With a centuries-old fishing community and the oldest seafood restaurant in the USA, Boston is an oceanside capital overflowing with the freshest and tastiest catch around.
People will tell you that “You have to have seafood in Boston,” and “You must try New England clam chowder in Boston,” and “Sure, lobster rolls are technically a Maine thing, but you still can’t miss out on them in Boston.” Luckily, most of the restaurants on this list have the best of all three. Indulge your way across town and maritime species with these chowda-slewing, lobsta-roll-slinging, oysta-shucking seafood restaurants in Boston.
Saltie Girl Seafood Bar
Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
Saltie Girl’s lobster roll is one of many must-try dishes | Courtesy of Saltie Girl
Saltie Girl Seafood Bar is among the most cutting-edge restaurants in Boston. From its selection of tinned seafood and melt-in-your-mouth sashimi and scallops to its briny caviar, its exceptional menu items are disrupting the seafood scene in the city. When it comes to the lobster rolls, it’s hard to decide which is better: the steamy hot version or the cold chunks nestled in a warm, toasted buttered roll. The interior is classically small with efficiently used space in true Back Bay brownstone style, with seating limited to four booths and a long bar. Watch the chefs work their magic behind the counter, artistically crafting plates and using handheld blow torches. The servers will expertly guide you through pairings and course timing, ensuring you an incredible meal that will give you a reason to return to Boston.
Row 34 is masterful with seafood, which is evident in its comprehensive menu and knowledgeable servers. The list on the raw bar alone – with oysters, crudo, towers, poke, ceviche and smoked spreads – is extensive. The menu items complement each other for excellent mixing and matching and group sharing. One of the most attractive features of the restaurant is its sunny and industrial space (which was formerly a steel factory) in the trendy and up-and-coming Fort Point neighborhood. Named after the pristine 34th row of oysters at the oyster farm, the restaurant is from the same team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar; therefore, you know you’re getting a good selection. Also, don’t shy away from beer pairings, as Row 34 offers an extensive list.
Simplicity is the specialty at Select Oyster Bar. You won’t see any heavy carbs or fillers on the menu, just seafood-centric items perfectly paired with seasonal vegetables and delicate dressings. The Faroe Island salmon crudo is outstanding with a pleasantly unexpected touch of pistachio oil, togarashi and lime. The Spanish octopus, paired with a kick of roasted tomatillo and chimichurri dressing, stands out as well. The menu also offers sharing platters, specifically tailored to different sized parties ranging from one to eight. Located in a Back Bay townhouse, Select Oyster Bar features a sleek exposed-brick interior and open-air backroom, providing a soothing escape from busy Newbury Street.
Atlantic Fish Co., which opened in 1978, boasts some of the freshest catches in the city. It serves seafood sourced from the harbor every morning and purchases nothing more than two days old. It even reprints its menus every day, and the chefs have proudly honed their craft of cutting and filleting all fish in-house. Its commitment to local waters and high-standard harvesting (working with a fourth-generation family fishing business) is reflected in the taste of the fish. Its classic Boston clam chowder is a must-try, as are its many lobster dishes. From its outdoor patio right in the Back Bay, enjoy people-watching, shmoozing and front-row seats to the Boston Marathon finish line.
The most notable aspect of The Barking Crab is its boisterous ambience. Casual, loud, fun and right on the harbor, it is a gathering spot ideal for friends and boozy hang-outs. With picnic tables under a red-and-yellow striped tent, red plastic baskets and music, the scene here welcomes you to unwind. It’s overdone in the best way and catches those who are OK with being caught. Embrace the fried section, and try its clam chowder to experience what this city is all about.
Eventide Fenway, the sister branch of the original Eventide location in Maine, is the creation of James Beard Award-winning chefs. This counter-service restaurant offers exceptional food at a fast pace, sending guests a text not when a table is available but rather when their meal is ready. Traditional recipes are elevated with creative and flavorful twists, such as the clam chowder with dried seaweed and the bao bun that surrounds the brown butter lobster roll. You might also see that same brown butter later in the soft serve for dessert. It also offers a family-style lobster bake for parties of six or more if booked more than 72 hours in advance.
Island Creek Oysters is a renowned New England oyster farm known for its quality harvest. You’ll likely feel the esteem of its reputation as soon as you walk into its restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, with its gray-toned sleek interior paired with ambient lighting. While you’ll see guests dressed in casual attire, it also wouldn’t be uncommon to spot some blazers and high heels. Its Kenmore Square location has a great nightlife scene and many activities before or after eating. Of course, try the oysters, or stay on the creamy side of the menu with its clam chowder accompanied by dill biscuits.
This little shack on the harbor brings strong Cape Cod vibes. Though the trailer-like shanty looks almost semi-permanent, the Hook family has been serving up seafood at this location since 1925. Don’t expect fancy frills inside with its minimal seating, a small order counter, tanks of live sea creatures and sailor-seeming brothers with gruff accents. However, do expect succulent lobster dishes, including the classic choice between butter or mayo. Also, try a hearty cup of lobster bisque or classic chowder. It has indoor seating plus a simple outdoor patio, which isn’t a bad option on sunny days.
This white-tablecloth restaurant serves artful small plates bursting with flavor. However, you probably won’t do too much sharing, especially of the tiny and fanciful appetizers, because you’ll want it all for yourself. The drizzled sauces may look akin to abstract art, but you’ll want to sop up every smear across your plate until the last bite. Mooncusser lies in a triangle-shaped room on the third floor of a triangle-shaped building. The large windows look out at The Castle at Park Plaza, adding a sense of prestige to your meal. The Mooncusser chowder features little moon-shaped crackers, and the restaurant also offers a five-course tasting menu to sample a selection of its best.
If you want tradition, get it here. Located in one of the oldest parts of the city, Union Oyster House dates back to 1826, making it the oldest seafood restaurant in the US. It’s also a designated National Historic Landmark. The building is still the same pre-Revolutionary War edifice built more than 250 years ago, and the interior is decorated with 18th-century American memorabilia. It’s perhaps one of the most loved and locally tolerated parts of the Faneuil Market area. There’s even a Kennedy Booth that JFK allegedly preferred to sit at when frequenting the restaurant. Expect to find a whole range of seafood, classic clam chowder, slow-roasted black beans in clay pots and, of course, Sam Adams beer on tap.
If you like your seafood paired with Italian cuisine, come to this long-standing North End institution. The fried calamari is a popular favorite, but there are more classics to explore on the menu. The seasonal deck and outdoor bar make for perfect warm-weather lounging. This cash-only, local joint offers comfort food in a casual setting, complete with a chalkboard menu.
This South End staple from chef Barbara Lynch is among the top seafood restaurants in the city. It lies inside a small brownstone with a long marble bar and a cute back patio. It also offers oyster-shucking classes (complete with champagne and gifted oyster knives) on select afternoons at the bar for a hands-on experience and a new skill to take home. The wine pairings are impeccable, so ask your server for some advice.
Yankee Lobster Co. has retained its spot in the developing Seaport District for good reason. In the 1920s, Guiseppe Zanti Jr immigrated to the US and started fishing for lobster. His sons eventually opened a storefront in 1950, and it remains a family-run business to this day. The counter-service experience here feels like a fish market, especially with its proximity to the harbor. Pretty much anything with lobster in it is a good bet, as is the classic chowder. The owners also ship seafood to anywhere in the continental US.
Located in the Italian North End, this refined oyster bar takes its seafood dishes beyond simple pasta (though you’ll find satisfying lobster spaghetti and squid ink risotto). It also offers less common Spanish octopus and fuzzy, spikey sea urchin. Though you can get half-shells the traditional way, it also serves the bivalves a little differently, such as oyster piggybacks with pulled pork and oyster crudo. With a delectable selection of crudo and a reputable lobster roll, you can expect to wait in line, but you’ll be glad you did.
The Summer Shack provides a casual vibe that’s youthful and fun for both families and university students. This spot offers low-key dining with locally sourced seafood. It has a raw bar case that holds 2,000 pieces of shellfish and an award-winning shucking expert to crack it all open for you. Its location on the edge of Back Bay is prime for walking to the Boston Symphony Hall, Copley Square and Fenway Park, depending which direction you pick. Also, there are many entertainment options, including bowling alleys and bars, in the surrounding area.
No Boston list would be complete without this chain. Even though Legal Sea Foods has grown far beyond its humble beginnings, the restaurant is still a New England claim to fame. Beginning as a fish market in Cambridge in 1950, the conglomerate now has over 35 locations. To truly capture one of the best Boston experiences, check out either the harborside location with three floors of magnificent views of the water or the one on State Street across from the New England Aquarium. (You might spot some seal tanks!) The chowder here has been used as a standard measurement around the city and has even been served at presidential inaugurations. You could say there may be some reason for the hype.