Orange Beach, Alabama
Sun-drenched and set marina-side, this offering from James Beard–nominated chef Bill Briand and restaurateur Johnny Fisher brings beach food to a fresh, new level: from raw bar oysters and tuna poke to fried mahi and Cuban sandwiches. The DIY table guac is on point, and the house bushwackers are new Gulf classics; playaoba.com. —T.M.
Oysters are inherently wonderful, but there is something over-the-top wonderful about sitting down at a weathered picnic table just a shell’s throw from the very place those oysters grew up. This is why, although Hog Island Oyster Co. has several excellent restaurant facilities in Northern California (including on the San Francisco waterfront), it is absolutely worth the drive north to the shores of Tomales Bay to experience these beautiful specimens in their homeland, as it were. Watch the Hog Island team sort the latest catch, shuck your own (and grill them, should you choose, on rustic grills on-site), buy some local wine and cheese from the farm’s open-air bar, and make a long and delicious day of it; hogislandoysters.com. —T.M.
Manhattan Beach, California
Perched on a hill overlooking Manhattan Beach, chef David LeFevre’s bright eatery is a revelation in pairings and execution of fresh catch. Case in point: grilled yellowtail paired with red cabbage, spicy crema, and guacamole prepared with local avocados. The corn tortillas are made in-house, but it’s the crunchy furl of chicharrón balanced on top that really gets your attention; eatfwd.com. —G.S.
Panama City Beach, Florida
You might not imagine high-end, super fresh ahi tuna and mahi mahi tacos and burritos would be handed to you from the window of a trailer parked next to a surf shop on a main drag in Panama City Beach, but that is the magic here. With its surf-shack vibe and its canopy-shaded picnic tables, this place inspires hanging out. (You may not even notice that you’re not on the beach, it’s so chill.) Don’t miss the FINNS coffee and kombucha counter inside the surf shop building to make your summer beach meal complete; finnsislandstylegrub.com. —T.M.
What started as a simple lunch counter in 1913 is now a Miami institution where the namesake claws—a seasonal delight prized by Floridians—are served chilled and cracked with creamy mustard sauce on the side. If the main dining room is full, try Joe’s Take Away. The plastic-silverware-equivalent features an ample menu (including those irresistible claws) and seating for up to 80 crab fiends; joesstonecrab.com. —L.M.
Hanalei, Kaua‘I, Hawai’i
Lovers of the 2011 film The Descendants know the atmospheric magic of this circa-1963 hangout on Kaua‘i’s north shore, where fresh catch and beloved pizzas rule the menu, and nightly live music completes the vibe. Poke bowls and salads remind you that times, somehow, have changed, but it’s a gentle nudge amid the nostalgia (including Tahiti Nui’s revived family lū‘au night on Wednesdays); thenui.com. —T.M.
Resist the lure of nearby Freeport’s outlet stores and head straight to Harpswell for a decadent Crabster roll (25 percent crab, 75 percent lobster) and a great view of the working wharf on Casco Bay. Andrea Hunter and Tom Butler own and operate the cash-only, BYOB stand and adjacent lobster shop alongside their daughter Erica. Be a hero and bring a cooler for Tom’s freshly packed live lobsters before you head home; ericasseafood.com. —C.H.
Biddeford Pool, Maine
Inside this gray-shingled, old-fashioned general store, Pool Lobster rules as a fresh-from-icy-Maine-waters epicenter of lobster deliciousness. Try the lightly dressed lobster roll, which features a mound of fresh-picked meat on a buttered, toasted, split-top hot dog bun. There’s indoor seating, but the best seats in the house are at a smattering of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs overlooking Saco Bay; facebook.com/poollobster. —C.H.
Fishing Creek/Hoopers Island, Maryland
This sprawling, big-hearted place down the Eastern Shore shows off the spoils of its watermen community, complete with salty, loving counsel from your waitress. The enormous broiled crab cakes are made entirely of pure lump or backfin meat—no fillers. It’s magic how they hold together. And the rich, flavorful Crab Imperial, a classic dish that has largely disappeared from menus today, is a piping-hot combination of crab, homemade Imperial sauce, Old Bay, and cheese. In other words, divine. The fresh-from-the-oven dinner rolls are splendid, the baked pineapple is the side of choice, and house-made meringue pies complete the Chesapeake dream; oldsaltys.com. —T.M.
At The Cove, right on the water in Leland’s historic Fishtown village, the feel is pure Great Lakes fishing cabin. Vintage boat decor lines the pine-paneled walls, while a broad deck grabs the summer sun and overlooks the busy marina. A plate of fried fresh perch, a bowl of seafood chowder, and a signature Chubby Mary cocktail (served with a whole smoked chub poking out of the glass) are classics; thecoveleland.com. —T.M.
Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Chef/owner Craig Love is the real deal: meaning he surfs and loves to cook for family and friends on the wide beaches of North Carolina’s southern coast. So it’s an easy transition in vibe to his bright, welcoming, and just-upscale-enough restaurant a half mile from the beach. The house always has a terrific variety of fresh oysters, so don’t miss those, and then enjoy Love’s creative takes on local catch (including a very fine shrimp-and-grits with a bourbon-coconut sauce); surfhousenc.com. —T.M.
Edisto Island, South Carolina
In the South Carolina Lowcountry, it’s all about the shrimp. And among a kingdom of shacks, this 45-foot trailer converted to a kitchen and a to-go counter stands out for its simplicity and super fresh fare. Owner Vincent Flowers is a shrimper himself, so it doesn’t get better than that, and if you’re lucky, his granddaughter will be around to take your order. Ask her for a po’ boy loaded with the freshest big fried shrimp, and set up for a spell at the picnic tables out back; flowersseafood.com. —S.H.
Little more than a block from the tawny beach that lines this barrier island, executive chef/owner Daya Myers-Hurt creates the best fish tacos in the Great State of Texas through two complementary approaches. One, Myers-Hurt breaks down Gulf-caught big fish herself and uses far more than just the fillets—in other words, prepare to be wowed by collars and cheeks in her house-made tortilla–cradled tacos. Two, she leverages a deep experience with Asian preparations, meaning that elements like kimchi and lemon grass play supporting roles and create flavors you never dreamed possible, and subsequently will refuse to live without; 409/220-3245. —T.M.
Chef Renee Erickson is the Midas of the Pacific Northwest seafood scene, and her boîte near the waterfront displays that golden touch once again. Look for petite plates featuring anchovies, Spanish and Italian sardines, and octopus terrine—although the menu changes seasonally. Inspired by aperitivo bars that Erickson has visited throughout Italy, Barnacle Bar specializes in Amari. Two lion-headed mer-creatures preside over the splendor; thebarnaclebar.com. —L.M.
Part of the fun of Barnacle Bud’s is getting there—the ramshackle watering hole is hidden behind a marina on the Kinnickinnic River. Locals drive their boats up to the dock and stay for oysters and signature boozy punches on the patio. The breezy waterfront vibe offers a far-flung taste of Key West on the Great Lakes; barnaclebuds.com. —S.M.