Kindra Clineff

At these 25 restaurants, great food matters but decor doesn't.

By Steve Millburg

NORTH ATLANTIC
The Captain's
207/967-2341

Comfort food, pure and simple. The Captain's has been dishingup quality seafood―fried, grilled, or baked―for 25years. Fried clams make a special trip worthwhile. So do TheCaptain's freshly baked pies and cakes. Operating hours areseasonal, so call first.
• 1 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise,Maine

Bayview Lobster
207/236-2005

The excellent clam chowder at this friendly place on CamdenHarbor's busy boardwalk makes a fine prelude to a deliciouslyunadorned lobster roll. The restaurant provides plenty ofcomfortable seating both inside and out.
• Camden Harbor, Camden, Maine;bayviewlobster.com

Clam Box of Ipswich
978/356-9707

Clam Box rejects two fixtures of modern life: credit cardsand frozen seafood. On the rare occasions when it can't find freshclams, it does without. Fortunately, the fish, scallops, andoysters taste as good as the fried clams and chowder. You can'tmiss this 68-year-old structure―look for the building shapedlike a clam box.
• 246 High Street, Ipswich,Massachusetts; ipswichma.com/clambox

MID-ATLANTIC
Ed's Chicken & Crabs
302/227-9484

"Chicken Ed's" enjoys a cult following for its fresh, steamedblue crabs dusted with Old Bay seasoning. Grab a friend and somecold beers (it's BYOB), and order at the takeout window. Also trythe renowned barbecued chicken and such tempting "fillers" asbuttery corn on the cob and hush puppies. Ed's operates from Apriluntil the end of crab season, around November.
• Highway 1 and Swedes Street,Dewey Beach, Delaware

Town Dock Restaurant
410/745-5577

You'll want to savor every spoonful of the rich crab bisquebefore your shellfish-laden eggs St. Michaels arrives, but refrainfrom licking the bowl. With white tablecloths covering the Sundaybrunch tables that overlook the harbor, Town Dock rates at theclassy end of the "dives" spectrum. We also love the chunky hashbrowns with red and green bell peppers.
• 125 Mulberry Street, St.Michaels, Maryland; town-dock.com

Crab Shack
757/245-2722

Sunset takes center stage at this hangout on the east end ofthe James River Bridge. Seafood fans show their enthusiasm by oftenfilling all 200 seats and by voting in WTKR-TV's annual poll, whichhas named the Crab Shack Newport News' "Best Seafood Restaurant,""Best Restaurant with a View," and purveyor of the "Best She-crabSoup." From May's first full moon until late summer, feast onsoft-shell crab. Any time, dig into the zesty coleslaw withshredded red and green cabbage and spicy mayo.
• 7601 River Road, Newport News,Virginia; crabshackonthejames.com

SOUTH ATLANTIC
Orobosa's LowCountry Café
843/235-3464

Don't let the bright-yellow exterior and red-and-whitechecked tablecloths fool you: While this dive's atmosphere iscasual, the crab cakes and other offerings will please the mostsophisticated palates. At lunch, enjoy gourmet food on a budget.Prices double when the sun goes down, and dinner crowds makereservations a must.
• 85 North Causeway Road, PawleysIsland, South Carolina

The Sea Shack
843/785-2464

Hilton Head residents pack this spot because of its wonderfulfried seafood cooked to order and served hot. The crab cake doesn'tthrill us, but we love everything else―especially a creamychowder called Seafood Stir-A-Bout.
• 6 Pope Avenue, Executive ParkRoad, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Driftaway Café
912/898-4161

Turquoise hues give this Savannah- area hideaway a tropicalfeel. The patio, with its trickling waterfall pond andlight-festooned trees, is heated to guarantee warm weatheryear-round. Try the tuna tartare―bits of tuna atop crispywontons and cucumbers, drizzled with a wasabi-and-miso sauce.Crispy scored flounder with sweet apricot sauce appeals tomore-traditional tastes. Driftaway Café's Sandfly location(912/303-0999 or driftawaycafe.com) offers virtually the same menu.
• 216 Johnny Mercer Boulevard,Wilmington Island, Georgia; wilmingtondriftawaycafe.com

Chowders Seafood Grill
321/757-7200

Some swear by the lobster-and-cream starter―shellfishand cream cheese served with tortilla chips―and a well-mixedmargarita. Others show up for specials, such as thecatch-of-the-day grouper with a light Parmesan-cheese crust. Forthe non-seafood crowd, ribs, chicken, and garlic steak highlightthe menu's "It Ain't Fish" section. But in the end, it's all aboutChowders' coconut cream pie.
• 6485 South U.S. 1, Rockledge,Florida; chowders.com

GULF OF MEXICO
Fish Tales Seafood House
727/821-3474

Boat parking? Sure. Bathing suits? Welcome. Outdoor seating?Plentiful. Service? Super friendly. Cold beer? You bet, includingimports and microbrews. House specialty? "Skillets"―seafoodand/or steak, broiled (and served) in cast-iron skillets. Funtimes? Guaranteed.
• Harborage Marina, 1500 SecondStreet South, St. Petersburg, Florida;fishtalesseafoodhouse.com

Louie's Pink Shell Restaurant
850/235-3660

The best fried grouper sandwich in the Florida Panhandleawaits in a flamingo-pink shack blocks from the bright blue andgreen Gulf waters. Calorie counters can have their fish blackenedor grilled. Those who enjoy a water view should visit owner LouieGigis' latest venture, Louie's Harborside Restaurant & Loungein nearby Panama City (850/763-2660 orlouiesseafoodrestaurant.com). It sits right on St. Andrews Bay andfeatures the same menu as the Pink Shell.
• 19605 Panama City Beach Parkway,Panama City Beach, Florida

Fly Creek Cafe
251/990-0902

Mobile Bay fishermen take their beer-and-po'boy breaks here.Fairhope matrons bring grandkids for Miss Vickie's BLTs. Crawfishseason (usually March till October) means live music and $2 BloodyMarys. Fly Creek makes everything to order, so locals call it their"slow-food hangout."
• 831 North Section Street,Fairhope, Alabama; flycreekcafe.com

Dolphin Cove Oyster Bar
956/761-2850

You know you've found a great dive when the decor consistslargely of auto license plates. Garage-door walls roll up,providing breezy views of boat traffic. Servers keep track oforders with chalk marks on the red-painted top of the concrete bar.The menu includes only three seafood items, but they'reoutstanding: oysters, shrimp, and seviche (fish and veggiesmarinated in spiced lime juice). Visitors must pay the Isla BlancaPark day-use fee ($4 per vehicle before 5 p.m., $2 after).
• Isla Blanca Park, South PadreIsland, Texas; spisland.com/dolphincove

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
South Beach Bar & Grill
619/226-4577

Everyone―from business types in suits to surfers dampfrom the waves―converges here for fabulous, messy fish tacos.The bar's peculiarities (you pay separately for drinks and food)reflect its almost-seaside location in free-spirited Ocean Beach.
• 5059 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach,California

Harbor Fish & Chips
760/722-4977

Harbor Fish & Chips keeps things simple. It servesconsistently good fish-and-chips and tasty if not overly clammyclam chowder. And it sits on Oceanside Harbor, between Los Angelesand San Diego. Just right.
• 276-A Harbor Drive South,Oceanside, California; nvo.com/oceanside/harborfishchips

Catalina Fish Kitchen and SeafoodDeli
949/645-8873

Surfer photos decorate the walls. Surfing videos play on TV.And a huge array of moderately priced seafood, prepared any way youcan imagine, packs the menu. The tacos, gumbos, and chowders alldraw rave reviews from loyal local customers. The mixed seafoodskewer deserves consideration, too.
• 670 West 17th Street, Costa Mesa,California

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA
Loulou's Griddle in the Middle
831/372-0568

This cozy yellow shack on a working pier advertises "GoodEats & Crazy Waitresses!" The squid (or crab cake) and eggsreels in fishermen as early as 7 a.m., but the griddle alsoproduces banana pancakes, bountiful omelets, and other all-Americanfavorites. Ultrarich clam chowder and flaky white sand dabs appearat lunch before the whole operation shuts down at 3 p.m. and thecrazy waitresses punch out.
• Municipal Wharf No. 2, Monterey,California

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
PPQ Dungeness Island
415/386-8266

This little Vietnamese establishment attractsfoodies-in-the-know with whole-roasted Dungeness crab in adelicious garlic broth. But the real deal is dinner for two($46.95), which includes the crab dish, equally tantalizing garlicnoodles, fresh cabbage and chicken salad, and deep-fried bananadessert.
• 2332 Clement Street, SanFrancisco, California; ppqdungeness.com

Coast Cafe
415/868-2298

Only in West Marin County would a surfer's hangout serveorganic beer with fish-and-chips (made from the catch of the day).On weekends, the café serves all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab ormesquite-barbecued oysters, depending on the season. Chill out at asurfboard table on the patio, or sit inside under wooden longboardsand year-round Christmas lights―that is, if you can findBolinas. Congestion-fearing residents have become infamous forripping down the directional sign on Highway 1.
• 46 Wharf Road, Bolinas,California; bolinascafe.com

Chart Room
707/464-5993

This rugged part of the far Northern California coastbelieves in big breakfasts. The Chart Room's four-eggDungeness-crab-and-shrimp omelets will satisfy the hungriesttravelers. Windows overlook the harbor and its resident populationof sea lions.
• 130 Anchor Way, Crescent City,California

PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Tidal Raves Seafood Grill
541/765-2995

Tidal Raves understands that when your restaurant perchesatop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean shoreline, the bestdecor is windows. The kitchen does a superb job with such WestCoast stalwarts as cioppino and pan-fried oysters. "Superb" doesn'tdo justice to the oyster spinach bisque.
• 279 Northwest Highway 101, DepoeBay, Oregon

Chinook's at Salmon Bay
206/283-4665

The interior design is Warehouse Revival and the atmosphereEarly Pandemonium, but this is the place Seattleites take visitorsfor authentic seafood. The vast menu features simple, unpretentiousfare, such as fishermen's cioppino, rockfish slathered with salsafresca, and alder-planked salmon. Hint: Avoid peak lunch and dinnerhours and score a window table to watch the commercial fishingboats rumble into home port right outside.
• 1900 West Nickerson Street,Seattle, Washington; anthonys.com/restaurants/info/chinooks.html

PACIFIC CANADA
Flying Beaver Bar & Grill
604/273-0278

This popular pub and floatplane terminal on the Fraser Rivermakes layovers fun. The restaurant sits a short taxi or shuttleride from Vancouver International Airport and only a five-minutewalk from the small South Terminal. Even meat-and-potatoes fanslove the salmon burgers, and the microbrews slake a lot of thirsts.Beyond the deck, floatplanes scoot on and off the Fraser likeoversize waterfowl.
• 4760 Inglis Drive, Richmond,British Columbia; markjamesgroup.com/ flyingbeaver.html

ALASKA
Hot Bite
907/790-2483

Since 1983, Southeast Alaskans have headed here forspecialties such as juicy buffalo burgers and halibut cheeksandwiches with cusabi (cucumber-and-wasabi dressing). In summer,the fresh blueberry milk shakes go quickly. Some dine at the fewinside tables, but most sit outside or grab a to-go Hot Bite fix. Afew miles north of downtown Juneau, the café's small pinkbuilding lies beyond the cruise-ship crowds.
• Auke Bay Harbor, Auke Bay,Alaska

Reviews by Lawrence W. Cheek, Susan Haynes, Susan C. Kim, SteveMillburg, Ramsey Bacon Prather, Ashley Strickland, and Vicki J.Weathers

What's your favorite dive? WriteLarry Bleiberg, Coastal Living, 2100 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham,AL 35209. Or e-mail larry_bleiberg@timeinc.com.

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