The Best Seafood Restaurants in Atlanta
Depending on who you believe in terms of planetary science -- and you can believe pretty much anybody except B.o.B -- you may have heard that we humans began as creatures of the sea. That may mean that to eat seafood makes us evolutionary cannibals, but have you ever tasted a succulent Chilean sea bass floating gently in a soft, fragrant miso broth? Read this list to find out where in Atlanta you can find that and many other delicious dishes among our city’s greatest seafood restaurants.
Jay Swift closed his landmark Old Fourth Ward restaurant 4th & Swift and took his locally farmed foods-loving self to an area where people understand the value of progressive culinary arts, and restaurants that are seriously committed to local farmers. The move is anything but fishy -- gas up your car and drive way up north for sauteed Gulf grouper, a whole 2lb lobster, or pan-seared diver scallops with watermelon radish. He and his son Jeb Aldrich share cheffing duties and keep the grill fire going. You’d also be smart to hit the bar on Mondays and Fridays for “Buck-a-Shuck” oyster happy hour from 5-7pm.
That towering steel structure of a trout/salmon hybrid on Pharr Rd is a moving tribute, or possibly a scary political statement/warning on what could emerge if we don’t keep our oceans and rivers clean. Either way, it's amazing. But it would be meaningless if the building behind it wasn’t a premiere Atlanta institution of seafood, where you can devour Atlanta’s largest collection of wild-caught, fresh fish, from Cape Cod skate wing and Block Island swordfish to Boston lemon sole and Nova Scotia halibut. There’s also a market where you can purchase live -- or recently dead -- lobster and other shellfish, various trout (mountain, steelhead) and salmon (king, Atlantic, smoked, etc), and AFM has a great sushi selection, featuring octopus and sea urchin nigiri and sashimi, plus rolls like the tuna hamachi and crab Ocean Garden.
Similar to Atlanta Fish Market, but more Alpharetta-y (and with no statute… yet), this restaurant/market is heralded for signature eats like soy-honey glazed Chilean sea bass, sashimi & sushi, and great steaks if you like to turf your surf. Starters include sauteed blue crab fingers in hot garlic broth, “favorites” range from Cajun trout to green chili grouper, and selections from their fresh, daily cut catch include African prawns, Alaskan halibut, and more, which you can have grilled with lemon beurre blanc, blackened with tartar sauce, or meuniere in brown butter caper sauce. There's also barrels of artisanal bourbon, infused liquors, wine, and more coming from the bar, because even fish like to drink.
Sustainable seafood is this joint’s calling card, along with plating your preferred gill-bearing beast within 36 hours of catching it. Preparation begins with grilling a la plancha, then you choose between “Coastal” seafood seasoning, “Miso” (braised in broth), simple salt/pepper “Skinny,” and “Blackened” Cajun spice. Not only are all options delicious (if you like trout even in the slightest, try it here -- it’s stupendous), but GC has great daily specials, such as $20 whole Maine lobsters on Monday nights, “Crab Trio Tuesday” in which you get a flash-fried fritter, she crab soup, and a pound of Alaskan snow legs, and $5 oyster dozens every Wednesday.
Designed to resemble a storm-weathered fish house for people who have way too much money to hang out in one, Lure is a great place to enjoy premium oysters, grilled cobia collars with smoked onions, Georges Bank sea scallops with rice porridge, or a seafood cassoulet with GA white shrimp, smoked swordfish belly, and crawfish. Weather permitting, grab weekend brunch on the dock-ish front patio and try a fried North Carolina catfish biscuit or the “Angler’s Breakfast” of pan-fried rainbow trout with slow-cooked egg, potatoes, and greens.
Upscale is the word at C&S, where the old-school look of wood, leather, and dimmed lighting speaks to the classy approach it takes to sea-sourced dining. Everything in the kitchen is certified organic and locally grown, which is important to owners Rich Clark and Jon Schwenk, whose combined experience includes working together in Buckhead for world-renowned chef Maguy Le Coze (of NYC’s Le Bernardin), and running other acclaimed seafood restaurants like Atlanta Fish Market and Atlantic Seafood Company. The lumb crab cake with Champagne butter is worth every penny of the $16 price tag, and the gumbo, truffled lobster orecchiette with cheese and tarragon bread crumbs, and raw bar offerings are all major winners. Still, there’s nothing quite like the steamed sea bass, which experts say isn’t the healthiest fish to eat, but pay no attention, because one day they’ll taste it and apologize to all of us.
It feels fair to include Wahoo! just because it built a wine store in the front of the restaurant not long ago, but this neighborhood seafood bistro deserves credit for creating masterful water-born meals served inside a glass-walled dining room that provides a romantic view of a lush outdoor garden. The kitchen partners with local farmers and fisherman to procure sustainably sourced produce, protein, and grains. It's been doing the farm-to-table thing -- before it was a popular hyphenated catchphrase -- with GA trout, Charleston shrimp & grits, and other fish dishes from Hawaii to Faroe Island.
Is it janky that Legal Sea Foods is across the street from the Georgia Aquarium? Not unless you’re a delicious fish! The panoramic windows and balcony seats let you gaze out into Centennial Olympic Park, which is a nice touch whether you’re keeping it lowbrow with spicy fish & chips, or taking on classics like Cioppino (lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari, Little Neck clams, mussels, and whitefish in tomato broth), blackened mahi-mahi, or the sauteed shrimp/Andouille sausage/jasmine rice/braised greens “Louisiana Catfish Matrimony,” which we hear is also the theme for Manti Te’o’s upcoming imaginary New Orleans wedding.
Chef Adam Evans is no longer running the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean that the fine seafood dining restaurant Ford Fry launched -- once called the “Best New Restaurant in America” by national media -- isn’t still among the city’s best. The nautical design transports you to a seaside resort, with high-quality foods that come from all around the country, from Georgia to Maine, back down to Alabama and beyond. Optimist is known for ridiculously fresh oysters, hickory-hearth-roasted fish (lane snapper, crispy whole New England haddock, duck-fat-poached swordfish, etc), and beachy eats like super-stuffed lobster rolls and hush puppies. It’s also a great place to catch cocktails like the East of Eden, with Nikka Coffey grain whisky, WhistlePig barrel-aged grade-A dark maple syrup, and The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ decanter bitters.
The C&S founders must have realized that not everybody in the south wants to be fancy, but everybody loves fish, so they made Hugo’s a little simpler, sourcing almost all the seafood -- aside from certain oysters -- from the Southeast (from the Outer Banks to the Mississippi Delta), as a nod to the down-to-earth sensibilities of the Atlanta suburbs. That also makes it more affordable, so be just as proud to order po-boys (crawfish, shrimp, oyster, etc) as you’d be to request specialities such as the blue-crab-crusted grouper, or market fish plates like Gulf redfish, NC rainbow trout, or Scottish salmon. HOB's also got a banging brunch menu, with bite-sized triangle beignets, crab cake Benedict with fried green tomatoes, and shrimp and Parmesan truffle grits, and be sure not to miss the build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bars.
Though it’s not an ATL original, this ballroom-esque national chain brings the good kind of pain (think Method Man, not ulcers) to your stomach via daily changing “top-of-the-catch fish” arriving from all over the world as it becomes available to the chef. Oceanaire's got cold apps like the colossal crabmeat cocktail (it’s big), hot ones like escargots bourguignonne puff pastries, and an arrangement of lemon-butter-brushed fish plates from Columbia king salmon to Florida snapper. Still, you’re in the Atlanta location, so order the chicken-fried lobster with truffled honey, cheese grits, and hot sauce, because even when we think we’re high-falutin’, we’re still stereotypically predictable if you chicken-fry anything.
This Greek/Mediterranean seafood house, with its bold blue hues and huge, bright-white, rounded marble columns, strikes a decidedly different tone just from its appearance. It's known for wood-grilling and olive oil-/lemon-/oregano-basting whole fish entrees, including arctic char, bronzino, pink snapper, and red mullet. Kyma's also got a “Foodies” menu with inventive items like grilled cuttlefish (stuffed with 12-hour-braised lamb), and shell-less mussels cooked in white wine with feta cheese, ouzo, and green Holland peppers.
Having been around since 1984, RotR is a fine-dining landmark that puts you right alongside the Chattahoochee River to take in views with bites of freshly flown-in seafood. The gumbo here is made with a perfectly dark, flavorful roux, and the New Orleans BBQ shrimp will have you doubling your order before you even arrive at entrees like Canadian cold water lobster tail, the ginger soy tuna, or the horseradish-encrusted black grouper. Also check out the salsa-cruda-topped trout from Morganton, Georgia, the Bay of Fundy salmon, or the North Atlantic barrel-cut yellowfin tuna. And wash it all down with local craft brews from SweetWater, Red Hare, Jekyll, Jailhouse and Terrapin, or cocktails like the “Sofia Vergara” margarita with house-made jalapeño tequila. Hot damn!
Chef Doug Turbush, who ran multiple AAA-rated fine-dining restaurants like ATL’s legendary Bluepointe (before opening Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar), keeps it simple and comfortable at the airy Drift, where high-grade American seafood gets live wood fire cooking techniques before arriving in front of you as you sit perched on high-backed benches or at blonde wooden tables. Bourbon-cured salmon is a great place to start before you get to beer-battered haddock with honey butter hush puppies, or lemon/herb ricotta ravioli with jumbo lump crab. You could also hit the raw bar for an assorted iced shellfish tower, or have wood-grilled branzino with chermoula Arabic marinade. If you’re the message-in-a-bottle type, look for knowledge in house-bottled cocktails like the tequila/raspberry-chipotle/lime “Man Overboard,” and end with a French silk pie or salted caramel sundae.
The Star Provisions folks don’t skimp when it comes to food, so the place affectionately dubbed “Dub’s” (named in honor of chef Anne Quatrano's great-great-great-great grandfather, who obviously was really great), does further justice to the reputation of the team behind Bacchanalia and Floataway Cafe, with an even lower frills menu than you might expect -- especially from the folks behind one of the city’s consistently best (and priciest) restaurants. Considering itself a “modern, urban fish shack,” Stiles' freshly caught and served seafood comes mostly from the South, whether it’s from the raw shellfish bar, or smashed between bread as a pan-seared shrimp po-boy, trout skin BLT, or lobster roll. WH even sells sea-inspired home decorations, from kitchen utensils to oyster shuckers and crab claw crackers.
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