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
Few varieties of restaurant erase the distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow quite so delightfully as the oyster bar. Living up to the motto “f*cking fancy,” Mignonette is a special case in point. The follow-up to chef-partner Daniel Serfer’s smash-hit flagship Blue Collar doubles down on its location in a 1930s-era gas station with breezy retro decor and a fondness for such throwback pleasures as popcorn shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, crab Louis and pie à la mode for dessert. But the menu’s equally awash in modern indulgences: think croissants slathered in lobster butter and mango jam; fluke crudo with pickled banana peppers and mustard oil; conch-fritter Benedict drizzled in sherry-cayenne aioli; or swordfish set atop duck confit and wild-mushroom fricassee in Marsala pan sauce. And don’t forget the happiest of happy-hour specials: a bottle of Oudinot champagne and an ounce of Siberian Baerii caviar for a measly $90. (Plus—speaking of bubbly—how cool is a house apéritif that, as a nod to the eponymous condiment for raw oysters, is basically champagne mignonette?)
The NOLA dream team of Donald Link, Steven Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt assembled to launch Pêche Seafood Grill in 2013, and you’d best assemble a dream team to dine here—because you’ll want at least one of everything on the menu, up to and including the whole grilled fish special. In fact, generous portions notwithstanding, you may want multiple orders of smoked tuna dip and steak tartare garnished with oyster aioli. You’ll certainly want a cocktail to kick things off—this is the Big Easy, after all—and a spot of sipping rum to wind things down. Not that winding things down will be easy: at 160 seats, the rustic-chic space radiates energy no less than the food.
Looking for all the world like a weather-beaten beach cottage—complete with a chandelier resembling bleached coral branches—this snug little magnet for Seattle’s lovers of marine cuisine is as packed with succulent sea creatures as it is with people. Chef-partner Renee Erickson has a taste for the briny, earthy and all-around funky that shows not only in signatures like the grilled sardines with walnut relish but also in the ever-changing specials: smoked-herring croquettes with malt-vinegar aioli one day, squid ink-spiked scallop aguachile another, potted crab still another. They’re supplemented by an exquisite array of vegetable-centric small plates, cheeses and, of course, market oysters on the half-shell. But wait, there’s more: The Walnut and the Carpenter’s carefully edited beverage list works like a charm—cheers to all those fun, food-friendly wine finds from France—and there’s a maple bread pudding in espresso sauce to sap the strength of the most resolute sugar-shunner.
There’s nothing wrong with splurging on lobster or king crab and wanting to enjoy it in the formal dining room of Shaw’s Crab House. We just prefer the freedom of getting down and dirty in this institution’s adjacent bar, where we can slurp fresh oysters, crack open crab claws and dunk our lobster tail in copious amounts of butter—all without earning a sideways glance from a stiff in a suit. Head to the bar between 4pm and 6pm for select half-price oysters. Grab the tender fried calamari, Alaskan Red King Crab bites and more oysters than you think is necessary. The quality remains just as high as in the dining room (it’s all coming from the same kitchen), and there’s no pressure to spend big on wine, which is all the better because they have a good selection of beers for all your washing-down purposes.
The term “critic-proof” is usually meant as an insult, but in the case of Mama’s Fish House, it aptly describes just how powerless even the crankiest kvetcher would be to resist the magic spell cast by this Maui institution, founded 42 years ago by Floyd and Doris Christenson (the mom and pop who, with daughter Karen, still run it today). Set amid lush flora steps from the palm-lined beach, it’s decorated to conjure some bygone Polynesian fishing villager’s hut, right down to the last artifact and bamboo pole; the daily-printed list of entrées follows suit, providing detailed source notes for each local fish listed, be it “ono caught trolling in the Alenuihaha Channel by Shawn Conners” or the evergreen macadamia-crusted mahi mahi stuffed with lobster and crab. Meanwhile, longtime chef Perry Bateman’s exotic presentations only deepen the intoxicating effect of the mai tais and liliko’i coladas, paper umbrellas and all. Check out the Tahitian-style poisson cru served in a coconut and the beloved “black pearl” of chocolate mousse shining from within a pastry seashell.
Like Boston’s Island Creek, Matunuck Oyster Bar was founded by an actual oysterman. But the similarities pretty much end there. Located right on Potter Pond along with his shellfish beds and organic produce farm, Perry Raso’s place is a naturally laid-back affair: the picturesque setting provides all the mood lighting and decoration it needs, and the passing of the seasons determines only minor tweaks to the menu, as the staples are the staples for a reason. Aside from oysters in every way, shape and splendid form, you’re bound by unwritten state law to order the fried calamari with cherry peppers, the clear clam chowder and at least a couple of stuffies (stuffed and baked quahogs), Rhody classics all. After that, potato- or pistachio-crusted cod’s a favorite, as is pure and simple boiled lobster with lemon and butter, followed by the white chocolate-dipped key-lime pie—on a stick! Given the extra-casual context, you wouldn’t expect a solid wine selection, but there is one. Still, an oyster-garnished Bloody or regional craft beer proves just the patio pounder.Photograph: Courtesy Matunuck/Ron Cowie
They don’t make ’em like the Lassis Inn anymore. Ask Adrian Miller. The James Beard Award-winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time tipped us off to this blue-shingled slice of roadside Americana, which he says is one of the only places in the country to serve buffalo fish ribs. As he explains, the buffalo’s “a scavenger river fish that tastes like carp. Many people are turned off by its boniness, so back in the day, some genius invented buffalo fish ribs, made by taking one of the larger bones near the head and butchering enough flesh off so that it resembles a sparerib. It’s then dredged in seasoned cornmeal and fried.” Too gnarly for you? Dig into the equally famous catfish instead. Either way the trimmings are surefire: exemplary fried okra and hush puppies, the creamy coleslaw and green-tomato relish Miller favors, and a heaping side of blues on the jukebox.Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Herb T.
All along our northeastern shores, summer in and summer out, debates over New England’s best seafood shack rage on as incessantly as those over the one true lobster roll (cold and mayo-daubed Maine-style, or hot and buttered Connecticut-style?). But only a few names crop up with the regularity of Bob’s Clam Hut—and that was the case well before Guy Fieri darkened its doorstep. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Route 1 institution checks off every box with ease: quaint cottage digs and a slew of al fresco picnic tables; a constant, all-ages queue of locals and tourists alike at the order window; and, of course, textbook fried whole-belly clams (nix the strips, kids) that come as nature intended—in an overflowing basket alongside basic fries and slaw, plus lemon wedges if you’re doing it right. If you’re really doing it right, you’ll also get that cold lobster roll, piled high with picked meat, and cap it all off with the obligatory soft-serve or, better yet, Mount Desert Island ice cream.
Clam chowder and lobster rolls on the one hand, shrimp po’ boys with sweet tea on the other: just which side of the Mason-Dixon line are we on? Well, as it turns out, both. Though 167 Raw is a Charleston star, its roots are in Cape Cod, where partner Jesse Sandole’s family runs a seafood market—which no doubt explains the restaurant’s distinctly homey, fishmonger-esque vibe. It also explains the deceptive simplicity of the menu: the daily catch determines whether what’s listed merely as “fish taco” will be grilled mahi mahi or batter-fried monkfish, the “ceviche” halibut or grouper, the “fish sandwich” elaborately garnished sheepshead or softshell crab. (Granted, some regulars never make it past the primo tuna burger.) And finally, it explains the aquacultural savvy of the staff; the bartender who pours you, say, Westbrook’s aptly named rye pale ale One Claw can also give you a lesson in oyster anatomy—provided, that is, you get there early enough to nab a seat.Photograph: Courtesy 167 Raw/Cassandra Michelle
It’s understandable that Bostonians are wont to draw parallels between Neptune Oyster and its longtime chef Michael Serpa’s debut venture in the Back Bay. But it’s also unnecessary. Neither a stark departure nor a virtual homage, Select Oyster Bar is all Serpa’s own, with a sharp gallery-esque vibe and a menu broadly inspired by the Mediterranean region, both to the West (black bass crudo with artichoke pesto and Calabrian chiles, say) and to the East (hamachi crudo with labne, radishes, Aleppo pepper and mint). Along the way, you’ll encounter novel twists galore, as epitomized by the lavish sea urchin-cuttlefish fried rice. But if you must compare and contrast, the bar’s a good place to do it. On the one hand, Serpa’s list almost literally takes a page from Jeff Nace’s Neptune, at once concise and free-wheeling; on the other, smart craft cocktails make for a change of pace. (Okay, Select also resembles Neptune in that it doesn’t serve dessert—but we consider that an excuse to splurge on caviar service instead.)
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