Along the Gulf and in New England, shellfish aren’t just white-tablecloth fare. They’re for picnic tables, too. Now a version of the gloriously messy tradition of the seafood boil has washed onto our shores. Here’s how it works: You pick your shellfish, which get boiled in a spiced consommé with a combo of corn, potatoes, and sausage. Then the whole shebang gets smothered with sauce and bagged (or slid onto a platter) for you to snap, slurp, and enjoy. Get excited, the trend is still going strong with several new options opening this year and beyond. Below, the best places in town to get cracking right now.
Dolo Restaurant and Bar
Order the seafood boil, and a pair of servers will bring a supersize oval platter piled with five pounds’ worth of shrimp, clams, crab legs, and crayfish. Flavorwise, it’s the most nuanced boil around: Orange and lemon segments add an undercurrent of citrusy sweetness to a brothy Cajun-style sauce spiked with just the right amount of chili powder. $59 per order. 2222 S. Archer Ave., 312-877-5117
At this nautical-themed shack in Lake View, the sauced-up seafood—including an ultraspicy version for heat seekers—comes in a bag for easy sharing. The sides are first-rate, including pickled veggies and plenty of garlic beignets and honey-butter-topped jalapeño cornbread to sop up all that extra sauce. Lowcountry has a smart cocktail list, too. Market price. 3343 N. Clark St., 773-996-9997
The Angry Crab
This is the spot that started the local craze. There are so many variables to consider: a dozen seafood options, including crab legs, lobster tails, and shrimp; four sauces (lemon pepper, garlic butter, Angry Cajun, Maniac); four heat levels. The garlic butter shrimp never fails, but all of the sauces are thick and bold enough to deliver the most shell-penetrating flavors around. Market price. 5665 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-784-6848
At this Minneapolis import, shrimp, crab legs, and lobster get boiled New England–style in a 100-gallon cauldron with onions and Old Bay seasoning. The bounty arrives on silver trays—crab and lobster cracked, shrimp peeled—with clarified butter and griddled Texas-style milk bread. A nice touch: Cups of warm stock for dipping ensure your seafood never gets cold. $35 per pound. 326 N. Morgan St., 312-973-1336