I had been at the Angry Crab,* a newish Cajun-style seafood joint run by a trio of Vietnamese brothers in West Ridge. Sometime around the turn of the century this very particular sort of cross-cultural restaurant began opening in Vietnamese enclaves along the Gulf Coast. Known as "boiling points," they featured communal seating and spicy boiled seafood ordered by the pound and eaten with the fingers, with only a plastic bib separating diners from the carnage before them. This phenomenon spread to the southwest and southern California and pretty much anywhere you could find Vietnamese in large numbers—except here.
The Angry Crab opened with little fanfare earlier this year in the tight space once occupied by the dearly departed Tampopo, but its vibe couldn't be more charged than that sleepy spot. It's packed nightly with a majority young Asian clientele hunched over piles of mudbugs under graffiti-covered walls. The light is softened by a buttery mist that seems to hang in air, carrying on it the effluvium of garlic and chile. Once your name makes it to the top of the inevitable waiting list you'll be led to a table—which you might share with strangers—presented with bibs and menus by invariably harried servers, and left to calculate how many pounds of crawfish, shrimp, clams, oyster, blue crabs, Dungeness crabs, crab legs, and lobsters your mitts have the strength and agility to crack open.
There is a somewhat complicated seasoning scenario featuring a choice of lemon pepper, garlic butter, "Angry spice," or all three, and four heat levels, the highest of which has the power to induce facial paralysis. The seafood arrives in clear plastic bags, soaking in huge quantities of sauce that will soon apply itself to everything and anyone in a three-foot radius. You can supplement the orders with sausage, corn on the cob, potatoes, and a handful of appetizers (fried noodles, wings, calamari, soft-shell crabs, fries). But the crustaceans themselves (sold at market price) are remarkably fresh tasting; the shrimp fat and taut, the crab legs sweet and substantial, the crawfish heads oozing with prized hepatopancreatic tissue. Attacking this sort of tableau like a pack of starving sea lions is one of the more visceral and fun eating experiences you can have in the city right now. Go with a group. It's BYOB.