I haven’t been to many authentic Cajun restaurants since I traveled as a child through the South one summer with my dad, which is a real shame because Cajun food is some of the best out there. The spice and heat combined with the rubbery, fleshy delicateness of seafood is so wonderful it seems to be a romanticized part of American culture. In Albuquerque, though, I wasn’t aware of many Cajun restaurants until recently. I was especially intrigued by Down N Dirty Seafood Boil because I heard they serve their food in bags. Bags!Down N Dirty has two locations, the original location is in the North Valley and very small. The exterior was surprisingly nice and reminded me of little restaurants in Louisiana. Inside, it was like a Southern diner—little tables covered with plastic, checkered tablecloths scattered across the wood floor, surrounded by walls where the menus were written out in chalk.They provide food by the pound here, so I knew I wouldn’t have to get much to be satisfied. I decided on ordering three soft shelled crab with fries ($12.95) and green mussels ($12.88) after asking a lot of questions of the very knowledgeable and friendly server. I wanted to order beer with it but unfortunately they don’t serve alcohol at this location. The two parts of the meal came out at the same time just after I tied my bib on. As an adult I haven’t had many opportunities to wear a bib in a situation where people wouldn’t judge me. I can’t help that I’m an excitable diner and things get messy. But, I digress.I had the soft shelled crab first. A plume of steam escaped from the center of the crab as I tore it apart. I set it down to let it cool and had some fries instead. The crunchy fries were made with just the right amount of salt; it was the perfect cleanser for the spiciness that accompanied the meal. After the crab cooled down I ate the hand-sized portion with gusto.The soft shelled crab was fried just right, the grease didn’t leave any residue on my hands but it was oily enough to satisfy. The meat in the center was pulpous and juicy and the leg meat was supple though less substantial. The overall crunchiness combined with the salt and delicate meat was gratifying.The green mussels were served with Down N Dirty seasoning. The seasoning—obviously made in-house—reminded me of chili powder, Sriracha and canola oil. There was a choice of mild, medium or hot for the spice level, and trusting my intuition, I went with medium. My fingers were drenched every time after I reached into the clear bag (which was in another bag so things can’t get too crazy unless you are absolutely careless) to grab the mussels, so I had to use a ton of napkins. The mussels were rubbery, fishy and tore easily from each shell which was covered in the sauce that was indeed spicy enough for me. The spice wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t enjoy the flavor of the mussels, and on the other hand, it wasn’t too little, either.The Wyoming location looks very different than the original location; it’s new, spacious and has more of a tourist vibe than the original location (there’s a life-size plastic shark hanging from the ceiling). The service staff there is also excellent, friendly and very familiar with the menu. At this newer location, I had the fried alligator ($12.95) and the langostino tailmeat with garlic Sriracha sauce ($21.88).As predicted by my companion, I wasn’t very into the alligator meat. As he said, “It’s a gimmick food, no one actually likes it.” While I don’t know if that’s true, I found the alligator meat to be quite plain. It looked like chicken but tasted less flavorful. The breading, however, was done well, the saltiness and crunch combined with the ranch-Sriracha sauce made the alligator more palatable.I found the langostino tailmeat with garlic Sriracha very interesting—it was similar to shrimp but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was different. I looked it up and langostino is a type of meat called squat lobster. It isn’t a crustacean or a prawn but something in-between like a hermit crab. But, like I said, it was very similar to shrimp. It was very fibrous and supple and coupled with the sauce, it was fucking exquisite. The garlic Sriracha sauce was spicy and sweet with a just hint of bitterness.When I had one meal with a partner, we were able to finish the meal easily. I remain fascinated with serving the food in bags—they serve the weighted meal bags (which have to be at least one pound) of stuff like clams, shrimp, prawns, king crab legs, lobster tails, scallops and—probably a literal—ton more. On my own, I ate about half a pound. My friend and I had a hard enough time deciding on the same thing so I can imagine with a larger group everyone will want varied things, as such these meals have the potential to be huge. When I return (because I plan to) I’m going to take a group of people because part of the romanticized version of the US is sharing a huge meal with people you love.
Down N Dirty Seafood Boil6100 Fourth Street NW and 4200 Wyoming NE, Suite B2Hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Fri; Noon-9pm Sat; Noon-8pm SunVibe: Consumerist Southerners with charmAlibi Recommends: Soft shelled crab, garlic sriracha sauce and bringing a friend (or five)