2016 Best Seafood Dives
Charleston, South Carolina
This urban-chic raw bar and small menu seafood hot spot has brought Nantucket's cold-water catch mentality to the edge of culinary capital Charleston, and it's a perfect match. Go oysters or go with the house lobster roll, which is just elevated enough and counter-smackingly delicious. Which means it tastes like New England summer all year round here. 289 E. Bay St., Charleston; 843-579-4997 or 167raw.com/charleston.
Charlie's Chowder House
It's worth a trip to Charlie's Chowder House just to take in its famous window diorama (let's just say it involves a Barbie doll, mermaids, and sharks), but don't stop at the threshold. The peppery house chowder is fragrant and delicious, with ribbons of pork, plus sweet and tender chopped clams. This is old-school waterfront dining at its finest; 1335 Marine Drive, 503-741-3055.
Ernie's Bar-B-Q and Lounge
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
From US 1, it’s hard to miss the vibrant orange-and-yellow, palm tree–studded sunset mural that decorates Ernie’s BBQ Lounge—and you wouldn’t want to. The Fort Lauderdale institution has been serving its “famous” conch chowder recipe for more than 50 years—a meal-worthy bowl of thick, spicy red broth, chock-full of tender bits of conch and chopped veggies and accompanied by a side of slightly sweet Bimini bread. While conch is the kitchen’s forte (the fritters and salad are equally delicious), don’t overlook the smoked fish dip, made fresh with mahi mahi and yellowfin tuna; 1843 South Federal Highway, 954-523-8636.
Fisher's at Orange Beach Marina
Orange Beach, Alabama
The beauty of Fisher's, a two-story seafood palace on a sunny marina on the bay side of Alabama's coast, is that you can arrive right off the boat in the day's beachwear, or freshly scrubbed and clad for a bit of Southern elegance and craft cocktails. It's the downstairs (called Dockside) that we're honoring with this mention, as the open-air ambience speaks to the dive lover, with ample bars, low tables, and lots of places for kids to run around. The menu has all the classics you want in this part of the world: shrimp and grits, hushpuppies, po'boys and fried green tomatoes, plus local mussels and oysters. Fisher's is also the home to Southern Grace All-Star Chef Dinners, which run all summer long, featuring high-profile southern chefs and local seafood (read more, here); 27075 Marina Road, 251-981-7305 or fishersobm.com.
Fred and Fuzzy's Waterfront Bar and Grill
Sister Bay, Wisconsin
Three words: Cherry juice margarita. That super-local flavor of the Great Lakes region (and this part of Lake Michigan in particular) is the perfect complement to a menu filled with fresh-water catch at this lakefront classic in Wisconsin's splendid Door County. Pair the house drink with fried perch. Fantastic sunsets complete the magic; 10620 Little Sister Road, 920-854-6699 or fredandfuzzys.com.
Hog Island Oyster Farm
Oysters are inherently wonderful, but there is something truly 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; 20215 Shoreline Highway, 415-663-9218 or hogislandoysters.com.
Jon's Fish Market
Dana Point, California
While wandering the crowded, boutique-lined docks at Dana Point Harbor, folks often find themselves gravitating toward the scent of batter-fried cod wafting from Jon’s Fish Market. A tiny, order-at-the-counter joint with umbrella-topped outdoor picnic tables, the fish market’s small but mighty menu—with stuffed-to-the-gills slaw-topped fish tacos and half-pound servings of moist, flaky cod pieces wrapped in fried, crunchy crust—has been attracting locals for nearly 50 years. If cod doesn’t strike your fancy, have your pick from the ever-changing display of fresh, seasonal catch, from sea bass to lobster (grilled to order and, in true pub fashion, served with a generous helping of chips and malt vinegar); 34665 Golden Lantern, 949-496-2807 or jonsfishmarket.com.
While the sign offers oysters, and they're good (although not from Maine), the best bet at J's Oyster are the Maine clams (and the lobster rolls). Ask for a bucket (but call them "steamers"), and soak up the old-school waterfront vibe at this dive right at the base of Portland's cobblestone-street historic district. It's been a magnet for seafood seekers since before the Portland dining renaissance, and it survives (thrives) as part of the original style of harbor life on the Maine coast; 5 Portland Pier, 207-772-4828 or here on Facebook.
Start with some of the best oysters anywhere--Wellfleets harvested from local waters here on Cape Cod's outer reaches--and add to that delicious base a menu that features local-caught bluefish (another Cape specialty) and great cocktails, wines, and beer, and you've got the makings of a dreamy summer meal. The full-sized lobsterman perched on the roof of Mac's Shack hauling a ginormous lobster to his boat just adds to the overall sense of history (and kitsch); 91 Commerical Street, 508-349-6333 or macsseafood.com.
Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp
A cluster of shrimp farms along the road to Oahu's North Shore have made for a mini village of irresistible shrimp shacks, and Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp is one of the jewels. The line is long for good reason here; the shrimp, cooked live, taste as fresh as it gets. Just get into the rhythm of island time and await your steaming mound of shrimp or prawns, piled high with white rice. Take your seat at the picnic tables, drink something very cold, and dig into one of Oahu's purest tastes. 56-781 Kamehameha Highway, 808-232-2202 or romyskahukuprawns.org.