When your great aunt asks what you did on your summer vacation, you can tell her that no, for the last time, you still haven’t finished The Goldfinch.
Also, you haven’t had a real summer vacation since you were 12. You know what you did do? Ate all manner of bivalves and crustaceans like this was the last summer on earth. You’re all about that seafood shack life, you say, and sidle away before she can inquire further.
It’s a big country, blessedly marked coast-to-coast by clam huts, lobster stands and all manner of unassuming dives dishing out seafood so fresh it’s practically still swimming. (Or, whatever an oyster does instead of swim. Gurgle-floating?) There’s still time to make these mini-trips the defining highlight of your summer—check our not-at-all-comprehensive-but-still-damn-good guide to 10 of the country’s must-try seafood shacks.
Where: Essex, Massachusetts
What: Tiny roadside stand famous and beloved for its fried clams and down-the-block lines since 1914. Open year-round.
We’re Eating: Fried clams. Duh.
Where: Charleston, South Carolina
What: Ramshackle waterfront oyster shack down a dusty road on Charleston’s famed Folly Beach that harvests its own bivalves from nearby marshland beds.
We’re Eating: Fire-pit roasted oysters.
Where: Lilliwaup, Washington
What: Ultra-casual dining outpost of a fifth-generation family-run oyster farm just outside Seattle that culls its oysters from the canal upon which the “saloon”—replete with fire pit for wood-smoked goodies and plenty of rustic outdoor seating—is perched.
We’re Eating: Variety platter of grilled oysters.
Where: San Francisco, California
What: No-frills local favorite. Allegedly, a regular haunt of Anthony Bourdain’s when he’s in the Bay Area—and uh, everyone else’s.
We’re Eating: A selection of the day’s recommended raw oysters and the Sicilian sashimi plate. (Pro tip: Famously long lines are kinda-sorta-shorter on weekdays. Tell your boss you have a dentist appointment or something and hold that line!) Go to Bob’s Donuts afterward.
Where: Apalachicola, Florida
What: Dockside seafood shack serving up bivalves that arrive by pier daily—on a boat of the same name, via a team of oystermen led by a third-generation oysterman, specializing in Gulf-style seafood served without fanfare.
We’re Eating: Oyster gumbo.
Where: Dickinson, Texas
What: No-nonsense Lone Star dive where the oysters are proffered picnic tableside in water-filled bags for appraisal. Take note of the oak-and-pecan wood fire pit from which many tasty bites are forged.
We’re Eating: The namesake Oysters Gilhooley—fresh-shucked oysters grilled on the half shell and topped with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese.
Where: New York, New York
What: Sure, instead of the call of gulls and the crash of waves, your meal will be soundtracked by the blare of cab horns (relaxing!), but this kitschy Caribbean hole-in-the-wall by Morningside Park in Harlem is so legit you’ll swear you were dining oceanside.
We’re Eating: Conch fritters and snow crab legs (that coco curry sauce, though).
Where: Tampa, Florida
What: Don’t be fooled; what this strip mall dive lacks in curb appeal it makes up for in flavor. Unassuming hideaway serving up authentic shellfish served old school: bibs, proper utensils, clarified butter and, most importantly, at more-than-reasonable price points.
We’re Eating: Anything with lobster.
Where: Marshall, California
What: Tiny roadside stand (one of many) along scenic waterfront Highway 1. First-come, first-serve seating, shoulder parking (careful!) and fresh-from-Tomales Bay oysters served six ways—including Chorizo with chorizo butter, Kilpatrick with bacon and Worcestershire sauce, and Rockefeller with spinach, cheese and bread crumbs.
We’re Eating: The classic—raw oysters with lemon and mignonette.
Where: Juneau, Alaska
What: OK, so most of us will have to hop a boat or small plane to get there, but it’ll be worth it. Made famous to the world when it was featured on an episode of Top Chef, this waterfront shack in Juneau has long been beloved for its crab bisque.
We’re Eating: Yeah . . . the crab bisque.