No other type of restaurant is quite like the waterfront seafood shack. Sure, you can go to just about any five-star restaurant and load up on shrimp, lobster and fish, but sidling up to a waterside picnic table on a brilliantly sunny day with a full plate of simply cooked fish or shellfish that was just plucked from the nearby water is one of the best ways to cap off a day of your beach vacation.
In order for a place to be a great seafood shack, a lot of variables have to be perfectly aligned. Location is important, obviously; if not located directly on the water, it should be no more than a stone’s throw away from it. Just-caught local seafood needs to be cooked and served simply and without any frills, and it should all be done for a reasonable price. Appearances don’t matter much, especially if there’s an outdoor deck overlooking the water, but being up there with the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants in America certainly doesn’t hurt. And there should be an air of low-key camaraderie among those who’ve also made the pilgrimage, content with the knowledge that they’re in the perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful afternoon. These 35 places definitely fit the bill.
Abbot’s Lobster in the Rough, located on the Mystic River, has been steaming lobsters since 1947 in cast-iron low-pressure steam ovens, but you need to plan your trip to Noank, Connecticut, carefully; this joint is only open during the summer months. Abbott’s has some of the best lobster rolls outside of Maine, and they come in a few sizes, but the claim to fame is the Famous Hot Lobster Roll, a full quarter pound of lobster meat (a little more than what you'd get out of one whole small lobster), drenched in butter and heaped on a toasted sesame seed-topped hamburger bun. Want more lobster? Get the OMG Hot Lobster Roll, which packs in almost half a pound, or the LOL Hot Lobster Roll, which contains a full pound of lobster meat. Lobster isn’t the only thing on the menu, though; other favorites include clear-broth clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, steamed clams and local oysters and clams on the half-shell.
The Crab Shack/Yelp
The Crab Shack’s tagline is “where the elite eat in their bare feet,” and it’s an absolute legend in the Tybee Island, Georgia, community, about a half-hour drive from Savannah. As the name implies, it’s all about the crab here: Deviled crab, creamy crab stew, local blue crab, snow crab, Dungeness crab, king crab and stone crab are all offered. Land lovers will find grub here too, courtesy of the renowned barbecue ribs and pork, and don’t leave without feeding the baby alligators in the lagoon.
Da Poke Shack is a tiny seafood haunt on the big island of Hawaii, located along the shores of Holualoa Bay. It’s absolutely renowned for its poke, diced raw fish served in dozens of varieties (a Japanese-inspired Hawaiian specialty). You can buy them by the scoop and partner them with sides including white rice and seaweed salad. Once you work your way through the poke, you can also sample traditional Hawaiian lau lau (butterfish wrapped in taro leaf) and kalua pork, as well as sashimi. While you sit outside, you might even see giant whole tuna being delivered to the shop.
It’s a bold move to call yourself a Maine seafood shack and not offer Maine lobster, but at Bet’s Fish Fry, it’s the fried fish that the whole town (as well as lots of folks “from away”) line up for. This tiny shack is both the cultural and geographic center of Boothbay, and fried haddock (in a dish or on a roll, served with dill or tartar sauce) and french fries are the only things on the menu. The fish is caught by Bet’s husband daily and fried by Bet herself, and served in absolutely massive portions. Get there early, because when the fish is gone, it’s gone.
Located inside a hundred-plus-year-old shack at the end of Commerce Street in small-town Clinton, Connecticut, Lobster Landing sells live lobsters, oysters, mussels and steamers brought in by local fishermen (although larger lobsters come from Maine and Canada). In addition to those classic choices, this shack features a simple menu of lobster rolls and a very serviceable sausage and peppers sandwich. Each lobster roll is made with a quarter pound of freshly picked lobster meat, tucked into a toasted grinder roll and slicked with a ladle of butter and a squeeze of lemon. Take your foil-wrapped treasure, grab a picnic table at the neighboring marina, and dig in.
This brightly colored beach bar in Key Largo, Florida, floats on two barges, and is a no-fuss eatery with plastic chairs, a laid-back vibe and regular live music performances. Alabama Jack’s has been attracting locals, tourists and even the occasional alligator for more than 50 years. It’s best known for its margaritas and conch fritters, but other standouts include burgers, crab cakes and the fried fish sandwich.
It started as a drive-in clam shack, but Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar has grown over the past 40-plus years to become one of Cape Cod’s most popular restaurants. Load up on the house specialties — warm or cold lobster rolls; fried whole belly clams, local fish, scallops, shrimp and lobster; steamed clams and lobster; house-made stuffed clams; and locally-made ice cream — and then check out the 18-hole mini golf course.
The folks at City Seafood, located in the tiny fishing village of Everglades City, pride themselves on catching all of their seafood and stone crabs from their own fishing and crabbing boats. You can enjoy your meals outdoors on the deck while manatees swim by for a distinctly Florida experience. Most diners come for the stone crabs, but baskets of smoked mullet, grouper, shrimp, oysters, blue crab, frogs' legs and even alligator are top-notch as well. City Seafood, conveniently, is also a market, so you can take some of those local delicacies home with you.
Woodman’s of Essex in Essex, Massachusetts, is undoubtedly the most renowned spot on the so-called “Clam Highway,” and claims to have invented the fried clam in 1916, two years after it first opened for business. Take in the view from the rooftop deck and choose between fried clams, fresh New England lobster, steamed clams, shrimp, clam chowder or scallops, all expertly prepared according to recipes that haven’t changed in decades.
Located right off the Pacific Coast Highway, the no-frills Malibu Seafoodis a casual, order-at-the-counter seafood shack as well as a full-service seafood market. Enjoy your food at the picnic tables or bring a blanket and sit on the beach. We recommend going for the fish and chips or fresh grilled local seafood, including ahi tuna, trout, giant squid steak, halibut, mahi mahi, Pacific red snapper or sea bass. The steamed Dungeness crab is also worth seeking out, as well as the jumbo-size fried calamari.
Orange Beach, Alabama, staple Doc’s is renowned for its raw oysters, seafood gumbo, royal red shrimp, crab claws, fried shrimp, soft-shell crab, crab cakes and a build-it-yourself seafood platters. Interestingly enough, if you bring your own catch, they’ll cook it up for you. If you’re not feeling fishy, Doc’s has some of the best fried chicken in America, as well. Cap it all off with a tart key lime pie for dessert.
Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks/Yelp
If you’re looking for a taste of the Lowcountry in Hilton Head, South Carolina, then Hudson’s on the Docks is for you. This place allows you to drink in the views of the Port Royal Sound while indulging in the freshest seafood around. Hudson's employs the largest dayboat fishing fleet on the island, and they’re bringing local seafood straight from the sea to the Skull Creek docks to your table, in the form of steamed oysters, little neck clams, peel-and-eat shrimp, flounder, and plenty of catches-of-the-day. This place gets really busy as the evening goes on, so try to dine at an off-hour. Despite the crowds, this is certainly one of the best tourist trap restaurants worth visiting.
Family-owned and -operated, the cash-only Brown’s Lobster Pound has been serving locals some of the New Hampshire’s freshest catch since 1950. On offer is a wide variety of fried seafood and baked fish (try the fried clams, baked haddock and lobster pie), but don’t miss out on the opportunity to dig into a boiled lobster that you’ve picked out yourself. This Seabrook restaurant is BYOB, so be sure to bring a couple bottles of white wine.
Calumet Fisheries in Chicago, Illinois, is famous for smoking a massive variety of seafood, including salmon, herring, eel, sturgeon, sable, rainbow trout and shrimp. It’s currently only one of two smokehouses still allowed to burn wood and to smoke its fish in the city. Despite being in a bustling metropolis, Calumet doesn’t look like it’s in the Windy City. Located a stone’s throw from the Calumet River since 1928, the squat white building with its faded red roof wouldn’t feel out of place on any stunning beach waterfront.
A red-and-white shack with yellow-and-white umbrellas shading a sunny alfresco seating area hasn’t changed much since it first opened in 1981. Clam Bar serves super-fresh catch in Amagansett, New York, from nearby Montauk. The most popular items here are the lobster rolls, fried belly clams, crab and corn chowder, local steamers, steamed Montauk lobster, Montauk Pearl oysters and grilled swordfish.
Sandusky, Ohio, is located right on Lake Erie, and its waterfront is lined with marinas and a handful of bars and restaurants. One of those happens to be a must-visit seafood shack, New Sandusky Fish Company. Yellow lake perch and walleye are the specialties here, pulled from the lake and served super-fresh, simply breaded and fried. Whether on a sandwich or as a platter (with fries, a dinner, roll, cole slaw and tartar sauce), it’s a true taste of the Great Lakes.
The Clam Shack has been the first stop for many Kennebunkport, Maine, visitors since 1968, and is located smack-dab in the middle of town, right off Dock Square. Its 1-pound lobster rolls (served on a locally baked hamburger bun) and central location have put it on the map, but just the fact that it’s a perfect little lobster shack, with a tiny dining room and an even busier front window (along with a few tables and chairs outside), make it a perfect eatery. Definitely try the lobster roll, but save room for fried clams and clam chowder. If you’re looking for a truly indulgent meal, head into the main dining room to order the boiled lobster.
One of many seafood shacks along Massachusetts Route 133 (known as the “Clam Highway”), the counter-serve Clam Box of Ipswich takes its name seriously — it was even constructed to look like a clam box back in 1938. Best known for its perfectly fried whole-belly Ipswich clams, it also serves equally good fried oysters, fresh haddock and clam chowder.
The deep, cold waters that surround the coast of Maine have ideal conditions for breeding some of the highest-quality lobsters on Earth. So it makes sense that the lobster roll at Five Islands Lobster Company in Georgetown is easily one of the best lobster rolls in the country. Lobsters here are pulled right from the surrounding waters and never see the inside of a tank, and the steamers, fried fish, local mussels, fried clams, fish and chips and haddock chowder are all second to none.
The line at Moby Dick’s is usually long, but on warm days, freshly cut watermelon is served to the folks waiting in line. Wellfleet oysters are a must-order (we’re in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, after all), but the day-boat scallops, grilled fish, lobster rolls, Nantucket Bucket (which comes with steamers, mussels and corn) and signature Key lime pie are also bound to satisfy.
A local legend since 1971, Barbara’s Fishtrap in California’s Half Moon Bay (not far from Palo Alto) offers spectacular views and equally jaw-dropping seafood. Order a pint of Gordon Biersch and then start of your meal with some of the secret-recipe clam chowder. From there, you can move on to fried scallops, calamari, ocean prawns, a baby bay shrimp sandwich or some of America’s best fish and chips. Other local specialties here include cioppino and Dungeness crab. If you’d prefer not to dine in, you can order your food to-go and bring it to a nearby picnic table.
Sprague’s is actually two little shacks (a fry shack and lobster shed) located right on the water in Wisasset, Maine. Forego the more famous Red’s across the street (which has a much longer line and doesn’t offer whole lobster dinners) and spend your time relaxing at a picnic table on the deck at Sprague’s instead. The lobster here is brought in fresh and steamed or served in huge chunks in toasted split-top buns with a light layer of mayo, and it's absolutely delicious. While the lobster roll is the main draw, but there are also steamed clams, scratch-made clam chowder, a Maine crabmeat roll, fish and chips, clam cakes, clam fritters and locally-made ice cream for dessert.
Picture in your mind’s eye a restaurant named Old Salty’s on a little Chesapeake Bay island called Fishing Creek, Maryland, and you’d pretty much hit the nail right on the head. Located inside an old schoolhouse for more than 30 years, Old Salty’s gets its seafood from local fishermen, and the crab cakes, blue crabs, crab dip, stuffed shrimp, rockfish and steamed clams and mussels are as delicious as you’d expect. The king cut prime rib, only available on Friday and Saturday nights, is also spectacular.
Located along a shipping channel and going strong since 1993, the Yacht Provision Company in Southport, North Carolina, serves top-notch fresh steamed shrimp, crab cakes, grouper salad sandwiches, crab cakes, conch fritters and seafood chowder, washed down with some craft beer. While you're eating, you can sit back and watch the sun set at the mouth of Cape Fear.
Set among the marshes at the tip of a small island on the Charleston, South Carolina, outskirts since 1946, Bowens is a Lowcountry legend, enough so to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation as an “American Classic” in 2006. This no-frills bar, dining room and patio is famous for its roasted local oysters (steamed under wet burlap and served by the trayful), shrimp and grits, Frogmore stew (also called Lowcountry boil), hushpuppies and fried and boiled shrimp. There are few better ways to while away a Charleston afternoon than on the back porch with a tray of oysters and a cold beer.
The Hangar on the Wharf/Yelp
Located literally inside an old seaplane hangar resting atop pilings right over the water in downtown Juneau, Alaska, Hangar on the Wharf turns fresh local seafood into creative fare including halibut chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl, spiced halibut tacos, ginger wild salmon rice bowls, Alaskan cod and chips and king crab poke. Their signature dish, however, comes as a surprise: Cajun-style jambalaya with rice, Louisiana hot links and sautéed prawns.
Iggy’s, as the name might imply, is known for its clam chowder, which is available red (Manhattan-style), white and creamy (New England-style), and clear (Rhode Island-style). Beyond the chowder, this Warwick and Narragansett favorite serves up doughboys, deep-fried dough topped with cinnamon sugar, which are a Rhode Island regional specialty. The fish and chips, baked scrod and stuffed quahogs are also notable. Make sure you wash it all down with homemade root beer.
Jolly Rogers is located on the shores of Lake Erie in Port Clinton, Ohio, and when you’re in this part of the country, you eat the local lake perch and walleye. Jolly Rogers does both exceptionally well, battered and fried to a golden brown crisp while remaining light and flaky on the inside. Make sure you get some of their equally famous onion rings and hush puppies on the side.
The Lobster Shack sits beside two lighthouses on the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The Shack has been serving clams, scallops, fish and fresh lobster (the latter caught right on the docks in front of the restaurant) since the 1920s. Eat your meal outside on the picnic tables dotting the shoreline, or just take in a truly gorgeous view from the cozy dining room.
Mo’s Seafood and Chowder/Yelp
There are a handful of Mo’s locations dotting the coastal region of Oregon, but travelers are encouraged to make the pilgrimage to The Original Mo’s in Newport, which opened in 1946 and might make you question New England’s claim to clam chowder. While the clam chowder (get the version with Oregon pink shrimp added) is indeed spectacular, don’t miss the cioppino, fish and chips, grilled Yaquina Bay oysters and steamers.
Snoopy’s Pier in Corpus Christi, Texas, definitely has a seafood shack vibe — no surprise, given that it was once an old fisherman's hangout. Its menu is small and simple, with fried fish, fried shrimp, crabcakes, fried drum fish and fried oysters receiving a heap of praise from the locals — probably because Snoopy’s has an on-site fish house and shrimp-breading facility. Grab some of the state’s best seafood and take in the view from a table on the pier.
The Great Machipongo Clam Shack/Yelp
Located near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, in Nassawadox, Virginia, the unassuming, unpretentious and spectacularly-named Great Machipongo Clam Shack specializes in crab cakes, steamed clams, steamed oysters, soft-shell crabs, seafood cakes (made with crab, fish, shrimp and scallops), po’boys and crab soup. The Carolina-style barbecue pork sandwiches and steaks are also solid for all the land lovers in your crew. Be sure to check out the attached gift shop and seafood market, where you can buy seafood, five-dollar wine bottles and, oddly enough, a wide variety of hemp and CBD products.
Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, Washington, stretches out into Puget Sound and has become an iconic destination for locals and tourists alike. Famous for its clam chowder, award-winning halibut fish and chips, and extensive list of craft beers, it also offers a spectacular view. The pizza is pretty great, too!
At Woody’s Crab House in North East, Maryland, there’s no shortage of local blue crabs crawling on the menu — in crab cakes, crab imperial, crab au gratin, atop fries with Old Bay and cheese, in artichoke dip, atop nachos and salads, in beer-battered crab balls and in two soups. But if by some slim chance you’re not in the mood for crab, there’s always whole Maine lobsters, sacks of 50 steamed Gulf shrimp, broiled seafood platters and hand-cut New York strip steaks.
This place is a trip. P’Reaux’s began life as a Mississippi Delta crawfish trailer, and since then it’s expanded into two dining rooms, a party bus and a tiki bar, with plenty of outdoor space. When they’re in season, crawfish are the thing to order at this Yazoo City, Mississippi, shack, but the menu has no shortage of Delta goodies, including fried alligator bites, boudin balls, fried green tomatoes, po’boys, shrimp by the pound (with corn, potatoes and sausage), chargrilled oysters, fried catfish and smoked pork ribs. Grab a seat amongst the locals and dig into some of the most delicious regional fare in America.
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