You know summer is just around the corner when softie season comes each year. The small window during which we enthusiastically catch, batter and fry crabs right when they've just molted and are barely starting to grow a new shell generally runs from mid May through July, though the season can run longer on both ends. This may seem a bit rude to the poor crabs, who were really just in the middle of changing clothes, but perhaps it's their own fault for being so delicious at this stage in their life cycle.
Soft-shell crab abounds in Houston thanks to our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and is plentiful this year in particular due to the mild spring weather that brought lots of rain. Though you can find softie dishes on menus across town (even out of season, which always means the crab is frozen and you should probably pick something else for dinner), we suggest sticking to restaurants where the soft-shell crab is served fresh. Though it's alwasy preferable to drive down to Gaido's and enjoy them alongside a view of the Gulf itself, are five more local places to start:
In addition to their signature shaker margaritas, Pico's is also legendary in Houston for its annual soft-shell extravaganza, in which chef Arnaldo Richards sells so many each day it's best to call ahead and check to make sure the restaurant isn't out before heading over. Battered in seasoned flour and fried very simply in olive oil with lots of garlic, these soft-shell crabs are the gold standard in Houston when it comes to softies splayed open like an alien face-hugger, waiting for you to devour them.
Each year, chef Manabu Horiuchi begins getting fresh softies as soon as possible and incorporating them into his daily specials menu. Last year, it was soft-shell karaage; this year, it's served at Kata Robata in a few ways: tempura battered and served with blistered shisito peppers and a nuoc mam sauce for dipping as well as fried and tucked into a hand roll with Boston lettuce.
Peska Seafood Culture
Houston seafood steward Jim Gossen recently posted a fantastic-looking Facebook photo of soft-shell tacos at Peska Seafood Culture, the newly opened restaurant at BLVD Place. When we called the restaurant around 3:30 p.m. today to inquire about what other soft-shell possibilities were on the menu (as, alas, the website is too new to host such information), we were told that the chefs were too busy to answer our question because the restaurant was serving dinner, but don't let this dissuade you from investigating Peska for yourself (maybe just call ahead to ensure that dinner service isn't over at, say, 7 p.m. or something since it seems to start so early during the day...).
The restaurant you never knew you needed inside the new Tanglewood H-E-B is serving a special soft-shell crab po-boy topped with tomatoes, lettuce and fresh remoulade sauce—but that's not all. It also comes with fresh-cut onion rings and housemade jalapeño hush puppies. We recommend washing it down with one of Table 57's eight Texas beers on draft.
Mark's American Cuisine
Chef Mark Cox is notably picky about his soft-shell shipments, attempting to ensure that they're both big and fresh enough to meet his high standards. This means that the restaurant often runs out during softie season while Cox awaits the next, perfect order, so be sure to call ahead or risk missing Mark's crispy soft-shell crab. Also of note: be sure to save room for dessert from Mark's talented pastry team.