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.
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.
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.
We wish that all generic sliders were actually the blackened cod sliders at this traditional but excellent seafood spot in Harvard Square. They might get overshadowed by the housemade salt and vinegar chips, though. Come here when you want an old-school atmosphere that makes you almost feel like you could get away with sidling up to the counter and calling the guy running the raw bar “shucker.”
The tourists haven’t gotten to this place in the North End yet, which is part of the reason we like it so much. Downstairs there’s a small and lively bar, which, during the afternoon, feels a bit like a coffee shop, but with cocktails and chowder instead of lattes and freelancers. Upstairs you’ll find a couple of old-timey dining rooms that would be great places to ride out a snow storm. They serve a large, rotating selection of some of New England’s best raw oysters, along with larger dishes like lobster rolls and roasted fish. Let’s hope everyone leaving Paul Revere’s house keeps passing this place by on their way to Hanover Street.
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.