The 10 Best Seafood Chains in America
Unless you grew up in New England or the Pacific Northwest—or along any coast, really—there's a good chance that your first real seafood meal was at a chain restaurant. While some may be wary of cooking fish or shellfish at home, Americans love going out for a seafood meal. According to SmartScrapers, there are over 20,000 seafood restaurants in the United States.
A truly great seafood restaurant provides the freshest fish possible, interesting preparations that highlight the natural flavors of the sea—not cover them up—and welcoming service that makes anyone from a hardcore oyster slurper to a grilled salmon fan feel comfortable. While it might seem difficult to compare higher-end chains to more casual spots, it all works through this lens.
Here are the nation's best chains to feast on seafood right now, from casual fried seafood and lobster shacks, to white tablecloth and wine-centric, date night spots.
Legal Sea Foods
Legal Sea Foods first opened as a family-run fish market in Cambridge, Mass., and in 1968, the first restaurant opened right next door. Since then, the popular chain has added over 20 locations. The company operates both large restaurants and smaller outposts in the Northeast, and even a few very good airport locations.
The restaurant is known for extremely high-quality fresh seafood, with primarily New England-style preparations, like lobster rolls and fried sea scallops, along with popular favorites like fish tacos, sesame crusted tuna and gumbo. Some locations even have sushi, and the lobster tempura maki roll is worth the splurge. And while the food may seem fancy, Legal is a casual, welcoming spot to enjoy a hearty or light seafood meal.
McCormick & Schmick's
Another long established chain with high-quality seafood, McCormick & Schmicks has over 20 locations in the U.S. and five in Canada. Founded in 1979 and headquartered in Houston, the brand operates in California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and many more states.
The restaurant's commitment to sustainability means that the menu varies by location. For example, you'll find local Maryland-style crab soup at the Washington, D.C., outpost and buttermilk fried oysters in Atlanta. All locations offer a top notch raw bar, and local fish you can order grilled, pan seared, or broiled. The restaurant also serves excellent steaks, and provides exemplary steakhouse-style service.
This celebrity favorite, top-of-the-line seafood restaurant will set you back for a meal, but isn't fresh seafood worth the splurge? With 20 locations around the country, including New York City, Denver, Kansas City, and Beverly Hills, Calif., this restaurant chain's 30-year commitment to sourcing the best ingredients is what makes it truly stand out.
Expect the best, such as the custom-built seafood tower, white truffle caviar deviled eggs, blackened snapper, poke bowls, and a creative sushi menu. Some locations also serve excellent steaks, and other options for the seafood adverse, and the wine list is among the best of any chain restaurant you'll visit.
With locations across Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., Truluck's is a go-to fine dining seafood chain for many across the country. Seafood is center stage, and while menus vary a bit by location, the fresh stone crab claws are always a must. Another standout is the crab and shrimp Napoleon, which layers blue crab and shrimp with sweet mango slices. The chain also offers one of the best lobster rolls you can find outside of New England. Just add one of the restaurant's creative cocktails, like the blackberry margarita, and you've got an ideal date night.
Believe or not, this fancy chain started as a casual spot, operating out of a humble diner back in 1961. Since then, it has expanded to 28 locations nationwide, each priding itself on great seafood and great views—if not of water, then of gorgeous scenery like the Manhattan skyline from the Weehawken, N.J., location, or high above San Antonio, Texas, atop the Tower of Americas.
The food matches the views, with a fresh catch of the day prepared grilled, baked, or sautéed, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and award-winning clam chowder always on the menu.
Eddie V's Prime Seafood
Founded in 2000 in Austin, Texas, this seafood and steak chain has over 30 locations across the United States, offering world-class service, a strong wine list, and fresh seafood shipped in daily from around the world. While Eddie V's high-end dishes, like the ahi tuna and parmesan crusted sole, can be pricey, you can also enjoy a top-notch meal for a little less by dining during the chain's beloved happy hour. Menus vary, but you'll often find lobster bites, crab cakes, and kung pao calamari for lower prices, along with wine and cocktail specials.
With over 30 locations in the U.S. and Asia, Luke's started as a tiny lobster shack in New York City, selling lobster rolls with meat harvested from the family's operation in Maine. The family has expanded to selling flash frozen lobster meat on their website that you can have shipped about anywhere, but the real treat is getting a fresh, buttery roll in the restaurant. The chain is the most reliable place to get a well-priced lobster, crab, or shrimp roll in a casual environment, and the menu offers both Maine-style (mayo) and Connecticut-style (butter) sandwiches.
The Boiling Crab
This restaurant is basically a choose-your-own-adventure seafood boil. The meals at The Boiling Crab all start with a choice of shellfish: crawfish, shrimp, lobster tail, mussels, clams, oysters, and of course, four types of crab (Dungeness, snow, king, and blue). The restaurant is not always able to offer everything fresh, and you can appreciate the transparency from the chain. You then pick a sauce, a spice level, and a few other things to go in the boiling pot like corn and potatoes. With 23 locations in the U.S., and a few overseas, this modest chain offers a unique experience that's not easy to replicate at home.
Now, this is a seafood restaurant where you can take just about anyone. Even those who don't love seafood will find delicious dining options from the land, like steak and chicken. But get them to try a bite of the chain's famous Bang Bang Shrimp before turning down fish forever! The restaurant offers a strong selection of fish, including salmon, mahi mahi, and Chilean sea bass, and its Perfect Pairings menu provides tantalizing seafood combos, along with meat and fish tandems as well.
Probably the largest seafood chain in the U.S., Red Lobster is likely the first place many Americans ever tried a lobster tail. However, while lobster is in the name, there are a lot of other dishes on the menu at this easy-going chain that will scratch almost every seafood itch, like the Asian-inflected sesame soy salmon bowl with rice and crispy Brussels sprouts and the crab linguine. Of course, every meal comes with the crowd-pleasing Cheddar Bay Biscuits.