13 Places in the U.S. to Try Bug-Based Delicacies
Insect eats aren't just for intrepid world travelers; some of the best (think Oaxacan grasshoppers, sashimi-grade water bugs and even delicate ant-powder desserts) can be found right here in the States.
By: Lauren Oster
Photo By: Michelle Edmunds
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium - New Orleans
A true survey of New Orleans cuisine wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Bug Appétit at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, which has dished up insects to curious visitors since 2008. Jayme Necaise, Director of Animal and Visitor Programs, called their Chocolate Chirp Cookies (pictured here) "gateway bugs." "Once you eat this cricket cookie, you’ll want to eat all of the other bug-infused dishes on our Bug Buffet," she said. "We get lots of interested guests saying they’d like to take home a dozen of our cookies.” Bug Appétit features a kaleidoscope of so-called creepy crawlies. Think: Crispy Cajun Crickets ("like BBQ sunflower seeds"), Southwest Waxworms dusted in taco seasoning, Cinnamon Bug Crunch (moth larvae prepared like churros), Six-Legged Salsa (peppers and onions blended with crab-boiled mealworms) and more.
Don Bugito - San Francisco
Inspired by pre-Colombian Mexican Cuisine, Monica Martinez established a "pre-Hispanic snackeria" to bring insect-based dishes to the Bay Area via catering, educational workshops and snack-slinging. "Insects are very high in protein, Omega-3s, fiber, trace minerals, all the good stuff," she said. "Eighty percent of their body mass is made out of all of these good things." Monica’s wax moth larvae tacos (pictured) is one of her most popular dishes.
Don Bugito - San Francisco
"The most amazing [thing about bugs as a foodstuff]," Monica continued, "is that they’re incredibly sustainable and environmentally friendly—and genetically, they are far removed from humans, so risk of contamination is very low in comparison to other types of animal protein." (In other words, you’re not going to contract Mad Cricket Disease.) Ready to try some covered in dark chocolate? Many of Monica’s snacks are available online.
Linger - Denver
“We began serving crickets a year ago in different iterations, including tacos and tamales,” said Jeremy Kittelson, culinary director at Edible Bleats (the restaurant group behind Linger and three other Denver eateries). Linger’s cricket and cassava empanadas are their interpretation of a Bolinho, a classic Brazilian fritter, served with a Peruvian corn purée. The protein here is banded crickets (Gryllodes sigillatus) from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch (yes, crickets are micro-ranched, not hunted). "They taste like grassy sunflower seeds with herbaceous notes," Kittelson said.
Hugo's - Houston
Fans of Oaxacan cuisine in Houston swarm to Hugo’s (Chef Hugo Ortega’s namesake restaurant), where pan-sautéed grasshoppers (known to Mexican chefs as "chapulines") are served with guacamole, tortillas and chipotle-tomatillo salsa. The 'hoppers were originally harvested from Oaxacan corn fields, but the restaurant has recently switched over to chapulines that feed on alfalfa and sesame fields—and they’ve noticed "a fairly big difference in how they taste." Little changes make a big difference when you’re working with tiny livestock.
Caracol - Houston
Chef Hugo also serves insects at Caracol, another Houston eatery, where diners can order gusanos de maguey (maguey worms, or Aegiale hesperiaris, are one of two edible caterpillars that infest the maguey plant). The gusanos are sautéed with mojo de ajo, onion and parsley, then served atop black beans in corn tortillas with sides of guacamole and habanero sauce.
Nue - Seattle
You won’t find mangdana, or water bugs, on the main menu at Nue, but Chef Chris Cvetkovich is more than happy to dish them up by request. "The flavor is always more intense than people anticipate, and therefore [the water bugs are] served wth a ball of sticky rice and a few Thai chilies that people can nibble," he said. "The mangdana that we serve are all male, as the males produce pheromones to attract mates." The pheromones also give the mangdana a distinct flavor. "It can best be described as that of an artificially flavored candy such as a Jolly Rancher. Much more fruity than anticipated and quite salty," Cvetkovich said. The bugs are sashimi-grade and require no cooking; they’re simply warmed to room temperature and served in all their glory.
Nue - Seattle
Mangdana’s unique taste is also useful as a seasoning, and it appears in dishes like Thai nam prik curry paste, Chef Cvetkovich said. "Because of [the bugs’] rarity and the labor involved [in collecting them], mangdana essence has been synthesized into an artificial flavoring that is often used." The team at Nue, however, prefers to source the bug—and uses it to infuse Beetlejuice, a popular chilled vodka cocktail.
Oyamel - Washington, D.C.
Chapulines tacos are one of the most popular dishes at Oyamel, José Andres’ Oaxacan-inflected D.C. eatery, where they’re nestled with shallots, tequila and guacamole in tortillas ground out each morning from heirloom corn (sourced from family farms in Mexico). "What can we say, the Oaxacan tradition is delicious!"
Poquitos - Seattle
The chapulines served as an appetizer at Poquitos find a lot of love on the internet: "They definitely garner a lot of attention from customers and get a lot of shares on social media!" the team reported. If they look like a bar snack, well, that’s no coincidence: "In Oaxaca, chapulines are traditionally served with a cold beer, much like salted nuts would be in the U.S."
Talavera - Miami
At Talavera in Miami, grasshoppers seasoned with lime and chile peppers impart a strong "earthy and grassy flavor" to a diminutive tostada with guacamole and queso añejo. Visitors hankering for chapulines as a main course can head to the restaurant on Fridays, when the regional special is a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef hash, topped with chapulin cream, and garnished with pine nuts and chapulines.
Toloache - New York City
In the Big Apple, Chef Julian Medina’s Toloache (named for an elegant flowering plant that happens to yield a psychoactive hallucinogen) is well known for its refined and authentic Latin cuisine—and its grasshopper tacos. Toloache’s chapulines are served with jalapenos, onions, cilantro, salsa and guacamole, which the team recommends pairing with its Mezcalita de Pina (a cocktail made with mezcal and roasted pineapple).
Black Ant - New York City
Insect enthusiasts of all stripes can find satisfaction at NYC’s Black Ant, an East Village Mexican restaurant that both honors traditional recipes and flips them on their heads. Diners who don’t fancy bugs’ characteristic crunch can sip chapulin bisque; eaters who appreciate their texture can order croquetas de chapulin (pictured here), which feature grasshoppers that are both ground (inside) and fried (on top).
Black Ant - New York City
Adventurous eaters with a sweet tooth, in turn, should skip ahead to the dessert menu for a Dia de los Muertos-inspired burnt chile macaraoon with fried plantain, zapote ice cream and ant powder.
La Condesa - Austin
Chapulines fans in Austin turn to Chef Rick Lopez, who offers grasshopper tacos as an off-menu item year-round at La Condesa. "Harvesting [chapulines] takes place throughout the year, but [it’s easier] during cooler months," he says. "The harvesting happens early in the morning, as the chapulines are relatively immobile due to their being cold-blooded." He prefers a humble beverage with his grasshoppers: "The perfect drink for me when I eat tacos de chapulines is a nice cold Negro Modelo, or any beer for that matter. You don’t need anything too fancy or overdone when you eat such a simple and delicious dish.”
Taqueria Feliz - Philadelphia
Chef Tim Spinner at Philadelphia’s Taqueria Feliz sources the chapulines for his tacos (served in a house-made corn tortilla with onions, cilantro, guacamole and morita chile salsa) both from local tiendas in the city and one of his chef’s mothers: "She lives outside Oaxaca and sends them over [for us]." It doesn’t get any better than grasshopper tacos like Mom used to make.