Hot 'n' Juicy Crawfish - should I be excited?
Personally, I'm a huge fan of Hot & Juicy Crawfish. I typically eat there once or twice on my 4-5 day trips to Vegas. I love the flavors and usually the medium spice level is plenty for me. But now hearing about Boiling Crab, I might need to investigate and broaden my culinary horizons when it comes to boiled seafood. Can't wait for October to get here!
In my opinion, you can skip Hot 'n' Juicy and go to Boiling Crab instead, but I say that as a Southern California native. Hot 'n' Juicy is where people from Vegas go when they crave the SoCal Boiling Crab experience. Now that Boiling Crab has arrived, there is no longer a reason to go to Hot 'n' Juicy.
Boiling Crab's sauce is far superior to Hot 'n' Juicy. The latter has a gritty texture with an almost bitter finish. Boiling Crab's sauce is rich and complex, with a smooth buttery finish. Add some lime juice to it and it's perfect. I suspect the strangeness of Hot 'n' Juicy's sauce comes from the way they cook their seafood (as seen on Man vs. Food). They boil the seafood in the bag, take it out when it's done, and THEN dump in the spices. Why they choose to season only after the seafood cooks is beyond me. Boiling Crab puts everything in and it all cooks together. The flavors enter the seafood and enhance it.
When it comes to the trend of Asian-run seafood boil places, Boiling Crab is the starter of the trend and no other place matches it. The SoCal Boiling Crabs usually have a wait of at least 1-2 hours, but the Vegas location is much larger and rarely as a wait. You should take advantage of that.
Get the fried catfish basket with seasoned fries (medium spicy) to start. If you like oysters, get a dozen fresh shucked oysters. Order the shrimp for sure and get some crawfish too if they are live. The order board will note if the crawfish are live (or ask your server). As for the choice of sauce, definitely go for Whole Sha'bang with medium spice level. The corn on the cob is really good (stick with Whole Sha'bang medium for the corn sauce). Ask for limes as well as salt and pepper cups. Squeeze some lime into the salt and pepper and dip your seafood into it. The acidity cuts the richness of the sauce and the little bit of salt makes the flavor pop in your mouth.
They also sell king crab legs, but it will set you back around $25/pound. Boiling Crab's pricing is all based on current market prices and king crab is pricey everywhere this year. Clams, whole lobsters, and a few varieties of whole crabs are sold as well.
I generally stick to shrimp and king crab (when it's down around $15/pound). I'm Asian and all the other items just don't have a very good weight:meat ratio. I'll make an exception for crawfish when it's live.
How much to order? I usually order a catfish basket for every 3-4 people. As for the boiled stuff, I either let each person order their own stuff or I'm ordering for the whole table, I'll order 1lb of shrimp for each person plus a little of the other stuff so people aren't spending the whole time just eating shrimp.
My order for a table of four would be: 1 catfish basket (maybe two if everyone loves it), 1 dozen oysters, 4 pounds shrimp whole sha'bang medium spicy, 1 pound crawfish whole sha'bang medium spicy, 2 pounds king crab whole sha'bang medium spicy, 4 pieces of corn, and drinks.
Few tips: Yes, you squirt the ketchup for fries directly onto the wax paper-covered table. No, there are no utensils, hence the large napkin dispenser. The bib may seem dumb, but it'll save your clothes from flying corn juices from your table neighbor's corn. Order beer or soda. Water is $0.25 and very unsatisfying to drink while eating Boiling Crab. Take a picture of your table after you are all done.
I can't believe I just wrote all that about Boiling Crab. Please don't think I'm some Boiling Crab fanatic. I do eat there every 2-3 months, but I have also tried many of their competitors in Southern California, Northern California, and Vegas. None have ever stacked up.