It’s Softie Season! Here’s Where to Get the Best Soft-Shell Crabs

From Center City to the Shore, these are the soft-shell crab dishes you don't want to miss this summer.

soft-shell crab

Soft-shell crab at River Twice/ Photograph by Mike Prince

Soft-shell crab season is perhaps the best time to be a messy eater.

If, like me, you love seafood but often struggle with crustaceans that demand a lot of handiwork to eat, you can order with confidence when softies pop up on menus around Philadelphia from late spring through summer.

For the uninitiated, crabs molt each year as ocean temperatures rise, shedding their hard shells so that another, far less tough one can grow in its place. On the East Coast, the phenomenon begins earlier in the spring in the South; by later in the season, it’s the Northeast’s turn.

The result? A crab that is wholly edible, and therefore virtually effortless to consume — no crab cracker required. Arguably, softies also allow for more creativity in the kitchen. Here in Philly, chefs come up with a plethora of delicious ways to serve soft-shell crab each season — like fried and tucked into a simple sandwich, tossed into a creamy curry, or cooked over charcoal and drizzled with butter and caviar.

However you like to eat them, here’s where you can find softies in and around Philly this season. Just be aware that soft-shell crab isn’t always reliably available, so they’ll only be offered when a restaurant can get hold of them. (Call ahead if you wish to avoid disappointment.) But that just makes eating them even more of an occasion.

River Twice, East Passyunk

If you’re looking for an elevated take on a softie you’ll find it at Randy Rucker’s River Twice, where the tender shellfish comes to the table regally adorned in koji butter and golden osetra caviar. The soft-shell crab is cooked over charcoal, adding even more depth to the flavor. 1601 East Passyunk Avenue.

Kalaya, Fishtown

As with anything on the menu at Kalaya, you can expect its soft-shell crab special to impress. The Pu Nim Kamin is a seafood tower of sorts, a beautiful heap of whale soft-shell crabs served with lemongrass and house-made kamin sauce made with turmeric and garlic, seasoned with black and white pepper. The result is a delicious, flavor-forward dish with a pleasantly zippy, fresh taste. 4 West Palmer Street., Rittenhouse

If you order the soft-shell crab sandwich for lunch at (it’s not available on the dinner menu), prepare to bring your appetite — and rest assured you’ll be full for hours. The softie sandwich, served with thick-cut fries, takes up most of the plate. Dressed in a ramp tartar sauce and seasoned with crab spice, the shellfish sits atop a slice of lettuce and beneath a heap of pickles inside a pillowy sesame bun. The fresh, briny flavor might make you forget you’re in the city altogether. 135 South 18th Street.

soft-shell crab

Hot Crab, Cold Crab at My Loup / Photograph by Will Blunt

My Loup, Rittenhouse

Are you someone who aspires to have their cake (or, in this case, crab) and eat it, too? At My Loup, you can do just that — its Hot Crab, Cold Crab lets you have it both ways. The dish features cold crab salad served atop iceberg lettuce and crowned with a fried soft-shell crab, Thousand Island dressing, a hard-boiled and minced egg, gherkins, shallots, capers and chives. If that’s not enough, you can opt to add caviar, too. 2005 Walnut Street.

Mawn, Bella Vista

Mawn is celebrating softie season with two dishes. There’s the option to add a soft-shell crab to the restaurant’s top-selling, all-star fried seafood rice, made with East Coast sea urchin, oishii shrimp, bay scallops, lump crab, and smoked trout roe. And there’s the choo chee soft-shell curry — one of chef Phila Lorn’s favorite curries — made with a red curry blend, coconut cream, shrimp paste, palm sugar, toasted red onions and coriander seeds, plus a garnish of extra coconut cream and lime leaves. 764 South 9th Street.

El Chingon, East Passyunk

At El Chingon, softies are incorporated into one of chef Juan Carlos Aparicio’s signature items: the cemita. The crispy soft-shell crab sandwich, available for both lunch and dinner, is made with manzano chili, shredded onions, mustard, squid-ink mayo and chayote-jicama curtido. 1524 South 10th Street.

soft-shell crab

Soft-shell crab buns at Royal Izakaya / Photograph by Jesse Ito

Royal Izakaya, Queen Village

Royal Izakaya’s spin on softies comes in the form of soft-shell crab buns. The shellfish is fried in panko breading and topped with kanzuri mayo and shredded romaine lettuce, nestled in the restaurant’s house-made buns, and served with a lemon wedge on the side for a little extra zing. 780-782 South 2nd Street.

Anastasi Seafood, South Philly

An Italian Market institution, Anastasi Seafood is offering two dishes dedicated to softies this season: a sandwich made with fried soft-shell crab, tucked into a Liscio’s bun with lettuce and tomato, served with coleslaw on the side; and as an entrée, pan-seared in a beurre blanc sauce with vegetables on the side. Customers can also buy soft-shell crabs to take home and cook themselves. 1039 South 9th Street.

Seafood Unlimited, Rittenhouse

Known for its $1 oyster deal at happy hour, Seafood Unlimited expects to have soft-shell crabs on its menu until September. The seafood spot, which has been in the neighborhood for decades, plans to change up how it serves softies throughout the season. At the time of writing, the restaurant is sautéeing soft-shell crabs in garlic butter and plating them with couscous and asparagus, and later plans to fry them up tempura-style and serve them with a tomato-corn salsa. 270 South 20th Street.

soft-shell crab

Nashville-hot fried softie sandwich at Oyster House / Photograph by Mike Prince

Oyster House, Rittenhouse

Chef Joe Campoli is serving up soft-shell crab two ways at Oyster House. For lunch, there’s a Nashville-hot fried softie sandwich with house-made pickles and ramp-ranch dressing. And for dinner, an entrée featuring two soft-shell crabs, grilled and served with black rice, artichokes, asparagus, peas and a piquillo-pepper beurre blanc. 1516 Sansom Street.

Nunzio, Collingswood, NJ

On June 14th, when Nunzio kicks off its Crab Night (held on Fridays during the summer), the restaurant will also start offering a variety of softie specials for the season. While specials will change biweekly, the restaurant plans to serve softies every day that they’re open, offering items ranging from appetizers — for example, a crispy soft-shell crab served with potato-and-crab hash and a romesco sauce, or a fried softie with a mixed vegetable salad, tomato jam and chili oil — to a serving over a bowl of fresh pasta. 706 Haddon Avenue.

Sweet Amalia Market and Kitchen, Newfield, NJ

This softie season, Sweet Amalia Market and Kitchen is offering a soft-shell crab sandwich with green garlic slaw, pickles and hot sauce on a seeded bun. The menu item is only available on weekends until sellout and depending on when the kitchen can get softies through July 4th. So, if you see the sandwich on the menu, run, don’t walk. And if you’re out of luck, you can always console yourself with a half-dozen fresh oysters. 994 Harding Highway.

soft-shell crab

Soft-shell crab at Jansen / Photograph by Gab Bonghi

Jansen, Mount Airy

At chef David Jansen’s New American restaurant, you can find soft-shell crab fried in a ginger-sesame tempura batter served with pickled carrot, daikon radish, cucumber and a dashi-wasabi aioli. 7402 Germantown Avenue.

At The Table, Wayne

You can have soft-shell crab at happy hour or as part of a chef’s tasting menu at At The Table. The latter is served with calamari, orange-truffle aioli and avocado as the third of six courses on the set menu, available for $125 per person. Or, you could opt for a softie slider at happy hour — the shellfish comes wrapped in a brioche bun, along with orange-truffle aioli and Boston bibb slaw, plus truffle fries on the side. 118 West Lancaster Avenue.

Good Dog Bar, Rittenhouse and Atlantic City

While you can expect a variety of softie specials from both the Philly and Atlantic City locations throughout the season (that is, when they’re available), Good Dog Bar’s most popular offering is a citrus tempura-fried soft-shell crab with chips sprinkled with sea salt and a housemade jalapeño dust, served with chipotle aioli and a grilled lemon. 224 South 15th Street and 3426 Atlantic Avenue.

The Ebbitt Room, Cape May, NJ

Craving softies while you’re down the Shore? The Ebbitt Room has been serving a crispy soft-shell crab as a special with a cabbage salad mixed with carrot, cilantro, and mint in a rice-wine vinegar and sesame-seed vinaigrette — and to finish, a drizzle of sweet chili shoyu sauce. The kitchen might mix up the garnish, depending on when you visit, as they continue to offer softies for as long as they can get them. 25 Jackson Street.

The Rusty Nail, Cape May, NJ

Another option if you’re anywhere near Cape May, the Rusty Nail is offering softies whenever the kitchen can get their hands on them. Recently, the restaurant offered a soft-shell crab francese cooked in a parmesan-egg batter and served with a lemon-ginger-garlic butter sauce as well as its daily vegetable selection from nearby Beach Plum Farm. The preparation might vary depending on when you go, but however it comes there’s nothing quite like a softie by the sea. 205 Beach Avenue.