Whether they are fried, steamed, boiled, battered, breaded, grilled, or rolled in a rice-and-seaweed wrapper, summertime seafood entrées have fish-lovers hooked. But with an eclectic array of appetizing dishes spread across the USA, it's hard to know which dives net the best tastes.
For this reason, U.S. News Travel set out to find the best institutions—from high-end restaurants to small-town joints—where you can have your choice of cracking hard-shelled crabs or devouring crunchy fish tacos. Taking popularity, inventiveness, expert opinion, online user reviews, and overall restaurant atmosphere into consideration, we've compiled a list of the best establishments for discerning seafood-seekers.
Shaw's Crab House
Best Catch: 1 lb. Alaskan Golden King Crab ($46.99).
The 1930's New Orleans-themed Shaw's Crab House draws discerning seafood fanatics with its top-grade fish and lively atmosphere. At the oyster bar, you'll find 12 sea critter varieties. At the adjacent (more upscale) crab house, you'll pick from a wide selection of specialties. Standouts include flavorful sushi and sashimi combinations, Georgia soft shell crab, and the red Alaskan king crab. Come on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday to listen to live music as you enjoy your meal.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Best Catch: Lobster Roll (Market Price)
This little seafood joint set on Maine's rocky shore has Bon Appetit, Gourmet Magazine, and The Boston Globe singing its praises. Food enthusiasts rave about the restaurant's flavorful lobster rolls and creamy chowder. And the Lobster Shack's scenic vantage point, overlooking Cape Elizabeth's craggy shoreline, is just as appealing. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights only opens its doors during the warmer months (April through October), so arrive in summer to get your fix of its signature lobster rolls.
Nico's at Pier 38 Restaurant & Fish Market
Best Catch: Furikake Pan Seared Ahi ($12.95)
Hawaii's in-the-know fish lovers congregate at this festive Honolulu restaurant/market combo early in the morning to get the day's best catch. Nico's charm lies not only in its fresh Hawaiian fish, but also in its menu filled with inventive twists, including kamobokos (Japanese fish cakes) and blackened fish 'wiches (fish filets sprinkled with Cajun spices). For intense flavor, try the Furikaki Pan Seared Ahi, which is coated in homemade ginger-garlic cilantro sauce.
The Anchor Fish & Chips
Best Catch: Fish & Chips ($8.95)
Crisp Alaskan cod and hand-cut fries steal the show at this traditional Irish chipper. Request a side of tangy curry sauce to layer on your fries and you're sure to tantalize your taste buds. It's not just the golden fish that draws seafood seekers to The Anchor Fish & Chips year after year. Visitors come for the refreshing brews on tap, the flavorful Shepherd's Pie, and the trendy interior space, decked with red walls and black tiles. Those who prefer their fish and chips on-the-go can catch The Anchor Food Truck, which serves the same delectable entrées and makes stops across Minneapolis.
Best Catch: Steamed Mussels, Shiner Bock and Toasted Ancho Dinner Entrée ($14.50)
For bold, globally-inspired Gulf Coast, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors, look no further than REEF, a Houston hotspot that specializes in oceanic cuisine. Chef Bryan Caswell takes pride in creating unconventional dishes that pair succulent seafood with zesty garnishes, like sweet and sour chard. Standouts include the crispy skin snapper and roasted grouper. For intense flavor, try the steamed mussels splashed with toasted ancho chile broth and Shiner Bock beer.
Acme Oyster House
Best Catch: Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy ($12.99)
As its name suggests, Acme Oyster House pleases its patrons with a varied assortment of oysters. Raw, char-grilled, fried, and more, this French Quarter oyster bar likely has your preferred preparation style. But if shucked mollusks don't whet your appetite, try one of Acme's other Southern specialties, like seafood gumbo and seafood etouffee. Another crowd-pleaser is the Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy, a spicy sandwich with golden-fried oysters and shrimp layered with Tabasco-infused mayo.
Cantler's Riverside Inn
Best Catch: Jimmy's Crab Feast ($25.99)
Cantler's Riverside Inn is best known for its juicy Maryland blue crabs. If you come hungry, you'll want to delight in Jimmy's Crab Feast, a tasty combination of steamed crabs, mussels, and shrimp. This assortment is accompanied by tangy coleslaw and sweet corn on the cob. As you crack open fresh crabs sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, don't forget to admire the restaurant's scenic vistas overlooking Annapolis' tranquil Mill Creek. Plus, Cantler's maritime-themed décor and jovial staff have made this laid-back institution a local fixture.
The Clam Shack
Best Catch: Lobster Roll ($16.25)
If you're craving a tasty lobster roll, it's hard to match The Clam Shack's praised delicacy. Already exulted by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, our list wouldn't be complete without highlighting this beloved Kennebunkport spot.The secret behind their salty-sweet lobster rolls is preparing the fish in fresh sea water from a local tidal river. Juicy lobster tail and claw hunks are garnished with mayo and wrapped in a fresh New England roll.
New York City
Best Catch: 9-course Chef's Tasting Menu ($295)
Once you set foot in Per Se's plush dining room and sample one of Chef Thomas Keller's exquisite dishes—like oysters and pearls topped with caviar or poached lobster—you'll undoubtedly start singing its praises too. This first-rate French restaurant doesn't specialize in seafood, but we've added it to our list because the fishy dishes it does offer are too tasty to ignore. Prices are steep, but for a truly indulgent seafood dining experience, it's hard to match Per Se's impeccable plates.
Best Catch: Seared Georges Bank Scallops ($33)
This tiny Boston oyster bar is making some big waves. Neptune Oyster's raw bar and dining room seats only 44 patrons, so landing a table in this small venue will take some effort. Here, juicy oysters, seared scallops, meaty blue crabs, and poached Maine lobster are paired perfectly with crisp New Zealand Rieslings and Oregon Pinot Noirs. Your taste buds will no doubt be tantalized by just about any of these masterful culinary creations, but for a real treat, indulge in the Seared Georges Bank Scallops.