Is there anything as great as seaside dining when the sun is on your shoulders, the plate of seafood 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 or a loaded lobster roll.
Due to various criteria and personal tastes, we opted not to rank our list of America's best seafood shacks, but instead selected 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” 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 salt pork 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 must-visits 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! Don't worry, you're about to 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.
Additional reporting by Alexandra E. Petri and Nikkhita Bakshani.