Gallery: 9 Crab Dishes We Love In Chicago

Crabmeat Roll at New England Seafood Company ($12.95)
Crabmeat Roll at New England Seafood Company ($12.95)

At New England Seafood Company, which is run by Boston expats, the crab roll is simple—the buttery bun is bursting at the seams with lightly dressed crab and showered with a paprika blend. Pair it with a bowl of clam chowder and you’ll be instantly transported to the seafood shacks in the Northeast.

Crabby Patty at Fish Bar ($11)
Crabby Patty at Fish Bar ($11)

The Crabby Patty is one of my favorite items at Fish Bar. Just a well-spiced, fried round of crab meat topped with Old Bay-laced mayo, lettuce, tomato, and raw onion on a soft bun, the sandwich simple, but perfectly done.

Chili Crab at Go 4 Food ($25)
Chili Crab at Go 4 Food ($25)

When people ask me where I’ve eaten lately and loved, I tell them Go 4 Food and to order the chili crab. I tell them that while the crabs are enormous, do not share them—you’re going to want your own. Also, make sure you have time for a long meal, because it took my friend and I two hours to eat one crab apiece. And, wear old clothes—a giant curry stain has rendered the dress I had on that day unwearable.

Advice out of the way, all that’s left is to dig into the Dungeness crabs, which are fried in a wok with a sauce made from onions, curry powder, ketchup, butter, soy sauce, and other ingredients. The sauce will get all over your hands as you crack the legs open and dismantle the body, but it’s worth it. The crabs are meaty, the sauce fragrant and slightly spicy, and the whole dish is a perfect way to while away the afternoon.

Pretzel Crab Cake at David Burke's Primehouse ($14)
Pretzel Crab Cake at David Burke's Primehouse ($14)

The pretzel crab cake didn’t make my original list of crab dishes to try, but when I visited Primehouse for their Kobe beef corn dogs and spotted it on the menu, I immediately ordered it. Pretzels are one of my favorite snacks, and here they’re wrapped around a candy-bar size crab cake. Add in the accompaniments—a caviar sauce that subs in for tartar sauce and an heirloom tomato relish—and the resulting salty, sweet, and crunchy cake is one of the most fun crab cake preparations I’ve had.

Crab Fried Rice at Andy’s Thai Kitchen ($11)
Crab Fried Rice at Andy’s Thai Kitchen ($11)

I visited Andy’s Thai Kitchen twice to try and have yum poo ma, a blue crab salad. But it seems they sell out well before my usual lunch time, so I settled for the crab fried rice, which tasted nothing like settling at all. The rice is stir-fried with shreds of crab, egg, tomatoes, and onion, then topped with cucumber. A little crab goes a long way—each bite has tons of crab flavor, without there being a large amount of crab in the dish. Plus the vegetables are lightly cooked, so the rice tastes really fresh, versus many other fried rice dishes I’ve had.

Benne-Crusted Crab Cakes at Big Jones ($14)
Benne-Crusted Crab Cakes at Big Jones ($14)

The prettiest crab dish I tried, the benne-crusted crab cakes from Big Jones was also one of my favorites. Benne is another name for sesame seeds, and Big Jones uses heirloom Sea Island benne to impart a nutty flavor to the crab cake. The cakes, which also have peppers, are cast iron-seared, topped with pea shoots and lemon, and placed on a bed of pea puree (the exact presentation differs by the season). On my visit, the lemon and peas made it a very springy dish, and the fresh pea shoots and piquant lemon balanced the sweet crab cake.

Tagliolini Nero at Balena ($19)
Tagliolini Nero at Balena ($19)

One of my friends regularly tweets about how much she craves the tagliolini nero pasta at Balena, so I knew I had to go try it for myself. The black pasta is delicate but has a bite, while the chunks of crabmeat, sliver of sea urchin, and sliced chili peppers add sweetness and spice. The whole concoction is rich and buttery, and after finishing it, I seriously considered ordering another bowl. I can see why she craves it all the time, because now I do too.

Maryland Soft-Shell Crabs at The Florentine ($16)
Maryland Soft-Shell Crabs at The Florentine ($16)

[Photograph: Sarah Freeman]

I hesitated to include many soft-shell crab dishes, since the season is so fleeting, but one bite of the pan-fried Maryland soft-shell crabs at The Florentine was enough to change my mind. The crabs are dredged through a batter of flour, Parmesan, and San Pellegrino water and pan-fried in olive oil. They’re so light that I ignored the dining room setting and just picked up a crab by hand. The crabs rest on a bed of ceci purée and are served with pickled green tomatoes, mizuna, and tarragon vinaigrette. Go eat these while they're still on the menu!

Crab and Tomato Salad at Shaw’s Crab House ($19)
Crab and Tomato Salad at Shaw’s Crab House ($19)

In the name of research, I ate several crab dishes at Shaw’s Crab House, and while the crab cake and sautéed soft-shell crabs were delicious, I couldn’t stop eating the fresh, summery crab and tomato salad. Made with Dungeness crab, basil, and grape tomatoes, the salad sits atop beefsteak tomatoes. Spoon crab salad into the romaine leaves to make a crunchy lettuce wrap.