The Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab served at Hop Alley.EXPAND
The Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab served at Hop Alley.
Adam Bove

100 Favorite Dishes: Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab at Hop Alley

No. 5: Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab at Hop Alley
Score a seat at Hop Alley and you'll notice a number of things about the Larimer Street Chinese eatery. First, no one seems to mind waiting. That's likely because everyone has an inkling (or proof from previous experience) that what lies ahead is well worth the time spent nursing a cocktail in the tight bar quarters. Next, every single thing tickling the senses is intoxicating: the fragrant aromas drifting from the open kitchen, the unapologetic volume of the music, the infectious energy of the staff, the moody lighting that makes everyone look and feel good. It all hits you quickly, and it's only the beginning of the visit.

You may also notice some common dishes ordered at nearly every table; one of them is the Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab. Prepared halved, battered and fried, the crabs are served hot, piled with lightly sautéed Anaheim and serrano chiles and garnished with scallions, pickled red onions and a charred lime. Accompanied by crisp Bibb lettuce leaves and a bowl of mayo spiked with lime juice and zest, this dish puts any previous memory of lettuce wraps to shame.

And there's a reason. Hop Alley chef/owner Tommy Lee has been eating a version of this dish, salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab, for 25 years while dining in Cantonese restaurants in the U.S and in Hong Kong. Now one of the top three sellers on the Hop Alley menu, according to Lee, this version is all about the seasoning and technique. "The key is to season the crab just enough so it's salty, but not too salty," says Lee, who wanted to take a lighter approach to the Cantonese staple by serving it as a lettuce wrap platter. In addition to a mix of white and Sichuan pepper, Lee also employs a special batter technique he developed at his other restaurant, Uncle, by using puréed tofu in place of buttermilk or egg to dredge the crab. The result is nothing short of fantastic.

Hungry for more? Check out our slideshows of a year's worth of 100 Favorite Dishes, starting at the beginning with 100-75. All of the dishes in our countdown are linked below, with only a few more to go.

No. 100: Masala Beef at Biju's Little Curry Shop
No. 99: Bacon Shrimp and Grits at Bacon Social House
No. 98: Porchetta and Kimchi Sandwich at Brider
No. 97: Squab-and-Sunchoke Tortellini at Abejas
No. 96: Housemade Burrata at Viand
No. 95: Schweinshaxe at Rhein Haus
No. 94 Kimchi Jeon at Seoul BBQ
No. 93: Zuppa Pomodoro at Parisi Italian Market & Deli
No. 92: The Ocean Salad at Sushi-Rama
No. 91: The Signature Bowl from Churn & Burn
No. 90: Green Chorizo at Los Compadres
No. 89: The Diavola Calzone at Pino's Neighborhood Pizzeria
No. 88: Biscuits and Green Chile at the Noshery
No. 87: Chirashi at Izu Sushi
No. 86: Brisket and Ribs at GQue Championship BBQ
No. 85: The Tornado at the Chowder Room
No. 84: Korean Fried Chicken Wings at Yong Gung
No. 83: A Meatball Hero at Lil' Ricci's New York Pizzeria
No. 82: Shakshuka at Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen
No. 81: Late-Night Ramen at Brazen
No. 80: Potato Tacos at El Tejado
No. 79: Corned Beef Heart at theWay Back
No. 78: The Fried Bologna Sandwich at Snarfburger
No. 77: Sweet Corn Mezzaluna at Bar Dough
No. 76: Duck Confit at Table 6
No. 75: Croque Monsieur at Fire
No. 74: Tahini Cookies at the Preservery
No. 73: The Alferd Packer Salad at MAD Greens
No. 72: The Tuna Poke Bowl at Ohana Island Kitchen
No. 71: Mini Chile Rellenos at La Loma
No. 70: The Combination Banh Mi at Vinh Xuong Bakery
No. 69: The Falafel Waffle at Moxie Eatery
No. 68: Korean Fried Duck Wings at Chow Urban Grill
No. 67:  Spaghetti Alla Carbonara at Spatola
No. 66: The Classic Burger from Skirted Heifer
No. 65: The Chicken Salad Stuffed Avocado at Poppies
No. 64: Super Pass Key Special at Pass Key
No. 63: How the West Was Won at Dozens Restaurant
No. 62: Manzo With Polenta at Spuntino
No. 61: P & S Snack Mix at the Pig & the Sprout
No. 59-60: Sloppers at Gray's Coors Tavern and Diego's
No. 58: Potstickers at Zoe Ma Ma
No. 57: Griddle Cooked Bullfrog at Yum Yum Spice
No. 56: Macaroni and Cheese at Work & Class
No. 55: Lobster, Egg and Caviar Bruschetta at Bar Fausto
No. 54: Orecchiette at Coperta
No. 53: Cheese Steak at Steuben's Food Service
No. 52: PB&B Acai Bowl at ProsperOats
No. 51: Gold Miner's Breakfast at River and Woods
No. 50: Bison Pastrami at To The Wind Bistro
No. 49: Spicy Beef Hot Pot at Bronze Empire
No. 48: Brad's Neo Gyro at Avelina
No. 47: The Egg and Croissant Sandwich at La Fillette Bakery
No. 46: Smoked Brisket Stroganoff Pot Pie From Humble Pie and Kitchen Table
No. 45: Hisbiscus-Flower Tacos at Comal
No. 44: The Juicy Lucy at the Midwestern Saloon
No. 43: Italian combo #2 at Carbone's
No. 42: Huevos Rancheros at Las Potrancas
No. 41: The Roti Taco at Mister Tuna
No. 40: Mile High Nachos at Racines
No. 39: Classic Rooster at Royal Rooster
No. 38: Toomkha Soup at US Thai Cafe
No. 37: Smoked Lamb Shank at Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que
No. 36: Banh Mi Tacos at Vital Root
No. 35: Barbecue Sandwiches at Globe Hall
No. 34: Ebelskivers at Three Little Griddles
No. 33: Bagna Cauda Broccoli Rabe at Dio Mio Handmade Pasta
No. 32: Flavorsome Ramen at Sera's Ramen Enclave
No. 31: Chicken Tenders at the Fainting Goat
No. 30: Sesame Chicken at Red Dragon
No. 29-28: Last Great Lunch of 2016, First Great Plate of 2017
No. 27: Rocky Mountain Oysters at Lulu's Inn
No. 26: The Shawarma Sandwich at Edri's International Market
No. 25: Panuchos at Que Bueno Suerte
No. 24: Fish and Chips at Public School 303
No. 23: The Sloppy Joe at Thunderbird Imperial Lounge
No. 22: Empanadas at Lazo Empanadas
No. 21: Fried Chicken Banh Mi at the Post Chicken & Beer
No. 20: All You Can Eat at Guadalajara Mexican Buffet
No 19: The Breakfast Sandwich at Stella's on 16th
No. 18: The Chicken Fried Steak Breakfast at Lancer's Diner
No. 17: Kimchi Brussels Sprouts at Stoic & Genuine
No. 16: Aborrajados at Antojitos Colombianos
No. 15: I'm Peach Mint Sorbet at High Point Creamery
No. 14: Sardine Toast at Ash Mobile Kitchen
No. 13: Limoncello Wings at Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana
No. 12: Beef Tallow Candle at Il Posto
No. 11: Bone Marrow With Short Rib Marmalade at Vesta
No. 10: Tuesday Night Thai Chicken at Cho77
No. 9: Sunchokes and Black Trumpet Mushrooms at Old Major
No. 8: Laksa at Jaya Asian Grill
No. 7: Dry-Aged New York Strip at Colt & Gray
No. 6: Masa Dumplings at Arcana

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