Comfort food, pure and simple. The Captain's has been dishing up quality seafood―fried, grilled, or baked―for 25 years. Fried clams make a special trip worthwhile. So do The Captain's freshly baked pies and cakes. Operating hours are seasonal, so call first.
• 1 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise, Maine
The excellent clam chowder at this friendly place on Camden Harbor's busy boardwalk makes a fine prelude to a deliciously unadorned lobster roll. The restaurant provides plenty of comfortable seating both inside and out.
• Camden Harbor, Camden, Maine; bayviewlobster.com
Clam Box of Ipswich
Clam Box rejects two fixtures of modern life: credit cards and frozen seafood. On the rare occasions when it can't find fresh clams, it does without. Fortunately, the fish, scallops, and oysters taste as good as the fried clams and chowder. You can't miss this 68-year-old structure―look for the building shaped like a clam box.
• 246 High Street, Ipswich, Massachusetts; ipswichma.com/clambox
Ed's Chicken & Crabs
"Chicken Ed's" enjoys a cult following for its fresh, steamed blue crabs dusted with Old Bay seasoning. Grab a friend and some cold beers (it's BYOB), and order at the takeout window. Also try the renowned barbecued chicken and such tempting "fillers" as buttery corn on the cob and hush puppies. Ed's operates from April until the end of crab season, around November.
• Highway 1 and Swedes Street, Dewey Beach, Delaware
Town Dock Restaurant
You'll want to savor every spoonful of the rich crab bisque before your shellfish-laden eggs St. Michaels arrives, but refrain from licking the bowl. With white tablecloths covering the Sunday brunch tables that overlook the harbor, Town Dock rates at the classy end of the "dives" spectrum. We also love the chunky hash browns with red and green bell peppers.
• 125 Mulberry Street, St. Michaels, Maryland; town-dock.com
Sunset takes center stage at this hangout on the east end of the James River Bridge. Seafood fans show their enthusiasm by often filling all 200 seats and by voting in WTKR-TV's annual poll, which has named the Crab Shack Newport News' "Best Seafood Restaurant," "Best Restaurant with a View," and purveyor of the "Best She-crab Soup." From May's first full moon until late summer, feast on soft-shell crab. Any time, dig into the zesty coleslaw with shredded red and green cabbage and spicy mayo.
• 7601 River Road, Newport News, Virginia; crabshackonthejames.com
Orobosa's LowCountry Café
Don't let the bright-yellow exterior and red-and-white checked tablecloths fool you: While this dive's atmosphere is casual, the crab cakes and other offerings will please the most sophisticated palates. At lunch, enjoy gourmet food on a budget. Prices double when the sun goes down, and dinner crowds make reservations a must.
• 85 North Causeway Road, Pawleys Island, South Carolina
The Sea Shack
Hilton Head residents pack this spot because of its wonderful fried seafood cooked to order and served hot. The crab cake doesn't thrill us, but we love everything else―especially a creamy chowder called Seafood Stir-A-Bout.
• 6 Pope Avenue, Executive Park Road, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Turquoise hues give this Savannah- area hideaway a tropical feel. The patio, with its trickling waterfall pond and light-festooned trees, is heated to guarantee warm weather year-round. Try the tuna tartare―bits of tuna atop crispy wontons and cucumbers, drizzled with a wasabi-and-miso sauce. Crispy scored flounder with sweet apricot sauce appeals to more-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
Some swear by the lobster-and-cream starter―shellfish and cream cheese served with tortilla chips―and a well-mixed margarita. Others show up for specials, such as the catch-of-the-day grouper with a light Parmesan-cheese crust. For the non-seafood crowd, ribs, chicken, and garlic steak highlight the menu's "It Ain't Fish" section. But in the end, it's all about Chowders' coconut cream pie.
• 6485 South U.S. 1, Rockledge, Florida; chowders.com
GULF OF MEXICO
Fish Tales Seafood House
Boat parking? Sure. Bathing suits? Welcome. Outdoor seating? Plentiful. Service? Super friendly. Cold beer? You bet, including imports and microbrews. House specialty? "Skillets"―seafood and/or steak, broiled (and served) in cast-iron skillets. Fun times? Guaranteed.
• Harborage Marina, 1500 Second Street South, St. Petersburg, Florida; fishtalesseafoodhouse.com
Louie's Pink Shell Restaurant
The best fried grouper sandwich in the Florida Panhandle awaits in a flamingo-pink shack blocks from the bright blue and green Gulf waters. Calorie counters can have their fish blackened or grilled. Those who enjoy a water view should visit owner Louie Gigis' latest venture, Louie's Harborside Restaurant & Lounge in nearby Panama City (850/763-2660 or louiesseafoodrestaurant.com). It sits right on St. Andrews Bay and features the same menu as the Pink Shell.
• 19605 Panama City Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach, Florida
Fly Creek Cafe
Mobile Bay fishermen take their beer-and-po'boy breaks here. Fairhope matrons bring grandkids for Miss Vickie's BLTs. Crawfish season (usually March till October) means live music and $2 Bloody Marys. 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
You know you've found a great dive when the decor consists largely of auto license plates. Garage-door walls roll up, providing breezy views of boat traffic. Servers keep track of orders with chalk marks on the red-painted top of the concrete bar. The menu includes only three seafood items, but they're outstanding: oysters, shrimp, and seviche (fish and veggies marinated in spiced lime juice). Visitors must pay the Isla Blanca Park day-use fee ($4 per vehicle before 5 p.m., $2 after).
• Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island, Texas; spisland.com/dolphincove
South Beach Bar & Grill
Everyone―from business types in suits to surfers damp from 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
Harbor Fish & Chips keeps things simple. It serves consistently good fish-and-chips and tasty if not overly clammy clam chowder. And it sits on Oceanside Harbor, between Los Angeles and San Diego. Just right.
• 276-A Harbor Drive South, Oceanside, California; nvo.com/oceanside/ harborfishchips
Catalina Fish Kitchen and Seafood Deli
Surfer photos decorate the walls. Surfing videos play on TV. And a huge array of moderately priced seafood, prepared any way you can imagine, packs the menu. The tacos, gumbos, and chowders all draw rave reviews from loyal local customers. The mixed seafood skewer deserves consideration, too.
• 670 West 17th Street, Costa Mesa, California
Loulou's Griddle in the Middle
This cozy yellow shack on a working pier advertises "Good Eats & Crazy Waitresses!" The squid (or crab cake) and eggs reels in fishermen as early as 7 a.m., but the griddle also produces banana pancakes, bountiful omelets, and other all-American favorites. Ultrarich clam chowder and flaky white sand dabs appear at lunch before the whole operation shuts down at 3 p.m. and the crazy waitresses punch out.
• Municipal Wharf No. 2, Monterey, California
PPQ Dungeness Island
This little Vietnamese establishment attracts foodies-in-the-know with whole-roasted Dungeness crab in a delicious garlic broth. But the real deal is dinner for two ($46.95), which includes the crab dish, equally tantalizing garlic noodles, fresh cabbage and chicken salad, and deep-fried banana dessert.
• 2332 Clement Street, San Francisco, California; ppqdungeness.com
Only in West Marin County would a surfer's hangout serve organic beer with fish-and-chips (made from the catch of the day). On weekends, the café serves all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab or mesquite-barbecued oysters, depending on the season. Chill out at a surfboard table on the patio, or sit inside under wooden longboards and year-round Christmas lights―that is, if you can find Bolinas. Congestion-fearing residents have become infamous for ripping down the directional sign on Highway 1.
• 46 Wharf Road, Bolinas, California; bolinascafe.com
This rugged part of the far Northern California coast believes in big breakfasts. The Chart Room's four-egg Dungeness-crab-and-shrimp omelets will satisfy the hungriest travelers. Windows overlook the harbor and its resident population of sea lions.
• 130 Anchor Way, Crescent City, California
Tidal Raves Seafood Grill
Tidal Raves understands that when your restaurant perches atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean shoreline, the best decor is windows. The kitchen does a superb job with such West Coast stalwarts as cioppino and pan-fried oysters. "Superb" doesn't do justice to the oyster spinach bisque.
• 279 Northwest Highway 101, Depoe Bay, Oregon
Chinook's at Salmon Bay
The interior design is Warehouse Revival and the atmosphere Early Pandemonium, but this is the place Seattleites take visitors for authentic seafood. The vast menu features simple, unpretentious fare, such as fishermen's cioppino, rockfish slathered with salsa fresca, and alder-planked salmon. Hint: Avoid peak lunch and dinner hours and score a window table to watch the commercial fishing boats rumble into home port right outside.
• 1900 West Nickerson Street, Seattle, Washington; anthonys.com/restaurants/ info/chinooks.html
Flying Beaver Bar & Grill
This popular pub and floatplane terminal on the Fraser River makes layovers fun. The restaurant sits a short taxi or shuttle ride from Vancouver International Airport and only a five-minute walk from the small South Terminal. Even meat-and-potatoes fans love the salmon burgers, and the microbrews slake a lot of thirsts. Beyond the deck, floatplanes scoot on and off the Fraser like oversize waterfowl.
• 4760 Inglis Drive, Richmond, British Columbia; markjamesgroup.com/ flyingbeaver.html
Since 1983, Southeast Alaskans have headed here for specialties such as juicy buffalo burgers and halibut cheek sandwiches with cusabi (cucumber-and-wasabi dressing). In summer, the fresh blueberry milk shakes go quickly. Some dine at the few inside tables, but most sit outside or grab a to-go Hot Bite fix. A few miles north of downtown Juneau, the café's small pink building lies beyond the cruise-ship crowds.
• Auke Bay Harbor, Auke Bay, Alaska
Reviews by Lawrence W. Cheek, Susan Haynes, Susan C. Kim, Steve Millburg, Ramsey Bacon Prather, Ashley Strickland, and Vicki J. Weathers
What's your favorite dive? Write Larry Bleiberg, Coastal Living, 2100 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209. Or e-mail email@example.com.