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Legal Seafoods: Yay or Nay?

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My husband and I are headed to the Burlington, MA area and he desperately wants to try out Legal Seafoods. I don't know much about Legal Seafoods, other than it's a chain. Is it just a more upscale version of Red Lobster or does it produce decent seafood?

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  1. Yes, it is a chain, but no, I would never compare it with Red Lobster.

    Legal's has evolved over the years, but it is a reasonable choice for a good seafood meal. Personally, I liked it better when it was just one location, and even after that, when there were only a very few, all here in the Boston area. Since then it has become a place where the food is good but.... well... it feels mechanized. Although the fish is fresh and prepared well, it was not chosen because it was what looked particularly good at the dock today, it is because the chain can arrange for a steady supply of THAT particular fish.

    So, if you go you will have a perfectly fine meal - and yes, not inexpensive (or terribly expensive for that matter) - but personally if I were going out for seafood in this area, I would first look for a good option where the chef was in the kitchen exercising his or her own creativity to make something special with what was best and freshest today.

    14 Replies
    1. re: PinchOfSalt

      all of the fish served at legal's goes through their processing plant and they have their own inspection standards. however, as pos says they have standard menus in dozens of locations so need a certain amount of product continuity.

      the chowder is good. shucking of oysters can be great or awful. in decades of giving them a shot, at various locations, the meals are most often poorly executed.

      the columbus group, which owns l'andana, has a dedicated fish-buyer who makes several trips per week to the fish pier and stocks each of their properties accordingly.. you'd be better off going there.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Does the fish taste fresh or more like reheated frozen fish?

        1. re: kdlalib

          i've never had a freshness issue, just issues of terrible execution and many experiences of lousy service.

          that being said, i have never eaten in the burlington location.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Legal's whole schtick is the quality and safety of their fish - hence the name. Heck, they helped develop and write what's now national-standard health code law regarding HACCP plans.

            As a chain, they can't buy huge amounts of, say, toro at Tsukiji Fish Market. But they work pretty hard to be a standout for sustainable and quality-focused fish on a chain level.

            Depending on which employee is cooking, or the management's hiring at a particular location, you might find yourself satisfied or dissatisfied. But it's definitely not the Outback Steakhouse of fish.

            I'll jump on the tuna burger bandwagon, with the caveat that without fries it will cover most of your calories for the day, unless you are huge or super-athletic.

            1. re: enhF94

              you can also get the tuna burger without the bun and ask for extra of the yummy sauce....probably equals out the calories! The menu says it comes with fries and cole slaw, but you can ask to sub any of the sides. I often get the green beans and garlic spinach....

              1. re: Madrid

                yep, I always do double-veg.

                1. re: enhF94

                  The last time I ate at the Prudential location (years ago), the veg all came swimming in butter).

                2. re: Madrid

                  i tried the tuna burger both at ltk and the harborside location. it was so woefully over-seasoned it could have been a turkey burger. yuk.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    This could be luck or me - I am a heavy-seasoning hound.

                3. re: enhF94

                  The "Legal" name derives from a Boston-based purveyor of trading stamps called the Legal Stamp Company, which was in operation when the original Legal Cash Market (then a grocery store) opened in 1904. The Legal stamp business was bought by and folded into Sperry & Hutchinson (whose "Green Stamps" still exist today in virtual form). Legal Sea Foods opened, first as a fish market and later as a restaurant, keeping the original name. The name Legal has nothing to do with legality, quality, or safety.

                  That said, Legal Sea Foods does a very good job of ensuring that the fish they well is safe to eat, and is what they claim it is. In order to achieve this, they do a lot of central preparation, so their offerings should be pretty consistent across their many locations.

                  1. re: owades

                    I stand corrected. Thanks!

                  2. re: enhF94

                    I have to disagree with the statement that they took the name Legal to emphasize quality and safety. From their own Web site: "Founded in 1950 by George Berkowitz in Cambridge, Mass., Legal Sea Foods got its name from the neighboring Legal Cash Market, a grocery operated by Berkowitz's father."

                    I grew up a block from the original Legal Sea Foods, back in the days when it was just a small fish market with a takeout fish & chips counter. They didn't actually add a sit-down restaurant until 1968.

                    1. re: BobB

                      yeah, see above.

                  3. re: hotoynoodle

                    I agree. The fish from Legal's is always tastes fresh. ( even if the execution isn't 100 percent). The issues..although in my experience infrequent..are usually with service or the way something is cooked. That being said, I don't thing any chain restaurant is ever going to be 100 percent on everything all the time.
                    My suggestions to the OP are if you are ordering a seafood dish that is not fried, then be as specific as possible in how you want your dish cooked. My husband is a big fan of their fried seafood and has never once had an issue.
                    Also..I will add that if they do mess up your food..they are very efficient and very quick to correct their mistake.

            2. Go there for lunch and in that and for dinner L'Andana is a good choice by the Columbus Hospitality Group

              1 Reply
              1. re: KeyConcierge

                Totally second this suggestion. L'Andana is a MUCH better choice. More variety and excellent food and service for same price point.

              2. We went in Cambridge and at the airport. We had lobster rolls which we enjoyed and a whole lobster which they split for us because it was large. I would definitely go back. Cannot speak to the fish though.

                2 Replies
                1. re: melpy

                  I'd be going for the lobster. Lobster is my choice anywhere I go. I'm a lobster-a-holic.

                  1. re: melpy

                    I've eaten at the Legal in the Washington National airport. Fabulous raw oysters and clams - by far the best airport food I've had. Bit of a plain menu but they do what they do well.

                  2. Its a perfectly fine seafood meal, as PinchofSalt says. The Legal there is in the mall. The area isn't exactly teeming with interesting food choices, mostly lower end chains.

                    But if you are in the area, and don't want to head out far and wide, its a good choice. A muted yay..

                    Where are you coming from, if you don't mind? Do you have any particular food tastes, or things you avoid?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: grant.cook

                      We're from Vermont. A landlocked state, so we don't have overly high expectations. :) We'll pretty much eat anything. My husband, despite his love of Applebees and the like, is a very adventurous eater. We have to stay in the Burlington area, or we'd venture into Boston. I know that limits our dining options a lot.

                      1. re: kdlalib

                        I would say given the seafood I have eaten in VT and PA where I live that Legal will be quite nice at least based on the locations I have tried.

                        1. re: kdlalib

                          There isnt one microwaved /boil in a bag bit of anything at Applebees i would put in my mouth, so if he loves it there, he is going to LOVE legals.

                          1. re: hargau

                            Haha! My husband has very... Shall we say.... Liberal taste. He's very easily satisfied.

                      2. Definitely way better than any Red Lobster! I grew up going to the one in Chestnut Hill back when you had to get your own silverware, water, napkins. You sat at long tables with other people and the menu was a chalkboard on the wall.. It has changed quite a bit since then but the food is very consistent. That said , the one in the burlington mall is my least favorite of any of them, always seems to be too crowded/loud/hectic for me.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: hargau

                          And you paid for your meal when you ordered it and they served it when it was ready instead of waiting for your whole party's order to be ready- a new concept back then. I also remember you had to choose baked potato or salad(?) as the accompaniment to your fish order.

                          1. re: Berheenia

                            During college we ate at the original legal at porter square....it was a 2 story small building, you paid downstairs and ate upstairs and then we ate next door at the legal sweet shop...it was the BEST....

                            1. re: sberc

                              do you mean porter or inman square...the original. Near the old orson welles movie theater. yes, they brought the food when ready, it was inexpensive, and amazing...this nc girl had never seen anyone dig into a huge vat of mussels...the clams as well.

                              1. re: Madrid

                                Yes it was Inman Square but the Orson Welles was on Mass Ave in Central Square. Agreed the original was amazing but that was forty years ago.

                                1. re: chuck s

                                  Just to be precise, the Orson Welles Cinema was not in Central Square either, but at 1001 Mass Ave, between Central and Harvard. The building that replaced it after the fire in 1986 is next door to the current Garden at the Cellar restaurant. In any case, not near the original Legal Seafood in Inman Square.

                              2. re: sberc

                                Memories! The first time I ate there was in January of 1971, when I was visiting the area to do a college interview. Back then you paid and ate downstairs. Upstairs was an area where there was entertainment in the form of improv (if I remember correctly) to enjoy while you waited for you seat at one of the long tables.

                                1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                  I was here for college 73 to 77....I do remember the long tables, but not the entertainment...probably went too early. it was just wonderful seafood...informal....basic great stuff. I still think there are lingering remains in the LS empire of that heritage...

                          2. My husband and I happened upon a Legal Seafoods at Logan airport. I had a lobster roll and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Must mention tho, being from the midwest, my access to good seafood is
                            limited in my city.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: conniemcd

                              A friend and I had breakfast at the Legal Seafood Test Kitchen at Logan Aiirport. After a week of non-stop seafood up and down the Maine coast I wasn't expecting much but I was very pleasantly surprised. We decided to split a crab and lobster omelet. Not only was it very good but was served already split between 2 plates, including the sides. The service was friendly and efficient. Now I make sure to get to the airport early enough to have breakfast there.

                              1. re: Pwmfan

                                Lobster omelet sounds yummy!

                                1. re: Pwmfan

                                  They did this for us also at the airport location. We ordered one steamed lobster to share and they upgraded the size a little and split onto to plates for is. It was the first time my fiancé ever picked a shelled lobster. It was huge and delicious.

                                2. re: conniemcd

                                  Agreed on the lobster roll. Heavenly. Had it at the Kendal Sq location and it had tons of fresh nicely cooked lobster on a slightly crispy yet soft toasted buttery bun. You don't really need more than that. Fresh lots of sweet lobster meat, butter, and just enough bun to hold it. (I eat a fair bit of seafood, and while I hate to say picky, I can tell if it's sat around a long time.)

                                  We (foolishly) also got the fried calamari appetizer which was crispy outside, tender inside, and huge. It was only foolish because it was so delicious that the two of us ate that whole huge appetizer along with the whole lobster roll and Mr. Munchie's entree. So stuffed, but happy!

                                3. Very straighforward and fresh seafood. It is not at all like Red Lobster, and you will find a variety of fish options that will please the pallet for sure.

                                  1. How many nights are you going to be here? If he desperately wants to try Legal, I'd give it a shot just so he can have the experience. What's the risk other than not having a stellar meal?

                                    If you have a second night in the area, you could hit L'Andana then.

                                    I had some lovely seared scallops at the Beacon Grille in Woburn, pretty close to Burlington. I believe it's being sold but will be open for a while. Kind of a strange building, but nice inside and no stranger than a shopping mall where Legal is.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: bear

                                      It's only 1 night. A stop over before we go on a cruise . Feel like I need to fulfill my hubby 's Legal Seafood dream :)

                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                        Oh, wow. Whatever you decide, happy cruising! Hope it is magical.

                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                          You should give Legals a try. IMHO they do a decent job on their seafood. When we are flying out of Boston we almost always eat at the Legals at the airport. I've had some really good fried clams as well as Cajun scallops. Lobster is one of those things I cook at home but I wouldn't hesitate to order a lobster at Legals.

                                      2. I love the tuna burger and the chowder. The bread you get when seated, the rolls, yes, are mass produced but very good if you like crusty rolls. It is not cheap and I wouldn't go for upscale fish at most outlets, but the fish is fresh. The sides can be OK as well; feel free to ask for garlic spinach instead of cole slaw, and ask for the tuna burger at dinner (it's on the lunch menu, but I've never been turned down). As others have said, there is more interesting seafood at other places, but if you stick the basics, you will do much better than a pub or most other chains. Can't compare to Red Lobster because I've never been, but my SO who had to go to RL many times with his parents.....not at all similar.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: Madrid

                                          Have you heard anything about the lobster?

                                          1. re: kdlalib

                                            Legal's does not mess up anything on their seafood menu. I tend to cook my own lobsters at home, so I can't remember having a lobster at Legal's, but really, the place is quite solid. I am sure that they would do a fine job. (And really, lobster is pretty easy to cook - easier than fish, it seems to me.)

                                            1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                              I respectfully disagree. While I like Legals for the most part, I find they can be somewhat inconsistent. I've been to the N. Shore Mall, the Boston locations and the Burlington location and I have to say the most consistent of them all is the Legal Test Kitchen..and even there..the last time I ordered the salmon it was undercooked to the point of almost being raw and had to be sent back.

                                              1. re: BlueMagic

                                                Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. It hasn't happened to me, but of course I believe you. I suppose that kind of thing can happen anywhere. Most of my experiences at Legal's have been with the Kendall Square location. I think I have been to the Burlington location only once. That was a good ten years ago. It was fine that time.

                                                1. re: BlueMagic

                                                  Had they listed it as Mi Cuit they could have charged more ;)

                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                    Haha! So true :-)

                                              2. re: kdlalib

                                                We had it at the airport and thoroughly enjoyed it.

                                            2. I live only 10 miles from Burlington and had a LS gift certificate to use recently. The seafood casserole, which contained shellfish, was dreadful - tough shellfish, watery sauce. The gumbo was passable, the fried oysters fine. If I were staying in Burlington, I would take 128 south to rt. 2 east and go to Summer Shack at the Alewife rotary on rt 2.
                                              Probably 15 minutes from Burlington. Jasper's pan-roasted lobster is outstanding, and they have other lobster options including the individual clambake, which is done in special cookers designed for making them.

                                              1. One bad thing about legals is their chowder is made at a central location, packaged and ship to the rests. What you're eating is something warmed up from what was made several days before.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: libertywharf

                                                  That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. Thanks for the tip!

                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                    I wouldnt avoid the chowder, its one of the best things on the menu, certainly what they are most famous for. I prefer the fish chowder over the clam.

                                                  2. re: libertywharf

                                                    I know that is true about their chowder as well as their rolls, but I think the chowder is still fine and the rolls are very good, the hard outside, lots of holes inside kind. And I love making my own chowder at home with fish stock I made, not clam juice.

                                                  3. Although their restaurants aren't consistent with some being good and some being awful(could never understand why), their baked stuffed lobster is one of my favorites( at the Chestnut Hill one). I've never eaten at the one in Burlington, so can't say if I think it's a good branch, but their seafood always tastes fresh. Their prep is what can mess things up at some of them. Very inconsistent.

                                                    1. As one of the few places in the Phily area that offers fried clams, I go there when in the need or if I'm flying out of PHL (they have a place in terminal B/C). Surprisingly good

                                                      1. oh.and my wife likes their lobster roll... I have never had it

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                          We really enjoyed the lobster rolls.

                                                        2. I'll toss in another vote that Legal's is a decent choice - just not exceptional. I've personally never had a terrible meal there over the years, and various locations, but I've learned to narrow down my choices over time for better eats. My favorite on Legal's menu will always remain their crab cakes - one of the better versions than many restaurants IMO.

                                                          I have an out of town friend who loves their version of clam chowder, and gets it every time she dines there. She lived in Japan for many years, and now resides in Vancouver, so she knows good seafood.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: kobuta

                                                            Clearly, a case of your mileage may vary. I live in the Washington, DC area where crab cakes done well are a badge of honor. Legal's just don't work. The recipes include too much mustard -- in the crab mix along with the mustard sauce -- and too many other strong seasonings to mask the taste of the crab. I wouldn't say the final result was a bad taste but it doesn't feature the crab the way most Chesapeake Bay- area residents prefer.

                                                            Now, I love their swordfish or Arctic char with red onion jam. Their cioppino is tasty and generous. Among their appetizers, I like their Blackened Tuna.

                                                            I've been eating at Legals since the grandfather was working the original location in Inman Square, but my love of their food has slackened since a few of my favorites were taken off the menu -- notably two soups: a Portuguese chowder and a different lighter style spicy red soup. Both long gone. Both still lamented.

                                                            1. re: Indy 67

                                                              you may be talking, indy 67, about the Rhode Island red chowder, which you can still get if you ask for it, at least at Chestnut Hill. I like the grilled seafood salad and the cioppino and find they make an acceptable Caesar salad and will add more anchovies for me. Most of my friends from landlocked states remind me that Legal's is a treat for them so I remember to appreciate it for what it is, which is better than most options and not as good as a great seafood shack in Savannah or a great Le Bernardin in NY. Still very nice to have it as an option.

                                                              1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                Yes! Rhode Island Red Chowder!

                                                                I'm now living in the Washington, DC area. Sadly, when I've asked about the Red Chowder the servers stare at me as if I'm speaking some alien language.

                                                          2. Nay

                                                            1. As you can see Legal gets a lot of Yays and also a lot of Nays but I am one of the Yays. I used to work in the Burlington area and did a tremendous amount of business dining with clients from Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Korea, etc). A trip to Legal was almost mandatory whenever these clients were visiting us. Legal never disappointed me or my guests. First time visitors almost always had a steamed lobster but I would also order an array of raw bar choices, clam chowder, steamers, fried clams or mussels so everyone could get a taste of some New England specialties. The staff at the Burlington restaurant always did a great job and I could never fault the service. Is Legal the best seafood in Boston? IMO that is a matter of personal choice but in all the times I have eaten at Legal it has been consistent and served well prepared high quality seafood. I don't think you can go wrong.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: RoyRon

                                                                I agree with this. It's a great place to have the steamers and lobster experience, and raw oysters if you like those. A glass of muscadet with a dozen oysters on the half shell is bliss. Don't know about Burlington, but some locations in Boston have $1 oysters during weekdays between 4-6 or something like that.

                                                                A la carte is the way to order there. From the appetizers I like spicy popcorn shrimp with their mustard sauce (all fried seafood can be ordered spicy); oysters rockefeller, bluefish pate (alas only avail at the harborside location now), a seasonal salad. Then from the sides list, steamed broccoli with cheese; jalapeno polenta. They're good together. Sugar snap peas with oyster sauce; brown rice and combine those is another way to go.

                                                              2. While you can get better seafood than Legals, and you could get unlucky with something at Legals (like pretty much anyplace), I've always found it very consistently good. If someone has an itch to try the place and will be in the area, I see no reason to not go there.

                                                                I would not put Legals remotely in the same category as Red Lobster. Granted I haven't been to a Red Lobster in a very long time, but I'd be fine with going to Legal's anytime and have zero desire to enter a Red Lobster. I can think of many local seafood joints and even pizza/sub shops around here that probably serve better seafood. I suspect most people in the area feel the same, as it's like 100 miles to the nearest one - think there used to be a few around that didn't last.

                                                                1. If you're not going to go to Legal where are you going to go in the Burlington area (+/- 15 min after which you can just go into Boston)? Despite the Nays and the fact that I've never been a huge Legal fan myself, I find a few things to be true:

                                                                  1) The fish is fine. It may not be consistently prepared but that seems to be true everywhere else I've been at that level of service in the area. The prepared stuff like chowder and rolls are still better than many.
                                                                  2) The higher end restaurants in the area like L'Andana aren't seafood restaurants. Unless 3 apps, and 4 entrees makes a seafood restaurant.
                                                                  3) People knock it but don't suggest legitimate alternatives.

                                                                  So where north and west of Boston do people suggest for seafood? What's your benchmark for a decent seafood resto?

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: 1red111

                                                                    I ate at the Burlington branch last night and enjoyed it greatly. M y husband and I started with the $1 oysters before 6 pm and I worked my way to the lobster.

                                                                    Everything was delicious and the service was great. The manager moved our wine from the bar to the dinner table and was quite personable; discussing the Legal branches that we have tried. The waitstaff were also so pleasant- everyone smiled as they served us.

                                                                    We do go to Legal whenever in a town that has a branch so I guess you could call us "fans."

                                                                  2. It's not remotely Red Lobster.

                                                                    I say Yay.

                                                                    1. I say "yay" for lunch time there here on Long Island, NY, but nay to dinner. The mall locations here are full of families with kids, kind of a Ground Round sound and vibe. I like the food, which I first had in Kendall Square years ago, and it was terrific there.

                                                                      1. Overpriced tourist trap

                                                                        1. In a lobstershell: nay.