1. Pike Place Fish Market, Seattle, Washington
Now that New York's Fulton Fish Market has moved from its longtime Manhattan home to a warehouselike building in the Bronx, Pike Place can claim undisputed status as the nation's most colorful seafood market. It's also the most fun. The fish fly here, hurled through the air by employees. So do the jokes, though the shop is serious about its seafood and will ship almost everything it sells for next-day delivery. Other attractions at the 9-acre Pike Place Market include Washington wines and the original Starbucks; 800/542-7732 or pikeplacefish.com.
2. Browne Trading Company, Portland, Maine
This old, family-run business has acquired some recent dazzle through its association with such celebrity chefs as Daniel Boulud of New York City's Daniel restaurant. The market offers a wide range of caviars, plus smoked seafood, fish from around the world, and the usual favorites―lobster, cod, clams, and the like. Patrons can shop via phone or online. Or they can do what many chefs prefer: Head to Merrill's Wharf in the Old Port area of Portland and pick out what looks most appealing; 800/944-7848 or browne-trading.com.
3. Joe Patti's Seafood Co., Pensacola, Florida
Since its 1931 beginnings on Joe and Anna Patti's back porch, this seafood shop has grown into a sprawling waterfront institution. Joe Patti's has changed with the times, adding delectable extras such as a sushi bar and Anna Patti's Amangiari Gourmet Shop, plus online ordering and overnight shipping. Still, the huge selection of terrific seafood remains its primary appeal. The extended Patti family runs the place with an emphasis on neighborly service; 800/500-9929 or joepattis.com.
4. Lexington Market, Baltimore, Maryland
Some call it the home of the world's best crab cakes. At the risk of starting an argument, we're inclined to agree. Lexington Market, like the rest of downtown Baltimore, has seen palmier days since its founding in 1782. But it retains an undeniable energy as diverse cuisines jostle for attention; 410/685-6169 or lexingtonmarket.com.
Among the market's six seafood purveyors, Faidley Seafood stands out for its legendary lump crab cakes, best enjoyed immediately, while standing at the worn counters. For those forced by geography into delayed gratification, Faidley's ships; 410/727-4898 or faidleyscrabcakes.com.
5. Sun Fat Seafood Co., San Francisco, California
Sun Fat, in the Mission District, draws raves for its helpful employees. They patiently explain not only what's what, but also how to cook it. They'll even cut up your choices for you; 415/282-9339.
Honorable mention goes to Ferry Plaza Seafood, in the Ferry Building Marketplace. Though the seafood selection is limited, the views of San Francisco Bay are expansive; 415/274-2561 or ferryplazaseafood.com.6. Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, Marathon, Florida
7. Fisherman's Express, Anchorage, Alaska
This market, founded and operated by a former commercial crab fisherman, specializes in Alaskan king crab. It also sells such other Alaskan specialties as halibut cheeks―all wild, not farm-raised. Browsers can visit the shop in downtown Anchorage or on the Web site, which includes photo galleries depicting fearsome-looking crabs and the unbelievably harsh conditions that crabbers endure to harvest them; 888/926-3474 or fishermansexpress.com.
8. B & A Seafood, Port Isabel, Texas
B & A specializes in fish and shellfish straight from the Gulf of Mexico―again, wild rather than farm-raised. The name of the Web site, freshtexasshrimp.com, hints at the biggest seller, especially to vacationers enjoying South Padre Island and other nearby resort areas. For those who are too hungry to wait, or who prefer to let someone else do the cooking, B & A recently opened the Harbor View Restaurant. The company also ships; call 956/943-2461 or visit freshtexasshrimp.com.
9. Lighthouse Deli & Fish Company, South Beach, Oregon
Lighthouse Deli sits just south of the elegant arches of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, which connects to Newport. The deli rose to prominence in 1994, when Portland's Oregonian newspaper declared it the purveyor of the best fish-and-chips on the Oregon coast. In 2001, Coastal Living included it in our annual roundup of great seafood dives. In addition to being a great casual restaurant, this slightly ramshackle place also sells a great selection of locally caught seafood, both on premises and through the Web site. The name comes from the Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head lighthouses, each practically within swimming distance; 866/816-7716 or lighthousedeli.com.
10. Empire Fish, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin restaurants have long depended on Empire Fish, which has been selling seafood since 1913. The retail store lets consumers choose from the same fish, shellfish, and other goodies that are available to chefs. The selection spans both Great Lakes waters and distant seas. Unfortunately for those who don't live in Milwaukee, you have to visit the store. Empire Fish does not ship; 414/259-1330 or empirefish.com.
(published April 2006)