There is no more quintessential summer destination than the seafood shack. (Okay, maybe the beach, but the sea creatures there are raw and hard to catch.)
These humble spots vary by region, but they all conform to certain universal standards: a ramshackle aesthetic, enviable ocean proximity, an iron-clad commitment to fresh and local seafood and an uninhibited embrace of both the steamer and the deep fryer.
Start planning your next culinary road trip with these six gems in mind.
Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown, ME
Maine's got charming seafood outposts for miles, but if you have one chance to get it right, Five Islands is your spot. The frigid waters of Sheepscot Bay produce hearty specimens close to shore, which means the lightly dressed lobster meat is both extra sweet and extra fresh. It's BYO, which explains all the coolers dotting the decks overlooking the bay.
The Shrimp Shack, Seaside, FL
On your seafood bucket list: a basket of steamed royal red shrimp—a silky Gulf Coast delicacy—at this ridiculously charming Panhandle shack. Place your order inside the small house (Apalachicola oysters are another must), then retreat to the long dining gazebo, nestled into the dunes near the views. You'll spend the rest of the evening nursing a beer and plotting your pre-retirement move to Florida.
J.T. Farnham's, Essex, MA
Massachusetts' North Shore is pretty much ground zero for great clam shacks, but Farnham's wins for both quality and setting. The whole-belly fried clams—no strip fillers here—are briny and perfectly crisp, and the outdoor picnic tables afford unimpeded views of the Essex River, where you might spot a few kayakers or a solo sailboat. Mysteriously, the wait here is typically considerably shorter than at other nearby spots—not that we're complaining.
Neptune's Net, Malibu, CA
It's easy to lose a whole afternoon to this honky-tonk biker and surfer hangout on the Pacific Coast Highway. Skip the restaurant side and head straight for the seafood market for steamed Dungeness crab, Pacific oysters and the lauded clam chowder, then nab a patio table while you wait for your order. If the exterior looks familiar, that's because it's popped in classic SoCal films like Point Break and The Fast and the Furious.
The Crab Claw, St. Michaels, MD
If Maryland crab eating is an art, you'll become a veritable pesco-Picasso at this Chesapeake Bay institution. Order the Old Bay-seasoned crustaceans by the dozen and break them down at the butcher-papered picnic tables. With the restaurant's dockside seating, you can watch crabbers haul in dinner.
Bowens Island Restaurant, Charleston, SC
Enjoy your roasted oysters with a side of bucolic views. The ramshackle building sits atop the Intracoastal Waterway, affording dazzling views of the sunset over the South Carolina marshes. Try the locally sourced oysters with crab cakes and hushpuppies, and the Frogmore stew, a hearty Lowcountry specialty of sausage, shrimp and corn.