Balanced with catch-and-release conservation, enjoying the delicious bounty of the sea on your dinner table is one of the many rewards of fishing. We’re sure most of you know several ways to clean, cook and prepare your favorite fish. But if you’re looking for a fresh dish from a local legend, an excuse to dine out, or an amazing reason for a road trip, look no further. These, in our expert opinion, are the most distinct, unique and incredible places to sample the local fare.
We’ve covered the best East Coast seafood from Cape Cod in the Northeast, to the Mid-Atlantic, right on down to Myrtle Beach in the Southeast and even the Florida Keys! Take a look:
Why: The lines that extend around the block for Arnold’s famous fresh seafood will be your first clue that this summertime favorite is no secret. The heaping piles of fresh clams, onion rings or fried scallops will be the reward that proves it was worth the wait. More than 35 years ago, this place made its legend as a tiny, dilapidated, drive-up clam shack with the freshest seafood. It has expanded considerably since then (with a miniature golf course to boot), but the quality of the fare hasn’t changed. It has solidified into a Cape Cod legend for locals and tourists alike. No summer vacation with my family was complete without a stop (at least once) at Arnold’s.
What to Order: Split the Fried Seafood Platter, with whole belly clams, oysters, calamari, shrimp, scallops and cod. Bring a few friends. It is likely the Wellfleet oysters were harvested within a 10-minute drive from the picnic table you’ll enjoy them on.
What to Drink: When you order the Pink Lady Margarita, your money will go toward breast cancer research. We can’t think of a better way to drink happy while feeling good about yourself.
Why: I have heard locals rave enthusiastically about this once-hidden gem of a seafood shack in Gloucester. They speak in hushed tones, like it’s a secret they’re reluctant to share. Located on the fishing capital of the North Shore, Causeway doesn’t need to go far for fresh fish. Customers rave about the heaping portions, fresh selections and reasonable prices.
What to Order: The baked stuffed scallops with shrimp stuffing look about as good as anything ever put on a plate. This unique dish is one of the many that have made the place a local legend.
What to Drink: You wouldn’t be in New England if you weren’t washing back the seafood with a Sam Adams Seasonal. The Octoberfest is especially popular among locals.
Why: Celebrities from Ted Williams to President Clinton have made this one of the most famous seafood shacks in the country and it doesn’t disappoint. With a typically packed house, a fresh raw bar, and an expansive seafood menu, it’s the definitive Boston seafood experience. Ted Williams used to reserve a table near the back, so he wouldn’t be bothered. It is known to be a Kennedy favorite and there’s a booth there in his honor. For more than 250 years it has been a local landmark in Boston. Kings, presidents and celebrities have flocked here. The toothpick was first used at this restaurant.
What to Order: The Union grilled oysters. Not many places can cook a fresh oyster, maintain its distinct flavor and give it something unique.
What to Drink: Ask for a “pint,” and the bartender shouldn’t need you to elaborate. I’ve met more than a few people from “the old country,” toasting a Guinness.
Why: Where else are you half-expecting to see Bruce Springsteen stroll in? Even if he doesn’t, this enormous two-level restaurant is located at the heart of New Jersey’s boardwalk. You’ll see the waves of the Atlantic crashing out the window while you sample the local fare. The inspiring story of the boardwalk’s return from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy makes the town all the more heartwarming. Tim McLoone has several locations throughout the state, and plays a little guitar himself. He’s been known to jam with the Boss, and the restaurant has great live music during the summer.
What to Order: The Jersey Flounder Roulade. New Jersey is famous for its popular flounder fishery. There’s no denying that it is one of the best-eating fish that swims. McLoone’s version comes stuffed with crab and lobster and a side of Tarragon cream sauce. It’s likely that with a squid strip and bucktail, you might be able to catch the real thing on the beach outside.
What to Drink: They pour the Boardwalk Ice Tea strong and sweet. It’s perfect for some refreshing kick by the shore on a beautiful day.
Why: The hardest part about sampling the food here will be taking your eyes off the beautiful view of the Patuxent River on this gorgeous pier-front location. But once you do, you’re in for a treat.
What to Order: You’re in Maryland, you have no choice: the crab cakes. The Washington Post called Solomon’s, “The best all-around.” Locals rave about their size, texture and flavor and say they can’t be beat. The menu boasts that each cake is a whopping five ounces. For an appetizer, try the crab dip. When you’re on the banks of the Chesapeake, you can never get sick of fresh crab.
What to Drink: Solomon’s Sunset Punch. What else would you have while watching the real thing go down over the river?
Why: If there were a place where the heart of Maryland was beating, it would probably be Annapolis. This historic town, besides being the state’s capitol and home to the United States Naval Academy, is a beautiful city rich with culture. There’s no better place than the Middleton Tavern to sink your teeth into Annapolis. It is one of the oldest continually operating taverns in America and it offers everything from rockfish to crabcakes. While you wait for your food you can examine the Civil War muskets, ancient Navy uniforms and beautiful artistic renderings of Maryland’s landscape that adorn the walls. The building itself is more than 250 years old.
What to Order: Do not leave here without trying an oyster shooter. The local delicacy can be prepared in different ways, but the traditional version involves one oyster, spicy cocktail sauce, a teaspoon of horseradish, lemon juice, pepper and vodka in a shot glass. They’ll give you a “shot” of beer to wash it down with. You’ll feel like a Maryland local the minute it hits your stomach. Once the weird feeling subsides, you’ll be forced to admit that it was pretty good.
What to Drink: Their Irish Coffee has won awards for the past two years for Maryland’s best drink. It’s made with Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey and is the perfect thing to warm your soul on a cool autumn afternoon. Their slogan: “Give every man his dew.”
Why: In a place like Myrtle Beach, it’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a seafood restaurant, so only the best survive. This restaurant is nothing it shouldn’t be. You’ll feel right at home in a T-shirt and jeans, and the seafood’s always fresh. During Happy Hour you can get oysters for as cheap as 45 cents. It’s also in the quieter, northern section of Myrtle Beach, so you’re removed from all the fanfare and tourism. The “Captain’s chairs” at the bar will even make you feel like you’re aboard the boat where the fish were caught.
What to Order: They are most famous for their “steam kettles,” which you can watch the chef prepare in front of you. There is no need to go fancy in this local hangout, so order the crawfish steam kettle. It’s nothing but Old Bay, Beer and crawfish. You couldn’t ask for a better combination.
What to Drink: The price of the Irish Car Bomb seems steep at $7.50, until you realize that they don’t ask for your souvenir shot glass back.
Why: Georgetown is a beautiful, charming southern town and the Old Fish House is right on the water. While you’re in town, try some of the fantastic redfishing that can be found in the marshes and backwaters of Georgetown. Tommy Scarborough is hands-down the best guide in town. But when you’re sun burnt and starving after a day on the water, head to Big Tuna.
What to Order: You haven't really visited the South until you’ve tried a Po’ Boy. The submarine sandwich originated in Louisiana but its popularity has spread everywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only key ingredient is the crisp French Bread that is used. A typical Po’ Boy is a foot long. The term derives from the French word pourboire, which is the tip given to a waiter or waitress. Legend has it that two brothers that were streetcar conductors made the sandwich famous. When the conductors went on strike for four months in 1929, Benny and Clovis Martin kept their fellow conductors fed by providing free sandwiches. The strikers were jokingly called “poor boys,” and the sandwiches they ate to sustain the strike quickly took that name. The original Po’ Boys used oysters, so you might as well stick with what has worked for over a century. You can’t beat this southern classic, especially for just $10.
What to Drink: Pick your favorite ale. All the beer here is kept on ice, old-school-style. There are no refrigerators. So it is literally “ice-cold.”
Why: St. Simons Island is a beautiful barrier beach off the coast of Georgia, just north of the Florida-Georgia line. It’s packed with restaurants and shops, but few are as fun as the Iguana. From the colorful paint scheme on the walls to the jovial staff, it’s hard not to enjoy the place from the minute you step in.
What to Order: They are most famous for their peel-and-eat shrimp appetizer, so start with that. For dinner you can’t go wrong with the Caribbean glazed mahi-mahi, undeniably one of the most delicious fish there is.
What to Drink: If the Capri Sun Delicious is the drink of the day when you visit, don’t hesitate. It’s grown-up fun.
Why: John’s Pass is a collection of shops and restaurants along a pier in Madeira Beach, less than an hour’s drive from both Tampa and St. Petersburg. Charter boats leave from the pier daily, bringing back loads of fresh fish. At the Friendly Fisherman, you can have your catch cooked to order, but don’t worry, they always have extra on hand. An institution since 1978, the restaurant has become a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
What to Order: Start with the fresh smoked mullet fish spread. Smoked mullet is a Southern specialty and it needs to be tried at least once. When it comes to fresh fish, there are few Floridians that will tell you grouper comes second to anything. At John’s Pass you can get it broiled, fried, char grilled or blackened. (Blackened is the best).
What to Drink: Indulge in one of their enormous strawberry daiquiris while you soak in the Florida sun.
Why: Apalachicola produces more of Florida’s fresh oysters than all the other regions in the state combined. The rich nutrients of the area’s rivers are said to provide a unique and excellent atmosphere for oyster beds. And Up the Creek is the best oyster bar in town. It has waterfront access, meaning you can dock your boat after a long day of hunting the area’s famous redfish flats and roll up your sleeves.
What to Order: Oyster specials change daily, but if you can find their steamed parmesan oysters, with cheese, butter and seasoning, you’re in for a treat.
What to Drink: Nothing fancy at this shack, wash it down with a cold beer of your choosing.
Why: At one point in my more careless youth, I once lived for three weeks in my Jeep in Islamorada and was even offered free quarters from a talented marine artist. His waterfront lodgings were across from this gem of a seafood shack. For a kid living on the fish he caught, it was a dream come true. Bring your fresh fish into Lazy Dayz and they’ll take it from you at the hostess stand and serve it to you at your table. While you wait you can admire the fish mounts of every species around the bar and the beautiful ocean views of Gulf. You can even, if you so choose, dine right on the beach. If a bartender named Tom is still on staff, ask him about guiding in Alaska.
What to Order: Your fresh catch, “Lazy Dayz style.” You won’t be sorry. For just $15 the chef will take a still flopping fish and transform it into a deliciously prepared meal.
What to Drink: I won’t give away the whole recipe, but the Bushwhacker involves Kahlua, Baileys, Rum, more rum and ice cream, topped off with rum. Hey, you’re in the Keys, right?
Have we left anything out? Share your favorite seafood shacks with us in the comments below or on Facebook!