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best non-upscale seafood restaurant

I know there are tons of seafood restaurant threads, but I've been reading and reading and still haven't found an answer that helps me to decide where to go, so . . .

I'm visiting Boston this weekend to meet up with my brother and his family (who live in LA) and I've demanded seafood, as I lived for a couple of years in coastal New Hampshire, and miss, miss, miss the classics.

Here in Philly I can get really great fine-dining seafood (if you make it to Philly, try Philadelphia Fish Company or Little Fish), but haven't found a place for things like fish and chips, whole fried clams (only strips! awful!), or GOOD chowder (in other words, not drowning in flour and cream). Plus, I miss being able to eat a good steamed lobster by the water, fresh from the tanks. While it sounds like there isn't a lobster pound-style restaurant in Boston, there HAS to be a restaurant where I can get good fried clams and fish and chips.

Help, please! Price doesn't matter. I'm willing to pay more, if the food is great, and the portions are appropriate. I just don't want an "Ahi Three Ways" type of restaurant! I just want my fried clams!

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  1. Hi,

    Downtown, I'd recommend the Salty Dog at Quincy Market, for a good plate of fried belly clams. Make sure you ask for the whole belly clams, or you might get strips instead. I'm not sure how their fish and chips ranks, as I haven't ordered that before. It's also casual and not all that expensive either.

    I might lose some "Chowhound Points" for this...but...if you want fried clams, and the other people in your party also want fried seafood, and you would like to try an excellent fish chowder without all of the gloppy, flour-heavy consistency, then I recommend you try No-Name, on the Fish Pier. Their fried seafood is excellent. The broiled dishes are not as good. Their fish chowder is big chunks of white fish in a milk broth, finished on top with some butter, for some more richness. It's different from the classic New England Clam Chowder, but I love it.

    If you decide to go to No Name, keep in mind that it's the complete opposite of fine dining. It's paper placemats and paper cups, and the food comes out fast. You can be in and out in 45 minutes. However, it's good. You get a big plate, piled high with sweet whole clams, good crunchy french fries, house made cole slaw and tartar sauce that isn't loaded with sugar. It's also reasonably-priced (although I won't say "cheap", because fresh clams are never cheap).

    1 Reply
    1. re: mwk

      I agree about the Salty Dog, I'd also suggest any of the Legal Seafoods branches as an alternative.

    2. Dry Dock Cafe is a good bare-bones (it's in the lobby of a fish processing plant in South Boston) choice at lunch - their seafood chowder is really good and full of fish, shrimp, and scallops - their clam chowder is way above average. They really excel in the fryer dept - I had amazing fish (haven't tried their clams, but know they have whole bellies available most days) and chips (average fries) there last week. I can't think of anywhere better for fried seafood within the city of Boston (though I keep meaning to try Morse Seafood in the South End). FWIW, Boston mayor Menino was dining at Dry Dock the time before last. It's usually pretty full but you never have to wait long.

      Dry Dock Cafe
      7 Drydock Ave, Boston, MA 02210

      1. It's not in Boston proper, but if you'll have a car on your trip, and are willing to travel about 7.5 miles, you can't do better than Moulton's Seafood in Medford. Nothing fancy, just super-fresh fish and shellfish cooked "old-school" -- fried, baked, or broiled.

        I've yet to have lobster there, but the fried clams are the best I've had off of Cape Ann, and they make a nice chowder.

        3 Replies
        1. re: sablemerle

          Strongly agree about Moultons -worth a trek to the burbs if feasible (don't think it's an easy place to get to on public transit, however) - recently had the lobster scampi special and it was phenomenal - a LOT of very fresh lobster (all parts - tail, claw, etc.) in a light butter/wine/garlic prep over good pasta. Everything I've had there, fried or otherwise, has been impressively fresh and well-cooked - and the service is extremely friendly as well.

          1. re: rlh

            I also strongly agree with the Moulton's recommendation. Excellent seafood, maybe the best in the area, and definitely not upscale.

            There is a bus that runs out of Harvard Square, maybe #96 Medford via George Street. It runs along Mass Ave by Porter Square and it stops about two blocks from Moulton's at the corner of Winthrop and George. So a trip to Moulton's can be combined with a visit to Harvard Square. Definitely worth the trip.

        2. The No Name has lots of character and lots of mediocre food, but the fried clams there are an exception. The clams at the Sail Loft and at the Barking Crab are much better than Legal's. Fish and chips I think are iffy and the best ones are usually at Irish Pubs, but McCormick & Schmick's not only has great fried clams but good fish and chips. The best fried clams are supposed to be at the Neptune Oyster, but I've only had the lobster rolls there. If you don't want a glass of wine, and want to rough it, both Morse's Seafood in the So. End or the Court House Seafood in Cambridge might meet your expectations. Live it up and go to the Chart House, which is a chain, but serves the lobsters out of the shell and had great historic atmosphere or head to Ye Olde Union Oyster House where the atmosphere calls out come here tourists, but the food is really decent.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ghostcat

            ghostcat mentions Neptune Oysters' fried clams but admits to never having had them. I have had them and they're excellent. I highly recommend going there for seafood. Neptunes never disappoints, though it's never cheap and can't be considered "non-upscale". That said, it's not "fancy" either in the sense of gussying up the seafood to make it into something it isn't.

            1. re: ghostcat

              dear god, dont send people to the union oyster house, they're food has been awful since the reagan adminisration (maybe longer). its staight up sysco, and pooly prepared at that.

            2. I'd opt for either Moulton's in Medford or perhaps Tony's Clam Shop or the Clam Box in Quincy.

              1. If you are serious about not being upscale, the Courthouse Restaurant is wonderful. Go next door to the market, pick all the fish/shellfish you want, and they send it next door to be prepared according to your instructions. You will need to get your chowder fix somewhere else though.

                1 Reply
                1. re: smtucker

                  Just down the street from courthouse is the Druid in Inman square, an irish pub with excellent fare, including what I think is Boston's best fish and chips (despite the 300 places with "Boston's Best Fish n Chips" on the menu).

                  Freakishly fresh fish, delicately battered and fried but not overcooked, with handcut fries that are swimming in fresh rosemary..... all tied up in newspaper and sided by malt vinegar or a very delicious house tartar sauce.

                2. Also The Dolphin, between Harvard and Central Squares....

                  1. It sounds like bananafishes should be directed to places like the Clam Box and Woodman's? That seems to be exactly what they're looking for.

                    1. I would say Sail Loft. It's right on the harbor, nothing fancy, but the food is good, and cheap, compared to most seafood places.


                      1. Thanks for all the suggestions! Unfortunately, we won't have a car, and we will have two young kids, so even going to Cambridge might be difficult (though I'll have to come back for Courthouse!), and out of the city is out of the questions (time to move up the date of my drive through New England vaca?). I'm thinking we'll try Neptune Oyster and Morse Fish-- get a taste of both ends of the spectrum's take on fried clams--and how could I have forgotten about LOBSTER ROLLS? Thanks again for the tips. I'll be sure to post the results!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bananafishes

                          Courthouse is only a 5 min walk from Lechmere station ( greenline).

                          1. re: phatchris

                            The perfect day with kids might be going to the Museum of Science followed by an early supper at Courthouse. Only thing missing is an ice cream store right next door, but a quick bus ride and you could be at Christina's in Inman Square. Unfortunately, at that point, public transportation would be a true hassle.

                        2. So here's the report. After all that, I totally whiffed. I had in my mind to go to Neptune first, but when I went to the concierge to have him get reservations (since there was six of us) for some reason I had stuck in my had "Union" instead of "Neptune" and didn't realize my mistake until we got to Union Oyster, and it didn't look at all like what I had seen on Neptune's website. In any case, it really was pretty decent. It was really kid-friendly (gave the kids coloring books and cute cups with bendy straws). The fried clams were very juicy and tender, and not at all greasy. The lobster was a little tough, but had good flavor. The clam chowder was not to my taste, b/c I prefer a milkier chowder, and this is definitely roux-based. However, there were lots of clams, the potatoes were not cooked to a mush, and it had the right amount of seasoning. My sis-in-law, who loves really thick chowders, loved it. The fries and other sides were nothing special. My brother said his broiled fish was nicely done. Then my nephews got a kick out of watching the lobsters in the tank while we waited for a cab to save us from the pelting rain.

                          The next day we tossed around the idea of hitting Neptune for lunch, but then ended up having a huge latish breakfast at Thornton's, which was excellent. The fresh fruit was actually cut up fresh fruit, and not just melon--pears, strawberries and other fruit, too. The french toast was actual french bread, not square sandwich toast. The portions were generous (my husband's smoked salmon plate was huge), and the prices very reasonable.

                          SO, we decided, instead, to just order pizza in for a later dinner that night. We decided on Upper Crust (the Newbury location, since we were at the Westin Copley Place). We got four large pizzas and two salads, and were very happy with the pizzas, but pretty disappointed in the salads. Our four sets of toppings: fra diavolo (salty, and tasting of dried shrimp, but interesting), chicken with arugula and portobello mushrooms (lots of chicken, and the arugula still fresh and peppery), cheese (nice, chunky and flavorful tomato sauce--good balance of sauce and cheese), and sausage with roasted red peppers and spinach (not crumbled, but I prefer sliced--husband prefers crumbled--, nice amount of red peppers and spinach was cooked nicely). The crust was a nice thin crust. Crispy on the edges, and chewy, but cooked through the rest of it. I guess they use brick ovens, b/c there was a nice browning, with a little bit of smokiness, without being burned. It was a little more than average in terms of pizza price, but I felt that those pizzas were definitely worth it. I'd avoid the salads.

                          In any case, thanks for the tips. I guess I'll just have to go back for a longer vacation next time!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: bananafishes

                            Thanks for the report, and thanks for a mostly positive review of Union Oyster House. Perhaps the mgmt has been reading the various comments on the board and tightened up the ship, because your review made it sound better than the usual hatred flung on the place. One can only hope.

                            1. re: bananafishes

                              Though I'm sorry you whiffed, I do appreciate hearing whiff stories, because sometimes that's part of being a chowhound.

                              ObFood: Though I've never been an Upper Crust devotee, your description is detailed and helpful.