We already know what you're thinking — that there's no way seafood can be any good from the bellybutton city of a landlocked state. But that's the old way of looking at fresh sea fare. We have planes now, and many restaurants across the Valley utilize the skies to bring us the best of what can be found at the depths of the ocean.
Here's your field guide to eating seafood in greater Phoenix — categorized by your favorite crustaceans, mollusks, and other underwater edibles.
A seafood field guide must start with … well, starters. And what’s a seafood appetizer section without calamari?
A big recommendation is the fried calamari from Chula Seafood. In a sit-down setting, order the brown-bagged Frittura di Mare (hand-battered calamari and shrimp) from Pomodoro Italian Grill & Seafood.
We also suggest the abalone-style calamari at Hula's Modern Tiki, the Rhode Island Calamari and Shrimp at Ocean 44, and the fritto misto at The Parlor. There's also the grilled calamari (Calamaretti al Sacrestano) at Andreoli Italian Grocer, while the fried calamari is next level at The Brickyard with that pomegranate chili glaze.
It's hard to highlight just one kind of fish you could take home from Nelson’s Meat + Fish — a fish and meat shop Chris Nelson opened in 2017. You'll have to check out the shop's display case to decide, as Nelson's only sells fish that have been overnighted from the source. If your favorite fish is in season, it's a good bet it's at Nelson's.
Salmon is, of course, a favorite among fish lovers, and you’ll find the seared organic Scottish salmon on the dinner menu at Beckett's Table and the salmon in garlic sauce at the Sea of Cortez-style San Carlos Bay Seafood Restaurant. Of course, most full-time seafood restaurants have salmon in the kitchen as well, including The Salt Cellar with the salmon Oscar or King Salmon.
For a heavier fish, order the FV Chula Swordfish at, yes, Chula Seafood. You can pair it with two sides and a sauce, and we suggest the chipotle butter. You can also ask what the “just out” market fish is at The Windsor.
The go-to spot for a Cajun-style crab fest is Angry Crab Shack, where diners can choose from several sauces and spice levels. Plus, with multiple locations in town, Angry Crab means your next meal doesn't have to be far from home.
For other fixes, order the soft-shell crab small plate at The Clever Koi or try the crab enchilada plate at Mariscos Playa Hermosa. If you're looking for a straight-up crab dinner, you can find an Alaskan King Crab entree at the Bluewater Grill Seafood Restaurant & Market.
We’re far from Maryland, but Old Line State-style crab cakes can be found on plenty of menus. Try the Maryland crab cakes at the Salt Cellar Restaurant, and the Chilean crab cakes at Citizen Public House and The Gladly.
The Salt Cellar has also dedicated a chunk of its menu to lobster entrees, stating, “We take pride in serving only live Maine lobsters from our lobster tank.” Your choices include the 1.5-pound Harbor Master’s Choice, the baked stuffed lobster (an entire lobster stuffed with crab and scallops for you seafood fanatics), and the steak and lobster — a 1.25-pound lobster joined with a little filet mignon.
Some places often offer lobster specials, like the Sunday Lobster Grilled Cheese from Chula Seafood and the NMF Proper Lobstah Roll at Nelson's.
Use the search query for “Phoenix lobster,” and you’ll see the Maine Lobster Lady on that first page of results. A food truck that first appeared in Scottsdale in 2012, the Maine Lobster Lady offers a menu of options like hot-buttered Maine lobster roll, Maine Lobster Lady lobster bisque, and Lobster-Lobster Mac & Cheese. She’s not around at the moment (as she’s home in Maine working on her husband Greg’s lobster boat, Shock Wave), but when you see the Maine Lobster Lady food truck, do not sleep on it.
Oysters are a big deal, here and everywhere else. Find your favorite half-shell spot after visiting Casey Moore’s Oyster House or the raw bars at Buck &Rider and The Gladly. For mussel heads, find steamed, Blue Hill Bay mussels in butter sauce (have mercy) at Salt Cellar and the mussels in zesty marinara plated at Bluewater Grill.
Clams are another mollusk must so try the cherrystone clams at also Bluewater Grill, or the bucket of steamed clams in broth at The Salt Cellar. We don’t want to dig too into clam chowder, but you’re almost guaranteed a fantastic bowl of it at any seafood restaurant in Phoenix, especially obvious places like Taylor’s Chowder House or Chula Seafood.
Though scallops are also mollusks, we wanted to give them their own section. Those little plops of buttery heaven have found their way into a couple of spots throughout the Valley. A favorite of ours might be the day boat scallops from Hearth '61 at Mountain Shadows or the beautifully plated scallops with sweet potato purée from Anhelo.
Bluewater Grill features the seared eastern sea scallops, while the Salt Cellar yields a number of scallop-heavy dishes, including the charcoal-broiled Georges Bank sea scallops and the sautéed sea scallops. Citizen Public House’s menu features the pan-seared scallops with tender belly Hampshire bacon. Seared scallops are also on the menu at Modern Oyster Bar + Chophouse.
And there are fresh scallops at Nelson's when in season.
It'll be a bit before we'll have ceviche made with the Gila Bend-based Arizona Desert Shrimp from The Breadfruit and Rum Bar, but until then, there are plenty of other places for shrimp fiends.
Kick-off your meal with the shrimp cocktail at AZ/88, or the jumbo shrimp cocktail (seriously, they're huge) at Bourbon & Bones. Mariscos Ensenada makes a mean shrimp aguachile, a preparation of uncooked fish in the family of ceviche. The Camarones Locos at Mariscos Playa Hermosa isn't bad either.
For more big shrimpin’ in the Valley, decide if you want it broiled, sautéed, scampi-ed, or what. Find the shrimp and filet, shrimp scampi, shrimp San Remo on pappardelle pasta, and more on The Salt Cellar menu. You’ll also find shrimp culichi at San Carlos Bay and Baja shrimp ceviche at Buck &Rider.
For boiled shrimp, find them sauced with Cajun, garlic, and more at all locations of Angry Crab. At Ocean Trail, you can order the Cajun-style shrimp boil — 3/4 pound of peeled shrimp in a garlic-Creole spice — as a hot appetizer.
Though also a fish, we wanted to give tuna the last word. If you grew up with canned fish, there’s a whole world of discovery out there, and we’re going to point out a few menu items that might be more your tune-a.
The sesame-adorned seared or grilled ahi tuna will satisfy your craving at several places. Pita Jungle’s is paired perfectly in hummus (we suggest the jalapeño flavor), and Bluewater Grill’s comes with marinated hearts of palm. There's also the tuna crudo at Citizen Public House, and the brown butter tuna at The Gladly.
Of course, poke has brought tuna to a whole new level in recent years. Some great examples of this include the Hawaiian Poke Bowl at Chula (where we also recommend the fabulous tuna melt), the spicy tuna scoops at Ahipoke Bowl, and the marinated tuna at Pokitrition — best enjoyed inside their sushi burrito.
Deep-Fried ... Anything
This well-known style is close to the hearts of many and the Valley has a number of piping-hot fish and shrimp shacks around town. For just about fried anything, places including Knock Kneed Lobster, Mandy's Fish & Chips, Oscar's Pier 83, and The Codfather are some obvious choices.
Another iconic fried seafood menu in metro Phoenix is found at the casual Pete’s Fish & Chips — which opened as the Chip House in 1947 at 31st Avenue and Van Buren Road. These cash-only, order-from-the-window spots are known for crunchy seafood baskets, open-late kitchens, and of course, their secret sauce.
Some impressive fish and chips platters are found at a number of United Kingdom-centric eateries, too. Order the fish and chips at George & Dragon, Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub, Fibber Magee's Irish Restaurant & Pub, or Rúla Búla — there are many, and all of them are just begging for that vinegar on the table.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on October 21, 2016. It was updated on February 10, 2021.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.