Leave the white T-shirts at home. Put aside the forks, knives, and even plates. Crack your knuckles, stretch your fingers, and tie a plastic bib around your neck. It’s time to enjoy one of the great culinary pleasures: eating saucy crustaceans from a bucket.
Whatever your dining style, the Phoenix metro has a place for you to indulge in spicy Cajun-style seafood by the pound. We tried three of the top local spots, making note of all the key elements in a bucket boil experience: flavor, texture, tools, kitschy decor, and availability of cheap beer. For consistency (and because it’s arguably the best way to eat this food), we ordered the trifecta sauce that combines garlic butter, lemon pepper, and Cajun seasoning at each restaurant.
Let this be your guide to finding the right crab or crawfish shack for you.
Hot N Juicy Crawfish
740 South Mill Avenue, #d185, Tempe (and one other Valley location)
Perfect for: Patient foodies and families who carry boxes of disposable gloves.
Hot N Juicy is for serious seafood bucket devotees. Even when the rest of Mill Avenue is quiet, count on this place being packed. Wait times can hover from five to 45 minutes during peak hours; the place has an app you can download to see your place in line should you wait outside or take a walk. Is it worth all the fuss? Yes, if you want the best-tasting sauce. Hot N Juicy takes the honors when it comes to the most flavorful, richest blend. We suspect it’s extra butter, but we don’t want to know for sure. This restaurant the only one that offers a 1/2-pound portion (for shrimp only) — a nice bonus.
What this place has in deliciousness, it lacks in character. We give it points for its artwork, including a large photo of a fashion model wearing shrimp as a tiara and collar piece, but the overall ambiance is a little sterile. Rather than the laid-back atmosphere you might expect from a traditional seafood shanty, Hot N Juicy is all business. Servers dole out disposable gloves, including a few extras in case they rip (a classy touch), but we noticed at least one family who had brought their own gloves — thicker, tighter, and more maneuverable. The regulars here don't mess around. Be prepared.
2740 South Alma School Road, Mesa (and multiple other locations)
Perfect for: Super chill homies and craft beer enthusiasts.
Angry Crab has vibes for days. On a weekend night, it’s cozy and buzzing, but not too crowded to get a table right away. The wood-paneled walls and booths are covered with doodles from previous visitors, and up above everything hangs a great white shark's head and strings of colored lights. The waiter stops by and scribbles his name upside down on the paper covering the table. He has long curly hair and a backwards cap; he calls dungeness crabs “dungies.”
It just feels right to kick back and crack a beer, maybe one of the Arizona-brewed options from Four Peaks or Lumberyard, or perhaps a Louisiana classic, Abita. The mood is on point.
The crab and shrimp are satisfying, if slightly overcooked. Shell them and give the meat an extra dip in the sauce pooled up at the bottom of the bag. Guests with sensitive skin may consider bringing gloves, as Angry Crab doesn’t provide them. (For those going bare-handed, just remember to wash your fingers before rubbing your eyes.) This spot gets the gold medal for tools. Each diner gets a cracker and a pair of scissors that makes splitting tough shells easy. Nice.
(Clarification: Angry Crab stocks its six locations with gloves for customers who request them.)
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LA Crab Shack
1948 West Broadway Road, Mesa
Perfect for: down-to-earth seafood lovers and hushpuppy addicts.
A relative newcomer, LA Crab Shack opened in June 2017 (the “LA” is for Louisiana). It’s a low-key neighborhood joint with all the seafood shack essentials: vintage-looking lifesavers and ship’s wheels, neon beer signs, gaudy seashell art framing the bathroom mirrors, and even a pirate statue for photo ops. We're also big fans of the smiling king crab mascot. It’s surprisingly less crowded than the other places on this list. LA Crab Shack may not be the trendiest spot, but it checks all our boxes.
The food is good, period. There’s nothing particularly unique or innovative about the dishes or flavors, and that’s part of LA Crab Shack’s appeal. You get exactly what you’d expect, just like on the Gulf Coast. In addition to the snow crab and shrimp, we recommend ordering a basket of hushpuppies for the table (or for yourself). They’re crispy, light, and quick to disappear.
Also, be sure to visit during happy hour for great deals on beer. Seafood buckets may be crude, but they can get pricey, so take advantage of the $1 pints of PBR. And even during regular hours, you can still snag a bottle of wine for $12.50. At great places like these, you don’t need anything fancy.