Mudbugs, crawdads, decapod crustaceans... whatever you call 'em, these bright red little arthropods make for good eatin', and as the days get warmer, the critters get bigger. Indeed, crawfish season is underway, and we're strapping on our bibs, packing up extra WetNaps and venturing out in search of the best finger-lickin' crustacean goodness. It ain't easy—for a city not too far from the Gulf, Atlanta isn't exactly brimming with restaurants that know their way around a sack of mudbugs. Of course, you can buy a couple live sackfuls and do it yourself, which is always fun, but... if you've ever tried scooping out fifteen pounds of live crawfish from the cooler at YDFM, carting them out to your car, dumping them in the cooler, driving back home and listening to those little suckers scurry around in the backseat, you might understand why sometimes it's just easier to find a good restaurant that knows how to do the humble arthropod justice. Luckily, we have a couple in our rotation that do right by those spicy sea-snacks:
Crawfish Shack Seafood
This Buford Highway joint is at the top of the list not only for many Atlantans, but Louisiana natives, too (and that's saying something). Owner Hieu Pham's love for the crawfish and oysters served up in shacks along the Gulf drove him to recreate the same experience for Atlantans. "The seafood's about as close as you can get to eating it right off the boat," he says. And boy, is it fresh. The Shack's crawfish, shrimp and fish are all from the Gulf, and they all get gussied up with homemade touches—like Hieu's house crawfish boil blend, with a handful of secret ingredients that give it a nice little kick. And with approximately 2,000 lbs. of crawfish selling a week during peak season, you can be sure that those 'dads haven't been sitting in a freezer for months. (Pro-tip: Slurp down some fresh-pressed sugarcane juice while you're there. It's the perfect companion for that zesty Cajun spice.)
Boudreaux's Cafe Acadiana
In our experience with Buford Highway, two golden rules seem to have emerged: 1) the farther you go outside the city, the better the eating and 2) don't trust clean, well-decorated eateries. In the case of Boudreaux's Cafe Acadiana, the first certainly holds true—the place sits about 45 minutes outside the city in Duluth, a decent trek for those looking to make their Cajun pilgrimage. But curiously, the restaurant actually has decor. Ambiance. Sports team paraphernalia hanging from the walls. It looks more at home on Roswell Road than the northerly reaches of Route 13. And this may elicit a certain distrust. But once your server delivers a tray (or three) of bright red, fresh-boiled crawfish, your preconceptions will peel away like the exoskeletons on those little suckers' tails.
After conducting years of scientific study, we've come to the conclusion that oftentimes, the most delicious of seafood comes not from white tablecloth restaurants or Michelin-rated sushi bars, but from the places you'd never expect: a dilapidated shack on the beach, perhaps, or an unassuming place in a surburban strip mall. Or, in this case, unassuming spots on the side of a major highway. Now, don't expect any frills—with one lone plastic table, this joint isn't exactly suited for multi-course seated meals. But their spicy, jumbo, boiled-to-order crawfish more than make up for the minimalist decor. Besides, if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the sounds of the ocean coming from the traffic on Lawrenceville Highway.
On The Bayou
Born and raised quite literally on the bayou in South Louisiana, Kevin Ruttley and his family serve up the same recipes with the same kinds of ingredients that they've been cooking and eating all their lives. And yes, that includes crawfish—but only when the time is right. The Smyrna eatery only orders the goods when they're in season for maximum tastiness. Keep an eye on their Facebook page to see when they'll start slinging those bad boys this year—should be any day now. Let the good times roll, y'all.