When you think of Maine, you probably think of lobster. You may associate crab with Maryland, Seattle and salmon, and Forrest Gump has forever linked shrimp with the Gulf Coast. With more than 12,000 miles of coastline, plus more than 1680 lakes and seemingly endless miles of rivers and streams, the United States has options for every fish-lover. Commercial fishing in the US is a $5.2 billion industry, ensuring plentiful food across the country. From sea-to-shining-sea, let’s explore a few of the nation’s favorite places to enjoy frutti di mare.
Seattle: a seafood lover’s dream destination
Few cities can boast a reputation for seafood quite like Seattle. Its iconic Pike Place Fish Market draws visitors from across the globe to experience the unexpected, including Fish Mongers who throw wild salmon (and ship all over the world) and the latest in trendy food. Long before sustainability became the keyword for quality seafood, Seattleites were concerned about where and how its fish was harvested. Visitors and locals can enjoy fresh seafood in almost any Seattle neighborhood – and at almost any budget. Seattle’s ties to the East have created strong Asian influences on local cuisine, and the standards are sky-high. Students and budget-conscious tourists can find a wide range of quick, delicious and student-friendly budget sushi in the U-District (near the University of Washington). For families seeking a mid-range option, Chiso Sushi & Izakaya in the Fremont neighborhood doesn’t disappoint. (After dinner, you can visit the famous Fremont troll.) For those seeking a more upscale experience, the highly regarded nishino near the Arboretum won’t disappoint. For visitors who don’t want to stray too far from the Space Needle or Pioneer Square, there are plenty of options. Known for its unique location, Seattle has near-endless restaurants serving seafood close enough to the water to hear the ferries crossing Puget Sound.
California dreaming on a winter’s day?
Of course California is a great destination for seafood lovers. From San Diego to the Oregon border, diners (and wine lovers) could spend decades trying restaurants and never get bored.
Spend a little time in Santa Barbara and you will discover that less-than-stellar restaurants don’t survive for long. Santa Barbara has the added attraction of a beautiful beach and Stearns Wharf pier in the heart of downtown, where you take in regattas, beach volleyball and hear the occasional drumming circle while eating magnificently. Santa Barbara FisHouse sits across the street from the pier. Their motto of “usually local, always fresh” rings true. Can’t decide what to try? We suggest beginning with their Ahi Poke as an appetizer followed by the FisHouse Cioppino, with mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, and fish with a local rock crab claw. Try a seasonal cocktail or ask for a local wine to complete your experience.
Peru meets Japan, with a California twist, at La Mar in San Francisco with an unusual tiradito, a Japanese sashimi in Peruvian style. The restaurant also features various types of cebiche (ceviche) and other exotic seafood options. They offer local wine and beer, as well as sake, and several interesting cocktails.
Oysters on the half shell sourced from their very own farm sets Hog Island Oyster Company ahead of other seafood restaurants. The San Francisco location sits just on the Ferry Port, offering a stellar view of the Oakland Bay Bridge. Outside the city, on their farm on Tomales Bay, adventurous eaters can shuck their own oysters. This experience includes grilling your own oysters (and other food if you bring it) and enjoying your catch at their picnic tables. Reservations are required and you’ll need to bring your own tableware, picnic foods, including other things to grill, plus drinks. For those who would prefer more traditional service, the Boat Oyster Bar will shuck and grill oysters for you. They also offer a selection of local cheese, charcuterie (cured or smoked meats), wine, beer and house-made seasonal fare.
Something for everyone between the Pacific and Atlantic
People who live on one of the coasts may forget this, but the United States has a plethora of seafood restaurants located far inland. Boat-to-table shellfish may be a challenge to find, but rivers, lakes and streams offer locavores plenty of options for fresh fish. For seafood farther from the ocean, try one of these unique venues:
- Minneapolis, Minnesota – Located in the Guthrie Theater, Sea Change stands out for its commitment to sustainable seafood and supporting ethical fisheries. Besides their seafood items, they offer their own twist to classic cocktails, such as Green Team Gimlet and Ginger Sidecar. Catch their happy hour on certain weeknights for specials. Combine the experience with a performance to make the most of your time at the Guthrie.
- Princeton, Iowa – If you ate any closer to the Mississippi River, you’d be swimming. Go Fish is a year-round marina, bar and grill. While their seafood many not come from the Mississippi, they do offer other locally sourced options, including a selection from local breweries. This unique establishment has earned awards from the National Geographic Geotourism Program and the Quad City Riverfront Council, and is well worth a visit when visiting the Quad Cities.
- Denver, Colorado – Quite literally, you’ll “eat with the fishes” at the Aquarium. Aimed at families, you’ll certainly not forget savoring grilled salmon or mahi-mahi amidst floor-to-ceiling views of aquatic life swimming by your table. If Denver isn’t on your itinerary, this underwater dining adventure is also available at aquariums in Houston and Kemah, Texas and in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Greater New Orleans, Louisiana – NOLA knows its seafood! Locals trust Drago’s to provide the flavorful local experience. Visitors to Louisiana appreciate an authentic culinary experience, with locally sourced oysters coming straight from the water and prepared by traditional NOLA means. Not an oyster fan? Try other local favorites like gumbo, crawfish étouffée (stew with catfish, or seasonally available shrimp) or fish and grits.
- Monterville, West Virginia – Looking to get away from it all? Catch your dinner yourself or let the professionals do the work when you treat yourself to the remote Ellie May's Ole Mill Restaurant at the Elk Springs Resort. This restaurant and lodge features locally caught fish delivered daily. This remote location boasts very limited cell services, so you will get the unique opportunity to focus on your loved ones over a quiet dinner at a lodge nestled in the wilderness, without getting disturbed by pesky text messages.
Savoring seafood in the Mid-Atlantic
If you are looking for the exotic and unexpected in Northwest Washington DC, the BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant might be just for you. As you enter, you can take in the sights of their fish market presenting delicacies from near and far and inspiring seafood aficionados to pick something unusual on the menu. Whether you try a special mix of seafood and pasta, the latest fish entrees or the Chef’s tasting menu (with or without paired wines), in a city divided by politics, a delicious meal always deserves a unanimous vote.
Grab your mallet, as you’ll work for your dinner when you order hard-shell crabs in Maryland. Usually served on paper tablecloths, you can find this flavorful delight across the state. About an hour away from the Beltway, in beautiful Annapolis, MD, Cantler’s Riverside Inn offers blue crabs straight from the Chesapeake, flavored with J.O. Spice. For a little spice, try steamed mussels, clams or peel-and-eat shrimp.
Local legend Bruce Springsteen sings it best, “Down the shore everything’s all right.” Each summer, communities along the Jersey Shore blossom with beach bums, tourists and families. Luckily, it’s easy to find great seafood in the Garden State. This year, Klein’s in Belmar, New Jersey is celebrating 90 years of serving fish lovers. Today, this award-winning business boasts a fish market, waterside café, restaurant and tiki bar. Looking for something more formal? The River House in nearby Brielle offers waterfront dining and beautiful ambiance on the inlet, where you can view picturesque Sedge and Gull islands, as well as the Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area, as you hear boats mooring on the dock.
The Northeast’s seafood legacy speaks for itself: New York, Massachusetts and Maine
Neither New York’s Hudson nor East Rivers may entice you to fish for your dinner off a pier (although some locals actually do), but NYC has countless options for seafood lovers. Extreme competition constantly challenges restaurants across all five boroughs in the Big Apple. With more than 46,000 restaurants in New York City – and a whopping 72 Michelin-starred establishments – the bar for exclusive establishments is sky-high in Manhattan. One of your best options is a fish-only establishment, Le Bernardin, which regularly tops lists of New York’s finest restaurants.
If a waterfront experience is what you are looking for, NoName Restaurant on Boston’s Fish Pier would be an apt choice. Describing itself as “quintessential Boston,” you are sure to find your favorites here. Another institution, which has been a dock-to-table favorite for decades, is Legal Seafood. Now expanded from its original location in Cambridge, Massachusetts to five states and the District of Columbia, Legal has kept its roots and commitment to a high-quality shellfish-focused experience.
There is a reason lobster is king in Maine. As it has for 34 years, Maine led the country as its number one source for lobster, producing more than 121.7 million pounds. Shipped all over the world, you can still enjoy a taste of world-class lobster on the wharf in Portland at Scales. With a seasonal menu that includes a raw bar, seafood and select items for meat lovers, you are sure to find something for fish and shellfish lovers alike.
For many people, enjoying a meal with loved ones is one of life’s most meaningful activities. Outstanding food makes all the difference. Current trends show an uptick in American seafood consumption and an increase in demand for locally sourced food. This bodes well for diners who appreciate fresh-from-the-water delights across the United States. Whether you prefer seafood served in the traditional way or you seek out innovative ways to make sushi, there’s plenty to choose from across the country.
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