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"downscale" seafood...

[edit: should have included IN DC/NOVA" in the title, this isn't really an issue back home in Baltimore]

I've been back in this area for almost 3 years now, and still don't know of any great "downscale" seafood joints in the immediate DC vicinity. Living in San Diego and Eastern NC, there were multiple seafood markets (either standalone or multiple-vendor variety, some better than others) which, in addition to selling outstanding fresh raw seafood for home and restaurant use, also offered various things on a carry-out or eat-outside-at-a-picnic-table basis in excellent sandwiches, steamed or fried to perfection, raw, etc as appropriate. In DC and the immediate vicinity, I only know of Maine Ave, which has been a mixed experience for me (maybe I'm ordering badly or from the wrong people), and America Seafood in Arlington. Are there other places of this ilk I need to be trying, NoVA preferred now that I'm out in Fairfax?

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  1. That's one of my complaints, too. In Pittsburgh--a lot farther inland--you can get great fish sandwiches, fried clams, etc. at Wholey's or Benkowitz's in The Strip. (My favorite place for fish sandwiches, though, is a VFW Hall in Cannonsburg, Pa. where they serve freshly fried fish sandwiches every Friday.)

    But in the DC area? Haven't found anything comparable. Is there some little neighborhood place, or maybe something at Eastern or Capitol Markets?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gonzocook

      Wholey's is indistinguishable from a slice of heaven; but, then, The Strip is the center of the Universe, in my opinion. What a stunningly great place. The "Capitol City Market" in DC -- on Florida Ave in NE -- is really great, too, but it ain't The Strip.

      Eastern Market has a very nice seafood lunch counter, which I recommend. Birch Beer and a crabcake sammy? Yum.

      But, really, what you want is Crisfield Seafood Restaurant right on the line between Silver Spring and DC. It's more Old School than "downscale", but it is cheap and unpretentious and good.

      1. re: KendallClark

        Crisfield's is good and unpretentious, but definitely not cheap.

        1. re: Mister Big

          Well, I guess we all have different meanings of "cheap"... But yr right, it's not cheap in any absolute sense. I guess I just meant "cheaper than most places I usually eat out"...

    2. Not too close to you, but there used to be a market that got some attention on this board in Arlington, on Glebe just south of 395, right before Glebe splits two ways. It's on the west side of the road. Not sure if they served anything to eat right there, though.

      In addition to the north as you mentioned, heading south yields more of these as well, including my fave, Thompson's Seafood Corner on Rt5.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dennis S

        Sounds like M Slavin & Sons. I don't think they have any prepared, carryout dishes.

        Tell me more about Thompson's.

        1. re: Gonzocook

          Thompsons is on Rt 5, a few miles past Hugesville (on your right) in Charlotte Hall is Thompson's Seafood and corner market. No seats, only a bench across the parking lot. Super dive bar/liquor store attached with a drive through!

          I got a soft shell sandwich in season with two crabs on it for $8.95 a couple of years ago. They sell great crab cakes to cook at home - forget if they serve them there. On a Saturday from Reston it takes only a bit more than an hour to get there, barring accidents on the road.

          The post that tipped me off:

          fwiw, here's my recap after that particular trip:

      2. Seriously, I've had better seafood at decent prices back when I lived in Dayton, Ohio. Here's a plug for the Shuckin' Shack in Dayton if you're ever out there.

        1. Market Lunch in Eastern Market comes to mind, for a fried-fish or crabcake or fried-oyster or soft-shell-crab sandwich -- and you can buy fresh seafood 20 feet away at the Glasgow brothers' counter.

          1. Lowbar, maybe you're looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe what you call "downscale" is the normal, local seafood tradition, like what you had in your native Baltimore, where it's still easy to find. It's easier in the eastern Washington suburbs, out Central Avenue, down Rt.5, out 50 toward Annapolis, up toward Baltimore and east of I-95 in southern Virginia. Those areas still have "natives," while much of the rest of the Metro area has seen enormous growth over the past 50 years from immigrants from the rest of the US and foreign countries. How many native Washingtonians do you know out in Fairfax?
            When the new population wants fish, they want salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, non-fishy-fish and could you broil that please because I'm on a diet? Local fish rarely appear on menus at area restaurants any more, except for an occasional rockfish or shad roe. The traditional waterman's crabcake has turned into a pile of backfin, very different from its roots. Even the lovely things like Crabmeat Norfolk and oyster stew aren't offered. Why not? Because this isn't a local crowd like in Charm City or Colonial Beach.
            There really aren't that many "upscale" places statistically but they get more notice in food columns and on CH. There's a lot more seafood joints, carryouts and crabhouses serving fried catfish and oysters, they just can't afford the downtown real estate and fancy decor. Hard to figure out why when some of the entrées are $20 to $25. The locals who eat their food just aren't in downtown DC. and maybe they don't want the fancy settings.
            A lot of great seafood dishes started off as poor fisherman's food - cioppino, gumbo, bouillabaisse, chowder, bourride, lobster - before things got expensive and went fancy. Shrimp and grits was made with tiny shrimp not those monsters they use at Vidalia. They have to serve Frito Misto in DC because a Fried Seafood Platter is declassé. It's two different seafood worlds.

            So, Lowbar, go East and North and South. Go toward the Bay and the Northern Neck.
            I can't find a decent seafood platter in DC and I think that's a real crying shame. When I have out-of-town guests and they want a sit-down place for good local seafood, I'm stuck. I cook it at home.

            4 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              Yeah, I certainly know plenty of places of the type I seek East, North, and to a limited extent South of DC as you suggest (when I lived in DC in the late 90s, I was working for the Smithsonian doing research primarily in Annapolis/Cape St.Claire, south Anne Arundel, and Charles Counties and had some good finds). Unfortunately I can't get to any of those at lunchtime, which is why I was hoping to find someone who has dragged that type of local seafood tradition out of its "natural habitat," like many of the other non-native ethnic and US-regional establishments have at least made a respectable attempt to do. I can understand where a Lake Trout shop would find it difficult to succeed in the 66/267 corridors, but I'd think there would be strong demand for a place that served fresh, simple seafood (sandwiches, fried/broiled/steamed plates, etc) to all the folks in too much of a hurry, perhaps also allowing them to pick up a nice whole or fillet/steak of fish to bring home to cook for dinner later. In many of the other places where I have spent significant time...places like San Diego, Morehead City, Annapolis area, etc., those types of establishments are a given. But as other posters have alluded to here, they can also often be found in locales which are quite landlocked. I was hoping that I might have just not managed to find it yet.

              I don't use the term "downscale" as any kind of insult or disrespect to any local seafood traditions. I just didn't know how else to shrink "non- 'sit down' seafood market type of place that serves simply prepared, properly priced fish and shellfish in a very casual/carry-out setting" into one word for a post title. Probably poor word choice, I am often guilty of that when I don't really think about what I'm writing, and these posts are generally sort of a stream-of-consciousness thing for me. There are "downscale" sit-down options in NoVA in Quarterdeck and Capt Pell's, for example, but I haven't found these to be too appealing for seafood options other than steamed crabs (thankful to be able to get those at least).

              An aside...to answer your question of many Washingtonians I know in Fairfax...very few, of course...of all the people I know that live in or near the District, only a very small handful actually grew up in DC or even inside the Beltway. That was one of the harder things for me to get used to around here.

              1. re: Lowbar

                Lowbar, it's only really a crab house like Pell's, but there is a place out on 50 west of 28 by a few miles. South side of the road. Little shack. They did have shrimp and a few other things last time I was there, but that was a while ago.

                1. re: Dennis S

                  Dennis: That's BJ's Crabshack. It's still there. We haven't been in a while so I can't give a recent report.

                  Interestingly, even though the place has that "about to fall over" crab shack look, according to their signage they also offer ceviche! I've gotta give that a try one of these days.

                2. re: Lowbar

                  Lowbar, are there "downscale seafood" places in the Annapolis/Cape St.Claire area? Or along the Rt. 50 corridor east of, say, Bowie? I pass through the area occasionally but haven't had any tasty fried fish in a long time. Would love to find something cheap, or relatively cheap, and really good. I'd be surprised if anything really cheap is available in the Annapolis area since it was conquered by yuppies about 20 years ago. It would be funny to find a good fish shack around there.

                  Usually if I'm in that area, I'm visiting my parents, and we usually prefer authentic ethnic food, pref. something Asian, very authentic, and cheap, but Annapolis is very very limited on those fronts. Often we end up at Squisito, but I'm not a big fan of that since I'm not much for Italian. (Although the gelato is pretty good, I admit.) Usually we try to stick around in the D.C. area long enough for dinner, but that's not always possible, what with the long drive back down to Salisbury. (And you'd think there'd be some good cheap seafood in Salisbury, given that it's the Eastern Shore, but not that I know of.) And having a good along-the-way option is nice.

              2. I wonder why local Hispanic immigrants haven't opened ceviche bars like you find in Peru and Central America. Add a few of the good seafood dishes from Yucatan and the western coast of South America. Arroz con camarones. Jaibas. Pulpa. Conchas. Escabeches. Seafood in Latin America is terrific.
                Even if there's a limited market for Delmarva-style specialties, those might have a broader appeal.

                7 Replies
                1. re: MakingSense

                  Picante! The Real Taco in Chantilly has some regional (Mexican) seafood dishes on its menu.

                  1. re: Bob W

                    Some places have some seafood.
                    It just seems that somebody could do well with a restaurant that highlighted the seafood specialties of Latin American coastal areas. Lord knows they have enough coastline! I'd rather have ceviches and snapper with Veracruz sauce than tacos and stuff any day.
                    Do you remember the old Enriqueta's in Georgetown?

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      did you look at Picante's menu? they have fish with Veracruz sauce, among other things. I tried it years ago, it was quite good.

                      they also have a fish dish with cascabel and other peppers that might be from the Yucatan, I suspect.


                      Can't say as I remember Enriquieta's.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Both El Sabroso (Arlington) and La Granja d'Oro (Falls Curch) offer ceviche. The former has several variations on it, and the other may as well (I just don't remember).

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          Those places do have ceviche and some fish. Mexican and Salvadoran places near me in the city have a wider variety of seafood offerings than that, but still none of them uses seafood as the main focus. That's really a shame. Maybe some place does in Adams Morgan or Columbia Road.
                          When you think of the number of people locally who head to Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, Acapulco, Cancun, etc. and enjoy the seafood there, you would think that some places that headlined the seafood, instead of just throwing in a couple of fish dishes, could be really successful. Like a Latin American Pesce or Johnny's Half Shell. Pescada? Juan's Media Concha?

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I always forget the name of the place in Adam's Morgan, but the one on lower 18th, west side of the street, with outdoor seating features seafood, including having a counter displaying the fish as you walk in. Used to be better, imo, but it's still good.

                            1. re: Dennis S

                              That's Santa Rosa Seafood...I've been there once. Its good, but not AMAZING. The prices are right though...

                    2. Seems like it has been pretty much established that there is a dearth of seafood joint in NOVA. At this point I'd settle for a Friday night fish fry. The kind that seem to be everywhere, the kind sponsored by volunteer fire departments, church charities, fraternal organizations, whatever. Do these even exist in NOVA, or are we "too affluent" even for these?

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: ciaohound

                        Jimmy's in Herndon does a fabulous fish fry on Friday's. Had it last Friday as a matter of fact (sides include slaw and your choice of fries, perogies or kielbasa).

                        I've been meaning to go back to this place, but there's a Peruvian place near The Tortilla Factory. I think they have ceviche, soups and other seafood along with chicken. The main thing I remember is some of the best salsa I've ever had. I'll try to get there by next week.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Lots of Salvadoran places have ceviche -- I know that Abi's, Rancho Miguelano, and Las Delicias (all in Arlington) do. There's a (Peruvian?) seafood place next door to Abi's, on Columbia Pike, but I've never been. I think it's called El Puerto.

                          American Seafood, on Lee Highway in North Arlington, also makes some prepared foods. I haven't eaten there in many years, but I heard that it's still good.

                          1. re: Chris H.

                            El Puerto is the name of the Peruvian place next to Abi's. On weekend nights there's dancing and music that starts around 9pm. I've posted a few times about this place. It's good (or was when I used to live nearby - now a few years). The thing is that they bread and deep fry almost everything which is different from other Peruvian seafood I've had.

                        2. re: ciaohound

                          Ciaohound, I would love a Friday night fish fry. There are a couple of the black churches near me in NE DC that do them and they're great.
                          Starting them is a different story. People would want to offer alternatives, like baked fish for those who don't eat fried foods and a vegetarian dish so that everyone could participate. Not things that used to even come up at the VFW in days gone by. It's a fund raiser, eat the fish, give us the money, or go eat something else somewhere else.

                          Maybe restaurants could be successful adding them as Friday specials like they do in Milwaukee, where they are a popular old tradition and a lot of fun.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I agree, except if somebody is advertising a "fish fry" and somebody comes around looking for baked fish or zucchini, the answer is "wrong place." Now that I think about it, I don't ever remember seeing a sign for a "fish bake," though I have seen them for a "fish boil." Wisconsin I think.

                            1. re: ciaohound

                              Fish boils are a NE Wisc. tradition, sort of a Viking ritual. The fish is boiled in a kettle with potatoes and set on fire with kerosene.
                              Around Milwaukee and Madison, fish fries are more common. Usually with Packers schedules hanging on the walls.
                              No baked fish. Serious good food and beer up there.

                        3. Lowbar: While I've heard of some of the MD recommendations you've already been given (and can recommend Crisfields though not cheap), I think you've pointed out a huge gap in restaurant offerings in Northern VA. Captain White's Restaurant in Alexandria on Rte. 1 closed recently and it was about the only place that fit the bill, and I thought it had gone down hill in its last years such that it's not much of a loss. Honestly and sadly, many folks have no choice other than Red Lobster for some of this kind of food. I really think that downscale seafood as you put it, aptly I believe, has a pretty broad appeal and there is room in NoVa for local competition for Red Lobster.

                          As for the lack of locals, I think that's overblown. There are far more local folks around than most people realize. However, I think downscale seafood at reasonable prices and in unpretentious environments has a broader appeal than just to locals.

                          A couple of things come to mind as I write this: I like the Oyster Po' Boy at Southside 815 in Alexandria can be very good. Also, The Wharf in Old Town is pricier than I'd like but sometimes offers the kind of stuff I think you're looking for.

                          1. I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that seafood prices at what few places we know about are higher that we might like. We all see the prices for the raw ingredients at seafood markets - higher than steak. I find it amazing that prices are as reasonable as they are. There's a lot of seafood in a good platter. Maybe a dozen fried oysters or one or two softshells on a sandwich. Checked the price of crabmeat or scallops lately?
                            The good places put their money into the food not the decor and it's traditionally been this way.
                            I would be as suspicious of a fancy white tablecloth restaurant with a fried seafood platter as I would be of a similar place with candlelight and barbeque. Just ain't right.
                            The problem comes when people want seafood cheap and then there's not much choice but Red Lobster, Long John Silver and Filet O Fish. You get what you pay for.

                            The Crisfield's, Wharfs and Quarterdecks are not downscale. (Maybe Horace and Dickie's is.) They are what they are. Sui generis. Traditional-style restaurants serving a product that has become expensive. I think it's misguided to reestablish the standard by the restaurants that have expropriated a few dishes, gussied them up for a different level of clientele and changed their character in the translation.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MakingSense

                              you're talking about the arlington "quarterdeck"?

                            2. It is very possible that someone has already posted this and I missed it, but why don't you try Eamonn's Dublin Chipper in Old Town http://www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com/. In terms of more ethnic "downscale" seafood in NOVA, I like Nam Viet for their sweet and sour salmon or shrimp soup or their heavenly carmelized catfish.

                              1. If you're in fairfax try Joe's Crab Shack, its not too expensive, unless you get all you can eat~

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: sandybeach

                                  There is another place in Fairfax that I go to for fried fish when I am out by Ted Britt Ford. Nothing fancy, but decent fried fish. I think it is Abes on James Stewart Circle, just west of Jermantown Road and south of Rte 50. You order at the counter and sit down to eat, great prices, decent selection of fish.
                                  I like the fact that this thread popped up after a year, I actually printed this out last year and keep it on my computer so I have a list of good seafood places to visit!

                                2. Cameron Seafood (http://www.cameronsseafood.com/) in Capital Heights has filled my need for the occasional downscale seafood. Not as good a value as Maine Ave but why would anyone except it to be? Just thinking of the lobster bisque is causing me to drool on my keyboard.

                                  1. Great steamed crabs, lobster, chowder, crab cakes, shrimp, fresh shucked oysters, etc on Maine, SW. Jessie's will also cook your fish for you, if I'm not mistaken. No place to sit, but you too can master the one-handed shrimp peel standing next to the trash can :) It's wonderful.