Whether they are fried, steamed, boiled, battered, breaded, grilled, or rolled in a rice-and-seaweed wrapper, summertime seafood entrées have fish-lovers hooked. But with an eclectic array of appetizing dishes spread across the USA, it's hard to know which dives net the best tastes.
For this reason, U.S. News Travel set out to find the best institutions—from high-end restaurants to small-town joints—where you can have your choice of cracking hard-shelled crabs of devouring crunchy fish tacos. Taking popularity, inventiveness, expert opinion, online user reviews, and overall restaurant atmosphere into consideration, we've compiled a list of the best establishments for discerning seafood-seekers.
Best Catch: 1 lb. Alaskan Golden King Crab ($46.99)
The 1930's New Orleans-themed Shaw's Crab House draws discerning seafood fanatics with its top-grade fish and lively atmosphere. At the oyster bar, you'll find 12 sea critter varieties. At the adjacent (more upscale) crab house, you'll pick from a wide selection of specialties. Standouts include flavorful sushi and sashimi combinations, Georgia soft shell crab, and the red Alaskan king crab. Come on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday to listen to live music as you enjoy your meal. Shaw's Crab House is located on Hubbard Street in downtown Chicago.
Best Catch: Steamed Mussels, Shiner Bock and Toasted Ancho Dinner Entrée ($14.50)
For bold, globally-inspired Gulf Coast, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors, look no further than REEF, a Houston hotspot that specializes in oceanic cuisine. Chef Bryan Caswell takes pride in creating unconventional dishes that pair succulent seafood with zesty garnishes, like sweet and sour chard. Standouts include the crispy skin snapper and roasted grouper. For intense flavor, try the steamed mussels splashed with toasted ancho chile broth and Shiner Bock beer. You can get your seafood fix on Travis Street in Houston's Midtown district.
Best Catch: Seared Georges Bank Scallops ($33)
This tiny Boston oyster bar is making some big waves. Neptune Oyster's raw bar and dining room seats only 44 patrons, so landing a table in this small venue will take some effort. Here, juicy oysters, seared scallops, meaty blue crabs, and poached Maine lobster are paired perfectly with crisp New Zealand Rieslings and Oregon Pinot Noirs. Your taste buds will no doubt be tantalized by just about any of these masterful culinary creations, but for a real treat, indulge in the Seared Georges Bank Scallops. You'll find Neptune Oyster on Salem Street in Boston's North End.
Best Catch: Northwest Dungeness Crab ($19)
Originally a coffee roaster and cafeteria in the early 1900s, this Seattle institution has since transformed into a local seafood hotspot. The restaurant's myriad of oceanic offerings range from salmon potato croquettes to grilled fish tacos to hand-breaded Alaskan cod paired with fries and zesty tartar sauce. Patrons praise Lowell's brunch specialties. Early risers should try the restaurant's beloved northwest Dungeness crab cakes, topped with poached eggs and herb hollandaise. Diners can enjoy their succulent seafood while admiring stunning views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains. You'll find Lowell's at Seattle's buzzing Pike Place Market.
Best Catch: 9-course Chef's Tasting Menu ($295)
If you live in New York City, you've probably already caught onto this landmark French restaurant. Once you set foot in Per Se's plush dining room and sample one of Chef Thomas Keller's exquisite dishes—like oysters and pearls topped with caviar or poached lobster—you'll undoubtedly start singing its praises too. This first-rate establishment doesn't specialize in seafood, but we've added it to our list because the fishy dishes it does offer are too tasty to ignore. Prices are steep, but for a truly indulgent seafood dining experience, it's hard to match Per Se's impeccable plates.
Best Catch: Lobster Roll (Market Price)
This little seafood joint set on Maine's rocky shore has Bon Appetit, Gourmet Magazine, and The Boston Globe singing its praises. Food enthusiasts rave about the restaurant's flavorful lobster rolls and creamy chowder. And the Lobster Shack's scenic vantage point, overlooking Cape Elizabeth's craggy shoreline, is just as appealing. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights only opens its doors during the warmer months (April through October), so arrive in summer to get your fix of its signature lobster rolls.
Best Catch: Clam Chowder ($4/cup; $6/bowl)
Norma's award-winning rich, creamy clam chowder has won over patrons since the restaurant opened in 1976. But that's not all to savor at this small West Coast joint. Here, you'll enjoy high-quality seafood that isn't overpowered by additional ingredients. Owners Randy and Darleen Frank pride themselves on enhancing the natural flavor of the seafood. Locals rave about the fresh steamers, salmon, and albacore. You'll find Norma's on North Columbia Street in downtown Seaside, Ore.
Best Catch: Furikake Pan Seared Ahi ($12.95)
Hawaii's in-the-know fish lovers congregate at this festive Honolulu restaurant/market combo early in the morning to get the day's best catch. Nico's charm lies not only in its fresh Hawaiian fish, but also in its menu filled with inventive twists, including kamobokos (Japanese fish cakes) and blackened fish 'wiches (fish filets sprinkled with Cajun spices). For intense flavor, try the Furikaki Pan Seared Ahi, which is coated in homemade ginger garlic cilantro sauce. You'll find Nico's restaurant on Pier 38 along Nimitz Highway in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Best Catch: Fish & Chips ($8.95)
Crisp Alaskan cod and hand-cut fries steal the show at this traditional Irish chipper. Request a side of tangy curry sauce to layer on your fries and you're sure to tantalize your taste buds. It's not just the golden fish that draws seafood seekers to The Anchor Fish & Chips year after year. Visitors come for the refreshing brews on tap, the flavorful Shepherd's Pie, and the trendy interior space, decked with red walls and black tiles. You'll find The Anchor on 13th Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. Those who prefer their fish and chips on-the-go can catch The Anchor Food Truck, which serves the same delectable entrées and makes stops across Minneapolis. Check The Anchor Food Truck schedule for further details.
Best Catch: Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy ($12.99)
As its name suggests, Acme Oyster House pleases its patrons with a varied assortment of oysters. Raw, char-grilled, fried, and more, this French Quarter oyster bar likely has your preferred preparation style. But if shucked mollusks don't whet your appetite, try one of Acme's other Southern specialties, like seafood gumbo and seafood etouffee. Another crowd-pleaser is the Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy, a spicy sandwich with golden-fried oysters and shrimp layered with Tabasco-infused mayo. You can also enjoy Acme's tasty fare in Metairie, Convington, and Baton Rouge, La., as well as Sandestin, Fla.
Best Catch: Jimmy's Crab Feast ($25.99)
Cantler's Riverside Inn is best known for its juicy Maryland blue crabs. If you come hungry, you'll want to delight in Jimmy's Crab Feast, a tasty combination of steamed crabs, mussels, and shrimp. This assortment is accompanied by tangy coleslaw and sweet corn on the cob. As you crack open fresh crabs sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, don't forget to admire the restaurant's scenic vistas overlooking Annapolis' tranquil Mill Creek. Plus, Cantler's maritime-themed décor and jovial staff have made this laid-back institution a local fixture.
Best Catch: Lobster Roll ($16.25)
If you're craving a tasty lobster roll, it's hard to match The Clam Shack's praised delicacy. Already exulted by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, our list wouldn't be complete without highlighting this beloved Kennebunkport spot.The secret behind their salty-sweet lobster rolls is preparing the fish in fresh sea water from a local tidal river. Juicy lobster tail and claw hunks are garnished with mayo and wrapped in a fresh New England roll. You'll find The Clam Shack's humble hut off of Western Avenue.
Best Catch: Miyagi Oysters ($26/dozen half shell)
The landmark Swan Oyster Depot has kept customers smiling since 1912 and not just because it serves juicy crustaceans. This beloved seafood joint features a warm staff—comprised of owner Sal Sancimono and his six sons—and a rich assortment of delectable dishes, including creamy clam chowder and Dungeness crab cocktail. In fact, the depot has become so popular that it's hard to snag one of the 19 stools lining the bar's marble countertop, so arrive early to ensure a seat. You'll find the Swan Oyster Depot in the heart of San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, off Polk Street.
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