

                                  The menudo I had was excellent, although it's the one and only time I've eaten it so there may well be better menudo in town.

                              2. re: James Cristinian
                                FarleyFlavors Feb 22, 2012 03:47 AM

                                Apologies for the confusion, folks - I should really have posted a link to the review.

          2. j
            Jaymes Apr 6, 2011 11:38 AM

            So glad you tried Orleans Seafood Kitchen, and liked it!

            Know what you mean that the crawfish could be a little more highly spiced for you, but if you looked around, you probably noticed quite a few families with kiddos. Our two little ones will happily eat buckets of those crawfish, which they undoubtedly wouldn't if they were any spicier. The grownups in our group just shake on lots of extra Louisiana hot sauce, and everybody is happy.

            -----
            Orleans Seafood Kitchen
            20940 Katy Fwy, Katy, TX 77449

            4 Replies
            1. re: Jaymes
              c
              caliking Apr 6, 2011 01:02 PM

              Thanks for the roundup! Newish Houstonian here, and your review definitely helps to avoid the mediocre.

              1. re: caliking
                FarleyFlavors Apr 7, 2011 01:14 AM

                You're welcome ! They were all pretty darned good with the exception of Ragin Cajun.

              2. re: Jaymes
                FarleyFlavors Apr 7, 2011 01:11 AM

                No families around - it was the middle of the afternoon and the place was pretty quiet. There was however a couple sitting chain smoking at the bar which seemed almost quaint in this day and age !

                Good point on the spicing though. It would be nice if more places offered different levels of heat a la Hank's and Boiling Crab.

                -----
                Boiling Crab
                8300 W Sam Houston Pkwy S Ste 268, Houston, TX 77072

                1. re: FarleyFlavors
                  j
                  Jaymes Apr 7, 2011 06:54 AM

                  You're right about offering different levels of heat. That is a nice touch. Not sure why more places don't do that.

                  And about the smoking...

                  Yep, Katy still allows smoking in the "bar." If the bar isn't an enclosed room, that smell can be difficult to deal with. At Orleans Kitchen, we always sit well away from the bar.

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