Good Eatin': Hot N Juicy Crawfish

Some of Las Vegas' best dining establishments are hidden from visitors in strip malls, on side streets and in neighborhood centers. On an extremely hot summer afternoon a couple of years ago I found one that has become among my favorite Vegas eateries. Moments after I thought, I need for some protein, I spotted, stretched across the facade of a nondescript cinder block building on a low-end commercial block on Spring Mountain Road, a hand-made banner announcing "Hot and Juicy Crawfish." It goes without saying that spicy food and hot weather go hand and hand, and in the high desert heat ice cold beer sounded good.

Inside the modest building, aside perhaps for the fact that the staff appeared to have blown in from Vietnam rather than Arcadie, you'd have been forgiven for thinking you'd crossed from Nevada into Louisiana. Every table in the small establishment was stripped bare except for a heavy plastic sheet cover, lobster bibs, and a role of paper towels. The crawdads -- your choice: hot, hotter and scorching -- delivered by the pound in steaming plastic bags -- no utensils: this is not a place where you eat without getting your hands dirty -- were perfect, at least in the garlic and cajun versions with the spice level dialed up to volcanic. Order two pounds or more, and corn on the cob and potatoes are tossed in the bag with the creatures. I don't want to think about the impact of all the plastic on the environment, but from an operational standpoint this restaurant is a model of efficiency: at the end of the meal, the staff balls up the plastic table cloth -- shells, paper towels, styrofoam cups, et al, and carts it off. Talk about no fuss, no muss.

"Hot n Juicy Crawfish" -- that's it's name as well as it's game -- had only been open a couple of weeks and its menu was limited, if that's the proper word, to crawfish. Since then, besides adding some equally fine steamed shrimp, the menu has expanded unnecessarily to include crab, catfish, calamari, chicken wings and raw oysters, as well an étouffé that is unexpectedly tasty this far from a bayou. The seasonings are described as Louisiana Style, Juicy Cajun, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, and Hot N Juicy Special, and the spice level now runs from mild through medium and spicy to extra spicy (you will be flagged off extra spicy because of the danger of third degree burns; pay the warnings no heed: have another beer and dig in). Hot n Juicy Crawfish, 4810 Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-891-8889.

Tip: Although Las Vegas has a bus system and lots of cabs, the only way to really explore the town is by car. If you didn't drive in, don't forget that the best budget car rental companies, Advantage and Fox, both have shops at McCarren Airport; in general, McCarren is probably the easiest airport in the country to rent a car.

By the way, a hot new documentary on chile peppers, written, co-produced, and hosted by the Pope of Peppers, Dave DeWitt, and shot on location in Mexico, Guatemala, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, perfectly presents people's powerful passion for peppers.
Heat up Your Life - Peppers and People (YouTube)

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