By Dr. Ink
It isn’t what connoisseurs consider the Cadillac of seafood restaurants. And for that very reason, I’ve never B-lined into Joe’s Crab Shack for their famous shellfish steampots and Southern-style catfish. At least not yet.
After encountering the Shack in multiple cities while traveling, I finally paid a visit to the Houston-based chain right here in Mission Valley. But for happy hour only, when the drafts, hurricanes and house margaritas are only $3 and various appetizers, including a few incorporating crab meat, are $5.
The restaurant is the size of a grand ballroom and located on the second level of the Hazard Center. The vibe is playful, if not boisterous on Friday and Saturday evenings, as I’ve witnessed when ducking into Yogurtland directly below.
I went on a Monday and learned when I arrived that it’s the day kids eat for free. To my relief, there were only two tykes in the whole place and the atmosphere was rather relaxing.
Dividing the bar lounge from the main dining room is a merchandise station resembling a souvenir shop at an airport. It’s filled with T-shirts emblazoned with peace symbols, the same as what the servers wear.
I took a table in the bar area and was greeted immediately by a young waiter who slipped me a ticket-size menu listing the happy hour specials. A hurricane seemed too festive a cocktail for drinking solo, and the draft beer selection, mainly common crafts and the usual domestics, didn’t grab me. So I chose the house “Rita” served in a wide, tall glass.
A lively cocktail it was, given that the mediocre-grade Sauza Tequila is complemented by Triple Sec and sweet-and-sour syrup, which my waiter couldn’t confirm as house-made. Neither could the bartender when asked. Either way, the drink maintained a bright citrus flavor and reasonable kick right to the end, even after most of the chipped ice melted into it.
Salivating over various seafood buckets passing my table, most of them seemingly loaded with crab legs and lobster tails, I caved into my seafood craving with a $5 order of “great balls of fire.”
Served in a metal bin over decent French fries were eight panko-breaded balls filled with warm cream cheese, diced jalapenos and minced crab. Crispy on the outside and decadently flavorful on the inside, I’d order them again in a heartbeat, perhaps when trying out the place for dinner sometime.
In addition to happy hour — offered twice each day Monday through Friday —the Shack features other midweek specials such as $2 “bites and drinks” on Tuesdays; all-you-can-eat snow crab for $29 on Wednesdays; and $15 whole main lobsters along with $2 Sauza Blue margaritas on Thursdays.