The Boiling Crab: It's in the Bag

Well, maybe you don't want to eat this exactly: Hollow crawfish shells and dirty napkins make for a pretty lousy meal.

But you definitely do want to eat what would have shown up in the "before" picture if I'd had the willpower to reach for my phone before digging into the plastic bag full of sweet mud bugs, margarine and peppery seasoning at The Boiling Crab, where fresh crawfish are back on the menu. (Texas blue crab availability is unfortunately spotty.)

The Boiling Crab's a Southern California sensation that stands at the pinnacle of Viet-Cajun cuisine. For the uninitiated, here's how it works: Customers choose their shellfish, choose their poundage and settle on a seasoning to go with it. Or not -- if you can't decide between Cajun, lemon pepper and garlic butter, the kitchen will throw in all three. Sides go in the bag too: I like the sausage and corn on the cob, especially after it's been saturated by the XXX-level sauce. The restaurant's notoriously stingy with its sides -- a serving of ketchup will set you back 50 cents -- but doesn't skimp on the paper towels: Every table gets a roll of its own. Order a cold bottle of beer and make a bayou mess.

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