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New England's best seafood restaurants and clam shacks
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Champlins Seafood Photo, Point Judith, RI

Champlin's Seafood, Narragansett, RI  (photo by Eric H.)

Article and photos by Eric H.    

If you're looking for some of the best seafood dining (including clam shacks) in the country, then you've come to the right place when visiting New England.

The fishing industry is huge in New England and the benefits get passed along to the customer, as high quality local dining establishments receive fresh fish daily. Sometimes, the atmosphere is just as thrilling with some restaurants offering warm weather outdoor dining with an ocean view. But whether indoor or outdoor dining, you can't go wrong at the following recommended New England seafood restaurants and clam shacks:

One of the most famous seafood restaurants is Legal Seafoods* (26 locations throughout New England and beyond). Starting as a fish market in 1950 in Cambridge, MA's  Inman Square, Legal Seafoods turned into a Palm Restaurant, Boston, MAhousehold name for serving the freshest seafood possible. The Inman Square location burned many years ago, but the current 26 locations have maintained the quality and upgraded the atmosphere from its original shack-type ambiance. All restaurants have comfortable seating, modern decor and, of course, come of the best seafood in New England. Mahi-mahi (OK, it's not from New England), New England clams, lobster, rainbow trout and lobster are just a few of the standouts. Legal Seafoods also has some dishes based on Dr. Barry Sears' "Zone Diet," which stresses the correct mix of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Great New England seafood does not end at Legal Seafoods, however. While Legal has unofficially set the standard for consistently terrific seafood dishes, it would be a shame to miss the oceanside shack, the suburban inland surprise, or the memorable upscale urban restaurant. Some are year-round, some seasonal and all delicious.

Northeast Harbor, Acadia National Park, Maine, is a splendid little village boasting the prettiest harbor you will ever see and some of the best Maine seafood at the seaside shack Docksider (14 Sea St, Northeast Harbor, Maine. Tel. 207-276-3965). This is what prospective New England vacationers think of when envisioning a charming seaside seafood shack. The Docksider could be considered your classic Maine restaurant, with charming "Downeast" waitresses, lobster to die for, unbelievable clam chowder, and in the summer, salt air flavored outdoor dining on the doorstep of the Harbor. Northeast Harbor. They also have Gifford's Ice Cream, a Maine product not to be missed by anyone who likes ice cream.

The Maine Diner (2265 Post Road, Route One Wells, Maine, 207-646-4441), actually beats many nearby southern, Maine, seaside competitors at their own game by offering some of the best seafood in New England. Strange such high quality seafood would come from a diner, but the fresh taste is undeniable from the amazing and substantial lobster pie to good old fried clams and seafood chowder. Of course, having a wonderful slice of berry pie makes for a combination that would infuriate Dr. Barry Sears and delight pretty much anyone else.

Not too far from the Maine Diner on the southern Maine coast is the legendary Barnacle Billy's ( 50 Oar Weed Rd., Ogunquit, Maine, 207-646-5575) , overlooking the ultimate New England view called Perkins Cove. Harbor and ocean views and boats born out of wealth create the setting for some wonderful fresh lobster, steamed clams, great chowder and that signature seafood dish, barbecue chicken (it's really good) at this full-service restaurant that has been around for more than 40 years. Barnacle Billy's has two locations, virtually on top of each other -- Barnacle Billy's Etc., and the original Barnacle Billy's. You can't go wrong at either location -- the food is terrific and the indoor and sun deck seating afford amazing views of coastal New England.

The dining room is about as long as the entire Atlantic Coast, the wait can be longer than the Big Dig project, and the dining experience resembles that of an out-of-control picnic, but the seasonal Ogunquit Lobster Pound ( 504 Main St, Ogunquit, Maine, 207-646-2516) has undeniably top-notch, incredibly tasty lobster. You get to pick out your own, much to the lobster's dismay. Everything else here is good, too, but when at a lobster pound, the right thing to do is order lobster.

The Sun and Surf (53 Ocean Ave York, Maine, (207) 363-2554) on beautiful Long Sands Beach, also on the southern Maine coast, first seems like a tourist haven with its outdoor ice cream windows, but it turns out to be a fine seafood place. The seafood -- particularly the haddock -- is quite fresh and plentiful. The Sun and Surf has quite possibly the best clam chowder and blueberry pie of any we've sampled in New England. Plus, the perfect view of Long Sands Beach is reason enough to visit.

Fosters Downeast Clambake (1 Axholme Rd.
York, Maine, 202-363-3255) not only specializes in offering a wonderful clambake (Maine lobster, steamers and clam chowder), but also the feeling of truly being in traditional "Downeast" Maine. Eating fresh steamed Maine lobster, sweet corn on the cob, chowder and steamers, fried clams, lobster rolls, and a blueberry crumb cake for dessert under a large, festive (there's often musical entertainment here), picnic-like pavillion dining room indeed reflects a classic Maine way of dining in the good, old salt-sea summertime. The lobster pools at the walk-up order area are also a great attraction, especially for the kids.  Fosters also features a gift shop  --  you're sure to find something here as a "memory" of your Maine vacation, including Fosters merchandise.

Markey's Lobster Pool, Seabrook, NHMarkey's Lobster Pool (Route 286, Seabrook, NH, (603) 474-2851) is the ultimate summer dining place with fresh lobster from an on-premises lobster pool, incredible clam chowder, delicious corn on the cob and some of the best fried clams (and onion rings) in New England. The lobster roll is packed with Markey's signature lobster in a tasty toasted roll. The atmosphere is unpretentious and brings in everyone from young women with big hair and bigger shoes to senior citizens enjoying the great seafood and fair prices. Markey's also offers outside dining on the deck with a nice water and marsh view. It is the perfect place to enjoy scenic New England (near the limited New Hampshire coastline) while the sun goes down.

The North Shore section of Massachusetts owns two of the best clam shacks in New England -- the Clam Box (246 High St., Ipswich, MA, Tel. 978 356-9707) and Woodman's (Route 133, Main St., Essex, M., Tel. (978) 768-6057). Woodman's get most of the glory as it is arguably the first clam shack in the country, and keeps it reputation alive by serving wonderfully greasy fried clams, but The Clam Box might be a tad better -- the clams have less grease and a better taste. The Clam Box - Woodman's debate is sot of like a regionalized "Taste great-less filling" conversation (remember the Miller beer commercial), with no clear-cut winner. We recommend flipping a coin, and then going to the Clam Box (which is architecturally and masterfully shaped like a clam box).

Boston has many fine seafood restaurants, some legendary (Anthony's Pier Four, Jimmy's Harborside, Union Oyster House, etc.), but perhaps the finest -- along with Legal Sea Foods, is the Daily Catch . We dined at the North End location (323 Hanover St. Boston, MA. Tel. 617-523-8567), which is tiny, has no atmosphere and offers wonderfully fresh, always hot favorites such as calamari, seafood pasta dishes, schrod that is actually flavorful, and a knack for using the correct amount of garlic in many of its dishes. It's a bit cramped and uncomfortable in there, but don't let it faze you if it's great seafood you're looking for.

For a more upscale experience, the Palm (1 International Place, Boston, MA. Tel. 617-867-9292) is a logical choice. Although the Palm is not a seafood restaurant (they specialize in very large steaks), the lobster is highly recommended. It's a bit expensive, but the size of the lobsters will outdo the size of virtually anyone's appetite. The Palm's decor is elegant, but not intimidating with its low-lighting, white tablecloths, and HGTV-caliber window, ceiling and floor flourishes. Service is top-notch, perhaps the best found in Boston. Overall, the Palm is a grand Boston dining experience, guaranteed to satisfy the appetite and fill the senses as part of a great night out in New England's best city.

Natick, MA, is a nice western Boston suburban town, but somehow having one of the best seafood restaurants -- The Dolphin (12 Washington St., 508-655-0669)-- in New England doesn't quite add up. Natick is not on the seacoast. Natick is a place of many shoe stores. People live in Natick to be comfortable as most homes have more than one bath. Some of the worst Boston drivers go to Speen Street to cast their ugly reputation on unsuspecting and decent people. So, what's a great seafood place doing in a suburban setting like this? We don't know. What we know, however, is that this offshoot of the original Cambridge, MA, location, represents New England seafood at its best. From Chilean bass to a sumptuous lobster pie, the Dolphin never disappoints, except for not being on the seacoast.

The Mill Wharf Restaurant in Scituate, MA, on the South Shore (150 Front St., 781-545-3999), offers one of the best harbor views we've experienced at a New England restaurant and seafood that is about as good as its gets in New England The lobster stew is undeniably top-notch, a savory mix of abundant lobster chunks and a splendid cream base. The broiled scallops are perfectly prepared and a recent special, the shrimp risotto with an Asian sauce, validated the chef's ambitious and intuitive nature -- a dish that wanted you coming back for more. Of course, there's lobster, cod, and haddock -- all expertly prepared. The atmosphere at night, with its large dimly lit dining room with great hardwood floors and the lovely Scituate Harbor sunsets, make for one of the grandest overall dining experiences in the northeast.

There are many fine Cape Cod seafood restaurants, but a personal favorite is the Lobster Claw in peaceful Orleans, MA (Route 6A, Tel. 508-255-1800). The Lobster Claw is synonymous with family dining and is one of my fondest childhood memories. The cartoon-like fonts spelling the restaurant's name on the front of a red-colored structure that looks more like a pancake house provides a welcoming introduction to the fresh seafood and also cartoon-like nautical decor. The lobster is as good as it gets in New England, and the overwhelming presence of french fries and cole slaw reminds us of a more traditional era. The broiled fisherman's platter is gigantic, full of fish, scallops, shrimp and cherrystones. More fun can be experienced with the clambake which includes a pound and a quarter lobster, steamed clams, corn on the cob, potato and, yes, cole slaw.

The live fishing village of Galilee, R.I. (part of Narragansett) offers an authentic perspective of working class George's of Galilee, Narragansett, RIcoastal New England, with George's of Galilee (250 Sand Hill Cove Rd., Narragansett RI, Tel 401-783-2306) leading the way in seafood dining. The ultimate seafood shack, George's offers oceanside indoor (year-round) and outdoor dining (not year-round because it's New England). Local bands entertain in the lounge section, while families dine downstairs in a seemingly soundproof room that blocks out cover songs of Journey and Foreigner. After eating the delicious fried, broiled or baked seafood dishes, step outside onto Salty Brine State Beach. Named after the late WPRO-AM (Providence, RI,) broadcasting legend, the beach is a pleasant and convenient place to experience swimming and sunbathing at a very nice part of the Atlantic Ocean. George's is part of a great New England vacation day that can be spent at the beach, watching the fishermen do their hard work, taking a ferry to beautiful Block Island or visiting the myriad shops in this South County gem of a village. Champlin's (256 Great Island Rd, Narragansett, RI, Tel. (401) 783-3152) is virtually across the street from George's and every bit as good in regards to food and view.  The feel is a bit more authentic with its order-at-the-window service, ample outdoor seating with panoramic water and fishing boat views, lobster, clam and other classic New England seafood selections and a seafood market on the premises. As an added benefit, Champlin's has an ice cream stand!

The Dock n' Dine in scenic and dignified Old Saybrook, CT, (Saybrook Pt., Tel. 860-388-4665), may look like an oceanside restaurant, but it actually overlooks the Connecticut River which apparently does a great ocean imitation (the river does end at the Atlantic Ocean at this location). People dating back to the War of 1812 mix with young families, nervous teens on dates, families with more than 12 kids and pretty much all walks of life who all love the lively summertime feel at a place that knows how to make excellent seafood, whether broiled, grilled, or fried.

* Legal Seafoods advertisement on this page does not influence review on the restaurant, as our editorial staff writes from their own point-of-view.

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