Is there anything as great as seaside dining when the sun is on your shoulders, the food in front of you was probably caught that morning, and the ambiance is decidedly unfussy? It is hard to deny the charm of a dockside shack with bare picnic tables or red and white picnic tablecloths, Styrofoam plates, and the sound of your name being called to pick up your order before you dig into some unapologetically decadent fried food. Experience all of this at one (or a few) of America’s 40 best seafood shacks.
Due to various criteria and personal tastes, we opted not to rank our list, but instead select fantastic seaside establishments that each offer a unique experience. While conducting our research, we looked at various shacks across the country that are highly rated amongst diners, are a go-to spot for locals, and have won awards and earned spots on various “best of” and “top” lists.
Each region of the United States offers its own twist on seafood. Most likely, shrimp and grits taste better in South Carolina than they do in Oregon, and if you find bacon in your clam chowder, you know you’re in New England. This list has plenty of geographic variety; you might even consider marking these seafood shacks as the basic points for your next road trip, as you would on a fried chicken road trip or a culinary tour of the South.
Expect to wait in line, but leave your impatience at home, because you’re on vacation. If you get cranky anyway, expect that mood to end the moment you sink your teeth into a buttery lobster roll or squeeze lemon juice onto some fresh oysters. Some restaurants, like Moby Dick’s in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, will serve you watermelon while you wait, while other legendary lines, like the ones you’ll find at Alabama Jack’s in Key Largo, Florida, or Malibu Seafood in Malibu, California, are great places to make new friends.
Don’t miss a chance to visit any of these top-notch casual seafood joints this summer.
Additional reporting by Alexandra E. Petri
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Noank, Conn.
According to the digital countdown clock on the Abbott's website, at the moment this is being written there are 18 weeks, six days, seven hours, 19 minutes, and 36 seconds, oops, 37, oops…well, you get the idea, left until Abbot’s Lobster in the Rough serves their last lobster of the 2015 season. This reminder is convenient, because you do not want to miss out on this. Abbott’s has been in business for more than a half century, and they put a spin on lobster rolls by low steaming them and serving them hot with melted-on butter — not that it makes them shirk on buttering the roll. Local oysters are on offer, too.
Alabama Jack’s, Key Largo, Fla.
Had the Beach Boys known about Alabama Jack’s, Key Largo might have been featured as the title of their hit song “Kokomo” instead of just getting a shout-out in the chorus. This brightly colored floating shack is a no-fuss eatery equipped with plastic chairs, a laid-back vibe, and regular live music performances. Order the conch fritters and fried fish sandwich, as well as the crab cakes, which are a customer favorite.