Food

Where to Feast on Crispy Soft-Shell Crabs Around DC

It's the start of crab season—here's where to find the local delicacy.

Soft-shell crab at the Salt Line. Photograph by Scott Suchman

It’s the start of crab season around DC. Here’s where to find soft-shells—the Mid-Atlantic and Southern delicacy is typically available in late spring through early fall.

More into cracking hard crabs? These are some of our favorite waterfront spots worth a drive.

All-Set Restaurant and Bar
8630 Fenton Street, Plaza 5, Silver Spring
BLTs meet the Bay at this Silver Spring seafood spot, which serves a soft-shell sandwich with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Old Bay tartar sauce on a brioche bun.

Anju
1805 18th St., NW
Drop by the modern Korean restaurant at brunch for chef Angel Barreto’s soft shell crab juk (think a Korean version of  grits). A hearty bowl comes filled with creamy Anson Mills rice porridge, sesame, soy, shiitake mushrooms, garlic chives, spring onions, and chili oil—all crowned with a crispy crab.

Black Salt
4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW
Diners at the Palisades seafood restaurant can ask chefs to specially prepare any of the aquatic delicacies in the adjoining market’s case—including soft-shell crabs when they’re in season. The kitchen can customize the crabs with most any existing seafood preparation on the menu. You can trade crab cakes for soft-shells over fingerling potato salad—or just have them simply prepared.

Soft-shell crab at Chez Billy Sud. Photograph courtesy of Chez Billy

Chez Billy Sud
1039 31st St., NW
The Georgetown brasserie is running a weekend special that will run on the regular menu when crabs are available: sautéed soft-shells with ramps, roasted fingerling potatoes, green goodness dressing, and a springy salad of pea shoots, fava beans, peas, and pickled shallots.

Clyde’s Restaurant Group
Multiple locations in DC, MD, and VA
Clyde’s, Old Ebbitt, and Hamilton are all running softy specials, including a classic fried crab sandwich or an entree with watercress and cucumber salad, crispy potatoes, scallions, and avocado-buttermilk aïoli.

Dauphine’s
1100 15th St., NW
The New Orleans restaurant from the Salt Line team just opened downtown, and it mixes Big Easy traditions with Mid-Atlantic ingredients. Chef Kristen Essig dishes up her blackened soft-shell Creole over creamed Prairie Ronde rice with file.

Elle
3221 Mt Pleasant St., NW
Crispy soft-shells get the sandwich treatment at the Mount Pleasant bakery and cafe. They’re stuffed into a homemade roll with smoked ranch, avocado, pickled green tomato, and iceberg lettuce.

Soft-shell crab juk for brunch at Anju. Photograph by Angel Barreto

Esaan
1307 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean
Chef/owner Yutthpon “Tu” Wetchapinan sources a limited number of soft-shell crabs for specials—often weekend only—when the crustaceans come into season. Crab lovers can call ahead to reserve the soft-shells (either one as an appetizer or two for an entree) that are battered, fried, and served with nam tok (chili-lime-herb) dipping sauce.

Hank’s Oyster Bar
Locations in Dupont Circle, the Wharf, and Old Town, Alexandria
Look for softies as specials at chef Jamie Leeds’s New England-inspired seafood haunts, which capitalize on Chesapeake catches alongside tasty lobster rolls.

Hai Duong
6795 Wilson Blvd #7-9, Falls Church
A specialty at this Eden Center restaurant is Vietnamese-style crispy crabs with butter, onions, chopped chilies, and shredded pickled vegetables.

Ivy City Smokehouse Tavern
1356 Okie St., NE
One of our favorite urban crab houses serves whole local crustaceans two ways come summer: steamed hard-shells on the deck, and chalkboard soft-shell specials like a crispy sandwich with remoulade sauce, fries, and slaw. If you want to try you hand at cooking soft-shells yourself, the adjoining downstairs market and seafood wholesaler ProFish, sells them.

Izakaya Seki
1117 V St., NW
Hand-illustrated menus change daily at this family-run izakaya tucked off the U Street corridor—so if you see crispy soft-shells, snap them up.

Pogiboy’s colorful soft-shell crab sandwich with chili-crab fat mayo on a homemade ube bun. Photograph by Paolo Dungca

Pogiboy
1110 Vermont Ave., NW
Soft-shells get a Filipino spin at Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca’s fast-casual spot inside downtown DC’s Block food hall. Chicken-fried crabs are tucked in a homemade ube mantou (a steamed bun) with chili/crab-fat mayo, hot honey, cilantro, and cucumbers (available Friday through Sunday, while they last).

Rakuya
1900 Q St., NW
Dupont’s popular sushi spot and izakaya rolls up spring and summer soft-shells in a special roll with curried mayo and pickled ginger.

Reveler’s Hour
1775 Columbia Rd., NW
The Adams Morgan pasta joint from the team behind Tail Up Goat dishes up Italian-style soft-shells—coated in a crunchy semolina crust and served with garlic confit crema, Calabrian-chili relish, and grilled baby leeks.

The Salt Line
79 Potomac Ave., SE
One of our favorite soft-shell dishes in town comes from chef Kyle Bailey, whose Nashville-hot crab with black-garlic honey is a seasonal special. Crabs will be back on the Navy Yard seafood house’s menu by early June.

Sushi Taro
1503 17th St., NW
Chef Nobu Yamazaki channels the season with many of his dishes, whether fish flown from Japan or cooked items. Soft-shells here get a black tempura batter thanks to squid ink.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.