Clambakes and crab boils, fish fries and oyster roasts—for a nation of supposed beef fanatics, we sure do make a special occasion of seafood. These 21 best seafood restaurants in America uphold and build on such cherished traditions while making spectacular waves all their own. Some of them skew fancy—you’ll also find them among our list of the best French restaurants in America—while others aim for something more relaxed (think lobster rolls and great craft beer). Some hail from the likely North East, mixing it up with the best restaurants in Boston, while others serve southern specialties in warmer climes. But these seafood restaurants all have at least one thing in common: they deserve your attention. Follow Time Out USA on Facebook; sign up for the Time Out USA newsletter
Best seafood restaurants in America
The same devotion to la dolce vita by which Fabio and Maria Trabocchi ensure that Fiola ranks among the best Italian restaurants in the nation guarantees that sibling Fiola Mare belongs here. Its sophisticated, yet light and airy, subtly nautical look reflects both its picturesque location right on the Potomac River and the vibrant cast of its menu—which bursts with all the crudo, caviar and delicacies like Spanish crawfish and razor clams you could hope for before branching out in the most thoughtful yet sensual of directions. Giant tiger prawns grace bucatini pungent with smoked sea urchin and Calabrian chiles while elusive Norwegian skrei gains punch from chickpea cream, squid ink and a dusting of bottarga. Of course both bar and cellar brim like pirate’s chests with treasures. But the leisurely brunch service lures locals here as much as do the elaborate dinners—and so do the bomboloni come dessert.
New York dining mores have experienced a seismic paradigm shift in the past decade, toppling Old World restaurant titans and making conquering heroes of chefs that champion accessible food served in casual environments. But Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Guests who find the $205 tasting menu or $140 four-course prix fixe out of reach can still experience the kitchen’s finesse in the lounge area, via stunning bar snacks: raw kanpachi topped with beads of wasabi tobiko ($20), for example, or gorgeous scallop ceviche ($22) resting in a pool of grassy olive oil.
Chef Michael Cimarusti may have inherited Patina’s original home, but he quickly forged his own culinary identity, establishing one of L.A.’s premiere dining spots. The seafood-focused restaurant sports an elegant dining room with wave-like glass panels and top-notch white-tablecloth service for an a la carte or tasting menu experience. The meal begins with house-made breads like bacon brioche and nori focaccia and an edible cocktail—a burst-in-your-mouth, spherified Greyhound that goes beyond the usual aperitif. Then Cimarusti combs the world’s waters to showcase pristine seafood in imaginative ways: Meaty Deer Isle, Maine scallops are accompanied by winter vegetables, La Quercia bacon, hazelnuts and brown butter powder, while wild black bass is dressed with tangerine juice-braised fennel, black olives, sweet Anaheim peppers and Pernod.
A Lower East Side standby since 1914, Jewish appetizing shop Russ & Daughters has been expertly slicing to-go lox, herring and other specialty foods for ages. But worshipers at the altar of cured, smoked fish had to wait 100 years for the storied slinger of seafood to open a sit-down location. In 2014, that dream became a reality when Russ & Daughters Café opened just down the street from the takeout location. Now, lox lovers and caviar cravers can enjoy top-tier delicacies in large-plate format. Among the cafe’s prized menu items is the Hattie, a groaning platter of smoked whitefish, kippered salmon, Gaspe Nova smoked salmon and sable; and the Super Heebster, a loaded bagel that achieved cult status at the Russ & Daughters store and has seamlessly transitioned to the restaurant. Heaped with whitefish and baked salmon salad, wasabi-infused fish roe and horseradish-dill cream cheese, it’s a mutt of a New York dish that perfectly encapsulates Russ & Daughters’ hundred-plus years of catering to the city’s varied tastes.
You know what they say about good things in small packages. Though it opened quietly in 2004 in a space as tight-fitting and pearly as its namesake, Neptune Oyster quickly emerged as a true pioneer on the Boston dining scene—almost single-handedly modernizing the historic Italian neighborhood it calls home even as it redefined New England seafood. It still does, of course. For every sparkling shellfish platter or killer bowl of chowder, there’s always some startlingly original gem to try: fried oysters laced with pickled beef tongue and Gruyère; sea urchin ditalini; roast monkfish with beef cheeks in mustard vinaigrette. Likewise, owner Jeff Nace keeps as far ahead of the boutique-wine curve as he did on day one, packing more gloriously geeky bottles onto one page than most lists 10 times its size offer. And while the wait for a table here is notoriously long, it only gives rise to the celebratory mood everyone shares once finally seated—they know they’ve landed someplace special.
Like the pearl in the oyster shell (or for that matter the coral in the female lobster), Roe has formed by complex organic processes to yield a prize within a prize: once the back-room lounge of chef-owner Trent Pierce’s ramen parlor, it’s now the luxe prix-fixe rendezvous behind his casually hip B&T Oyster Bar. If that sounds confusing, rest assured it will all become crystal-clear once you arrive for your beverage-paired, seven-course chef’s tasting (because all the way is the only way to go here, from the supplemental caviar service onward). Updated nearly daily, the menu brilliantly melds the Asian influences that also suffuse the softly glowing dining room with twists from the West. We’re talking confit swordfish with fried mushrooms in truffled ponzu and parmesan dashi, or king crab over gnocchi in a sauce that simultaneously evokes bouillabaisse and kimchi. And then there’s the signature butterfish sashimi sprinkled with frozen, shaved foie gras. The ingenuity continues as Pierce and his crew squeeze noodles from cuttlefish, make chorizo from squid, work the namesake eggs into the most surprising places—and complement it all with wine from no less surprising places, be it Applegate Valley or the Valle d’Aosta.
Opened more than a century ago as a fish market-cum-lunch counter, Swan’s has been dishing up fresh, no-frills seafood—filleted, cracked and shucked before your eyes—ever since. Belly up to the marble counter and start with a bowl of clam chowder, served with a hunk of fresh San Francisco sourdough. Move on to a plate of fresh-cracked Dungeness crab, thinly sliced smoked salmon, half a dozen Miyagi oysters, or mixed seafood cocktail/salad topped off with a dollop of cocktail sauce or house-made horseradish. Accompany everything with a pint of local Anchor Steam beer and you can scratch authentic SF seafood experience off your bucket list. Cash only.
The vast expanse east of LAX doesn’t exactly scream seafood destination, but Coni’ Seafood has managed to turn Inglewood into an oceanic dining hotspot. The minimalist, glass-facade space houses grey walls, aquarium-like room dividers filled with under-the-sea tchotchkes and a large, tapered-roof back patio for beachside-style dining. The lean menu includes popular smoked marlin tacos, more than a dozen shrimp dishes from raw to deep-fried and more elaborate house specialties like Pescado Zarandeado—butterflied snook fish that’s marinated in soy sauce and grilled to savory perfection over charcoal. Chicharrón de pescado involves crispy, pan-fried tilapia chunks with tangy soy and lemon sauce, while another standout dish stars sweet langoustines—bathed in garlic, chiles and lemon juice—and, if you’re lucky, prized roe.
Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, ME
Locally grown oysters you rarely see out-of-state (ever tried Norumbegas or Nautilus Islands?). Globally inspired creations like fried hake brandade, barley-black trumpet mushroom stew with squid or smoked-clam escabeche with harissa and tabbouleh. Instantly legendary brown-butter lobster rolls on buns baked in-house daily. And a rocking cocktail list to supplement wines from the cellar it maintains with famed sibling Hugo’s. Eventide was bound to make a national splash—one that the genuinely neighborly vibe of the adorable, turquoise-hued, 50-seat space only clinches. (Your less-seaworthy companions might even be kindly treated to a burger when the kitchen has a fresh side of beef to work with, not that you should encourage their anti-aquatic leanings.)Photograph: Courtesy Knack Factory/Zack Bowen
You’ll find the Island Creek oysters Skip Bennett farms in Duxbury, Massachusetts, at many of the establishments on this list. You’ll also find them at the eponymous Kenmore Square destination he runs with a who’s-who of Boston’s industry stars—not just on the raw bar, among other bivalves whose growers are listed by name, but embedded in the cages that make up one entire wall as a virtual mirror of the seaside photographic mural lining another. In addition, you’ll find Maine lobster caught by chef-partner Jeremy Sewall’s cousin. And, on any given day, head-on shrimp from Stoughton over uni risotto, monkfish from Chatham atop Jonah crab tortellini, fried whole-belly clams hand-dug in Ipswich or intense pastrami-cured loin from a 300-pound bluefin hauled in that morning. In short, without lacking for glamour, Island Creek Oyster Bar is all about honest-to-goodness provenance, right down to Noell Dorsey’s stunning, terroir-driven wine list and Jackson Cannon’s illustrious bar program. No wonder the upscale place feels so downhome.