Best Seafood Restaurants in the U.S.
Summer's over in Maine, but you’d hardly know it from the queue of vacationers and regulars at the Clam Shack. A teenager shouts out orders of clam strips, chowder, and fried shrimp. But it's the whole, handpicked lobster piled onto a buttered roll that earns this eatery a place among the seafood greats.
Today’s culinary landscape is all about über-local ingredients and farm-to-table cooking. But before there were menus crediting farmers for their kale or acorn-fed pork, there were dockside establishments serving just-caught crab and lobster or oysters farmed a few miles up the shore. America’s seafood restaurants were sourcing fish from their backyard long before it was popular.
These iconic, unfussy joints, for many of us, define seafood at its best. After all, what could be better than plump, juicy bivalves paired with a cold beer and views of bobbing boats? Or picking crabs on brown paper–covered communal tables, your hands a mess of clarified butter and Old Bay?
Related: U.S. + Canada Travel Guide
Our top picks include as many (if not more) down-and-dirty restaurants—where no-frills décor meets the freshest grouper, blackened, simply dressed with mayo and lettuce, and served on a toasted bun—as high-end ones helmed by toques who marry French techniques and worldly ingredients with pristine bluefin, cobia, and escolar.
You’ll find America’s best seafood at a shanty overlooking Florida’s Sarasota Bay, and on Maui’s northern shore in a kitschy, yet romantic South Seas setting where the catch changes so often that menus are printed twice daily, but also in Atlanta, where seafood meets southern society over oysters and putt-putt at the Optimist.
Whether high or low, one thing is consistent: Each of these local favorites, in big cities and small towns, is a catch.
Mama's Fish House, Maui
There’s nothing understated or outdated about this Maui classic, est. 1973. The setting—palm trees, tide pools, white sand beach—is beyond romantic, and the fish is as fresh as it gets. Menus, printed twice daily, credit fishermen by name, and may include local catches like opah, onaga, and ono, baked in a macadamia-nut crust, served up-country style with caramelized onions, avocado, and baby bok choy, or marinated in lime and coconut milk.
Hogfish Bar & Grill, Stock Island, FL
On Stock Island, Key West’s less rowdy neighbor, this low-key spot, tucked between a trailer park and the shrimp docks, is known for its pinks—Key West shrimp, distinguished by a pink dot in the center of its shell—and for its hogfish. The former come fried and barbecued, stuffed in tacos, or battered with coconut. But there’s really only one way to order hogfish. Ask for the Killer, which pairs fried, just-caught hogfish with melted Swiss cheese and mushrooms on Cuban bread.
Le Bernardin, New York
This midtown power lunch go-to has gone from staid to stylish thanks to a recent renovation that ushered in twisted aluminum and undulating wood, a massive seascape triptych by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner, and a sleek, new lounge for cocktails with seafood-centric small plates. But the transformation hasn’t altered the fact that Eric Ripert is New York’s reigning roi de poisson.
Red Fish Grill, New Orleans
On Bourbon Street, amid jacket-and-tie establishments and strip clubs, this casual, family-friendly restaurant pairs colorful, funky décor (oyster-shaped mirrors, bar stools ornamented with alligators, and fish mobiles suspended from the ceiling) with creative interpretations of New Orleans seafood. The BBQ oysters—flash-fried, tossed in Crystal Hot Sauce, and served with blue cheese dressing—are a clever riff on Buffalo wings.
Cantler’s Riverside Inn, Annapolis, MD
You’ll find shrimp, scallops, oysters, and clams at this waterfront seafood shack, just over the Severn River from downtown Annapolis. And, of course, the house specialty of crab, specifically Maryland blue hard-shells, hauled in daily from the Chesapeake, steamed live, doused with J.O. Spice, and served on communal tables covered in brown paper.
Uchi + Uchiko, Austin, TX
When Tyson Cole opened his first restaurant in a refurbished bungalow just south of Town Lake, he introduced taco-obsessed Austinites to serious sushi with a Texan twist. At Uchiko, Uchi’s younger, sexier sibling, Top Chef winner Paul Qui draws on the same Japanese fusion flavors—and on inspiration from Thailand, Vietnam, and his native Philippines. At either restaurant, the omakase menu is the way to go; it might include maguro sashimi with goat cheese, Fuji apple, and pumpkin-seed oil, or maplewood-smoked baby yellowtail with yucca chips, marcona almonds, and garlic brittle.
The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
Named for a Lewis Carroll poem and located in a former shipping factory, this Ballard neighborhood newbie has become a fast favorite. Credit goes largely to the oysters (Samish Sweets, Hammersleys, Treasure Coves varieties), all from local waters, all expertly shucked and served in metal baskets with fresh lemon, shaved horseradish, and cheat sheets to let you identify one bivalve from the next. You could also make a meal here of small plates, like grilled sardines and house-smoked trout with lentils, walnuts, crème fraîche, and pickled onions.
The Optimist, Atlanta
Whether you swing by the first-come, first-served oyster bar, which serves bivalves on the half shell and opens to a courtyard with a putt-putt course, or go for a full meal at the barrel-vaulted main restaurant, in the former headquarters of Talmadge Country Hams, it’s clear that chef Adam Evans knows seafood. One must-order dish: the peel-and-eat Georgia shrimp, with “come back” sauce (a souped-up Russian dressing) and duck fat–poached swordfish.
Son of a Gun, Los Angeles
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the duo behind Animal, have followed up their paean to all things carnivorous with this tribute to their Florida roots. The place goes for a cavelike, maritime-man aesthetic: deer busts, life preservers, and knickknacks salvaged from Dotolo’s grandfather’s garage. Reservations are limited, so grab a seat at the bar and prepare to wait for your meal of small plates like peel-and-eat Santa Barbara prawns and two-bite lobster rolls with celery and lemon aioli.
At this glass-walled former Pontiac dealership, fisherman and chef-owner Bryan Caswell pays homage to catch from the Gulf of Mexico—making this the place to sample wahoo or sheepshead. He also showcases the diverse melting pot that is Houston, turning out steamed mussels in Shiner Bock and ancho chile broth, Thai-style whole fish, and roasted grouper with collard greens and pecan-shallot crackling.
RM Seafood, Las Vegas
Rick Moonen takes sustainable seafood seriously, which means you’re more likely to find Arctic char, mackerel, and wild-caught swordfish on the menu at his bi-level restaurant than the usual suspects (salmon, snapper, tuna). Go haute with a tasting menu at RM Upstairs, or prop up the raw bar at R Bar Café for Moonen’s famous take on the Sloppy Joe: chunks of catfish, onion, and pepper sautéed in barbecue sauce, topped with sliced pickles and potato chips, and served on a buttered, toasted hamburger bun.
The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport, ME
Sunburned tourists (and locals) queue up at this nondescript trailer in downtown Kennebunkport for generously portioned servings of fried clam strips, hand-cut onion rings, and—naturally—lobster rolls. This is a purist’s sandwich, with an entire lobster’s worth of handpicked meat served with a smear of mayo, a drizzle of warm butter, or both on a toasted round bun.
Star Fish Company, Cortez, FL
A dockside joint as bare bones as it gets: small kitchen, cash-only counter, and eight picnic tables behind a wholesale market. But the views of Sarasota Bay, swooping pelicans, and stilted fishing sheds are iconic Florida, and the seafood, served in paper boxes, is perfect in its simplicity. Grouper, mullet, shrimp, and oysters are grilled, fried, blackened, and sautéed and served with hush puppies, coleslaw and French fries. If you have room, we say go for the Key lime pie.
Jake’s Famous Crawfish, Portland, OR
Despite its moniker, the Cajun crustacean is not the main draw at this downtown Portland institution, which has been in business for more than a century. This is an old-school Pacific fish house—white tablecloths, wood paneling, and waiters in white jackets—with oysters on the half shell, fried calamari, and scampi-style prawns. The menu changes daily, and the best dishes make use of local seafood: chinook salmon grilled on a cedar plank, petrale sole Parmesan and anything stuffed with Dungeness crab.
Casamento’s, New Orleans
At this narrow institution with original tiles and gilded mirrors, muscled men shuck oysters, raked from a metal cooler, at a standing-only bar near the entrance. Do as the regulars do and slurp down a half-dozen or so while waiting for a table (there are just 12) and the main attraction: the oyster loaf, which pairs plump bivalves, dredged in corn flour and fried in lard, with thick slices of buttered pan bread and pickles.
Marshall Store, Tomales Bay, CA
An hour north of San Francisco, this seafood shanty with makeshift tables overlooking Tomales Bay is the place for the area’s famous oysters. The owners farm their own bivalves, which come raw, smoked, and baked. But the preferred preparation is grilled, topped with the tangy house-made barbecue sauce and served with buttery bread. Pair them with a bottle of crisp white wine (sold at the store) and views of bobbing boats.
DC Coast, Washington, D.C.
A 10-foot mermaid sculpture presides over this two-story restaurant in an Art Deco building, where a glass-walled balcony and massive angled mirrors treat diners to a view of the bustling scene. The menu references the mid-Atlantic, the Gulf Coast, and the Pacific Rim; executive chef Jeff Tunks’s Chinese-style smoked lobster with crispy spinach has been a favorite since the restaurant opened in 1998.
Little Fish BYOB, Philadelphia
The succinct, blackboard-scrawled menu at this 24-seat boîte on the border of Queen Village and Bella Vista changes daily, but the flavorful combination of seafood and pork—big-eye tuna and pork shoulder, octopus and pork belly, sturgeon and cracklings—features prominently year-round. Start with the oysters: half a dozen each of the East Coast and West Coast bivalves.
Anchor & Hope, San Francisco
Originally conceived of as an East Coast fish house (albeit one set in a turn-of-the-century warehouse in industrial-chic SoMa), this go-to spot for Bay Area pescatarians is expanding its horizons under the direction of chef Vernon Morales, whose résumé includes stints at El Bulli and Daniel. Expect globally inspired plates—chorizo and clams, bacalao with piri-piri sauce, and cuttlefish-and-squid-ink risotto—plus traditional favorites like clam chowder and a Maine-style lobster roll with Old Bay kettle chips.
Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market, Miami
This fish market–cum–fry joint on the Miami River has been serving boat-to-plate fare to downtown execs for nearly 40 years. At lunch, the dolphin sandwich—with plantains or buttery parsley potatoes and a cold beer—is the way to go. But the extensive menu also includes chowders and fish platters, jumbo shrimp and stone crab, stuffed lobster and conch steak. If possible, grab a seat on the deck, where you’ll have views of fishing boats, cargo ships, and the skyline.
Dave’s Carry-Out, Charleston, SC
This tiny corner storefront in Elliotborough welcomes all comers with it signature flounder—dredged in seasoned flour and fried to order with hoppin’ John and lima beans served in Styrofoam containers. There’s also fried shrimp, scallops and devil crab, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and steak fries. Officially, closing time is 11 p.m., but the place is packed until the wee hours. 42 Morris St., Charleston; (843) 577-7943
Straight Wharf Restaurant, Nantucket, MA
Helmed by hot Boston exports Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lyon, this gray-shingled restaurant overlooking the harbor updates seafood classics: fish and chips is reimagined as panko-crusted halibut with fingerling potatoes, while clambake is made over as sweet corn chowder topped with lobster, littlenecks, and chorizo. If you’re after a light bite, head to the next-door bar for smoked bluefish pâte, fish taquitos, and swordfish skewers.
Water Grill, Los Angeles
Introducing Water Grill 2.0: a downtown institution whose $1.5 million renovation resulted in oversize Pullman booths, herringbone oak floors, live seafood tanks with spiny lobsters, ridgeback shrimp, Dungeness crab, and a marble slab raw bar. Luckily, the new look hasn’t altered the seafood, still fresh and done very, very well. Start with the seafood platter, a massive compilation of oysters (three kinds), shrimp, lobster, crab, and sea urchin.
Maison Premiere, New York City
This hot spot in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood made its reputation with a dollar-an-oyster happy hour, absinthe cocktails, and tables full of hipsters. As of August 2012, there’s more to look forward to: new chef Jared Stafford-Hill (formerly of Bobo, Adour Alain Ducasse, and Gramercy Tavern) introduced an extended menu. Heavy-hitting dishes include king salmon with smoked caviar, crème fraîche, and caraway oil, olive oil–poached bluefin belly with a summer gazpacho and langoustines, and roasted sweetbreads with a sweet onion purée.
Neptune Oyster, Boston
This minnow-size raw bar seats only 44—18 at the subway-tiled counter and 26 at marble-topped tables—so show up early, or prepare to wait. An affordable wine list complements the wide array of bivalves, including more than a dozen varieties of oysters. A bottle of Riesling goes nicely with the Neptune Plateau, a tower of oysters, clams and shrimp, and the lobster roll’s fine with any meal, served warm on a butter-slicked brioche bun.
Coastal Cold Storage, Petersburg, AK
Queue up with local fishermen and cannery workers for fish chowder, fish tacos, king salmon sandwiches—and the best beer-battered halibut in Alaska at this tiny, no-frills restaurant within a seafood processing plant in the fishing village of Petersburg. The popularity of adding a side of French fries to your order inspired the nickname McCoastal, but this experience is as original and authentic as fast food gets.
Sea Change, Minneapolis
James Beard Award–winning chef Tim McKee has won over meat-and-potato-loving locals with his inventive, sustainable seafood at this restaurant on the ground floor of the Jean Nouvel–designed Guthrie Theater in downtown. The most ordered dish is the grilled octopus with salsa verde, Spanish peppers, and pimentón. Not far behind is the bouillabaisse with house-made aioli and toasted French bread.
Dock’s Oyster House, Atlantic City, NJ
Founded in 1897, this is Atlantic City’s oldest restaurant and the menu is fittingly old school. There are even a handful of items—like oyster stew and crab meat au gratin—that have been on the menu since the establishment opened. This is traditional Jersey Shore–style seafood: oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, shrimp cocktail, and whole lobster, steamed or broiled with drawn butter. After all, why mess with success?
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Denver
There’s fresh catch to be enjoyed in the Rocky Mountains, thanks to this 16-year-old fish house that flies in more than a dozen types of bivalves and fresh seafood from both coasts. Jax has been an incubator for young chefs, including Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg, who makes a guest appearance from time to time. Go for $1.25 oysters and $2 beers during the daily happy hour, but be prepared for a crowd on game days (the Coors Field is three blocks away). And look for another Jax in Boulder.
Shaw's Fish and Lobster, New Harbor, ME
Part of the Kevin Costner movie Message in a Bottle was filmed here in the late 1990s, and little has changed. Shaw’s still serves up New England fare in a casual setting from mid-May to mid-October. Handwritten boards behind the counter display the menu, which features everything you’d expect (lobsters, chowders, fried clams), plus salads, steaks, burgers, sandwiches. Head out to the wharf or deck to watch the lobster boats come in and out of the harbor. Shaw’s also has an outdoor raw bar and a lower-level Lobster Room, where guests can watch the live lobsters swimming around the tanks.