We have nothing against Legal’s. It’s just that, once you’ve had their chowder while waiting for a connecting flight to Cincinnati, it kind of loses its magic.
At one point, Legal Sea Foods was so intertwined with Boston culture that a Legal’s menu could have been hoisted up a pole and repurposed as the city flag. But that time has passed, and Boston’s seafood restaurants overall have become far more fun and innovative places where you probably won’t be seated next to a person wearing a neck pillow. So, next time someone suggests going to Legal’s, take them to one of these 10 places instead.
Saltie Girl in Back Bay takes the broad category of “stuff that doesn’t live on land” and does whatever it wants with it. The result is excellent. As just about every New Englander knows, Legal’s chowder has been served at every Presidential Inauguration for the last 30 years, but Satlie Girl’s but might be served for the next 30, so get that along with the torched salmon belly and at least one tin of fish. The space is small, and feels like a Mediterranean beach bar Brad Pitt would frequent on vacation.
A big plastic pirate at the front door doesn’t automatically mean you’re at a great seafood shack, but it’s a pretty good start. And when there’s also a big plastic shark hanging from the ceiling, a retail counter selling fresh cod filets and oysters, and harborside views, you can be confident that you’re in good hands. Belle Isle is the type of classic New England seafood shack you find on the way to the L.L. Bean outlet in Maine, only it’s just barely outside the city in Winthrop. When you make the trip, you’ll find one of the biggest lobster rolls in Boston, clam chowder, and a ton of great fried seafood with barely any hint of grease. Places like this are what make New England great (that and, um, maybe Rachel Dratch?)
Moon Bar is the cooler, younger sister of Mooncusser, a Park Square fish restaurant that you’d usually save for a special occasion. You could argue that Moon Bar is more of a bar than a restaurant, but the menu is big enough for a full dinner, and the space is elegant in a wine bar on a space station kinda way. The swordfish souvlaki is going to be how you want to eat swordfish from here on out.
We’re not going to tell you that going to Neptune is easy. You will have to wait, you will be seated closer to strangers than you are on a Southwest flight, and it will be filled with people who ask you to pronounce things for their amusement. But you will also have a great meal. From the classic things like the lobster roll and chowder, to the more unexpectedly great dishes like the blue fish johnnycake and burger, almost everything here is excellent. It’s not necessarily an easy meal experience, but it’s one that’s always worth the hassle.
Select Oyster Bar in Back Bay is probably what Legal’s would feel like if it went on vacation and swapped out its loafers for some boat shoes. It’s a small, relaxed spot that’s a good choice for when you want to skip your afternoon meeting and have a drink and some oysters. Well, actually, that’s probably every day for you - but when you actually make it happen, come here. The menu is small, but pretty much everything is good. We especially like the ceviche and warm lobster roll, and the vegetable sides are surprisingly great too.
You know that fun back patio you don’t have? It’s here at B&G Oysters, an upscale seafood restaurant in South End. Get a glass of wine, a lobster roll, and some oysters, and pretend you’re at a fancy cocktail party for the evening. If it’s cold out, the small, underground dining room is still a good time, especially if you sit at the counter in front of the open kitchen.
If you haven’t been to Island Creek Oyster Bar yet, make sure to go the next time you have out-of-town visitors. This Kenmore Square spot is the perfect representation of a New England seafood restaurant, and is interesting enough that while your friends discover oysters for the first time, you won’t be bored. The way we feel about this place is probably similar to how people felt about Legal’s when it first opened, but luckily, Island Creek is still decades away from being played out. The crispy oyster sliders are a must, as are the raw oysters (but you probably could’ve figured that one out on your own).
Row 34 is like the Bob Ross of restaurants. This Seaport raw bar doesn’t have much more than oysters, fried shellfish, and a selection of fish plates that change based on whatever came off the docks that day, but everything here is great. It also gets pretty loud and fun, which probably has something to do with their great beer selection. If you haven’t had steamer clams, start eating them here.
There’s an entire section dedicated just to lobster at this Back Bay restaurant, which is an offshoot of the original spot in Alewife. Start with the pan-roasted version and then work your way around the rest of it. It’s casual and you should be able to walk-in here, so if you couldn’t get a reservation at Island Creek, give this place a shot before you settle for Legal’s.
If your friend wanted to go to Legal’s for some clam chowder or a lobster roll, then we need to warn you that Waypoint doesn’t have either. But that’s exactly why this Harvard Square spot is one of Boston’s most interesting seafood restaurants. Waypoint is a big, crowded space filled with people drinking absinthe cocktails and generally having a great time. Grab some crudi and the lobster tail with chili garlic oil, and let them learn for themselves how much better seafood can be without coleslaw or oyster crackers.
As much as we love New England seafood, sometimes we like it when not everything on our plate is a variant of beige. For an entirely different (and much more colorful) seafood experience, head to Muqueca in Inman Square. This Brazilian spot serves big seafood stews, curries, and whole roasted fish, and does it in a casual dining room with a bunch of regulars. And thankfully, it’s almost always easy to get a table here, which is a bigger mystery than the Kennedy assassination once you realize how good the namesake moqueca is.
If you’re going to serve wine in plastic cups and and put your entire restaurant in a tiny space where dinner guests need to watch out for olive oil splatter, you better make some damn good food. The Daily Catch does. Among the handful of Hanover Street restaurants that always have a line, this Sicilian seafood place is the only one we actually recommend. The whole menu is good, but you absolutely need to order one of the black pasta dishes. We prefer the the aglio olio, which is like a bolognese that swaps out the beef for ground calamari.
If the reason your friend wants to go to Legals is to have a nice long sit-down dinner where you keep ordering more oysters and drinks, then Eventide will not be a suitable replacement. It’s one of those order-at-the-counter spots that caters to people who want a lunch that’s quick but doesn’t suck - not a place where you stay so long your waiter starts side-eying you. But despite the fast-casual atmosphere, it serves some really interesting (and different) seafood dishes, like fried clams that look like something you’d see at an izakaya instead of on the beach, and a brown butter lobster roll that’s one of the best in the city.