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The exterior of Drunken Crab hints at the food and booze to come. Photo by Lee Chastain.

Drunken Crab Restaurant, 2423 Clinton Av, FW. 817-962-6359. 11:30am-10pm Wed-Mon.

The conscientious critic, tasked with reviewing a restaurant like the Northside’s Drunken Crab, is apt to have some misgivings and more than a few questions. Some of these are existential in nature (What is this place? Why am I here?), while others are of a more professional bent (What is this place? Why am I here?). But the fact is that an eatery of this ilk, humble to a fault, is not generally the sort of establishment upon which our boorish and pretentious craft need be plied. We do well enough mocking the mighty and sneering at million-dollar buildouts, but to aim our bluster at a joint where normal folks gather to have a normal good time without spending an arm and a leg seems unsporting. After all, the place didn’t come looking for trouble.

Nonetheless, ours is first and foremost a service profession, and any restaurant that opens its doors lays itself open to the possibility of critique. From an unwavering commitment to our readership, a resolve emerged to approach the Drunken Crab with enough humility to understand the place on its own terms and communicate the particular intention of the found object to our target audience.

Working out just what that intention was took a bit of doing. The Drunken Crab is a riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a convenience store — a Mardi Gras-themed mariscos restaurant that sells cold beer and mixed drinks from the drive-through porte-cochère that occupies half the building. I can’t tell you how the mixed-drinks-to-go thing works, but I can tell you the place is out to do a brisk business in adult beverages, a number of which were helpfully portrayed in full-color gloss across the back of the menu.

The rest of the bill of fare was divided between Louisiana-style boiled seafood by the pound and Mexican seafood classics. My guest and I met up for a weekday lunch, and we weren’t prepared for the gore of a peel-and-eat splatter-fest, though a table near us was having a grand time cracking and shucking away. In any case, we were intrigued by the “Happy Lunch” special: any two entrées for $12.99. That’s $12.99 total, not each. Prices like that are proof that you’ve traveled either north of the West Fork or back in time to 1998.

While we surveyed the bright purple interior, festooned with trawler nets and rubber crabs, my guest and I split an order of ceviche tostadas. Two crisp tortillas were piled high with whitefish marinated in limejuice and topped with ripe slices of avocado. Though the fish was fresh, the light acidity and soft texture made me suspect that the ceviche had been heat-cooked rather than allowed to cure in the citrus. A generous splash of Cholula hot sauce was a decent stopgap for an otherwise bland personality.

My guest had ordered the fried fish plate, a trio of breaded filets with seasoned fries and rice. The breading was thick, the fish was thin, but the filets tasted as good as anything that ever came off the line at Luby’s. It turns out you can put Cholula on just about anything.

I had ventured further afield with the shrimp enchiladas. I was (and remain) deeply skeptical of any offering that pairs shrimp with cheese, but I was pleased to find the shrimp fresh enough and sweet enough not to clash too harshly with the Monterey jack. The red enchilada sauce was downright decent. Alongside, the kitchen’s white rice was tasty enough to deserve special mention, perfectly cooked and stewed in a rich stock with little cubes of potato.

There is no room in the Drunken Crab’s tiny dining room for a bunch of Westside bloviating about chef-driven what-have-you, nor are critics likely to find their Marilyn Hagerty moment between its damson walls. What may be found is a fine neighborhood spot to drink drinks and eat cheap seafood with friends and a clientele who (should you venture a critique) will be utterly immune to your consultations.

Drunken Crab Restaurant
Tostadas de ceviche    $9.99
Fried fish plate and
shrimp enchiladas     (2 for $12.99)

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