The 29 Waterfront Seafood Spots You Need to Try Right Now
You’re gonna need a bigger bib.
It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy. Well, not exactly. The world is complicated and hard to navigate right now. But we sure are grateful for outdoor restaurants. Currently, there’s no better (or safer!) way to consume the fruits of the ocean than with a paper plate on your lap, the wind in your hair, and creaky floorboards beneath your feet. What the following fresh seafood joints lack in ritz they more than make up for in character, legend, and, of course, fresh lobsters, shrimp, crabs, and various other delicious sea creatures. So prepare to wield a mallet, wear a bib, and bring your mask. Things are going to get messy.
Abbott’s Lobster encourages fever-pitch excitement by counting down to the first lobster of the season on its website and it works: lobster fiends from all over the country are known to camp out for days, in anticipation of that first taste of crustacean. But know that this counter-service, BYOB restaurant's steamers, stuffed clams, and chowder are also not to be missed, as more than 100,000 visitors per year and a bunch of food writers can attest. The picnic-style lobster by the shore, or “in the rough,” is an essential life experience for anyone who loves crustaceans.
Key Largo, Florida
Along Card Sound Road—aka the scenic route from Miami to Key Largo—you’ll find a lone outdoor roadhouse set right on a mangrove-lined canal. It’s Alabama Jack’s, a time warp to Florida before the days of air conditioning and bug spray, where folks dance to a live country band and folks on their way to and from the Keys sip beers by the water. This is the seafood dive to end all seafood dives. The crowd is a perfect cross-section of Florida, with fishermen drinking next to tourists drinking next to people who’ve lived in the swamp for generations. Such is the power of legendary conch fritters, steamed shrimp, and fish fingers.
Appropriately for a seafood shack/barn located in Vermilion Parish—“the most Cajun place on Earth” according to the Census Bureau—Big John leans heavily towards the boil. You could order something else from the menu, but know that it's a mere formality and you risk looking like a weirdo. Seriously, getting anything other than crawfish is like ordering a grilled cheese at a sushi joint (to be fair, the shrimp is very tempting). Orders are by the pound and sauces are prepared while you wait. It’s only open through crawfish season, which is roughly November through May, and is the perfect filler for when those lobster shacks shut up shop.
Orcas Island, Washington
For years, those in the know stopped at the angled sign promoting “U-pluck chickens” next to the colorful buoys hanging off a wooden barn for informal picnics at Buck Bay Shellfish. Heading through the door painted with a mermaid and the words “fish market,” they could pick from the stacks of fresh farm produce, tanks of Buck Bay’s own shellfish, and cases of locally caught seafood to make their own impromptu picnic at the tables outside. But starting last year, third-generation shellfish farmer Mark Sawyer and his partner, Toni Knudson, finally formalized the routine with the Bistro, Oyster and Wine Bar in the gravel yard separating the shop from the tideflats. Along with their own raw oysters, they serve their clams steamed in chowder, halibut in sliders or as fish and chips, and Dungeness crab whole, in cakes, or atop mac and cheese.
Charleston, South Carolina
Remaining relevant as you age is a tightrope walk for successful restaurants—keep doing the exact same thing for decades, and you risk local apathy and a tourist takeover. Bowens Island turned 75 this year, and despite being officially on the radar, the end-of-a-dirt-road, family-run seafood shack feels as vital to locals as ever. The rustic digs, set on an idyllic creek with technicolor sunset views over the marsh, are pure Lowcountry. Grounds include the dining room with its wide bar, rebuilt after a 2006 fire to maximize the view, and a dock and oyster house over the water. You can even book a kayak tour from the landing before dinner. But despite the fantastic locale, it's the seafood platters that command your attention. This is the place to gorge on Frogmore Stew or a tray of steamed local oysters during winter. Fried shrimp, fish, and oysters are the other stars—order a platter and revel in the pure perfection of the whole scene. Diners on a schedule know to arrive by 5 pm to skip the counter-serve’s long line. Singles and couples can usually grab a bar seat, or just embrace the line as part of the experience. There’s a view, after all.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Seafood doesn’t get more locally caught than this, where fishermen park right on the restaurant dock on Lynnhaven Inlet with fresh hauls from the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. Watch your food arrive—consider the steamed hard-shell crabs known as Jimmies—and the sunset from the waterside tables while you munch on shrimp, lobster tail, and the killer crab cakes, which are put together every morning from fresh blue crab meat. The only downside with being directly on the water? Hurricanes all the way down to regular storms and high winds can put the deck out of commission. But temporarily, this expert clean-up team keeps on truckin’.
Everglades City, Florida
Though Miami has gained a worldwide reputation for its stone crabs, few people realize the vast majority of those claws come from tiny little Everglades City. As the name might imply, this town is set off US-41 deep in the Glades, a swampy hamlet of folks who choose to live surrounded by alligators and mangroves. It’s also where you’ll find stone crab claws literally just pulled out of the water, best enjoyed at this wood shack set right on a canal. The breezy, waterfront spot lets you enjoy Florida seafood in its natural environment, and though you’ll find a smattering of tourists, the Ev. City locals are really what gives the place its charm. Many made fortunes during the 1970s as marijuana runners, eluding the law with their intricate knowledge of the swamp. Crack a claw and ask them their stories, since they might be as alluring as the seafood.
No one likes to wait in lines. Especially lines famous enough in Maine that nearly everyone mentions them at some point if you come through Kennebunkport. But the thought of getting that sweet, hand-picked lobster roll (and maybe some fried dough for dessert) from a tiny shack in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and then posting up on a lobster crate and watching the seagulls swoop in on unsuspecting tourists to take a piece of their hard-earned roll for themselves, seems to make it all worthwhile. Just remember: Keep your head on a swivel.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Like they were hell-bent on becoming the inspiration for a Jimmy Buffett song, in 1983, Jack and Belinda Flanigan saw an ad for a fish camp, bought it, left their lives in Atlanta, got their boat captain licenses, started charter-fishing operations out of the marina, and then, eventually, launched The Crab Shack. While it sounds like a gamble, starting a seafood shack at a large fishing camp on a city-island, teeming with Atlantic seafood, is a very smart move indeed. Go with the Shack Specialty shellfish platter—it includes all the shellfish that comes in just off the pier where you’re eating, plus all the corn, potatoes, and sausage of a Lowcountry boil.
Pismo Beach, California
At the Cracked Crab, you might hear customers exclaim “holy shit” or some other sailor-adjacent phrase when the signature dish hits the table. Literally. The Bucket for Two is like a seafood buffet jammed into a pail and dumped directly onto the table for you to pick at a pile of corn, Cajun sausage, and potatoes mixed with the shellfish of your choice: choose snow or Dungeness crab, mussels, or clams—or upgrade to Maine lobster tails and get to work. There's a wealth of other options, but honestly, they’d probably be upset if you decided to dump your crab bisque or cioppino on the table, so just stick with the bucket if you want to keep it real.
The country has officially arrived at peak poke, but nothing on the mainland — and, arguably, nothing in Hawaii—holds a flame to Da Poke Shack. It’s tiny and located within a condo complex and may look like a place to leave your spare key, but its Japanese-influenced seafood bowls and Hawaiian beer beat out even the most upscale contenders. There are 14 different kinds of poke to choose from, but the move is really to go with the spicy Pele’s Kiss, or the avocado aioli-topped Dynamite. And maybe get some of that fresh, fresh sashimi while you wait, which is cut to order and served on its own or as part of a platter.
Orange Beach, Alabama
We think Orange Beach should give Doc’s, which sits underneath the light where Highway 161 T’s with Canal Road, a tax cut: There is no stronger inducer of end-of-vacation blues than being forced to sit and stare for half an hour at the place that served you the best damn fried shrimp and crab claws of your life. You will come back to Orange Beach and to Doc’s and you’ll sit at their long, ruddy tables and order a half-dozen giant, briny Gulf oysters and then a basket of crab claws for your table and then those fried shrimp, and you’ll wash it down with a cold bottled beer. And later in the week you’ll curse your sunburn and the sand still stuck to your car seat while you sit at the light, and you’ll stare at Doc’s and the whole process starts over again.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Half of everything at Cannon Beach is named “Ecola”-something (it’s derived from the Chinook word for “whale”), so be sure to ask specific directions to this seafood shack in the middle of the dog-friendly town or risk ending up at a gas station—which, to be fair, probably at least has some pretty good smoked fish. This shack is a family affair, and has been for the past 22 years; they fish the Washington and Oregon coasts daily, so you can be sure that whatever is on your plate was swimming a very short time ago. Unusual for a seafood shack, Ecola is open year round, frying up whatever “seasons, weather, and fisherman’s luck” is serving up. You should hope it’s salmon and halibut. Take some salmon jerky and a Dungeness crab cocktail to go and post up on the beach near Haystack Rock (the one from The Goonies) for one of the most purely Oregonian experiences you can have.
An annex on the original Fisherman’s Inn, which has been cracking claws on the bay since before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was open, the deck offers up an open-air, boat-up, live music experience and some of the best crab cakes in the region. And crab nachos. And crab pizza, dips, melts, salads, nachos... basically crab everything. But for the best experience, get the steamed variety pot, a classic boil with two hard crabs, some snow crab legs, and some clams, shrimp, and mussels for variety. Get crab cakes on the side though. You’re in Maryland.
Newport, Rhode Island
If you’re a kid, a trip to Flo’s often results in finding yourself awkwardly entranced by the lady clam mascot in the tight red dress. As an adult, you’re often fascinated by the history of Flo’s, which mainly just tells the story of the many hurricanes (curse you Carol, Donna, Gloria, and Bob!) that have knocked it down over its eight decades of existence, only for it to re-emerge stronger, or at least with more expensive windows. There is only one way to do Flo’s, and it involves getting half-a-dozen clam cakes and some fried clams, with a delicate breading and homemade coleslaw. Just watch out for those hurricanes.
For years, the industrial stretch of the Miami River just west of downtown wasn’t visited by anyone unless they were looking to illegally export a mattress. The lone exception was Garcia’s, an outpost of fresh-caught seafood where Miamians could enjoy a stone crab claw and watch debris float by. Flash forward to 2021, and the neighborhood has become a hotbed of day parties and rosé brunches, but Garcia’s is still its old self—and that’s a good thing. The family-run seafood restaurant and market has its own fleet of boats, hauling in better quality stuff than any of its swanky neighbors. You’ll enjoy said catches upstairs, with a stunning view of the Miami skyline and the considerably cleaned-up river. All at a fraction the cost of the fancier restaurants nearby.
As the name implies, this fifth-generation, family-run shellfish farm looked to laid-back dive bars for inspiration when it decided to invite customers to stop by for a drink and oyster snack. More picnic tables on the beach than actual restaurant, the natural beauty of Hood Canal, the Pacific Northwest mountains and a fence made from oyster shells provide all the ambiance necessary. The all-ages, dog-friendly spot sits just in front of the tideflats where the oysters and clams grow that supply world-class restaurants, like Renee Erickson’s Walrus and the Carpenter, about two hours away in Seattle, giving visitors a chance to taste them in situ. The small menu focuses on Hama Hama’s signature products, with oysters available raw, grilled with chipotle bourbon butter, casino, or “you shuck”—gloves, tools, and condiments provided. Most importantly, all dishes come with the seasoning of the fresh salt air—and the option to order a great local beer or wine to wash it all down.
You’re in Cape Cod, so it goes out with saying you should probably be making out with one of the otherworldly lobster rolls at this cavern of a banquet hall/seafood market, where the sounds of cracking claws is a culinary symphony echoing off the wooden beams and high ceilings. But this joint also takes a culinary approach to non-lobster dishes, meaning if you so happen to be burnt out, or just feel like a bucket of crustacean and steamers doesn't do the trick, you can score a glorious charred yellowfin served with Pad Thai, exquisitely grilled fresh swordfish, or an unlikely array of house-smoked BBQ, if you want to get a little surf and turf. Or, you know, just get a second bucket. You’re in Cape Cod, for god’s sake.
You will see other larger oyster companies en route to The Marshall Store up in Tomales Bay, and you will be inclined to say, “Wait, those places are crowded and popular looking! Maybe I should go there.” But that would be a mistake. Instead, have your party find a spot at one of the tables sitting on barrels overlooking the bay, go in and grab a six-pack or some wine from the refrigerator, and order up every kind of oyster (fresh from their nearby farm, Tomales Bay Oyster Company) available. No joke, you need to get all of them: the raw, grilled, BBQ, chorizo, Kilpatrick with bacon and Worcestershire, Rockefeller, and whatever else is available at the time. They have other things and they are delicious (particularly the chorizo fish stew), but pay them no mind on that first visit. You have some serious oyster-based work to do.
This seafood tasting experience comes with 360-degree views of Virginia’s Rappahannock River. That’s because Merroir from the folks who founded Rappahannock Oyster Co. want you to experience the sea (mer) and land mass (terroir), where they grow and harvest oysters on-site. The two words combined together formulate the tasting room’s ethos of “merroir,” a place where oysters and other seafood staples are eaten raw or cooked on an outdoor grill in small-plates fashion. Oysters come served on the half-shell or roasted in garlic herb-smoked butter. Either preparation pairs perfectly with wines sourced locally from Virginia and around the world. Plus, there is a robust menu of Virginia craft beer, including an Oyster Stout with bivalves right in it.
You’ve probably had fried catfish before: it’s a simple dish, easy to make with a few spices and breading thrown onto a thick slice of the river fish before it hits the fryer. But if you haven’t had it at Middendorf’s, then you have yet to discover just how exquisite catfish can truly taste. The restaurant cuts their catfish wisp-thin. It’s salty and flaky and piled so high on the plate. You’ll want to tuck your napkin into your shirt and have your bottle of hot sauce close at hand. You’ll never be able to eat other catfish again.
Riva and Pasadena, Maryland
This family-owned crab house has been anchored on the South River for more than six decades, and it’s a favorite with Chesapeake boaters who drop anchor at the pier and walk a few hundred feet to some of Maryland’s freshest crabs. No disrespect to Old Bay Seasoning, but Mike’s uses its own proprietary blend—a perfect balance of heat, spice, and salt. The main reason you’re here is to feast upon jumbo crabs, served by the tray-load, but don't overlook the sides. Hushpuppies served with a warm honey butter add a sweet touch to a finger-licking-good experience. The original Mike’s Crab House is located about 15 minutes south of historic Annapolis, and it’s the more popular of the two locations (all seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis). Mike’s North, located about 30 minutes north of Annapolis, sits on scenic Rock Creek in Pasadena, Maryland, and the wait time is less of an issue. Of course, an Orange Crush at the bar should help pass the time until it’s time to get your crab feast on.
San Diego, California
Mitch’s Seafood is best known for its fish tacos, made with your choice of several varieties of local fish, but it’s got a full roster of ceviches, pokes, crudos and cocktails, oysters to slurp, and crab poutine to savor, plus grilled plates, fried platters and bowls of steaming seafood stew or mussels in white wine and herbs. Nearly all the fish Mitch’s serves is either caught by in-house or by fishermen almost exclusively from San Diego or northern Baja waters. Order a local craft brew, grab a seat along the water, and enjoy one of life’s perfect moments.
After earning national attention for Erizo, his fine-dining seafood spot with a focus on bycatch and invasive species, chef Jacob Harth decamped to tiny Netarts, Oregon, 30 minutes away, where he operates a three-day-a-week pop-up from a local shellfish farm. But in the transition, he retained the focus on ultra-sustainable seafood, serving local standards and lesser-known seafood in simple but stunning fashion. The menu changes constantly depending on what is getting caught or foraged nearby, but includes dishes like tomatoes on toast with cultured butter and red sea urchin, mackerel ceviche, octopus skewers, peel n’ eat barnacles, and of course the local oysters—on the half shell or barbecued with XO miso chile sauce.
San Leon, Texas
There’s a new reason to drive to San Leon, and that’s to get your hands on the freshest oysters in town. The concept comes from second-generation oysterman Raz Halili of Prestige Oysters, and not only does Halili know his product inside and out, he was wise enough to tap Executive Chef Joe Cervantez (formerly of Brennan’s) to lead the bayside project. Head here for pristinely shucked oysters on the half shell, available both raw with all the proper accoutrements and char-grilled with extras like crab gratin and fiery habanero butter. All that plus crispy cornmeal crusted snapper, wood-grilled yellowfin tuna, and a baller seafood-spiked Bloody Mary for brunch.
Brooklyn, New York
Sustainably sourced oysters on a vintage schooner is the vibe at Pilot, a seasonal seafood engagement parked by Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Think stunning Manhattan skyline views and plates of chilled seafood, like scallop ceviche, and hot preps like a lobster roll, along with lighter-style citrus-forward cocktails.
Swansboro, North Carolina
A small, former ship building town on the border of a military base isn’t usually where you’d expect to find seared yellowfin tuna served with wasabi. But Swansboro is full of surprises, the grandest one at this two-story saltwater palace on the Intracoastal Waterway. The seafood at Saltwater is simply superb, all freshly caught and expertly prepared—whether it’s shrimp and grits with bacon and gouda, fish tacos made with the catch of the day, or blackened mahi over jasmine rice. It’s best experienced on the restaurant’s second-floor outdoor patio, which offers a sprawling view of the Intracoastal, Bogue Sound, and all the boats passing by.
Port Isabel, Texas
Located at the southeastern tip of Texas, a stone’s throw from South Padre and the Mexican border, Los Tortugos looks like any other hole-in-the-wall taqueria, nondescript turquoise exterior and rickety window-mounted air conditioner included. But step foot inside the combination market/dining room and prepare to be bowled over. Fish tacos here are the kind San Diego surfers dream of, packed with avocados and bliss. Ceviches—shrimp, calamari, fresh fish, or all three—come in massive goblets, perfect for hoisting to get the last of the briny lime flavor. And on Friday and Saturday, out comes the caldo de mariscos, an impossibly packed seafood soup that basically answers the question of what would happen if a seafood boil and some cioppino had a baby and decided to raise it on a beach in El Mezquital.
Jokes, as well as dreams, can come true. Just ask Tracy LaBarge, a Juneau transplant who used to joke about selling crab legs from a hot dog cart (look, it wasn’t a coherent plan yet). Nearly two decades later, the real-life result goes way beyond, with the “best legs in town” and award-winning king crab bisque. There are countless crab shacks across Alaska. That LaBarge parlayed her joke into arguably the best of the bunch is perhaps the best punchline imaginable—especially when it comes dripping in butter.
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Seafood joints come and go along Shem Creek, with various levels of fancy, but to many locals, the one that serves platters on paper plates over paper tablecloths is the only one that matters. Crossing the creek, there’s no flashy sign or hopping deck scene to lure you into “The Wreck.” Named after a shrimping trawler that met its demise here during Hurricane Hugo, finding the spot requires navigating side streets through Mount Pleasant’s Old Village. Once parked, enter the warehouse-like building into a feeling of nostalgia for when Shem Creek was a low-rent, bustling shrimping hub. A few local captains still operate from the docks, and you can admire their rusty vessels while snacking on boiled peanuts, hush puppies, and fried green tomatoes. The obvious entrée order is a fried platter of oysters, shrimp, scallops, and the day's fish. (Although sharing a plate of deviled crab among the table is a wise addition.) The Wreck’s trademark is the fried grits that accompany each platter—the cube of crispy ham-laced perfection takes the Southern staple to decadent new heights.
Editors: James Chrisman, Kelly Dobkin, Danielle Dorsey, Meredith Heil, Jess Mayhugh, Liz Provencher, and Tae Yoon
Writers: Mary Beth Abate, Kevin Alexander, Daisy Baringer, Liz Childers, Tim Ebner, Andy Kryza, Stratton Lawrence, Matt Meltzer, Kat Odell, Naomi Tomky, and Brooke Viggiano