HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >


Legal Sea Foods: You've come a long way baby!

Unfortunately, entirely in the wrong direction.

If you research my posts on the topic of Legal Sea Foods (and its progeny), you'll see I am not a fan. Although I occasionally may have said something nice about the chain (something along the lines of, "My meal didn't totally suck."), it will become clear very quickly that I am not a fan. Count me among the many who lament the downfall of this once great culinary institution.

Tonight, I took the lazy way out; I have only myself to blame. Having rented out my house in Cambridge (with my daughter leaving her mother's home in Lincoln to attend boarding school in Vermont, I no longer expect to be here every single week), I am holed up at one of those generic Burlington-area hotels. I got myself a hankering for some fried clams, having not had any yet this summer. Ipswich is a mere 40 minutes away from here. Or, in less time I could have been at one of the several not-as-good-as-Farnham's-but-still-pretty-darn-good alternatives closer to here. But instead, staying just a stone's throw from the Burlington Mall, I decided it was time to give Legal another shot. Nothing fancy; just a fried clam dinner. What a disappointment.

Having not had clams in quite a while, I don't feel I can judge the quality of the clams themselves. They didn't seem as big and plump as I would have expected, but maybe that's just the negative halo effect talking. (That is, clearly disappointed by my experience, it can be hard to give them credit for anything positive.) But irrespective of the quality of the clams themselves, the quality of the preparation was just lame. Very little to no crunch. Soggy. Served on a bed of really lame (really lame) fries. The stray calamari ring in my order didn't make it any better. The stray clam shell (I can only hope that's what the hard thing that ended up in my mouth was) didn't make it any better.

I know that most on this board have long ago concluded that Legal sucks. But it still has some ardent supporters. Sorry, guys: you're just wrong; the place sucks.

I had no choice but to try to wash away my disappointment with a mocha shake from Bobby's Burger Palace next door.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. To be fair, the menu does say the clams are "sweet & petite", which I only know because I went to Harborside last weekend.
    It was surprisingly pretty good.

    1. The Burlington Mall location of Legals is the absolute worst one on the planet. It sucks even by Legal Seafood's standards. At least you aren't sick.

      6 Replies
      1. re: smtucker

        Agree that it's unfair to judge the whole chain by the Burlington location - Chestnut Hill is considerably better, the Seaport locations (Harborside and LTK) are in another class altogether.

        But yikes, that does sound terrible.

        1. re: smtucker

          As a general rule of thumb, I avoid all their locations in Malls. In terms of the locations that have been around awhile, I think Chestnut Hill is the gold standard, although even there I have had some awful experiences over the years. I pretty much only stick to a couple of things on their menu at this point. Their crab cakes are among the best in the area. I avoid most of their raw shellfish as well as their lobsters.

          1. re: Gordough

            crab cakes are seriously good. only thing I order.

            1. re: Madrid

              Agreed! Not the only thing I order, but I do order a crab cake everytime I'm at Legal's. They are amazing and every bit as good as what you get in Maryland.

          2. re: smtucker

            The Prudential Center Legal REALLY sucks. Plus it smells bad.

            1. re: C. Hamster

              If I had money to burn, we could try both locations and take a vote as to which one sucks more. :-)

          3. maybe a bad location and/or choice..or night. For those of us in the Philly area, especially flyers (airport kind, not hockey), craving a fried clam dinner is only one place.........Legal at the airport. Are they as good as Ipswich, Maine, or Cape Cod?...no....but they are pretty good and the fries are great. The King of Prussia location is ok too, based on a single time. Sansome St Oyster House is my go-to, but nothing will compare to that once I'm over the CT/NY line............ choice upon choice

            1 Reply
            1. re: FriedClamFanatic

              I had crappy fried clams at the first floor seaport location and very good shucked oysters. The fry job was lousy. I had a very good meal at the 2nd floor seaport location (good enough so that I would return). But I really don't understand how they can be so lacking in basic seafood skills as to make crappy fried clams! It isn't like veal prince orloff for heavens sake.

            2. Yes, locations vary with legals. It's not the place to go for good chowder made fresh. The oysters are pretty good but overall, I'd skip legals if not looking to roll the dice for a great meal.

              1. A little OT...but my husband and I were in Salem yesterday, met up with friends to see the Turner exhibit at PEM.
                And we ended up at Turner's Seafood and Grill in the Lyceum building.
                It was pretty good, mussels in a Belgium Beer cream sauce, RI style calamari, bakes stuffed shrimp, hake marsala, fish and chips and a grilled halibut special, all really fresh and well cooked. and less expensive than Legal.
                We've sat at the bar in the Melrose location and enjoyed that as well. Its a good alternative to Legals if you're near either.

                1. I've had pretty good luck at C Bar in Lynnfield. Decent fish sandwich and fried cauliflower...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: phatchris

                    Legal C Bar in Lynnfield was acceptable. Although, I, too am one of the Legal "haters". The Bang Bang Cauliflower was very good, but it's not seafood. I actually had a filet with shrimp. I didn't finish the filet (it was fine) and never tried the grilled shrimp. It had Bernaise sauce over the filet and shrimp. I do like Bernaise sauce, but I'm a on the side type of gal. I should have read the menu more carefully. The choice of Legal C was someone else's idea...not mine so I made the best of it.

                  2. I think all of the Legal locations are sub par and have been for a long time. Even the much ballyhooed Seaport location has yielded as many misses as hits in my few visits, though I have never eaten up stairs. I'm slightly curious to hear if anyone has tried the Oysteria in Charlestown.

                    1. You need to sample local roast beef sandwich joints (which can have very good fried clams and seafood).

                      1. maybe we aren't wrong; maybe you went to the worst outlet and ordered the worst dish. I know I'm not wrong about the crab cake. Each to his own.

                        1. Not to sound like a jerk here, but why would anyone order fried clams at Legal Seafood? If you want fried clams there are about 900 Roast Beef and Fried Seafood spots in Boston where you can get them. Or take the trek to the Ipswich area and go to Woodman's or the Clam Box.

                          20 Replies
                          1. re: UnclePH

                            I think most people would assume it's ok to order fried clams at a seafood restaurant. I really like the Chestnut Hill Legal's but a few weeks ago, I went to the one at the Mohegan Sun and ordered fried shrimp. They were small and over fried....barely edible. Luckily, the tuna poke I had ordered for an appetizer was delicious and filled me up. I was with some people I didn't know very well and chose not to send it back.

                            1. re: catsmeow

                              Yeah, I suppose you're right. Of course you can order a chicken breast at Ruths Chris Steakhouse, too, but do you really want to?

                              1. re: UnclePH

                                Clams are seafood . Chicken is not steak . Just sayin'.

                                1. re: debinqueens

                                  And Legal Seafood is not a clam shack. Just sayin'

                                  1. re: UnclePH

                                    Legal is a seafood place.

                                    It's like saying you shouldn't order a burger at a steakhouse

                                    1. re: ac106

                                      An excellent point. Rays the Steaks in DC is a steakhouse known for their burgers. They take the leftover trimmings from their hand cut steaks and grind them daily to make what some have argued is the best burger in the city. They only serve them in the lounge of one of their locations or at a storefront with no name next to their original restaurant. They are truly amazing burgers. Legal Seafood has positioned themselves as an upscale casual restaurant. I have never heard anyone say, "you gotta get in their for those fried clams, they are outstanding." Fried clams are a dish that if you don't specialize in them you are bound to disappoint. That's why if I want fried clams I go someplace that is known for making them.

                                      1. re: UnclePH

                                        i have to put in the word that ray's is in arlington, va.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Yes it is and Ray's the Classics is in Silver Spring MD.

                              2. re: catsmeow

                                Correction....went to Jasper's at the Monegan Sun not Legals. I need a vacation.....

                              3. re: UnclePH

                                "why would anyone order fried clams at Legal Seafood?"

                                Is that a serious question?!?!

                                  1. re: Blumie

                                    As near as I can tell Blumie, the answer appears to be that you should shlep out to Essex anytime you want fried clams and that a place that calls itself a seafood restaurant shouldn't be expected to know how to fry bivalves and shellfish. I'll remember that next time I'm looking for the critters in Boston. Darn, how could I be such a slow learner? You know, it's like those posters who are always sending you to Oleana when you ask for a good restaurant in the South End.

                                    1. re: teezeetoo

                                      Exactly. And the next time your hankering for a Gyro platter with French fries and Greek salad, be sure you run over to Oleana in the South End. I'm sure it will be fantastic.

                                      1. re: UnclePH

                                        I'm pretty confident that if Oleana offered a Gyro platter with French fries and Greek salad it would be fantastic. But then again Oleana doesn't suck like Legal.

                                        1. re: Blumie

                                          Or maybe you just went to a restaurant at the mall that you admittedly already dislike and ordered the LAST item on the menu you should order.

                                          1. re: UnclePH

                                            Is that because making good fried clams is so wildly complicated?

                                            1. re: Blumie

                                              My theory is that fried clams are so good at the best clam shacks is that you always get them very hot and minutes from the frier. And, fried clams are what they do.

                                              That does make a big difference. Work your way through a mountain of Clam Box clams and really think about the first ones, and then the last ones. Five or ten minutes makes a big difference in taste even with their excellent product.

                                              In a chain restaurant setting the oil may have been used for a lot of other foods, it may not be the ideal oil for clams but a compromise for many foods.

                                              Your waiter may be out for a smoke or taking an order for a table of eight and the runner may not notice and get your plate out from under the warming lights as quickly as possible.

                                              I had the fried clams at Row 34 last week and they were wonderful but I was sitting at the bar next to the kitchen and noticed how fast food was moved out by runners and how the person calling out the order to fire dishes was careful to give the space for items in an order that would take longer to cook.

                                              I don't think that detailed attention is what you get at a big chain restaurant and I don't think they sell enough of the same thing like fried clams to be set up to do the best by them.


                                              1. re: BostonZest

                                                Excellent points, Penny. I should add that the service at Legal was terrific. I sat at the bar, where the bartenders were very friendly and attentive. And the food did come out very promptly (to the point where one bartender walked by and commented, "That was fast"), so I don't think it was sitting around. But as I pointed out, I have only myself to blame. I went in knowing the Legal sucks, and this just confirmed it. (I believe very strongly that our expectations play an extremely important role in our enjoyment of a meal, and while I am trying very hard to control for my expectations, I will admit that I believe doing so entirely is impossible.) I thought a basic fried seafood dinner would be a safer bet than anything that required a more nuanced preparation -- not that it's particularly nuanced, but I wouldn't trust them to properly broil a simple filet of fish -- but I was wrong. As my friend UnclePH points out, the crab cakes are pretty reliable, and although I haven't had them in a long, long time (because I try not to go to Legal), I used to enjoy them a lot. (I used to enjoy the tuna sashimi, too, but my father -- who's view I trust -- reported it was not good on a recent visit.)

                                                At the end of the day, going to Legal is too much a crap shoot (and like most casino games, the player loses more often than not). People here clearly like some menu items, or some locations, or some of the newer concepts, but I prefer to spend my dining dollars at places that can deliver more consistently than that.

                                                1. re: Blumie

                                                  I agree with your avoidance of Legals as a chain with less to offer to those of us who have high expectations for great food from someone charging those prices.

                                                  I have to admit that I do not go to chain restaurants unless forced to by friends that I really love and have not visited a Legal Seafood restaurant in many years.

                                                  Legals is a chain no matter how hard Roger tries to deny it. Just go to the site and compare menus. In most instances, one or two items may change but uniformity for those who do not care about the excitement of great food from great chefs is their strength.

                                                  There are at least half a dozen food trucks in Boston who put out a better meal than most of the chains in town.

                                                  1. re: BostonZest

                                                    for a family like ours with an adopted kid with huge food issues, legal is a huge step up from the previous favorite, the 99. that's our perspective, and the parents would never imagine going there without this "incentive." We go elsewhere whenever we get the slightest chance!

                                1. Interesting, because their new direction seems to be a different menu at each new location. The food at Legals Downtown Crossing is incredible. Grilled octopus salad: stellar. Bang bang cauliflower, lamb ribs: I crave these. And their cocktails are perfectly balanced.

                                  1. I can remember when Legal Seafood's was just a little tiny hole in the wall in Inman Square Cambridge with a line out the door. It was paper plates and picnic tables

                                    7 Replies
                                      1. re: mmmjv

                                        Back when I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time . . . .

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          i don't even know what that means but i am dying laughing. :o

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              It's a now immortal trope of Grandpa Simpson and generally used in pop culture to denote without further detail a generic rambling Back-In-My-Day story:

                                              Episode: Last Exit To Springfield

                                              "We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere - like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you'd say. . . . Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones."


                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                only occasionally do i regret not having a tv. :) thanks. :)