A beautiful mess

Experiential dining in Columbus tends to be relegated to chain restaurants near shopping malls. So when locals Kai Sheng and Tiffany Cho opened Kai's Crab Boil, offering low country crab boils to diners without a corporate feel, they filled a gap. Sheng and Cho are first-time restaurant owners but have expertly navigated the industry—and the challenge of getting fresh seafood to Ohio—in their first year.

Diners are transported to the coast when they order messy plastic bags full of lobster, king crab, shrimp, crawfish and other shellfish. You can add the regular accompaniments of a low country boil: half ears of corn, andouille sausage, boiled eggs and potatoes. Customers can choose from a variety of flavorings, including lemon pepper, a house-made spice mixture (move over, Old Bay) and good old-fashioned butter. Each meal is customizable, with spice levels ranging from no heat to “OMG.”

Plastic gloves and bibs—and all the tools needed to access the sweet crab meat—are provided at this eat-with-your-hands establishment (as is a sink in the dining room for easy cleanup). For that “at the beach” feel, beer and wine are available.

Kai's Combos are shareable suggestions worth considering. The New England Combo includes lobster and snow crab legs plus three add-ons. And the Pacific Combo (with 1 pound each of snow crab legs and shrimp) provides a perfect platform for Kai's Kajun spice blend to shine. Sides of pasta or rice are must-haves used for soaking up the delicious sauce that pools at the bottom of the bag. And if you're into taking photos of your food, do it before you dig in. It's quite a mess. Speaking of photos, following Kai's Instagram account usually pays off, as the restaurant frequently announces its specials via the social media platform.

Meet the Owners: Tiffany Cho and Kai Sheng

Hometown: Columbus

Resume: The business partners got their start hosting crab boils for friends. Cho had waitressed at Hunan Lion; Sheng went to school for electrical engineering and had worked as a busboy and dishwasher.

Favorite seafood? Cho: “The Dungeness crab is one of my favorites.”

Sheng: “Snow crab. The meat is easier to get to, and it's a little sweeter.”

How do you like to spend a day off? Sheng: “The days we're off, we're planning for the next week. Supplies, inventory, schedules.”

What does Central Ohio need? Sheng: “Nothing. We grew up here, went to school here, went our separate ways for a while and decided to come back, because it feels like home.”

Most-Instagrammed item on the menu? Cho: “The whole lobster. It has a wow factor.”