2011 America's Best Seafood Dives
It’s our annual guide to the top eateries where food is fried, broiled, grilled, or otherwise slapped on butcher paper for your finger-licking, crab-cracking, French fry–munching pleasure. This year, our winners (and finalists) were chosen by our readers!
You’ll love the all-ages appeal of this sandy, tropical paradise operated by Lucy Buffett, singer Jimmy’s sister. The Southern-style menu includes fried green tomatoes and a variety of seafood dishes, and musicians entertain every day; 251/967- 5858 or lulusathomeport.com.
Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, Orange Beach
This is where the locals go. Readers adore the fresh oysters and make-your-own cocktail sauce; 251/981-6999.
Bayley’s Seafood Restaurant, Theodore
In this metal-roofed brick building, they’re turning out great fried seafood and their signature West Indies salad (crabmeat with oil, vinegar, and chopped onion) invented here in 1947; 251/973-1572.
It’s all about the local fish in this no-frills, authentic dive atmosphere. Readers say the halibut burger is mouthwatering, and the fresh halibut fish-and-chips is tops. (Hungry? Go for the eight-piece “Big Boy” size); 907/789-8400.
The Hangar on the Wharf Pub & Grill, Juneau
Overlooking the seaplane harbor, The Hangar has an extensive menu, from king crab hand rolls to halibut tacos.
Bonus: the 100 available beers—20 on tap; 907/586-5018 or hangaronthewharf.com.
Citing “consistently great food,” readers back up the menu’s promise of the world’s best clam chowder. Scallop-and-bacon skewers and hot king crab claws are full of flavor, too; 949/673-0100 or thecrabcooker.com.
Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco
This tiny place with a long marble counter—grab a seat to watch the oyster-shucking action!—serves a variety of fresh seafood. The energetic staff liven up the scene with witty banter; 415/673-1101.
This classic summer-only shack dishes out lobster rolls hot (on a burger bun) or cold (on a long bun). Picnic tables along the rocky waterfront offer views of Long Island Sound and the Mystic River; 860/536-7719 or abbotts-lobster.com.
Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale, Westbrook
Fried seafood and clear-broth clam chowder are favorites, plus readers rave that it serves “the best lobster rolls in the whole wide world;” 860/669-0767 or ljfishtale.com.
The Place Restaurant, Guilford
Take a seat outdoors on a stump while shellfish, shrimp, bluefish, lobster, and corn (dunked in butter before being served) cook on an immense grill. BYO side dishes and alcohol; 203/453-9276 or theplaceguilford.com.
This family-owned restaurant maintains a relaxed, rustic spirit and serves huge portions of seafood, such as Alaskan snow crab legs, in metal buckets. The meaty backfin crab cakes are famous; 302/539-2500 or fenwickcrabhouse.com.
Ed’s Chicken & Crabs, Dewey Beach
“Chicken Ed’s” enjoys a cult following for its fresh steamed blue crabs dusted with Old Bay seasoning; 302/227-9484.
Proprietor Dewey Destin’s great-great-grandfather founded the town, but what readers can’t stop talking about is the fresh seafood. Try the catch of the day fried, grilled, or blackened, and watch a sunset over the water; 850/ 837-7575 or destinseafood.com.
High Tides at Snack Jack, Flagler Beach
This casual surfer hangout has roots in the 1950s, but some very 21st-century menu items (a fish Reuben and a Bloody Mary made with sake); 386/ 439-3344 or snackjacks.com.
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, Clearwater Beach
Frenchy’s is a mini empire of four restaurants situated near each other. The Rockaway Grill (your pick) is known for fish tacos, she-crab soup, and what one reader claims is the best grouper sandwich on the west coast of Florida; 727/446- 4844 or frenchysonline.com.
Readers get positively giddy about this place, with its screened-in dining room and deck overlooking the water. Steamed seafood draws the most applause, but the seafood platter is a close second, and large enough to share with the whole table; 912/786-9857 or thecrabshack.com.
The Oyster Shak, Brunswick
Fresh oysters anchor the extensive, made-from-scratch seafood menu. Readers also recommend grabbing a table outside for the “awesome” steamed shrimp and po’boys; 912/265-2850 or oystershak.com.
Barbara Jean’s, St. Simons Island
What’s now a small, family-run chain began here. The crab cakes get star billing, along with the bread, but save room for the Chocolate Stuff dessert, topped with homemade whipped cream; 912/634-6500 or barbarajeans.com.
Since 1977, this spot has been known for its killer views of the sunset over the water and its laid-back atmosphere. The grilled fish tacos topped with a tropical salsa and the hula pie made with macadamia nut ice cream are reader favorites; 808/661-4811 or kimosmaui.com.
Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp, Kahuku, Oahu
One of several shrimp shacks along Oahu’s North Shore, Romy’s gets its prawns and shrimp—served fried in won ton wrappers, sauteed in garlic, or sweet and spicy—from its own aquaculture farm; 808/232-2202 or romyskahukuprawns.org.
This roomy establishment in the Chicago suburbs offers “jet fresh” seafood from around the world, including Australian lobster tail and large portions of crab. Plus, it’s known for having the best service in town; 847/520-3633 or bobchinns.com.
Citing very good gumbos and alternative seafood selections, readers admit it’s tough not to fill up on oysters when dining at the acme. This suburban location of the legendary New Orleans oyster house attracted more votes than the original French Quarter spot; 504/309- 4056 or acmeoyster.com.
Tracey’s, New Orleans
The former staff and menu of famed sandwich spot Parasol’s have moved around the corner and now purvey the same great fried shrimp, oyster, catfish, and soft-shell crab po’boys here; 504/897-5413 or traceysnola.com.
Since 1969, The Lobster Shack has served creamy chowder and lobster rolls in a scenic ocean-side setting. The outdoor picnic tables sit in the shadow of a lighthouse, and readers like the location as much as the food; 207/799-1677 or lobster shacktwolights.com.
Red’s Eats, Wiscasset
One reader calls Red’s the “holy grail” of lobster rolls. That enormous classic is served up bursting with fresh lobster at this little red-and-white stand; 207/882-6128.
Bet’s Famous Fish Fry, Boothbay Harbor
“Life’s a fish and then you fry,” reads a sign on the side of this small fish-and-chips truck, which also dishes up ridiculously stacked-high fish sandwiches; hollyeats.com/BetsFishFry.htm.
Boats unload fresh crabs right at the Cantler’s waterfront restaurant and crab house. The atmosphere is totally casual, but the menu is more refined, with stuffed rockfish, grilled lobster, and “drunk’n” mussels simmered in white wine; 410/757-1311 or cantlers.com.
Captain Billy’s Crabhouse, Newburg
Readers come here for great crabs, which they tell us they love eating right off the rolled-out butcher paper on the table; 301/932-4323 or captbillys.com.
Courtney’s Restaurant & Seafood, Ridge
In this off-the-radar spot for fresh crab cakes at the mouth of the Potomac River, you can’t go wrong with the grilled or fried catch of the day; 301/872-4403.
This self-proclaimed “Yankee tradition” since 1914 claims to have invented the fried clam and still offers “Chubby’s Original” fried clams, which, according to at least one reader, are “the bomb.” The clam cakes and clam chowder have lots of admirers, too. Readers love the view from the rooftop deck; 800/649-1773 or woodmans.com.
Clam Box of Ipswich, Ipswich
The fish, scallops, and oysters taste as good as the fried clams and chowder. Look for a building shaped like a clam box (the traditional to-go container for fried clams); 978/356-9707 or ipswichma.com/clambox.
Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar, Eastham
The long lines move quickly, and the fried seafood (especially the clams) and onion rings (2,000 pounds sold every week!) are worth the wait; 508/255- 2575 or arnoldsrestaurant.com.
Readers love the fried whitefish and appreciate the beer-or whiskey attitude (no fancy cocktails here); 231/436-7911.
Dockers Fish House & Lounge, Muskegon
It’s slightly more upscale than our typical pick, but Dockers serves a Famous Margarita at the Tiki Bar that’s true dive spirit in a glass; 231/755-0400 or dockersfishhouse.com.
Bortell’s Landing, Ludington
Order the delicious smoked fish, find a seat at Summit Park across the street, and watch the waves roll in on Lake Michigan’s shore; 231/843-3337.
This 1956 fish-stand-turned-cafe is known for its fun, diner-style atmosphere and its fantastic pies. Locally caught trout and walleye constitute worthy preludes to dessert; 218/834-3367 or bettyspies.com.
Crabby Bill’s in Canal Park, Duluth
an old boat is now a takeout spot with fresh fish and addictive mini doughnuts; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dockside Fish Market, Grand Marais
Dockside specializes in fresh and smoked local fish. The vibe is kicked-back and casual, but menu items such as the Lake Superior gold caviar and gourmet desserts can make it feel almost like fine dining; 218/387- 2906 or docksidefishmarket.com.
Lil’ Ray’s, Long Beach
Readers tell us it’s impossible to pick a favorite treat, but Lil’ Ray’s serves boiled crawfish cooked to perfection, plus homemade bread pudding and New Orleans–style po’boys. Part of a local family chain, the restaurant has wooden indoor picnic benches laminated with Mississippi maps—perfect for planning your visit to other dives; 228/822-2400.
Rickey’s Bar & Grill, Bay St. Louis
The colorfully decorated Rickey’s reopened in the Zuppardo’s Bay Plaza shopping center six months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the original building. Luckily, beloved menu items such as the seafood muffaletta also reappeared; 228/463-0540 or rickeysbarandgrill.net.
This enormous waterfront establishment serves your choice of seafood—baked, broiled, steamed, stuffed, boiled, or fried—plus excellent lobster stew. On the side: lovely views of Great Bay; 800/533-9027 or newicks.com.
Markey’s Lobster Pool, Seabrook
Start with the buttery, milky chowder, and then proceed to the fresh steamed mussels or the overstuffed lobster roll. Readers recommend dining outdoors by the creek; 603/474- 2851 or markeyslobsterpool.com.
No frills, no alcohol (though you can bring your own)— just inexpensive, delicious, high-quality seafood served here; 609/296-4106.
Moby’s Lobster Deck, Highlands
Enjoy your steamed clams, lobsters, and soft-shell crabs under the shade of an umbrella on the waterfront outdoor deck; 732/872-1245 or store.bahrslanding.com/ molode.html.
Keyport Fishery, Keyport
For almost 75 years, Keyport has maintained a market and restaurant on Keyport Harbor. Everything from haddock sandwiches to the calamari platter is super fresh; 732/264- 9723 or keyportfishery.net.
You may mingle with Hamptons celebrities, but everyone is here for the same reason: amazing clams. Readers say the daily specials, such as local tomatoes stuffed with lobster salad, are the real stars; 631/267-6348 or clambaronline.com.
Luke’s Lobster, Manhattan
Former lobsterman Luke Holden gets lobster from his dad’s sustainable-seafood company in Maine, and serves it up deliciously at four New York City locations; 212/387- 8487 or lukeslobster.com.
Johnny’s Reef Restaurant, Bronx
At this water-view treasure on City Island, individual cooking stations offer “anything your seafood-loving heart desires,” one reader says. Try the fried lobster tails; 718/885-2086 or johnnysreefrestaurant.com.
With its island atmosphere, large libations, and epicurean options (grilled yellowfin tuna with garlic pesto) along with the standard fried favorites, this aqua-hued restaurant is more than one reader’s “favorite place in the world;” 252/441- 7299 or tortugaslie.com.
Calabash Seafood Hut, Calabash
It’s all about the oysters, oyster stew, and fresh-caught Gulf Stream fish; 910/579-6723.
A mix of fresh salads, grilled seafood skewers, and veggie burgers balances out the crispy walleye and battered perch on the exhaustive menu. A rollicking singles scene buzzes around the bar on the large waterfront outdoor deck, where you can also watch diners arrive by boat; 216/861- 6900 or shootersflats.com.
Jolly Roger Seafood Restaurant, Port Clinton
Locals line up for perfectly fried perch and walleye at this modest place. Bonus: If you’ve caught any walleye that day, the kitchen will fry it up for you; 419/732-3382.
New Sandusky Fish Company, Sandusky
Go for the huge fried-fish sandwiches (walleye, perch, or catfish) smothered in tartar sauce; 419/621-8263.
This is the original dive in an Oregon chain built on fresh, creamy, New England–style chowder topped with bacon. The peanut butter cream pie is also a signature recipe and readers’ favorite; 541/265-7512 or moschowder.com.
The Hungry Clam, Brookings Harbor
Outdoor seating allows you to watch the boats at the Port of Brookings Harbor. The chowder (served in a bread bowl) and fish-and-chips are among the favorites; 541/469-2526.
At this “super shacky” Portsmouth original, readers recommend taking your order across the street to picnic on the seawall or the beach. The whole-belly clams are lightly battered and “fried to perfection;” flosclamshack.net.
Aunt Carrie’s, Narragansett
At this 1920-vintage institution, The Rhode Island Shore Dinner—clam chowder, clam cakes, steamed clams, fish-and chips, a whole lobster, and homemade dessert—is about as authentic as it gets; 401/783-7930 or auntcarriesri.com.
Readers love the fried seafood, delicious Southern sides, and inexpensive prices. Don’t leave without tasting the excellent, creamy chowder; 843/785-2464 or seashackhhi.com.
Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, Hilton Head Island
The restaurant’s fishing fleet brings in oysters and crabs for outdoor waterside dining. Readers love the hushpuppies and she-crab soup; 843/681-2772 or hudsonsonthedocks.com.
Snoopy’s Pier, Corpus Christi
Readers crow about this family-friendly restaurant’s fried seafood. Look for a bright blue building under the bridge to Padre Island; 361/949-8815 or snoopyspier.com.
Topwater Grill, San Leon
Topwater has been described by one reader as “mystical,” and another says she wants to live here. The atmosphere is friendly, and the menu includes fish taco platters, an oyster bar, and broiled or fried seafoåod; 281/339-1232 or topwatergrill.com.
This small spot on Rudee Inlet is known for meaty crab cakes. Readers tout the “fresh, fresh seafood” and friendly staff; 757/ 428-4858 or bigsamsrawbar.com.
KC’s Crabs & Cues, Kilmarnock
Steamed crabs, great prices, and lots of pool tables fuel friendly competition in this antiques-store- turned-dive; 804/435-7665.
Baja Cantina, Virginia Beach
Readers dig Baja’s moderate prices for tacos overstuffed with fish, scallops, lobster, or shrimp served with house-made hot sauce; 757/437-2920.
The clam chowder and extensive list of craft beers have lots of fans, and an outdoor deck showcases the harbor and the surrounding mountains. But readers insist: You must try the Alaskan halibut fish-and-chips; 253/858-3982 or tidestavern.com.
The One Eyed Crab, Westport
Eat at the marina overlooking the very same fishing boats that brought the Dungeness crab, salmon, halibut, and tuna to your plate; 360/268-0891.
Known for large, made-from-scratch pizzas, Port Sandy Bay also impresses readers with fish battered in Honey Weiss beer and evening seafood specials on Wednesdays and Fridays; 920/793-2345.
Newport Shores, Port Washington
A daily fish fry (readers love the beer batter), soup, and homemade desserts are featured here, with views of the marina and Lake Michigan; 262/284-6838.
St. Paul Fish Company, Milwaukee
This fish market has gradually become a bustling restaurant, with an inexpensive fresh seafood menu including two for-one oyster specials on Thursday evenings; 414/220-8383 or stpaulfish.com.