The perfect crab cake should include large, lump-meat pieces and be loosely packed with a minimum of bread-crumb binder. The best versions are less a disk than a scoop, lightly broiled, allowing the flavor of the crab to come through. It should be served with citrus, and the sauce -- mayonnaise, aioli -- should be a welcome flavor addition, not a way to mask dryness or sub-par crab.
While we didn't find any spots that were cooking, cracking and picking their own, what we did find was that places using a single variety -- Dungeness and Blue (Callinectes sapidus or "beautiful swimmer that is savory") -- made sure to note it. Happily those two are also Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch approved. The meat is delicate, sweeter than larger crabs, and soft. Snow and King crab -- while abundant -- are both chewy and tend to be watery and less flavorful. Trying to figure out what type of crab you're being served can be tricky. Most menus don't say because so many species are used -- and 75% of crab meat is imported, so looking for locally sourced crab cakes is a major challenge.
Normally with our top ten lists we attempt to find a wide range of prices so everyone can get something great no matter their budget. That just doesn't work here. High quality crab is rare and should be expensive until we stop over-fishing and efforts to rebuild habitats and populations fully succeed. Sorry, there's no hidden $5 gem out there -- but there are some really terrific crab cakes. Turn the page for ten of them.10. Traxx:
Eating at Traxx is an experience unto itself. The hustle and bustle of people coming and going at Union Station has a retro romance -- and it's so much nicer than eating at the airport or bus station. Sit down in the art deco restaurant and order the spicy jumbo lump crab cakes with chipotle remoulade. The southwestern version is served with a corn and tomato relish; the two cakes are studded with red onion and cilantro. The smoky-heat of the remoulade curiously made these the only truly spicy version we tried. 800 North Alameda Street #122., Los Angeles; (213) 625-1999.9. Gulfstream:
Gulfstream caters to office workers at lunch and Westfield mall shoppers looking for a consistent experience. In their dim dining room they're serving a crab cake salad with grapefruit supremes and rough wedges of avocado at lunch. You can also have it as an entree with the salad, a mustard sauce and french fries. As a salad, it's rote, so maybe go for the entree. 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 553-3636.8. K-Zo:
We're mad-crazy for the combo of crab cakes and sake. It's a refreshing pairing that we highly recommend and that can be had, nightly, at K-Zo in Culver City, where you can also get extremely good sushi after you're done shopping at the Trader Joe's next door. Show up early and order a hot sake and the two plump crab cakes served with a red pepper and tomato coulis and an elevated tartar sauce with flecks of chive. The combination of sweet, crunchy, tangy and acid work in balance.9240 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 202-8890.