We take our annual plunge into the world of casual coastal joints, and find some keepers.
The Clam Shack
2 Western Avenue
High-toned Kennebunkport dearly loves this dowdy little hutat the bridge in the center of town. Try the fried clams or thelobster roll and you'll see why. The closest thing you'll find to atable is the nearby railing along the Kennebunk River-which makes anice place to enjoy your lunch while watching the boat traffic.
210 Route 6A
Capt'n Frosty's, grafted onto the back of a 1950s-era CapeCod dairy bar, serves wonderful fried clams-juicy but not greasy.Locals also rave about the fish sandwiches and pretty much all thefried seafood. You can sit inside or on the patio out back, shadedby a blue-and-white awning or a sturdy oak. For dessert, walkaround to the front and order some soft-serve from the ice creamstand.
2335 Main Road
Tiverton, Rhode Island
When you enter the little red building on Nanaquaket Pond,you travel back several decades to an era when this kind of lunchcounter thrived in every small town. Time seems to relax. Veteranwaitresses will get to you when they get to you. You don't mind thewait; you're too busy soaking up the atmosphere. When the lobsterroll does arrive … ah, bliss! For an even moretranscendentally coastal experience, eat at one of the shadedpicnic tables along the water.
91 Beach Drive
North Cape May, New Jersey
When the frozen-drink menu dwarfs the food menu, you get apretty good idea that people have fun here. The list of slushycocktails at this rambling, open-air beach party spot includes theCaribbean Kangaroo, Cowhead Cocktail, Pablo's Picasso, Evil Emil,and Delightful Danielle-plus 245 more. Otherwise, we can recommendthe clam chowder and the glorious sunsets over Delaware Bay.
654 Water Street
Havre de Grace, Maryland
Do what the locals have done here since 1944: Dig into a pileof steamed crabs dumped onto your butcher paper-covered table. Butdon't neglect the steamed shrimp, the lump crab cake, or Dad's CrabChowder-a milky, buttery variation of oyster stew that featureslumps of crabmeat and bits of veggies. This comfy old tavern is setin its ways, so bring cash (not checks or credit cards).
12913 Ocean Gateway
Ocean City, Maryland
Sitting in an open-wall bar, perched on pilings aboveAssawoman Bay, you're tearing into an all-you-can-eat serving ofboiled blue crabs. Recorded reggae music floats lazily on thebreeze. You're thinking summer on Maryland's Eastern Shore couldn'tget more perfect. You're right. Well, unless you're feeling toolazy to wrestle crabmeat from the shell. In that case, order thecrab cake.
Jordan's House of Seafood and Oyster Bar
8106 Emerald Drive
Emerald Isle, North Carolina
This plain concrete-block building turns out wonderfulbroiled items, especially shrimp and scallops. Don't miss theskinny, delicious hush puppies hidden among the mounds ofseafood.
1255 May River Road
Bluffton, South Carolina
A barn built of old timbers and tin provides the setting forwonderful Lowcountry meals. The smell of oysters frying andcornbread baking makes you feel as though you're sitting at a warmkitchen table with family. Start with the "can't choose platter" ofbacon-wrapped scallops, deviled eggs, fried pickles, and friedgreen tomatoes. Then sample the shrimp and grits cooked in brownbacon gravy. If you still have room, indulge in made-from-scratchdesserts. The only way to work off this down-home feast: Stepoutside for a little summertime shag dancing. - Sarah Brueggemann
Rustic Inn Crabhouse
4331 Ravenswood Road
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Follow the "clunk-clunk" of wooden mallets to the Rustic InnCrabhouse. You can sit inside, on a screened porch, or on theglassed-in patio overlooking the Dania Cutoff Canal. Whichever youchoose, pull up to a newspaper-covered table, grab yourclaw-cracking tools, and dig in. The menu features the signaturegarlic crabs and (our choice) the crab sampler. Patrons routinelyrespond to loudspeaker announcements of birthdays and anniversariesby banging their mallets on the tables. - Lacey Howard
Marina Oyster Barn
505 Bayou Boulevard
Barn? It's more like a box on stilts with lots of windowsoverlooking placid Bayou Tejar, just off Pensacola Bay. "Beststeamed oysters anywhere, bar none," e-mails Texas reader ThomDriver. Pretty good shrimp and crab claws, too, and the gumbofeatures lots of shrimp in a spicy, savory roux. Linger over theview with a slice of smooth, tart Key lime pie.
Nan Seas Restaurant
4170 Bay Front Road
Like many waterfront restaurants, Nan Seas does a fine jobwith fried seafood, notably shrimp and oysters. Soothing vistas ofMobile Bay, particularly at dusk, and solicitous service elevate itto the status of locals' favorite.
Harbor View Café
105 West Highway 90
Pass Christian, Mississippi
"Great food, friendly service," the sign promises. This tinyplace-with only 11 tables inside and a couple more outfront-delivers on both counts. The seafood combination platterbalances a huge mound of fried shrimp, oysters, and catfish, allexcellent. The young servers bring filled plates and remove emptieswith cheerful efficiency. Asked about credit cards, one responds,"We don't take any plastic. We accept personal checks, traveler'schecks, cash, and"-he adds with a grin-"manual labor."
Sid-Mar's of Bucktown
1824 Orpheum Avenue
Contentedly rustic, Sid-Mar's sits right across the streetfrom part of Lake Pontchartrain's fishing fleet. Two screenedporches let you enjoy the lake breezes-though, to be honest, thisisn't the most scenic part of the New Orleans area. Never mind; theseafood makes up for it. Try the fried oysters, shrimp, or catfish,the po'boys, or the not-too-spicy but seafood-packed gumbo. Savorthe boiled crawfish while you can; their season ends as summerheats up.
14th and Jefferson streets
Port O'Connor, Texas
Can't find it? Look for the corrugated metal building off thealley behind the Shamrock station. Enjoy the grilled flounder, orbring your own catch. The Spot will fry it, grill it, or blacken itfor you.
El Indio Mexican Restaurant
3695 India Street
San Diego, California
Messy, heavenly fish tacos come wrapped in two just-made corntortillas. The combination plate (two tacos, beans, and rice) plusa soft drink adds up to a wonderful, plentiful meal for less than$10. In nice weather (which in San Diego means nearly all thetime), some diners prefer the outdoor patio, where the whoosh ofI-5 traffic provides background music.
Andria's Seafood Restaurant and Market
1449 Spinnaker Drive
A big variety of seafood-almost all of it fresh from themarket half of the business-comes fried, charbroiled, orstir-fried. We love the fish-and-chips, especially the halibut,which arrives as five big, moist pieces. (Andria's prides itself ongenerous portions.) The views show off the harbor andmountains.
OK, the service is slow. Amiable, but slow. Still, you'resitting outdoors, right on the beach, in a historic and charmingresort town. You can people-watch, gaze at the pier and the PacificOcean, and admire the quaint, pastel-painted architecture of theVenetian Court apartments just across Soquel Creek. Fortunately,the clam chowder and fried calamari reveal a kitchen that lavishessome care on what could otherwise have been standard bar food.
Sushi Sam's Edomata
218 East Third Avenue
San Mateo, California
Surprisingly innovative nigiri (raw fish pressed onto a padof rice) lies just a half-hour south of San Francisco. Grab a seatat the sushi bar, request the chef's choice, and watch Sam createhis daily specials: an assortment of sublimely fresh fishhighlighted with eye-opening sauces and topped with crunchy bits ofalmonds or garlic. Take this adventurous, yet pricier, route(approximately $50 for a 10-piece dinner, including tea anddessert); or simply order a couple of pieces from the specialsboard to supplement regular menu items. - Susan C. Kim
Pier 23 Café
On the Embarcadero
San Francisco, California
The food holds its own here. That's saying a lot-it competeswith water views, live music, and party-hearty atmosphere. The crabcocktail gets down to basics: crabmeat accompanied only by hotsauce. Steamed mussels pair well with Anchor Steam beer.
Sharon's by the Sea
32096 North Harbor Drive
Fort Bragg, California
You'd expect a great dive in gritty Fort Bragg. You wouldn'texpect a restaurant with produce so fresh you'd bet there was afarm next door. Sharon's surprises with its large wine list andfilling seafood salads. Try the crab Louie, a seemingly bottomlessbowl of asparagus spears, tomatoes, and cucumbers topped withmounds of sweet crab. Ask for a seat by the bay window or on thepatio for a view of Noyo Harbor. - Sarah Brueggemann
Scampi's Fish Wagon
16333 Lower Harbor Road
The sign says, "No shirt, no shoes, no problem." It alsocould have noted, "No restaurant." A trailer-turned-kitchen huddlesin a corner of an insurance agency parking lot. A couple of tentsand three picnic tables make up the "dining rooms." The fried fish,most of it caught that morning, comes lightly battered, nongreasy,and delicious. Fried mushrooms and fried zucchini add a nice touch.The menu also includes an excellent chowder and various seafoodtacos. A small, furry dog acts as if he owns the place-which hemore or less does. He's Scampi.
Ivar's Salmon House
401 Northeast Northlake Way
Taking in the grand vista of passing scullers, kayakers,seaplanes, and waterfowl kills time until the aromatic alder-smokedtrio of king, sockeye, and keta salmon arrives. Among its salmonselections, this 35-year-old landmark serves only wild PacificNorthwest species-no farmed varieties. The menu includes an arrayof other fish choices, meats, salads, and desserts, and wine loverswill be pleased. Replicating an American Indian longhouse, therestaurant and its lobby showcase an extraordinary collection ofhistoric black-and-white photos chronicling this region's Indianheritage. - Susan Haynes
The Hangar on the Wharf
2 Marine Way
Originally an actual hangar, the building still holds thespirit of brave bush pilots who brought commercial aviation toAlaska in the 1930s. The menu features "Hangar Wraps" encasing kingcrab and other fixin's; "Pre-flight Snacks" of steamers, crab dip,and the like; and "Water Landings" for halibut, salmon, and crab.The expansive view looks across Gastineau Channel to DouglasIsland. "Occasionally we'll see an iceberg float by when a glacierbreaks up," says bartender Todd Maclay. - Susan Haynes
Paia Fish Market and Restaurant
100 Hana Highway
Paia, Maui, Hawaii
A sign on the door mandates shirts, but a bikini topapparently comes close enough-or sometimes, for guys at least, justa really good tan. Sea breezes through the screened sides providethe air-conditioning. Windsurfers dock here for the fresh fish(several varieties, several preparation choices), then grab a placeat one of seven picnic tables. Nice touches include alight-on-the-dressing coleslaw and excellent dill tartar sauce.
Jolly Roger Seafood Restaurant
1737 East Perry Street
Port Clinton, Ohio
"Lake Erie's finest perch & walleye," claims a sign atthis otherwise modest little place in the Lake Erie Islands summerresort area. We won't disagree. Locals line up out the door fortender, juicy fried perch and walleye, which come with excellentwaffle-cut fries. In nice weather, skip the fast food-style boothsin favor of the two outdoor patios or an impromptu seat alongsidethe lake itself, just a Frisbee's throw away.
What's your favorite dive? Write Steve Millburg, Coastal Living, 2100 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209.Or e-mail email@example.com.