Holy Crab is crackin’ with a divinely good time for UCR students

Cajun fries and fried calamari from Holy Crab Catherine Yong/HIGHLANDER
Cajun fries and fried calamari from Holy Crab
Catherine Yong/HIGHLANDER
Name: Holy Crab
Rating: 4/5
Location:

1223 University Ave.

Ste. 40

Riverside, CA 92507

Price Range: $$
Hours:

Mon – Thurs and Sun: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm

Fri – Sat: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm

Category: Cajun/Creole, Seafood
Credit/Debit Card: Yes
Takeout: Yes
Delivery: No
Other amenities:  Free Wi-Fi, Outdoor Seating, TV, Beer and Wine, Accepts Apple Pay

 

The University Village, conveniently located at the corner of University Avenue and Iowa Avenue, is known to host an assortment of Asian restaurants, such as Manna Grill, Sweet Daily Cafe and Popcorn Chicken (which is sometimes simply referred to as “T-Pops”), most of which are quick, affordable and tasty. What all of these chains offer is a relaxed, laid-back social setting with food that is both delightfully satisfying and easy for college students to get a hand on.

But one of the newest additions to the favored dining and shopping center — a Cajun/Creole seafood restaurant named Holy Crab — takes a twist on the “orthodox” student-friendly joint, which is usually characterized by wallet-friendly food and quick service. Holy Crab maintains these two factors but also adds in a kick of fun through their crab boil-styled dining system, in which seafood is seasoned and boiled in plastic bags and served straight to customers instead of being placed onto plates, similar to the dining experience of Boiling Crab and Rockstar Shrimp.

The original Holy Crab restaurant is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and boasts a notable four out of five star rating from 377 reviews on Yelp. A manager of the Riverside chain, Yumi Cho, claims that the owners decided to expand the business and opened a branch on University Avenue because it is “a good location to target college students and it’s right in front of the university.” As it just opened its doors to its very first customers on Oct. 1, many college students have yet to try the unique dining experience of Holy Crab, which made me even more excited to finally see what this joint placed at the conspicuous entrance of the University Village was all about.

The ambience of the restaurant is both nautical and modern, with hardwood flooring reminiscent of a sailor ship, beams at the center of the restaurant having rope twirled around them and images of crabs, oysters and anchors painted throughout the walls. The designers didn’t go too “overboard” with the maritime theme, as it is balanced out by dim lighting for a more cozy feel and multiple television screens broadcasting cooking shows, news channels and sports games to accommodate to multiple interests.

As we got seated and began browsing the menu, I looked around and saw young couples giggling while merrily cracking open various types of seafood, business men laughing over bottles of Soju and college friends simply going out for a bite to eat. Although situated in a convenient place for college students, Holy Crab clearly wasn’t limited to this one age group.

The wide-ranging menu not only offered flavorful seafood but other dishes such as tacos, pasta, soup, chicken wings and ice cream desserts. After browsing through each section, we finally decided on the Redondo seafood boil, fried calamari and cajun fries, buffalo wings, elotes (Mexican street corn) and garlic bread. We also ordered two of their signature drinks: Blue Lemonade and Havana Cooler.

Within the first five minutes of placing our order, pretty much everything had arrived except for the seafood boil.

Starting with the appetizer that everyone at the table immediately dug into, I observed that the cajun fries (which, with the fried calamari, was $9.99 in total) did not taste as I expected them to — instead of being spicy and salty, the flavor was mostly herby, coming from its seasoning blend of oregano, paprika, basil and thyme. I enjoyed them as I would with any form of fries, but they were not particularly memorable. As for the calamari, my friend Christina stated that they “taste like cheese sticks,” which I agreed with upon trying myself and pleasantly took me back to the nostalgic taste of cheese sticks that I and many others used to eat as kids. They had that signature bread crumb texture and taste that mozzarella cheesesticks have and was not too fishy tasting, though the chewiness differentiated it from the gooey interior of a cheesestick.

I tried a bit of the buffalo wings (also $9.99) and garlic bread ($2.99) but they tasted exactly as I expected. Don’t get me wrong — they certainly weren’t bad, but they didn’t taste any different than any other buffalo wings or garlic bread I have ever tasted before. The garlic bread was soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, as any good garlic bread should be. This made the bread pair well with the seafood because I could dip it into the rich sauce without it getting soggy.

I was a little bit stunned when our seafood arrived, as my friend Christina simply opened the bag and plopped all of its contents onto the table, which was actually what we were supposed to do for the seafood boil. All of the tables were lined with parchment paper for this specific purpose and made it easier for the servers to clean up the messes of their ravenous customers. It was initially strange to see a pile of seafood lying in the middle of the table rather than being neatly arranged on a plate, but after a while, it only added a charm to the dining experience as my friends and I would dig into the same pile of food and converse over the ingredients we enjoyed.As for the beverages, the Blue Lemonade entailed an interesting combination of cotton candy and Sprite that wasn’t exactly pleasant. Rather than blending seamlessly into a palatable drink, the two distinct flavors just didn’t mesh well and were too artificially sugary. Meanwhile, the Havana Cooler was a delicious fusion of mango and pineapple juice and Sprite. I would recommend the Havana Cooler, as it was the perfect combination of tropical exquisiteness that would refresh one’s palate after consuming mouthfuls of spicy and buttery-rich seafood.

As for the beverages, the Blue Lemonade entailed an interesting combination of cotton candy and Sprite that wasn’t exactly pleasant. Rather than blending seamlessly into a palatable drink, the two distinct flavors just didn’t mesh well and were too artificially sugary. Meanwhile, the Havana Cooler was a delicious fusion of mango and pineapple juice and Sprite. I would recommend the Havana Cooler, as it was the perfect combination of tropical exquisiteness that would refresh one’s palate after consuming mouthfuls of spicy and buttery-rich seafood.

I was a little bit stunned when our seafood arrived, as my friend Christina simply opened the bag and plopped all of its contents onto the table, which was actually what we were supposed to do for the seafood boil. All of the tables were lined with parchment paper for this specific purpose and made it easier for the servers to clean up the messes of their ravenous customers. It was initially strange to see a pile of seafood lying in the middle of the table rather than being neatly arranged on a plate, but after a while, it only added a charm to the dining experience as my friends and I would dig into the same pile of food and converse over the ingredients we enjoyed.

There was also an authentic feeling given the fact that everything was piled up in one place as I’m assuming actual sailors or travelers would dine. There was a thrill that came with not having to worry about being neat with our food and upon observing the other restaurant-goers, no one seemed to mind being messy either. It only added more fun to the experience.

Along with the shrimp, crawfish and clams that we ordered the boil with, the steaming bag of shellfish also came with potatoes, corn and andouille sausage. The spiciness and heavy garlic flavor of the full-flavored red sauce made my mouth pleasantly tingle like my taste buds were receiving a massage and picked me up a little from my end-of-the-quarter gloom. Each of the three types of seafood were tender and amusing to unshell, but because they were covered by their exteriors whilst being boiled, the meats of the shellfish were not all too flavorful. Most of the savoriness came from the sauce, which we had to dip the meat into in order to get that buttery paprika tang.

What I enjoyed about the seafood boil the most, however, was the bonding experience that it led to, as each of us at the table taught each other how to crack open crawfish and took much pleasure in sharing from the same pile of seafood while catching up on each other’s lives.

The main catch: The Redondo seafood boil

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Redondo seafood boil with shrimp, clams and crawfish

At the end of the meal, my friend Cat said, “Man, I was feeling kind of stressed out earlier but I feel so happy now that we had such a good meal.” I could clearly see her satisfaction in the little pile of shrimp, clam and crawfish shells she had collected. It wasn’t until later in the meal when I realized they had also given us bibs and gloves to ensure our hands and clothes would stay clean but I figured that we were so eager to eat, tempted by the spicy and enticing aroma of the seafood, that we didn’t even bother with them. We dug right in and were fully content with the garlic smell that slightly lingered (but even so was not too strong) on our fingers after.

The entire meal, which fed and fully-satisfied five ravenous college students, accumulated to $60.45, which all of us nodded our heads to as if to come up with the consensus agreement of “Not bad, not bad.” For a meal that provided us with a variety of different dishes, an entertaining experience and cost approximately $15 per person, we figured it was a pretty good deal.

I would definitely go back to Holy Crab, especially if it’s with my friends. When the time comes, I most look forward to digging into the seafood boil and unshelling all of the precious little contents inside while also teaching my confused friends how to. But even for someone attending Holy Crab alone, the friendly prices, quick service and specialty seafood ensure a “sacredly” good time for everyone.

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