Seafood shacks seem emblematic of summer, providing no-frills gustatory delights. But what, exactly, qualifies as a seafood “shack”? The definition is inexact. In general, seafood shacks – whether specifically crab, lobster, clam, or whatever or all-purpose – are casual places, usually by the water, often with walk-up windows for ordering (or counter ordering inside), and with mostly outside seating (if they’re only open seasonally) or picnic table style seating indoors.
Some places that call themselves “shacks” are obviously a good deal more formal – more restaurant than shack. Perhaps they came from humbler origins and kept the original description – or maybe they style themselves shacks as a branding device, much as some bars prefer to call themselves “speakeasies.”
To identify the best seafood shacks around America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed lists, ratings, and reviews from websites including The Daily Meal, Gayot, Food Network, Eater, FED Guides, Gourmandize, Tasting Table, Cheapism, Men’s Journal, and Yelp, as well as numerous regional and local sites. The resulting list covers seafood shacks across much of the nation, but not in New England – whose shacks are the subject of a story of their own: “The best seafood shacks in New England.”
In general, the shorter the distance from the fishing boat or shellfish farm to the plate, the better the seafood shack. Proximity to the ocean makes a big difference, and almost all of the entries on this list are located in coastal areas – five of them in New York state, six in Florida. (If you’re looking for something a little fancier than a shack, here’s a list of the best seafood restaurant in every state.)
Some menu items common to the majority of these seafood shacks include oysters, clams, shrimp, and various kinds of fish – often catfish or flounder. However, some serve more exotic options. Florida seafood shacks might offer frogs’ legs, alligator, or conch. Louisiana shacks celebrate crawdads (freshwater crayfish). Chicago’s Calumet Fisheries features eel.
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