9 Spots for Spectacular Seafood
Our dining critic's top picks for crabs, fish, lobster, oysters, mussels and more are sure to have you hooked.
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood near Fort Myer, Quarterdeck has been Arlington’s go-to spot for steamed crabs since 1979. They have oysters, shrimp and burgers, too, but it’s really all about picking crabs.
Aficionados know it takes up to 45 minutes for the crustaceans to land on the table, as all crabs are steamed to order. “We won’t compromise on [that],” says owner Courtney Manuel. “We think they should be hot and have a crust on them. It just takes time.”
The kitchen’s custom blend of spices—heavy on the rock salt and light on celery seed—is made by the J.O. Spice Co. just outside of Baltimore. Diners who are so inclined can also baptize their pickins’ in melted butter.
While you’re waiting, drink a beer and prime your palate with an order of the soufflé-like crab dip ($17.99). Chef Freddy Cruz, who has been manning the kitchen for more than 30 years, makes it with cheddar-based bechamel sauce, cream cheese and a surfeit of jumbo lump crabmeat. His no-filler crabcakes are also top-notch.
Delivered daily, Quarterdeck’s crabs are sourced locally from early June to November, and from Texas and Louisiana during the off-season. They’re sold by the dozen and half-dozen in regular, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo sizes ($55 to $95 per half-dozen; $60 to $165 per dozen; prices may vary according to availability). // 1200 Fort Myer Drive, Arlington
Crispy whole fish is a trendy dish these days, but the version we keep coming back to is at this hip little storefront in McLean, whose cuisine reflects the northeastern region of Thailand for which the restaurant is named.
Esaan owner Tu Yutthpon, a Bangkok native who lives in Arlington, says the pla tod samun prai (crispy whole rockfish, $55) is a top seller. The fish is filleted, deboned, deep-fried and then swathed in a zesty sauce of lime juice, palm sugar, red onion, chilies, mint, lemongrass, cilantro and fried cashews. The result is a delectable balance of herbal, sweet, sour and spicy flavors.
Another winner here is the whole squid ($20), which is marinated in sweet soy sauce and turmeric before it is grilled, sliced and dressed in lime juice, fish sauce, Thai basil, cilantro and pickled garlic. // 1307 Old Chain Bridge Road, McLean
Green Pig Bistro
Chef Tracy O’Grady first won the hearts of local diners at Willow, the Ballston kitchen she co-owned for a decade before it closed in 2015. Five years later (after stints at 1789 in Georgetown and Campano, a Kennedy Center-adjacent restaurant she owned with her husband, Brian Wolken), she returned to Arlington and took the helm at Green Pig Bistro in Clarendon, evolving its menu to include more seafood choices and dishes that reflect her homey, sophisticated cooking style.
The Manila clams in tomato broth with chorizo, chickpeas, green olives, pearl pasta and fennel ($28.50) are a good example, with flavors evocative of bouillabaisse. “It’s a bistro mussels dish, but not mussels. Something different,” O’Grady explains. “Clams are my favorite shellfish. The chorizo keeps it pig-centric.” And the grilled garlic bread on the side is perfect for dunking.
Another crowd-pleaser is the warm lobster gratin topped with buttery toasted breadcrumbs ($19.50), to which the chef adds hearts of palm for an acidic counterpoint. Pepita-crusted Norwegian salmon ($36.50) is a Wednesday night special, and excellent, lump-filled crabcakes (also $36.50) are available on Fridays. // 1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington
Hong Kong Pearl
As the name suggests, there’s plenty of ocean fare to be found at this Seven Corners establishment—no surprise, considering its owner, Wayne Lam, is a seafood wholesaler. The vast, omnivorous menu features whole sections devoted to crab, frog, shrimp, fish, lobster and other sea creatures (including mussels, scallops, squid, cuttlefish, conch, oysters and sea cucumber).
In the back of a large dining room outfitted with crystal chandeliers, Chinese porcelain vases and pink tablecloths are lobster tanks that guarantee the freshness of the classic Cantonese specialty: lobster with ginger and scallions ($55). For this heady dish, the crustacean is briefly deep-fried in shell-on pieces, then stir-fried with ginger, soy sauce and rice wine, and topped with scallion greens. The light sauce that lacquers the shells complements the lobster’s succulence.
On weekends, you’ll find Hong Kong Pearl packed for dim sum, but here’s a pro tip: The kitchen offers dim sum at every service. The shrimp-stuffed jalapenos ($6.50)—similar to shrimp toast, but with peppers instead of bread—are quite tasty. // 6286 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
Montauk, a town on the eastern tip of Long Island, inspired the coastal vibe of this bustling seafood cafe in Clarendon. It’s also the provenance of the day boat scallops often featured on the restaurant’s giant slate chalkboard list of fresh catch.
Day boat scallops (also known as dry or diver scallops) are so named because they’re caught from a boat that must depart and return on the same day. The fact that the shellfish are packed dry—without preservatives—aligns with Seamore’s commitment to quality and sustainability, says CEO and owner Jay Wainwright, whose restaurant also has six locations in New York City.
The centerpiece of the menu, the “Reel Deal” special, features your choice of fresh seafood, served with a pick of sauces (such as charred scallion, chimichurri or lemongrass aji), plus three side dishes that change seasonally. At press time, side options included sauteed Swiss chard, rutabaga-parsnip mash, kale-avocado salad, and a pilaf of quinoa and black rice with mushrooms and grapes.
The simplicity of the scallop Reel Deal ($32) is what makes it shine. The plump bivalves are lightly seasoned and seared on the plancha (griddle), a preparation that allows their freshness to come through. No embellishments are needed, other than a spritz of lemon and the tiniest dab of chimichurri.
Alternate Reel Deal proteins include shrimp, salmon, yellowfin tuna or whatever daily catch is posted on the board. Fish and chips ($25), red curry mussels ($24) and littleneck clams steamed in beer ($16) are also standouts. // 2815 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington
Crawfish boils are to Louisiana and Texas as blue crab feasts are to the DMV, and there’s something primally satisfying about sucking the juices from so-called “mudbugs” and devouring their succulent tail meat. Vietnamese refugees who settled along the Gulf Coast in the ’70s and ’80s introduced their own flair to this ritual in a cuisine that came to be known as Viet-Cajun.
Brothers Au, Di and Hac Dang grew up in Fairfax, but were introduced to that regional cooking style at a young age. “Our parents both went to Louisiana State University and mom’s side of the family is in Louisiana,” Au explains. “We visited there often and grew up on crawfish boils. We wanted to bring that here.”
The Dang brothers opened their first Chasin’ Tails in Arlington (East Falls Church) in 2012 and a second outpost in Centreville in 2015. In February, they closed the Arlington location to make way for a new iteration of the concept at Founders Row in Falls Church City, where diners will still find the kitchen’s signature Cajun-style crustacean boils featuring king crab legs ($79/pound), shrimp ($24/pound) and crawfish ($19/pound), along with some enticing new options. “We upgraded the menu and made a lot of improvements and additions,” Au says. Try the Hokkaido scallop crudo with citrus vinaigrette and serrano chili purée ($19), and the char-broiled oysters (six for $24).
Chasin’ Tails sources live crawfish (never frozen) from Louisiana from January through August, and from California in September. (The restaurant doesn’t serve them in the off-season.) The shellfish are boiled in a savory citrus broth and then sauteed in one of four butter sauces, such as garlic-lemon or Thai coconut. Guests can choose their desired heat level. All boils come with corn-on-the-cob and potatoes, but for an additional $9, the “Go All In” option also includes andouille sausage, hard-boiled eggs and French bread. // 944 W. Broad St., Falls Church City
A garlicky, intoxicating perfume wafts into the air each time the lid is ceremoniously lifted from a pot of mussels at Lyon Hall, the chatty Clarendon brasserie brothers Mark and Steve Fedorchak have operated with business partner Brian Normile since 2010. Moules frites—steamed mussels with fries on the side—are a centerpiece of the Belgian- and Alsatian-leaning menu, although in this case the bivalves come from Prince Edward Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. The kitchen goes through between 800 and 900 pounds of them each week, offering three preparations ($20 to $21): vin blanc (white wine with garlic, shallots, spinach); Thai curry (coconut, lemongrass, rice vermicelli, spinach, chilies, basil); and a third option that changes seasonally.
All three are satisfying, but it’s the white wine version we keep coming back to, its richness imparted by the addition of creme fraiche. Once the shells are picked clean, the remaining sauce, sopped up with French bread, is a delightful reward.
Lyon Hall also offers a well valued seafood plateau ($55) that comes with chilled lobster, jumbo shrimp, six oysters and beet-marinated smoked salmon. Friday’s plat du jour is fish and chips with Old Bay frites ($24). On Sundays, find comfort in a rustic bowl of bouillabaisse ($29), its lobster tomato broth rife with mussels, cod, shrimp and fennel. 3100 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington
The Salt Line
Visit The Salt Line in Ballston and you’re immediately met with an enticing display of oysters, clams and bright red lobster tails on beds of crushed ice—a not-so-subtle reminder that you can’t go wrong with the raw bar.
Take the hint and order the three-tiered Leviathan seafood platter. At $195, it’s a splurge, sure, but it feeds four quite amply with 12 littleneck clams on the half-shell; two lobster tail halves; a half pound of Jonah crab claws; six poached shrimp; and a medley of 24 oysters.
The restaurant offers six kinds of East Coast oysters daily, sourced from the Chesapeake Bay and regions northward.
The tower also includes “chef’s daily goodies,” such as pickled mussels, soy-cured salmon roe, smoked whitefish salad and crudo (get the rockfish tartare if it’s available), and the whole glorious array comes with lemon mignonette, cocktail sauce, mustard sauce and house-made fermented Fresno chili hot sauce. The Kraken, a smaller version of the same spread, is available for $150.
For those who like a good, old-fashioned fried seafood assortment, the waterman’s platter ($34) of blue catfish, oysters and scallops, served on a mountain of french fries, fits the bill. 4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Spice Kraft Indian Bistro
Chef and co-owner Premnath Durairaj likes to thrill diners with a taste of the unexpected at his restaurants in Clarendon and Del Ray.
Take his shrimp sea-salt balsamic kebab ($20), which melds Mediterranean and Indian influences. Jumbo prawns are marinated in a bath of garam masala, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, mustard oil and yogurt, then grilled in a tandoor oven and draped over a mound of romaine lettuce, cucumber and red onion. This riff on a Greek salad is then garnished with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, drizzles of balsamic reduction, swirls of passion fruit purée, beet purée and edible flowers, with a side of tikka masala sauce.
Durairaj’s vibrant menu also includes shrimp ($19) or salmon ($20) in a variety of curry styles—among them vindaloo (made with vinegar, chili paste and potatoes); korma sauce (cashew paste, onions, yogurt and tomato); or Chettinadu sauce (black pepper and curry leaves).
Seafood can also be prepared with butter sauce, or “homestyle,” with tomatoes, curry leaves, fresh coconut, mustard seeds and fennel. 1135 N. Highland St., Arlington
Catch These, Too
Eamonn’s fish and chips with seven secret sauces ($27) at Mattie and Eddie’s in Arlington (Westpost)
Wood-grilled oysters with yuzu kosho butter ($16) at Ruthie’s All-Day in Arlington
Grilled bay scallops with rice noodles, scallion oil, peanuts and sriracha ($17.95) at Captain Saigon Seafood in Falls Church (Eden Center)
Broiled Maine lobster and jumbo lump crabcake with lobster beurre blanc (market price) at Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks in Tysons
Where to Buy Fresh Fish & Seafood
Cooking at home? Northern Virginia has an abundance of Asian markets whose well-stocked seafood counters put many American grocery stores to shame. In Falls Church, pay a visit to Great Wall Supermarket, H Mart or Good Fortune Supermarket for everything from live eels, crabs, lobsters and fish (in tanks), to fresh cuttlefish, clams, abalone, pompano, mackerel, monkfish, branzino and more.
In McLean, The Organic Butcher sells not only meat, but high-quality fish and seafood, too, including fresh sardines, baby octopus, Chilean sea bass, red snapper, whole live lobsters, sushi-grade tuna, dry sea scallops, king salmon, oysters and soft-shell crabs. The store delivers to most of Arlington, McLean and Falls Church.
D.C.-area fish and seafood wholesaler ProFish delivers to ZIP code 22101 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays ($40 minimum order plus $15 delivery charge). Alternately, customers can place orders online for pickup on Saturdays between 10-11 a.m. in the Idylwood Plaza parking lot (2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church) or on Thursdays between 9-10 a.m. at the Mantua Swim and Tennis Club (9330 Pentland Place, Fairfax).
For live Maine lobster deliveries, try Captain Tim Handrigan’s The Lobster Guy, which has been in business since 1996. Orders must be placed before 7 p.m. for next-day delivery. (No deliveries on Sunday and Monday.) A delivery of four 1.75- to 2-pound lobsters costs about $200, including $55 for shipping. The offerings also include clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp sold in kits for clambakes, as well as lobster dinner kits featuring clam chowder, lobster bisque and littleneck clams.
Wild Alaskan Company is a subscription service that ships boxes of frozen, sustainably caught wild salmon (coho and sockeye) or white fish (Pacific cod, halibut, rockfish), or a combination of the two. Boxes are available in packs of 12 or 24 portions (6 oz. each) for $145 or $267 respectively, including shipping.
David Hagedorn is Arlington Magazine’s dining critic.