The How-To: Find a Seafood Spot for Every Occasion
Best for: Citified Plates on the North Shore
It’s common knowledge that the area’s finest fish shacks are concentrated north of the city. But all the way up in Newburyport you’ll also find a city-slick, raw bar meets chophouse with inspired flavor combinations that would rival those found at any Boston boîte. Stylish crudos, such as Rhode Island fluke dressed up with sliced radish, nasturtium leaves, puffed quinoa, and rhubarb vinaigrette, dominate the raw bar, while perfectly cooked steaks and add-ons like caviar service round out the sophisticated menu.
25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8479, brineoyster.com.
Best for: Bivalves and Brews
For their big Fort Point sequel, the Island Creek Oyster Bar team built a destination centered around exclusive Row 34 bivalves and a 24-strong tap list to go with them. Metal shelves installed into columns near the bar are perfect for resting a platter or pint glass, but it’s worth finding a table to spread out with a cured-and-smoked fish board, fried oyster lettuce cups, and, of course, another round of beers.
383 Congress St., Boston, 617-553-5900, row34.com.
Best for: Going Big…at an Off-Peak Hour
Neptune is as beloved for its lobster rolls and caviar-topped johnnycakes as it is notorious for its brutal wait times, which is why it’s better to attempt a weekday visit (the more obscure the time, the better). Celebrate scoring a bar seat with Dijon-laced blue crab cocktail, meaty slabs of hamachi crudo topped with kimchi, Greek branzino paired with crispy potatoes, and a nonstop flow of bubbly.
63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
Bistro du Midi
Best for: French-Styled Fruits de Mer
There’s something to be said for a beautifully plated, perfectly cooked piece of fish—be it crisp-skinned hake atop lobster consommé, or roasted monkfish with au poivre sauce. Here that fish is crafted by a chef with a Le Bernardin pedigree and served in an airy, elegant dining room complete with cushy chairs and attentive servers who can guide you to a glass of rosé from the extensive list. Lovely an evening as it sounds, it’s an increasingly rare treat in the shared-plates, no-reservations, industrial-chic dining world we now inhabit—so make the most of it.
272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com.
East Coast Grill
Best for: Getting Your Hands Dirty
Neat freaks, take heed: This boisterous Cambridge joint specializes in the type of finger-licking food—Buffalo fried shrimp, piled-high snow crab legs, and, for surf-and-turf lovers, dry-rubbed ribs—that requires a mountain of Wet-Naps. Bring your appetite, and leave the Sunday finery at home.
1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-6568, eastcoastgrill.net.
Best for: Ordering a Throwback
A platter of oysters Rockefeller is only as swish as the cart that chauffeurs it to the table, and here we’re talking about a burnished-wood beauty topped with a crisp white tablecloth. The Gruyère-and-herbed-bread-crumb-smothered bivalves are but one of the many old-school classics on the menu best paired with a crabmeat-garnished vodka martini.
761 Boylston St., Boston, 617-267-4000, atlanticfishco.com.
B & G Oysters
Best for: An Al Fresco Afternoon
During the evenings, Barbara Lynch’s petite oyster bar gets rightfully jammed—but that’s no matter, because we much prefer whiling away afternoons on the subterranean patio, with a bottle of white and the chicest plate of fried oysters in town—each craggy battered bivalve tucked back into its shell atop a dollop of house tartar sauce.
550 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0550, bandgoysters.com.
Best for: Faking Out Landlubbers
Famed for its dry-aged rib-eyes and fat-marbled Kobe cap steaks, this Back Bay institution actually offers just as many dishes for pescatarians—which get an equal amount of TLC from executive chef Jay Murray. This translates to a supremely rich lobster-and-quahog chowder, spice-rubbed tuna with fresh peas and mustard gnocchi, and crab cakes so jam-packed with sweet Jonah crabmeat, cutting into one feels just as luxurious as tucking into one of those attention-hogging steaks.
161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, grill23.com.
Best for: A Cantonese Tank-to-Table Feast
Skip the standard-issue sesame chicken in favor of anything that comes from the tanks up front—head-on salt-and-pepper shrimp, lobsters pan-fried with scallions and ginger, and, when the occasion warrants it, glorious Alaskan king crabs (order a day ahead), presented tableside and then dispatched into an epic three-course meal. Ask to see the yellow seafood dinner menu, which courses out feasts for parties ranging from two to 10.
4 Tyler St., Boston, 617-482-3332, peachfarmboston.com.
Best for: The Obligatory Legal Sea Foods Meal
Since debuting in 1950, Legal Sea Foods has gone from quaint fish market to full-blown machine with outposts all over Boston (and in a host of malls down the Eastern Seaboard). There’s a reason the chain is so popular, and that’s its remarkable consistency—best experienced not anywhere near a mall, but on the first floor of this multi-concept location (forgo the overly fancy fare in the second-floor dining room). Here, while facing the best sweeping views of the harbor in town, diners enjoy old-school broiled haddock, new-school swordfish gyros, and those always-hot, crackly-crusted rolls.
270 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-477-2900, legalseafoods.com.
The Daily Catch
Best for: Old-School Italian
North End restaurants with long lines usually scream “tourist trap,” but the teeny original outpost of this local chainlet is actually worth the queue for its chewy, house-made squid-ink pasta aglio olio–style (tossed with fresh ground squid and an arsenal of chopped garlic), buttery-sweet monkfish Marsala, and bowls of Sicilian-style clams submerged in a fragrant white wine broth, all of which is made right in front of you (because you’re crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder with the kitchen).
323 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-8567, thedailycatch.com.
Best for: Sublime Ceviche
Rincon Limeño’s ceviche de pescado is a model for how the dish should be done—with fresh hunks of grouper piled high, doused in a sharp, citrusy marinade (which, as it pools on the bottom of the plate, is known as leche de tigre), and served alongside a pile of crunchy salted-and-roasted corn. It’s a cooling antidote to fiery plates like tacu tacu, a creamy seafood stew spiked by a healthy dose of the Peruvian pepper ají amarillo. (For the full effect, tell your server to bring on the heat.)
409 Chelsea St., East Boston, 617-569-4942, rinconlimeno.com.
The Market Restaurant
Best for: Stellar Food… by the Sea
Okay, so only about a third of the daily-changing menu at this seasonal Cape Ann spot could be called “seafood.” But you won’t find a better sea-facing meal—of farm-fresh salads with lobster-tinged vinaigrette; tuna carpaccio with green Italian olives and orange; and, yes, an ungodly rib-eye pooled with anchovy butter—around. That Market inhabits a former fish market merely legitimizes our creative license.
33 River Rd., Gloucester, 978-282-0700, themarketrestaurant.com.
Best for: Unexpectedly Amazing Fried Clams
Surprisingly, we’ve enjoyed some of the best fried Ipswich clams—perfectly crisp, with creamy bellies and homemade tartar sauce—at this unassuming Italian eatery tucked away in Ball Square. Its under-the-radar status means you can easily land a table to fill up on lobster ravioli and haddock picatta—or anything, really, that involves the fresh catch and homemade pasta (and, yes, the clams).
158 Boston Ave., Somerville, 617-623-0003, pescatoreseafood.com.
Best for: Dining Gill to Tail
Any sashimi bar worth its weight in hamachi serves pristine fish fillets. But what about broiled collars with the heads, complete with succulent cheek meat still attached? Perhaps you’ve had raw scallops—but what about the feathery strips of scallop mantle? Order the $60 to $90 omakase menu at this sushi haven, and chef Seizi Imura will not only delight you with beautiful slices of raw and cured fish, he’ll also realign which parts of the fish you consider edible.
1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-492-0434, cafesushicambridge.com.
Best for: Making the Best of Being Land-Locked
A Marlborough shopping plaza may be a likelier bet for an efficient manicure than a seafood feast, but MetroWest diners skip the downtown traffic for Fish’s inspired mix of New England classics (crisp, saline whole-belly clams; buttery baked stuffed lobster) and inspired plates (octopus with green goddess dressing; shrimp and cheddar grits crowned with a crispy six-minute egg). On Sundays, fresh oysters are just a buck a shuck.
29 S. Bolton St., Marlborough, 508-460-3474, eatatfish.com.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Best for: Having It All
When a popular Duxbury oyster farm teamed up with the gang behind Eastern Standard, the city gained a vital addition offering a bit of everything—addictive fried-oyster sliders for the food nerds; crème fraîche–dressed lobster rolls for the classics seekers. Choose between elegant dining in back and snacking and drinking at the high-tops in front.
500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.
Jasper White’s Summer Shack
Best for: The Slam-Dunk Lobster Dinner
Lobster purists will tell you that the crustacean is best enjoyed bare, but chef Jasper White’s pan-roasted lobster drenched in a buttery bourbon, chervil, and chive sauce is transcendent enough to convert the staunchest traditionalists. Expertly fried seafood and thoughtful blackboard fish specials, meanwhile, are fine supporting cast members.
149 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Cambridge, 617-520-9500; and other locations; summershackrestaurant.com.
Merrill & Co.
Best for: Sunday Fun Day
Six days a week, there are several serious seafood dishes—tiger shrimp with XO sauce, yellowfin-tuna ceviche with grapefruit, whole-roasted fish with cucumber dressing—on the menu alongside gussied-up diner classics like cheeseburger sliders. Come Sunday, there’s only one: grilled oysters topped with hot-sauce mignonette. But that’s all you need when there’s also grilled corn on the cob, pitchers of icy sherry cocktails, and, yes, karaoke.
One Appleton St., Boston, 617-728-0728, merrillandcoboston.com.
Best for: Dining on Your Boss’s Dime
Israeli osetra caviar, broiled 3-pound lobsters, black truffle–topped sea-bass carpaccio—when the occasion calls for food designed to impress (or, at least, dent an expense account), this opulent newcomer from chef Jamie Mammano is the way to go. But there’s much more than luxury for luxury’s sake at play here, with remarkable quality (thanks to an in-house fishmonger) and thoughtful compositions like the paella, which features crispy bomba rice brimming with a half-dozen types of shellfish.
One Charles St. S., Boston, 617-421-1200, ostraboston.com.
Hungry for more?
Check out our complete “Seafood Lover’s Guide.”