Decor? Doesn't matter. Ambience? Forget it. Great food? Ah, now you're talking. For an authentic coastal experience and great food, here are our favorite dives for 2013.
Several locations, New York
The lobster dinner, served on a tin tray, features a steamed 1 ½-pound crustacean with excellent red potatoes, corn on the cob that (surprise!) is not overcooked, and coleslaw that's crunchy and tangy and not sloppy with mayo. The lemonade is homemade, and the burgers are delicious and juicy; 646/896-1110 or lobsterjoint.com.
Perched on the edge of Plymouth Harbor at the Town Pier, Wood's has been a seafood staple for more than 50 years. Locals know it as the go-to spot to buy just-caught delicacies such as live lobster and rock crabs, and also as the best place around to let the talented restaurant staff do the cooking: sweet lobster rolls (with little mayo), baked haddock, fried whole-belly clams, and creamy fish chowder are a few scrumptious options; 800/626-1011 or woodsseafoods.com.
First, you have to find the place. There's no sign; look for the house festooned with fish netting and surrounded by nautical bric-a-brac. Before you sit, you order from the chalkboard in the hall. Whatever you choose, it likely will come with lots of garlic and certainly will be served over pasta. You will think you cannot possibly eat that much food, but it will taste so wonderful that you will finish every morsel. Conte's serves dinner only (from about 5 p.m.—hours are at the owner's discretion) daily, and accepts cash only; 207/691-1550.