For a city that’s more than a decent schlep from the ocean, Chicago does surprisingly well when it comes to serving up droolworthy sea bounty. We’ve got oyster bars and fancy fish restaurants to please seafood fiends all year long, but come summertime, we like our shellfish to come in a bag—a big, steamy bag of briny goodness. That’s right, it’s low-country boil season, that time of year when we gather round for hot, messy bags of crustaceans, bivalves, sausages, potatoes, corn and spices, ready and waiting for us to tear open. To prep for the season, we’ve gathered up the best low-country boils in Chicago—so roll up your sleeves and enjoy.
On the hunt for intense flavors? The Angry Crab’s got the angriest. It may take a while to get a table—no reservations here (this isn’t the friendly crab, after all)—but once you do, order the Dungeness crab, a two-pound creature that’s big enough for two to share and takes some time to break into. Need more? Throw in an order of potatoes, corn and sausage. As far as flavor is concerned, we like the lemon pepper, garlic butter and angry Cajun combo. The spice here ranges in intensity from one to four—if you like your lips burning, head for levels three and four; for something less tongue-assaulting, level two is tamer; while those opposed to spice altogether should go for level one.
If you want the low-country experience without the mess, head to this chill spot next to the Angry Crab. It differs in style—the boil comes in a bowl instead of a bag—but the process is the same. There’s a large selection of bivalves, so we went for a Manila clam boil, tender and spicy with a piquant Cajun sauce. To bulk things up, order basmati rice and spoon any leftover sauce on top to get every bit of that briny, Cajuny goodness.
Not down with those big angry flavor bombs? Asian Cajun is a smoother affair, with buttery sauces, tender potatoes, corn and mushrooms you can add to your boil bag. Seafood options vary, but on our visit we stuck with tradition and got the crawfish with trifecta seasoning (Cajun, garlic butter and lemon pepper). Spices are mild, so kick it up a notch from what normally suits you. Whatever you do, make sure you order garlic bread—you’ll want to soak up all that extra seasoning in the bag. It’s loaded with butter, and we promise you won’t regret it.
The only non-BYOB on the list, Lowcountry has beer pong and $3 dice game shots, making the Wrigleyville restaurant feel more like a bar. No matter which seafood you pick, level-two heat will make your lips tingle. It’s spicy enough to make the andouille feel like a reprieve. Steer towards the shrimp to get the most bang for your buck. The flesh is tender and picks up the flavor, no matter which you choose. The lemon pepper stands out in the “Everythang” sauce, which is perfect with the doughy garlic beignets.