Try our 25 finds for great casual dining. Come as you are-but bring an appetite.

By Steve Millburg
April 03, 2007
The Lobster Pot
Kindra Clineff

The Lobster Pot
Provincetown, Massachusetts

A neon lobster lights the way to this local institution at the tip of Cape Cod. Waiting for a table, common during the summer season, allows you to study the immense menu, which encompasses just about every kind of seafood and preparation. Here's a hint: The clam chowder always makes a good start. 321 Commercial Street; 508/487-0842 or

Thurston's Lobster Pound
Bernard, Maine

Freshness is never a question at this hard-to-find shack on working Bass Harbor pier (near Acadia National Park). The live lobsters come straight off the boats into a tank, from which you pick a winner. It's weighed, then thrown into a boiler with corn on the cob. Halfway through your pint of locally brewed Blueberry Ale, your succulent meal arrives at the table. Thurston's opens for the season Memorial Day weekend. Steamboat Wharf Road; 207/244-7600 or

Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale
Madison, Connecticut

Of the two locations (Madison and nearby Westbrook), we prefer the more casual one in Madison. Lenny & Joe's delivers on its deceptively simple promise of "generous portions of the freshest seafood at very reasonable prices." We especially like the fried shrimp and the lobster roll. The clear-broth clam chowder, a regional specialty often found in Connecticut and Rhode Island, is also worth sampling. 1301 Boston Post Road; 203/245-7289 or

The Fenwick Crab House Restaurant
Fenwick Island, Delaware

Nautical bric-a-brac, stained glass, and random antiques decorate three big rooms in a strip mall just across the state line from Ocean City, Maryland. The meaty backfin crab cakes get extra points for savory seasoning. Other interesting options include vegetable crab soup (a tomato-based crab-veggie chowder) and crunchy homemade potato chips. 100 Coastal Highway; 302/539-2500 or

The Wharf Rat
Baltimore, Maryland

With great fish-and-chips, excellent craft beers, nautical decor, and an air of elegance gone to seed, this cozy place in Baltimore's funky Fells Point neighborhood has it all. House specialty Oliver Ales come from the microbrewery at its slightly fancier sister location downtown, near the baseball stadium. 801 South Ann Street; 410/276-9034 or

Whaley's at Edisto Beach
Edisto Beach, South Carolina

This old filling station, complete with vintage gas pumps, serves to-die-for fresh local shrimp on cheesy grits. Other divine offerings include crab cakes, pan-seared mahi mahi, and linguine with clam sauce, all just three blocks from the beach. 2801 Myrtle Street; 843/869-2161

Love's Seafood & Steaks
Savannah, Georgia

More rustic family restaurant than true dive, Love's has served customers along the languid Ogeechee River southwest of Savannah since 1949. Waits for tables can be long, with waterfront spots not surprisingly the most popular. We especially like the fried shrimp and the creamy crab stew―and the unusual rough-sawn wood paneling. 6817 Basin Road; 912/925-3616 or

Sunset Waterfront Grill and Bar
Cocoa Beach, Florida

From toddlers to octogenarians, tattoos to Tommy Bahama shirts―they're all here. People mingle in the tiled bar and its open-air dining room overlooking the river. Or they gather on the dockside deck. Most come for the namesake setting and conviviality rather than the food. But no one leaves hungry (try the Sunset Seafood Platter) or thirsty (dare to finish the triple-rum Sunset Grabber). 500 West Cocoa Beach Causeway; 321/783-8485

Harry O's
Harbour Island

Many Harbour Island restaurants compete for five-star status, but locals go to Harry O's for sustenance. It's just a walk-up shack with a handwritten cardboard menu, an extended deck for seating, and glorious water views. The bill of fare is small but tasty: lobster snack, snapper fingers, fried grouper, crab and rice, and conch salad, plus a few side orders. Pick up sodas or alcoholic beverages across the street at Burns House Beverage Depot. Bay Street, between Jacqueline's Straw Works and Queen Conch

Cahills Beachside Bar & Grill
Gulfport, Florida

Nothing fancy here, just a casual joint with good fried shrimp and an open-wall deck across the street from the beach. Sweet. 5519 Shore Boulevard South; 727/343-5774

Boon Docks Restaurant
Panama City Beach, Florida

Hidden on the back side of town at West Bay, under moss-draped live oaks, Boon Docks serves wonderfully fresh fried seafood, lightly breaded and seasoned. Even the fries get a touch of seasoning. Other specialties include po'boys, burgers, and―yes―fried pickles. Thoughtful, efficient, and family-friendly, the restaurant even provides live entertainment to help pass the nearly inevitable wait for a seat. 14854 Bay View Circle; 850/230-0005

King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant
Gulf Shores, Alabama

The building doesn't look like much. And service, though friendly, can be a little scattered. But the many loyal regulars care only that the kitchen buys good, fresh seafood and knows how to cook it. 1137 Gulf Shores Parkway; 251/968-5464 or

Lil' Ray's
Gulfport, Mississippi

No need to stray from the house specialty: the po'boy. This Gulf Coast standby is a French bread sandwich filled with fried oysters, fried shrimp, or something equally delicious. It comes undressed (plain) or dressed (lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise). At Lil' Ray's, the bread―crusty on the outside, soft on the inside―arrives daily from New Orleans. The seafood comes straight from the nearby Gulf. Perfect. 500 A Courthouse Road; 228/896-9601

Casamento's Restaurant
New Orleans, Louisiana

The good news: This 1919-vintage favorite still serves wonderful oysters and other great seafood from its original, tiled-inside-and-out Uptown storefront. The bad news: Casamento's follows the old oyster-house practice of closing during the warmest months (June through August). Cash only. 4330 Magazine Street; 504/895-9761 or

Topwater Grill
San Leon, Texas

You may work up an appetite just finding this two-level, rambling, indoor-outdoor restaurant/bar, which overlooks an obscure patch of Galveston Bay southeast of Houston. The seafood―and the cheerful service―make the search worthwhile. Go for the locally harvested items, such as shrimp, oysters, crab, and black drum. And don't overlook the thick, spicy crab-and-corn chowder. 815 Avenue O; 281/339-1232

The Green Flash
San Diego, California

The Pacific Beach community northwest of downtown San Diego specializes in spectacular sunsets. For scrumptious food and drink while you gaze westward, you won't beat The Green Flash. And you just might glimpse that elusive moment for which the Armando Gemora family named their restaurant―when the setting sun appears green for an instant. Delivering your heaping seafood platter, bowlful of steamed clams, or fat burger, your server will tell you to "look quick, it's awesome." Says manager Minot Ferson, "It's sporadic, but almost guaranteed in late September." 701 Thomas Avenue; 858/270-7715 or

Wahoo's Fish Taco
California and Hawaii

Three brothers of Asian descent who grew up in Brazil and loved surfing in Mexico created this 19-year-old chain with a surprisingly healthy Mexican-Brazilian-Asian-Californian menu. The casual surfer vibe adapts to each location, giving stores a neighborhood feel. Various coastal locations in Southern California and Honolulu, Hawaii;

Pier Beach Grill
Ventura, California

Pick up some chowder or fish-and-chips from this no-frills snack bar at the foot of the 1,958-foot Ventura Pier. Then amble out over the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy the sea breeze, the cries of the gulls, and the soothing, rhythmic rush of the waves. Take a little break. You deserve it. 668 Harbor Boulevard; 805/648-3177

Li'l Hut
Morro Bay, California

At this oddball stand in the parking lot of the Harbor Hut restaurant, the thick and tasty clam chowder shines. Full of moist, chunky potatoes, this homemade creation finds delicious synergy with the sweet pineapple coleslaw―together less than $6. 1205 Embarcadero; 805/772-3488

Fisherman's Wharf crab stands
San Francisco, California

Amid the schlocky T-shirt and souvenir shops, the sidewalk grottos on Taylor Street peddle a smorgasbord of seafood gold: crab cakes, fried shrimp, and overstuffed crab sandwiches. We suggest fresh-caught Dungeness crabs, cracked to order and costing half what you'd pay in the nearby sit-down restaurants. Feeling clammy? Boudin's clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and Pompei's hearty cioppino are San Francisco classics. Taylor Street at Jefferson Street

Gualala, California

On California's Pacific Coast Highway between Jenner and Point Arena, Oceansong is one of the few restaurants that offers ocean vistas. The patio seating overlooking the Gualala River and Pacific Ocean as well as a diverse menu make this the place to stop. Start with a cold brew and clam chowder, then round out the meal with hot fish-and-chips. 39350 South Highway 1; 707/884-1041

The Riverhouse Restaurant
Pacific City, Oregon

The Riverhouse serves soups, sandwiches, and shellfish that will leave you―and your cardiologist―swooning. A bucket of steamer clams, simmered in garlic butter, parsley, and vermouth, lends new meaning to the term "rich." The deliciously fragrant clam chowder comes spiked with paprika and laced with cream. If you still have room, try the Dungeness crab or Pacific shrimp sandwiches, broiled open-face on a French roll and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. 34450 Brooten Road; 503/965-6722 or

The Tides Tavern
Gig Harbor, Washington

Noisy, friendly, and right on the water, The Tides serves terrific Alaskan halibut fish-and-chips, a fine clam chowder, and a variety of craft beers. The outdoor deck overlooks the harbor. Boaters can tie up at The Tides dock, even overnight―a boon for those who might lose count of their beer intake. 2929 Harborview Drive; 253/858-3982 or

The Shrimp Shack
Punaluu, Oahu, Hawaii

Technically, this is not a shack; it's a shrimp machine on wheels. The bright-yellow lunch truck parked at Naturally Hawaiian Gallery in Punaluu draws hungry motorists to Oahu's north shore for Irene "The Shrimp Lady" Theofanis' pan-fried garlic shrimp. Served with two scoops of rice, locally grown corn on the cob, and an ocean view, it's well worth the drive from Honolulu. 53-352 Kamehameha Highway; 808/256-5589 or

New Sandusky Fish Company
Sandusky, Ohio

Check your diet at the door, friends. The New Sandusky Fish Company serves huge fried-fish sandwiches smothered with tartar sauce. Choose walleye, bass, perch, or catfish. A frog leg dinner with a side order of clam strips makes a tasty alternative. No seating is available inside, but nearby benches and gazebos overlook Sandusky Bay and the Cedar Point amusement park. 235 East Shoreline Drive; 419/621-8263

Reviews by Jacquelyne Froeber, Susan Haynes, Susan C. Kim, Steve Millburg, James H. Schwartz, and Vicki J. Weathers

What's your favorite dive? Discuss its virtues on our message boards. Write Seafood Dives, Coastal Living, 2100 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35209. Or e-mail