May 19, 2023 - Food and Drink

Where to get soft-shell crabs in D.C.

Nashville-hot soft-shell crab at the Salt Line.
Nashville-hot soft-shell crab at the Salt Line. Photo: An-Phuong Ly

It’s the start of soft-shell crab season in D.C. and we can’t get enough of the crispy crustaceans.

Why it matters: Diners fall hard for soft crabs — a local delicacy that pops up in restaurants and all over Instagram from spring to early fall.

Be smart: Like hard shells, spring softies run smaller while “the whales” arrive in summer once crabs have grown.

  • Also: they’re all blue crabs, only one has shed its shell to form a new version.

Where to buy them: Local fish markets sell (and clean!) them. It’s daunting, but cooking soft shells is pretty easy. Here’s a good recipe, no fryer required.

Where to eat them: So many good places. Here are a few perennial favorites.

🐟 The Salt Line: We know it’s near summer when chef Kyle Bailey rolls out his Nashville-hot soft shells on grilled bread with pickled green tomatoes (available in Navy Yard and Ballston).

🔥 Ivy City Smokehouse: Check the chalkboard for hard and soft-shell crab specials in season, like a tasty sandwich best eaten on the deck.

🇹🇭 Esaan: The Thai restaurant in McLean plays with soft-shell specials like fried crabs with chili-lime dipping sauce and grilled versions with herbs.

🧑‍🍳 The Dabney: You don’t need to splurge on the Shaw hotspot’s tasting menu — though it’s worth it — to try this cheffy softie at the walk-in-only bar.

🇻🇳 Hai Duong: The Eden Center restaurant in Falls Church serves crunchy, Vietnamese-style soft shells with butter, chopped onions, chilies, and pickled vegetables.

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