While a steakhouse is a steakhouse is a steakhouse, seafood restaurants quite often encompass a wider range of options. While many fast-food chains will have a few seafood options, at least for the Lent season, there are a few such chains that actually have fish as a primary specialty. There are a number of other fish-focused chains that offer more of a fast-casual dining experience, while still others are very upscale, offering champagne and lobster with a million-dollar view.
The seafood restaurants here encompass a wide range of price points, from fairly cheap to don't even ask (A.K.A. "market price," in restaurant-speak). The menu options, too, range from fish and chips and fish sandwiches to seafood boils, surf-and-turf, lobster rolls, and even sushi. As to the quality, some of these places we're not so "shore" about, but others are downright fin-tastic! Here's hoping you will "sea" something you like on this list. Frozen Vegetable Pasta
We'll start with an admission: Comparing any fast food restaurant to a more upscale one is like putting a cheap compact car up against a luxury sedan. Still, even for a cheap seafood option, Captain D's isn't worth much. The main menu choices are pretty uninspired since there's little to choose from besides greasy fried fish, dry and boring grilled fish, bland fried shrimp, and tasteless chicken tenders.
What we really dislike about Captain D's, however, is the sides that it offers. While it's okay to have some slightly healthier options in addition to french fries, who goes to a fast food restaurant in search of broccoli or green beans? Yikes, way to make the whole place smell like an elementary school cafeteria.
Long John Silver's gets points for being named after a character in "Treasure Island," but sadly its fish is pretty meh. Unlike Captain D's, though, at least all of it is identified by species: cod, pollock, or salmon. There's also a wider variety of options, too, since you can get your fish in a bowl or taco as well as in a sandwich or on a platter. Chicken and shrimp are available as fish alternatives, with the shrimp being available grilled as well as fried.
One thing that sets Long John Silver's apart in the admittedly uncrowded field of fast-food seafood chains is that its menu features something made with lobster — well, sort of. The lobster bites are made with "Norway lobster," which turns out to be another name for langoustine. As might be expected, the bites are mostly shellfish-flavored breadcrumbs, but still, they're about as fancy as fast food's going to get, at least until Mickey D's rolls out a McWagyu.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is a restaurant chain that's coasting on a movie that came out in the mid-90s. We like themed restaurants as much as anyone, but the menu really overdoes it with all the "Jenny's this" and "Lt. Dan's that." It gets old fast, and by the time you get to the Run Across America sampler and the Box of Chocolates dessert, you may just want to run, Forrest, run, right out of the restaurant. Instead, the best you can do is to order a Rum Forrest Rum from the bar menu to take your pain away.
As for the seafood, it all has that fresh-from-the-freezer taste. Just like what you'd get from an Applebee's, only without the 2-for-$20 entrée deals or dollar drinks. Our verdict: Bubba Gump's might be a restaurant you'd visit just to see what it's like, but only "Forrest Gump" superfans will want to eat there twice.
Joe's Crab Shack is a restaurant chain that seems to be going the way of Arthur Treacher's – back in the mid-20-tweens, there were 140 locations, but these numbers were dwindling rapidly by the end of the decade. As of today, there are only 37 Joe's Crab Shacks left. Oddly enough, many are in California and Florida, which are states that you'd think would have no shortage of better seafood options.
Joe's Crab Shack doesn't quite make the halfway decent mark. Sure, it's got that whole fun, casual (if slightly corporate) vibe nailed down, but the no-doubt cheaply-sourced seafood on offer — primarily snow crab and crawfish — tastes like it's cooked in even cheaper ingredients. Who wants to dip crab claws into a "butter blend" (aka margarine)? Yuck! For the prices this chain is charging, which are not insignificant, would 25 cents' worth of real butter be too much to expect?
With a name like Red Lobster, you'd think the best thing on this restaurant's menu would be, well, lobster, right? Nope, not at all. The steamed whole lobsters and lobster tails are most likely lobsters, all right, but they can be somewhat dry and tough. The lobster pasta, tacos, bisque, and other such dishes, however, may be less lobstery than you'd expect. In many cases, the pricier meat is replaced by cheaper crustaceans such as langostino, which is something the chain hasn't always been forthcoming about.
So if lobster's not the menu standout at the restaurant that bears its name, then what is Red Lobster's real specialty? It's definitely not the shrimp or the fish, much less the steaks or chicken. Instead, as most Red Lobster diners would undoubtedly agree, the real star of the show is the delicious cheddar bay biscuits. Still, you can always just pick up a box of the mix at Walmart and save yourself the cost of an otherwise disappointing dinner.
Bonefish Grill is an acceptable, if unexciting, option for dining out, especially if not everyone in the party wants to eat seafood. While "fish" is in the restaurant chain's name, the menu does have plenty of non-pescatarian options including steaks, burgers, chicken, pork chops, and pasta. Seafood options range from grilled fish to lobster tails to poke bowls, while bang bang shrimp (the chain's specialty) is available as an appetizer and a taco filling.
Even as you peruse the dinner menu, though, there's a big red flag you'd do well to heed: Bonefish Grill leads off with its booze selection, and fully half the menu seems to be alcoholic beverages of some sort. Generally, this indicates that the drinks are more memorable than the food, and we'd say that's the case here, as well.
While Rockfish Seafood Grill has a name reminiscent of Bonefish Grill's, you can tell it's a totally different place since the latter's signature appetizer is called volcano shrimp. Luckily, that's not the only difference between the two chains. For one thing, Rockfish puts its drink listings at the bottom of the menu where they belong. For another, this restaurant is a bit more fish-centric.
Rockfish Seafood Grill offers several Cajun-inspired dishes such as crawfish etouffee and shrimp with grits along with a low country-style shrimp boil. The menu also features fish cooked in various different styles such as blackened or pecan-crusted. Watch out for the shellfish, though — some of it is marked as the market priced, which means that awkward questions may need to be asked if you don't want a nasty surprise when the check comes.
Brown Bag Seafood Co. is a restaurant with an unpretentious name and a concept that kind of positions it as the Which Wich of seafood chains — there's no real set menu, just a bunch of options allowing you to pick one from column A, one from column B, etcetera and customize your seafood meal. The choices are not extensive, but there are several types of fish as well as shrimp and chicken, all available fried or grilled, plus a few vegetarian options. Each is available as a sandwich, taco, or salad and can also be served on a bed of either grains or vegetables or a mixture of the two.
All of the aforementioned meals are fairly cheap as seafood goes, most priced between $10 and $15 at the time of writing. There are a few more expensive specials like lobster rolls, salmon salad, and shrimp and grits, but for the most part, what you get at Brown Bag Seafood Co. is a not-too-fussy meal at a not-too-inflated price.
Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen specializes in all things Cajun, and while we're not entirely sure whether alligator counts as seafood (swamp food, perhaps?), the restaurant gets major points for including fried gator on the appetizer menu. It's also a go-to place for dishes like crawfish étouffée, fried crawfish, and crawfish pasta. Other Cajun entrées include blackened catfish and shrimp and grits with extra-jumbo shrimp, although standard seafood entrees like lobster and king crab are also available.
Overall, Pappadeaux gets high marks for southern-style seafood, and the quality is fairly consistent across the different locations. Sure, if you're actually in Cajun country, you're probably better off at a standalone restaurant, but if you're far from the bayou, it's a great place to go and get your gumbo on.
At Crab Du Jour, the specialty of the house is a choose-your-own-adventure seafood boil. These boils all start with a choice of shellfish: crawfish, shrimp, lobster tail, mussels, clams, scallops, and four types of crab (Dungeness, snow, king, and blue). You then pick a sauce, a spice level, and a few other things to go in the boiling pot like corn, potatoes, and sausage. You can also opt for non-boiled sides such as fries.
If you don't want a D.I.Y. dish, Crab Du Jour also offers fried shrimp, flounder, oyster, and chicken baskets. For the most part, though, these are only so-so as frying is not this chain's real forte. The boils, however, are as enjoyable to eat as they are fun to order.
The Boiling Crab is a chain with an almost identical concept, as well as a similar name, to the aforementioned Crab Du Jour. It offers an almost identical choice of seafood for the boils, with the exception of oysters in place of scallops. It's also a bit more upfront about its offerings, giving the disclaimer that, should you choose crawfish, it will either be in season or will be frozen. Here, too, you can also pick your sauce, level of spiciness, and extras, and the boils will come out equally tasty.
Why, then, did we give The Boiling Crab a slight edge over Crab Du Jour? It's all on account of the sides. The fried foods here are also not the greatest, but the gumbo and tomato-based Cajun chowder are worth saving room for.
Hook & Reel is yet another seafood boil restaurant — are we seeing the start of a trend here? Maybe it'll become the pescatarian answer to Mongolian barbecue. At any rate, what we like about Hook & Reel is that not only does it offer a similar choice of seafood, spices, sauces, and sides to its two aforementioned competitors, but it also has a few preselected boils for those who can't make up their minds.
Beyond boils, the menu extends to a selection of fried foods and po'boys, which are actually fairly decent, especially the fried lobster tail. Hook & Reel also serves oysters on the half shell, something we're always happy to see. Not into uncooked shellfish? The steamed oysters with butter are quite nice, as well.
Cousins Maine Lobster is actually three businesses in one. It ships live lobsters, lobster and crab meat, and a selection of dishes such as lobster bisque and crab cakes nationwide. It also, however, operates a far-ranging fleet of food trucks as well as a handful of sit-down restaurants from Arizona to New Jersey (none in Maine, however, as that's strictly food truck territory).
The menu at the restaurants is quite limited, not really differing from what the food trucks offer: several types of lobster roll (Maine-style is chilled; Connecticut style, warm), lobster BLTs, lobster grilled cheese sandwiches, lobster tater tots, lobster tacos, and lobster bisque. These things may seem kind of pricey for food truck fare, as most lobster items are around the $20 price point, but that's actually so bad for a restaurant, especially when you consider that this is real lobster instead of an impostor like langostino.
Ocean Prime is definitely a top-of-the-line chain restaurant. There are no pictures on the menu here, just an elegant font and descriptive word portraits of each dish complete with foodie buzzwords like "jus" and "gremolata." The menu items are obviously meant to impress, as well, with appetizers such as deviled eggs made with both truffles and caviar.
The seafood, as you might imagine, comes at a premium price, as most fish dishes are over $50 while lobster tails are over $60. Steaks are available as well as seafood, with most of these priced over $60. For a la carte sides, be prepared to shell out another $15 or so. Does the food taste great? Yes, it does. Will it impress a date? Most likely. Is it worth taking out a second mortgage to pay for? Maybe just the once, but unless you're a 1%-er, Ocean Prime probably won't be your go-to seafood spot.
There really is nothing like eating a delicious seafood dinner while looking out over a dramatic ocean vista, peaceful harbor, or bustling river port. At Chart House, even the landlocked locations are chosen with care to ensure there's beautiful scenery right outside the window. That being said, of course, you're going to be paying for such prime real estate, even if you'll only be staying an hour or two.
Even so, Chart House is considerably more affordable than Ocean Prime, with its fish dishes typically running between $30 and $40, although crab or lobster is, you guessed it, market price. Besides seafood, Chart House also specializes in steaks, but for a high-end steakhouse, these prices actually aren't bad as they again range from the mid-30s to mid-40s. If surf and turf is your thing and you want a dining room with a view, Chart House would be an excellent choice.
Eddie V's may sound like a Philly cheesesteak stand or Jersey Shore pizza joint, but this chain is anything but casual. Like the second half of its name, the emphasis is on "prime" seafood at a premium price. The restaurant does know its seafood, though, so the high prices are justified to a point — instead of just offering oysters on the half shell, the exact provenance of each oyster is provided as well as some info about what makes it slightly different from the other oyster on the menu. Feeling like an oligarch? You can even order Petrossian caviar served on ice.
As for the main courses, Eddie V's has some interesting offerings in addition to the standard surf and turf with items including Kung Pao calamari, mustard/whiskey-glazed salmon, and scallops sautéed with almonds and citrus. All are expensive, true, but Eddie V's still rates high on our list because the food holds its own with that served by many non-chain restaurants at a similar price point.
Kura Sushi is kind of an outlier on this list. No fish and chips, crawfish boils, or surf and turf here; instead, it's all about sushi. Nigiri, rolls, and hand rolls wrapped either in seaweed or soy paper are all available, with the fun part being that you grab them off a conveyor belt as they roll by. Prefer fried fish? Takoyaki is on the menu, too, along with shrimp or softshell crab tempura and even fried salmon skin with shishito peppers. For dessert, there's the fish-shaped treat known as taiyaki, which is here served with ice cream.
The best thing about Kura, besides the wide variety of delicious foods on the menu, is the fact that the prices are not much higher than you'd pay for fast food. The worst thing about it is the fact that there are fewer than 50 locations in the U.S. at this point, but we'd like to see it spread far and wide (and especially into our neighborhood).
Legal Sea Foods opened its first restaurant in 1968 and has since added over 20 more restaurants up and down the East Coast (including a surprising number of airport locations). It's still a fairly small, regional chain, though, which allows it to maintain the high level of quality that's been its hallmark for over 50 years.
While just about everything on the menu is delicious, from simple grilled fish to cioppino, the fried clams are not to be missed, unless you pass them up in favor of steamed clams with andouille sausage or littleneck clams on the half-shell. As for the New England Clam Chowder, it's the best we've had anywhere. So yes, basically what we're saying here is, order the clams.
McCormick & Schmick's proudly claims that it serves the most sustainable seafood on the planet, but we admit that's not the real reason it's topping our list. While we support its noble efforts at preserving the ocean's fragile ecosystem, for the most part, we're just fans of the food.
Gluten Free Frozen Meatballs There's little room left here at the top of the list to do it justice, but McCormick & Schmick's is another long-established (1974 and counting) chain with a sufficiently small number of locations to allow it to maintain consistently top-notch quality. Our favorite thing about the restaurant is how it changes its menu to include regional specialties. For example, the San Francisco location has steamed Dungeness crab and fish and chips made with Anchor Steam beer, while the Baltimore one offers Maryland crab soup and fish battered with Natty Boh.