Ferreting out a well-made cocktail and inventive cuisine—minus the pretense—can be a tall order anywhere. Find them in a North Shore beach town at 11 p.m., and it's like striking gold. Discriminating night owls flock to the Franklin Cape Ann, northern sibling of the South End's much-loved Franklin Café; for hearty, affordable (read: under $25) dishes like pan-seared cod with oyster mushrooms and ginger, as well as a killer lineup of old-fashioned drinks. 118 Main St., Gloucester, MA 1930, franklincafe.com.
No matter whom we ask, Grand Chau Chow is the first place people mention for authentic Chinese fare. In addition to such adventurous dishes as Fish Head with Ginger and Scallions and Braised Duck Feet with Oyster Sauce, you'll find excellent examples of such old faves as Crispy Sesame Chicken and Beef with Scallions. All this, plus a cool faux waterfall. 45 Beach St., Boston, MA .
Stop at Sun Sun to pick up all those items on your grocery list you just can't seem to find at Super Stop 'n Shop: dried oysters, fish heads (some of which seem to be moving), and live crabs, as well as a great selection of produce, meats, and fish. Worth a trip simply to stock your spice cabinet with authentic Oriental sauces and seasonings. Plus, rice in bulk and many herbal and green teas. 18 Oxford Street, Boston, MA .
The food at Fin is subtle at first, but soon shows its adventurous side. Take the chowder. It's a go-to order at any restaurant on the Cape, but Fin uses oysters instead of clams and adds a drizzle of white-truffle oil. That level of detail and savory depth permeates the offerings here, from the flawless pan-seared scallops to the salted-peanut ice cream. 800 Main St., Dennis, MA fincapecod.com.
This French-inspired restaurant is not what you'd expect to find in a quaint seaside town. The feel is trendy but unpretentious; the space is open and airy; and the wine list rivals those you might see in Boston. The food itself is a wonderfully eclectic mix of country cooking and local seafood, with everything from escargots and oysters to bacon cheeseburgers and house-made squid-ink spaghettini represented on the menu. 2 School St., Marblehead, MA 5cornerskitchen.com.
Why choose among made-to-order omelets, eggs Benedict, and malted Belgian waffles when you can have it all? The superlative Sunday brunch at Water Street, the Harbor View Hotel's on-site restaurant, features a veritable smorgasbord of everyone's favorites: savory carving-station roasts, a raw bar stocked with oysters and fresh seafood salads, and a dessert table showcasing profiteroles that proliferate beyond your wildest fantasies. 131 North Water St., Edgartown, MA 2539, harbor-view.com.
Soggy night? No problem: Award-winning chef Frank McClelland, formerly of the Back Bay landmark L’Espalier, has you covered — literally. Thanks to a protective overhang strung with twinkling lights, his Beverly restaurant’s charming patio is the perfect spot to enjoy striped bass and saffron-infused arancini al fresco even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. On balmy evenings, don’t miss the grilled oysters from the outdoor smoker. 112 Rantoul St., Beverly, MA 01915, farmtofrank.com.
With floor-to-ceiling windows and a string-lit terrace showcasing Green Monster vistas, Hotel Commonwealth’s new event space hits it out of the park. Part of the hotel’s recent $50 million makeover, the just-built wing is now the perfect spot for both Sox fans and culinary-minded couples to celebrate their love: The catering menu features dishes inspired by on-site hot spots Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA hotelcommonwealth.com.
If Cheers were a fish market, it might look like New Deal, a family-owned shop where the fishmongers know practically every customer's name (and are happy to offer tips on preparing their from-the-sea bounty). Here, the cases are stocked with the freshest (oftentimes local) fish and shellfish, whether it's sushi-grade tuna or celebratory oysters that you crave. 622 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02141, newdealfishmarket.com.
At an authentic Japanese izakaya, the food is meant to serve as a supporting role to the endless flow of sake. But at this Brighton hangout, the infinitely snackable dishes—flame-licked yakitori-style skewered meats, crisp fried oysters, the noodle omelet hybrid known as omusoba—are just as much of a draw. Maximize your experience of the massive menu (and the hefty platters of pan-fried pork and kimchi) by indulging with friends. 1414 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 2135, .
Sushi restaurants these days often look like futuristic temples, and the newfangled rolls they serve are themselves elaborate works of architecture. So it may seem surprising that a cramped 13-seat spot with nightly hour-long waits continues to inspire such reverence. And then you taste the fish: buttery baby hamachi scattered with slivered jalapeño; a teacup full of creamy Kumamoto oyster sashimi; and, for timid eaters, stellar samples of standard tuna and salmon. 612 Hammond St., Chestnut Hill, MA 2467, oishiiboston.com.
With fish, there's nothing better than fresh-from-the-ocean, as chef Gilbert Pepin well knows. In season, locally caught seafood arrives daily at his South Yarmouth restaurant and gets turned into servings of chilled Cummaquid oysters, Chatham littlenecks, sautéed halibut, and lobster truffle risotto. To finish, there are wonderful ice creams, also very locally mad—out back in the kitchen. 902 Main St. (Rte. 28), South Yarmouth, MA 902main.com.
A Maine native, chef Jeremy Sewall has spent more than enough time on the New England coast to develop a healthy respect for fish and shellfish—and just enough time in California (at the Lark Creek Inn) to avoid the Yankee fondness for giant portions and buttery sauces. Sewall's sensibilities often lean toward Asian preparations—especially at the raw bar, where he serves freshly shucked oysters with chive mignonette alongside Japanese octopus ceviche with lemongrass-ginger juice. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA .
Korean cuisine is about more than just barbecue. The signature dish at this tiny Allston joint is sundubu, a roiling crock of silken tofu stew that's enriched with a fresh egg and potent ingredients like briny oysters and funky kimchi. If you do happen to be in the mood for sizzling kalbi beef ribs, though, don't fret—they're on the menu, too. 58 Harvard Ave., Allston, MA kajutofuhouse.com.
Just as good for a boisterous brunch as it is for an evening gabfest over Moscow Mules, Russell House Tavern is an ideal spot for every social objective. There are late-night $1 oysters, a patio, a choice of two bars, and a welcoming basement dining room. Plus, the staff is remarkably child-friendly, even to infants. Oh, and the food? Executive chef Michael Scelfo offers the diverse menu you'd expect, from a sloppy pork-loin sandwich to a silky foie gras-Laphroaig terrine. 14 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, MA 2138, russellhousecambridge.com.