It can be easy to forget that New York City is a city by the shore. Amid the urban landscape, even the neighborhoods by the water have trouble capturing a beachy vibe, and most people tend to think of New York seafood dining as the pricey, white-tablecloth variety. But there are plenty of casual, low-key seafood-shack spots for the discerning visitor to discover.
BYOB (that's 'bring your own bib') and get ready to tuck in.
Cajun tradition and beachy bars in Manhattan
Although the Manhattan seafood scene is dominated by restaurants that tend to be more on the elegant side, those looking to keep things simple have plenty of options. The Boil, with two locations in lower Manhattan, is a Louisiana-style eatery that brings a healthy portion of bayou charm to the city. Before you order your bags of crustaceans with customizable seasonings, you'll be outfitted in a bib and gloves. There's no need to be self-conscious as you behead and de-shell your food; all of the other patrons will be too busy with their own to notice. If you need a little liquid courage before diving in, they have you covered with a full bar and impressive beer and wine options.
If sitting at the bar with a bowl of mussels and a beer is more your speed, Bait & Hook in the East Village and Fish Market in the South Street Seaport both offer tantalizing small plates in a casual bar setting. Bait & Hook has both happy hour specials and day-long themed specials. So if you miss the perfectly crisp fish tacos at happy hour, just come back on Taco Tuesday to get your fix. At Fish Market, you'll find cheap drinks and classic small-plate fare such as oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktails, served up with a side of funky dive bar atmosphere in Manhattan's historic South Street Seaport area.
Lobster galore in Brooklyn
The historic neighborhood of Red Hook used to be known for its notoriously rowdy docks, but it's now home to a treasure trove of seafood spots. The largest is Brooklyn Crab, a multistory, indoor/outdoor restaurant, bar, beer garden and all-around good time. Located at the end of Van Brunt Street right near the water, Brooklyn Crab has the fun, freewheeling energy of summer on the shore. Upstairs you can dine on crab pots or clam strips, and at the downstairs bar, Narragansetts or cocktails flow.
Also in Red Hook is the flagship location of the Red Hook Lobster Pound. This sit-down joint offers all of the creamy, tangy deliciousness of the lobster rolls at their now famous food truck. It has a crisp, white coastal feel and live lobster tanks so you know what you're getting is fresh.
Go inland to Park Slope to find Luke's Lobster. They have locations all over the city, but with its charming wood tables and desirable patio, the Park Slope location is not one to miss. Best of all, they serve the classic Luke's Lobster menu. The clam chowder and lobster bisque are savory and not too heavy. Both are absolute heaven when paired with one of their simple, yet effective, grilled cheese sandwiches.
On the other side of the borough in Mill Basin is Nick's Lobster House. This restaurant is right on the water and will transport you briefly out of the city altogether. They do it up right at Nick's, with whole steamed lobster, expertly seasoned broiled shrimp, silky smooth bisque, and all manner of calamari, clams and oysters. Best of all, every seat in the main dining room has a water view.
Seafood paradise on City Island
If you are a die-hard, accept-no-substitutes type of seafood lover, you must get to City Island, just off the coast of the Bronx. Once you cross the bridge you'll feel like you're a hundred miles away from New York City, even though the skyline is visible in the distance. City Island is small and absolutely stuffed with seafood restaurants. You'd have a hard time picking a dud, but Tony's Pier is a special experience. It's simple: order fried or broiled at the counter and wait for them to call your name. The lobster, shrimp and scallops are done to perfection and the ambiance is authentic. As the name suggests, there is a large pier attached with outdoor seating that looks out onto the beautiful Long Island Sound.