Our Favorite Seafood Dives
We take our annual plunge into the world of casual coastal joints, and find some keepers.
The Clam Shack
2 Western Avenue
High-toned Kennebunkport dearly loves this dowdy little hut at the bridge in the center of town. Try the fried clams or the lobster roll and you'll see why. The closest thing you'll find to a table is the nearby railing along the Kennebunk River-which makes a nice place to enjoy your lunch while watching the boat traffic.
210 Route 6A
Capt'n Frosty's, grafted onto the back of a 1950s-era Cape Cod dairy bar, serves wonderful fried clams-juicy but not greasy. Locals also rave about the fish sandwiches and pretty much all the fried seafood. You can sit inside or on the patio out back, shaded by a blue-and-white awning or a sturdy oak. For dessert, walk around to the front and order some soft-serve from the ice cream stand.
2335 Main Road
Tiverton, Rhode Island
When you enter the little red building on Nanaquaket Pond, you travel back several decades to an era when this kind of lunch counter thrived in every small town. Time seems to relax. Veteran waitresses will get to you when they get to you. You don't mind the wait; you're too busy soaking up the atmosphere. When the lobster roll does arrive … ah, bliss! For an even more transcendentally coastal experience, eat at one of the shaded picnic tables along the water.
91 Beach Drive
North Cape May, New Jersey
When the frozen-drink menu dwarfs the food menu, you get a pretty good idea that people have fun here. The list of slushy cocktails at this rambling, open-air beach party spot includes the Caribbean Kangaroo, Cowhead Cocktail, Pablo's Picasso, Evil Emil, and Delightful Danielle-plus 245 more. Otherwise, we can recommend the clam chowder and the glorious sunsets over Delaware Bay.
654 Water Street
Havre de Grace, Maryland
Do what the locals have done here since 1944: Dig into a pile of steamed crabs dumped onto your butcher paper-covered table. But don't neglect the steamed shrimp, the lump crab cake, or Dad's Crab Chowder-a milky, buttery variation of oyster stew that features lumps of crabmeat and bits of veggies. This comfy old tavern is set in its ways, so bring cash (not checks or credit cards).
12913 Ocean Gateway
Ocean City, Maryland
Sitting in an open-wall bar, perched on pilings above Assawoman Bay, you're tearing into an all-you-can-eat serving of boiled blue crabs. Recorded reggae music floats lazily on the breeze. You're thinking summer on Maryland's Eastern Shore couldn't get more perfect. You're right. Well, unless you're feeling too lazy to wrestle crabmeat from the shell. In that case, order the crab cake.
Jordan's House of Seafood and Oyster Bar
8106 Emerald Drive
Emerald Isle, North Carolina
This plain concrete-block building turns out wonderful broiled items, especially shrimp and scallops. Don't miss the skinny, delicious hush puppies hidden among the mounds of seafood.
1255 May River Road
Bluffton, South Carolina
A barn built of old timbers and tin provides the setting for wonderful Lowcountry meals. The smell of oysters frying and cornbread baking makes you feel as though you're sitting at a warm kitchen table with family. Start with the "can't choose platter" of bacon-wrapped scallops, deviled eggs, fried pickles, and fried green tomatoes. Then sample the shrimp and grits cooked in brown bacon gravy. If you still have room, indulge in made-from-scratch desserts. The only way to work off this down-home feast: Step outside for a little summertime shag dancing. - Sarah Brueggemann
Rustic Inn Crabhouse
4331 Ravenswood Road
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Follow the "clunk-clunk" of wooden mallets to the Rustic Inn Crabhouse. You can sit inside, on a screened porch, or on the glassed-in patio overlooking the Dania Cutoff Canal. Whichever you choose, pull up to a newspaper-covered table, grab your claw-cracking tools, and dig in. The menu features the signature garlic crabs and (our choice) the crab sampler. Patrons routinely respond to loudspeaker announcements of birthdays and anniversaries by banging their mallets on the tables. - Lacey Howard
Marina Oyster Barn
505 Bayou Boulevard
Barn? It's more like a box on stilts with lots of windows overlooking placid Bayou Tejar, just off Pensacola Bay. "Best steamed oysters anywhere, bar none," e-mails Texas reader Thom Driver. Pretty good shrimp and crab claws, too, and the gumbo features lots of shrimp in a spicy, savory roux. Linger over the view with a slice of smooth, tart Key lime pie.
Nan Seas Restaurant
4170 Bay Front Road
Like many waterfront restaurants, Nan Seas does a fine job with fried seafood, notably shrimp and oysters. Soothing vistas of Mobile Bay, particularly at dusk, and solicitous service elevate it to the status of locals' favorite.
Harbor View Café
105 West Highway 90
Pass Christian, Mississippi
"Great food, friendly service," the sign promises. This tiny place-with only 11 tables inside and a couple more out front-delivers on both counts. The seafood combination platter balances a huge mound of fried shrimp, oysters, and catfish, all excellent. The young servers bring filled plates and remove empties with cheerful efficiency. Asked about credit cards, one responds, "We don't take any plastic. We accept personal checks, traveler's checks, cash, and"-he adds with a grin-"manual labor."
Sid-Mar's of Bucktown
1824 Orpheum Avenue
Contentedly rustic, Sid-Mar's sits right across the street from part of Lake Pontchartrain's fishing fleet. Two screened porches let you enjoy the lake breezes-though, to be honest, this isn't the most scenic part of the New Orleans area. Never mind; the seafood makes up for it. Try the fried oysters, shrimp, or catfish, the po'boys, or the not-too-spicy but seafood-packed gumbo. Savor the boiled crawfish while you can; their season ends as summer heats up.
14th and Jefferson streets
Port O'Connor, Texas
Can't find it? Look for the corrugated metal building off the alley behind the Shamrock station. Enjoy the grilled flounder, or bring your own catch. The Spot will fry it, grill it, or blacken it for you.