Crabs dish at San Francisco downtown piers (credit: Thinkstock)
Although it’s certainly not for everyone, a diet that includes seafood offers many health benefits. But it’s not just the healthy nutrients that attract seafood lovers from all over the country. Indeed, it’s also the alluring tastes, smells and appearances that make seafood cuisine an indispensable part of the American culinary scene. Although there are several cities across the country noted for outstanding seafood, the best are the ones located closest to its source. Here is a brief profile of seven of the best seafood cities in America.
With more restaurants per capita than any other major American city, it’s not surprising to know that San Francisco also has a sizable share of exceptional seafood restaurants. With fresh seafood delivered daily to fish markets like Sun Fat Seafood and local restaurants, customers can enjoy several local specialties such as fresh oysters, clam chowder bread bowls, cioppino and Crab Louie and other longtime staples like calamari and grilled salmon.
Among the many outstanding seafood restaurants in the city are Waterbar, Farallon, Sotto Mare, Chaya Brasserie, La Mar and the historic Tadich Grill, along with wildly popular oyster bars like Swan Oyster Depot, Hog Island Oyster Bar and Anchor Oyster Bar. Of course, the list of recommended spots for seafood would definitely not be complete without mentioning the world famous crab stands and the popular restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf. Among the recommended spots to dine are Alioto’s, Franciscan Crab Restaurant, Bistro Boudin, Fog Harbor Fish House and Scoma’s.
Many of America’s best seafood cities can be found in New England, such as Portland, Georgetown and Rockland in Maine and Seabrook in New Hampshire. But if one were to select just a single regional entry, Boston is likely to come out on top. The Massachusetts capital and one of the oldest cities in America hosts a number of restaurants specializing in fresh seafood, including the oldest restaurant in America. Among the most notable spots to sample delicious local seafood cuisine like New England (Boston) clam chowder, lobster rolls and raw oysters are Neptune Oyster, Legal Harborside, The Daily Catch, Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the U.S., and Island Creek Oyster Bar, the host of one of America’s best seafood festivals held last year.
As one of best culinary destinations in the entire country, the historic city of Charleston certainly ranks among the nation’s best for seafood. This is especially true since the fishing industry has been an integral part of the multi-award winning city’s economic and cultural success for nearly 350 years. The most acclaimed restaurant for locally sourced fish and shellfish in Charleston is Hank’s Seafood. It’s so good it’s been named the best seafood restaurant for a staggering 15 consecutive and glorious years. However, the city also known as one of the friendliest in America has a wealth of other phenomenal restaurants known for extraordinary seafood, such as 82 Queen, Blossom, Fig, Fish, Fleet Landing and Pearlz Oyster Bar. Among the Lowcountry seafood dishes to order are she crab soup with hushpuppies, shrimp and grits, fried oysters, scallops Charleston, crab cakes or whatever is the best catch of the day.
Exceptional seafood restaurants can be found all across Florida, particularly in major cities like Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. But the Florida Keys are world renowned for deep sea fishing, its important seafood markets and, of course, its fabulous seafood cuisine. With charter boats operating almost daily and one of the nation’s best seafood markets a few miles away in Marathon, Key West has a host of extraordinary seafood restaurants and food trucks. Among the best dine-in spots in the southernmost point in the continental U.S. are A&B Lobster House, Hot Tin Roof, Louie’s Backyard, One Duval, Seven Fish and the Stoned Crab. But visitors should not ignore the incredible offerings from local food trucks and fish shacks like Garbo’s Grill, B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Half Shell Raw Bar and the Conch Shack. Key West is also host notable festivals, such as the Florida Keys Seafood Festival, Key West Lobsterfest, Fantasy Fest and the nearby Marathon Seafood Festival.
Along with San Francisco, New Orleans is often considered the best culinary destination in America. Part of that lofty distinction is credited to the Crescent City’s unique local seafood cuisine, which includes savory dishes like blackened redfish, seafood etouffee, Creole jambalaya, Cajun seafood gumbo and oysters Rockefeller. Another factor is the sheer number of extraordinary restaurants operating in New Orleans, particularly in the French Quarter, the Warehouse District and the Central Business District. The list of upscale restaurants known for exceptional seafood is monumental, but among the top spots are GW Fins, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Bourbon House and Commander’s Palace. On the more affordable are even more great places for seafood like Acme Oyster House, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Frankie & Johnny’s and NOLA Po-Boys.
No list of the best American seafood cities would be complete without one selection from Maine. As the nation’s largest supplier of lobster, America’s northeasternmost state boasts a number of outstanding seafood cities, primarily along the rugged Atlantic coast. The most populous is Portland, the former capital of Maine, first permanently settled as a fishing and trading village in 1632. As the fishing industry continues to play a major role in the local economy, virtually every restaurant in Portland can be simply described as a seafood restaurant. Recommended spots for savoring locally sourced cuisine are Boone’s Fish House, DiMillo’s on the Water, Hugo’s, Fore Street and Street & Co. Lastly, while Portland has a few noteworthy crab shacks, the absolute best are outside the city but definitely worth a visit. Among the best are the Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown, Red’s Eats in Wiscasset and Waterman’s Beach Lobster in South Thomaston. Visitors are also urged to check out one or more of Portland’s seafood markets, but most importantly Brown Trading Market, located in the heart of the Old Port district.
Home to one of the country’s most important fishing industries and several outstanding restaurants, Seattle is clearly among America’s best cities for seafood. The Pacific Northwest’s largest city is also home to the very lively Pike Place Fish Market, one of the city’s premier attractions, drawing more than 10 million visitors annually, primarily to see the popular “fish mongers” and their flying fish. But as one of America’s largest, oldest and most important public markets, Pike Place also serves as a indispensable spot for local farmers and artisans to sell fresh produce, dairy products, crafts and other specialty items, as well as for excellent seafood dining. Among the more than 30 restaurants at Pike Place Market are places like Athenian Seafood Restaurant, Lowell’s Restaurant and Bar and Jack’s Fish Spot. But top-rated restaurants can be found all across the Greater Seattle Area, with other recommended spots like RockCreek Seafood & Spirits, Blueacre Seafood, Canlis, Shuckers and Manolin for delectable regional dishes, including oysters, king salmon, king and Dungeness crab and Pacific cod.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com