The fact of the matter is that seafood – including fish – does not travel, and the best, most flavorsome seafood dishes will be found near the source: on the coast. There are no finer or fresher fish or seafood restaurants than those found within the proximity of New England’s beautiful coastline, from Connecticut through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and on up to Maine.
The Lobster Trap – Bourne, Massachusetts
This indoor-outdoor restaurant and fresh seafood market (for home cooks) is set in decidedly un-touristy Bourne on Cape Cod’s western edge. It’s where lucky locals and visitors in-the-know nosh on succulent fried whole belly clams, creamy clam chowder, stuffed quahog (a giant clam) and, of course, lobster – all the while overlooking an expanse of natural salt marsh and a giant pop culture mural.
Union Oyster House – Boston, Massachusetts
Not only does one get a big slice of Boston history here in America’s oldest restaurant in continuous service (certified by a National Register of Historic Places plaque), but the seafood is excellent. At Union Oyster House, you’ll find “Yankee-style” creamy chowder, scrod (which just means catch of the day), crispy fish and chips, and oysters, the latter freshly shucked from the very bar where famed cook Julia Child and, long before her, statesman Daniel Webster would sit, slurping them down.
Oyster Club – Mystic, Connecticut
This much-honored restaurant overlooking this charming, vibrant coastal Connecticut town, combines a cozy indoor dining room and open kitchen with a tiered outdoor dining deck, known as the Treehouse. While outdoor dining here is eclectic, indoor diners may watch the oyster shucker’s strong hands open sweet Mystics and brinier Fishers Islands, each pulled out of Long Island Sound.
Local and more sustainable fish, like fluke, pan-roasted and served with oyster mushrooms and baby fingerling potatoes, or small smelt, which is used in the Caesar salad’s dressing instead of anchovy.
Select Oyster Bar – Boston, Massachusetts
Set in a Back Bay townhouse, this lively boîte is a favorite with the downtown set, who clamber to cram in together at the bar, at the big table in the window or in the conservatory. Dine on hamachi crudo with tart passion fruit coulis, blue crab salad with crunchy creamy celery root remoulade, and steaming bowls of saffron-infused bouillabaisse laden with whole shrimp, mussels, clams and local monkfish.
Bob’s Clam Hut – Kittery, Maine
In 1956, the late Robert Kraft, native Mainer and avid amateur clam digger, opened Bob’s Clam Hut in his parent’s backyard, off Route 1 in Kittery. It was a hit and has remained a beloved seafood diner. The menu broadened to include clam chowder, lobster stew and rolls, and other fish favorites.
At one point, a second recipe for cooking clams was added: longtime employee Lillian Mango challenged Kraft’s simple flour-dredged clams, and Lillian’s method of pre-dipping the clam in egg wash remains an option. Order Bob’s, or Lil’s, or do a split combining the two and argue the toss, just like Bob and Lillian did!
Coquette – Boston, Massachusetts
This gorgeous restaurant in Boston’s Seaport brings some “ooh la la” to New England’s seafood scene. Try the towering La Petit Plage, boasting oysters, littleneck clams, giant shrimp, lobster tail, mussels and tuna. More humbly, but equally tasty, try a simple plate of northeast oysters – including meaty Wellfleets and Cotuits from Cape Cod – or one of giant wild shrimp. Both are splendid appetizers or cocktail companions.
The Banks Fish House – Boston, Massachusetts
This chic Back Bay restaurant, named for the great Atlantic Ocean’s once fertile fishing region, Georges Bank, is split over two floors, each with a beautiful view of Copley Square’s Trinity Church and the magnificent modernist Hancock Building.
This newer restaurant also offers a fine selection of North Atlantic seafood, both in classic recipes and ones with new twists. The New England clam chowder, though creamy and rich, is served in a tall mug rather than a cup. And among several flatbreads, The Chowda repurposes clam chowder to create a white pizza laden with clam and potato, topped with oyster crackers.
Jumpin’ Jay’s – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Located in the heart of this architecturally attractive town on New Hampshire’s short coastline, Jumpin’ Jay’s kitchen cooks up beloved New England seafood classics, but often includes an Italian spin. For instance, haddock piccata, linguine with littleneck clams with a hint of red pepper flakes, or a sumptuous seafood fettuccine filled with diver scallops, mussels and shrimp, topped with powdered pistachio.
Diners will see the busy oyster shuckers at work at the raw bar. The shuck-a-buck nights offer regional oysters at a buck a pop. And, yes, that really gets the place jumpin’, as locals crowd in, especially enjoying a seat at the raised central bar to slurp oysters and sip a local beer.
Champlin’s – Narragansett, Rhode Island
When it comes to boat-to-table seafood, this quaint seaside town’s longtime favorite eatery is located at the entrance to Galilee Harbor, home of Rhode Island’s largest fishing fleet. This is where it all happens. Dine on the casual restaurant deck or inside, overlooking the water, and watch local fishermen unload their daily catch.
Champlin’s menu really does honor the sea’s bounty: lobster, oyster and clam rolls; fish and chips made from dry battered flounder; and the New England seafood feast known as the clam bake, made up of clams, lobster, corn and potatoes.
Nubb’s Lobster Shack – Cape Neddick, Maine
Tucked inside the Cliff House Maine, an oceanfront resort on Vacationland’s southern coast, there is the famed lobster in all its familiar and newer culinary forms: whole, rolls, but also in the idiosyncratic lobster totchos, a pairing of lobster meat and tater tots in a nachos-style dish.
The Nubb’s menu also lines up clam chowder, crab cakes, whole belly clams, fried Maine oysters, and fish and chips. Order at the window, true lobster shack style, and eat inside or out, overlooking the cliff and the ocean.
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