14 Seafood Chains That Never Use Frozen Fish

When people don't like seafood, they often cite a fishy flavor as their reasoning. Perhaps without even realizing it, they're really saying the fish doesn't taste or smell fresh. It's a fair assessment and something restaurants specializing in seafood should take seriously, especially if they want to keep customers coming back.

Sea creatures of all kinds naturally produce the compound trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). After they die, TMAO converts to trimethylamine, leading to the foul odor and flavor commonly associated with bad seafood. This is why some frozen fish end up with an undesirable fishy taste.

Restaurants can avoid this issue by serving only fresh catches. That comes at a cost though, as fresh seafood will almost always be more expensive than its frozen counterparts. That's why restaurants that refuse to offer frozen fish tend to be on the pricier side. It's a necessary trade-off if you want to guarantee a great-tasting meal from the sea. Luckily, there are more than a couple of seafood chains you can rely on that always serve fresh, never frozen fish.

1. Legal Sea Foods

"If it isn't fresh, it isn't Legal!" Legal Sea Foods' slogan is basically a promise in the branding that it never serves frozen seafood. This commitment is long-standing, stemming directly from its roots. Legal Sea Foods opened its first restaurant in 1968, a modest spot equipped with picnic tables and paper plates beside a fish market. Modest or not, customers loved the fish, and the rest is history. The Legal Sea Foods that people know today is a top-notch Eastern Seaboard chain offering a variety of New England-style seafood dishes. It has come a long way from its origins as a beloved hole-in-the-wall by the sea.

One thing that hasn't changed is its commitment to serving only the highest quality, freshest fish. The menu includes upwards of 40 types of fresh seafood, from mussels and octopus to lobster and crab. Needless to say, there are plenty of choices to choose from. Some are signature staple dishes and others are rotating seasonal options based on what comes in fresh from the harbor. To top it off, you can even dine at Legal Sea Foods with someone who isn't a huge fan of fish, because the chain is also known for its delicious steaks.

2. Ocean Prime

As an upscale chain that specializes in seafood, Ocean Prime is serious about creating dishes with nothing but the highest-quality ingredients. At each of its 20 locations dotted across the U.S., the restaurant commits to sourcing its products responsibly and locally wherever possible. In terms of its seafood, this means collaborating with fishermen who deliver nothing but the best. Whether you're dining in the Beverly Hills, Columbus, or Miami locations, you'll be choosing from dishes created based on what's fresh and available in the area.

There are also some signature dishes, such as the renowned shrimp cocktail over dry ice and a dazzling Smoking Shellfish Tower, which customers rave over. High-quality seafood and ingredients don't come cheap, though. Be prepared to spend a bit more than average on your meal, but with that, you can rest assured the fish you order will be anything but fishy. If you want proof of quality, proof is what you'll get. Ocean Prime has won countless awards and praise from publications including Travel & Leisure, People, and USA Today, not to mention being named the #1 Highest-Rated Seafood Restaurant by Tripadvisor, instilling confidence that the seafood at Ocean Prime is always fresh and delicious.

3. Bonefish Grill

If you have a passion for fresh seafood, you have something in common with Bonefish Grill. This restaurant makes good on its passion by promising to deliver "market-fresh fish from around the world" every day. With 175 locations across the U.S., there's a decent chance you'll find a Bonefish Grill around wherever you happen to be. From one to the next, the menu options vary to offer local, seasonal dishes as per the chain's commitment to quality and freshness.

You might expect to find scallops and soft-shell crabs available if you're dining in New York in the summer. On the West Coast during the winter months, Dungeness crab, wild salmon, and spot prawns will be in season and could easily make their way onto a Bonefish Grill menu. No matter what you order, with a restaurant that calls fresh its signature, it's pretty unlikely your taste buds will be disappointed.

4. Chart House

If you're looking for fresh seafood, a restaurant overlooking the ocean is a good place to start. Chart House has 24 waterfront locations around the U.S., with a varying lineup of fresh catch depending on where you dine. Its first location opened in 1961 as a modest, no-frills diner. While Chart House has certainly grown since then, the key principle that started it all has stuck along for the ride: coupling amazing food with jaw-dropping views.

Whether you're dining on the Atlantic, Pacific, or anywhere in between, Chart House consistently falls near the top of local recommendations for seafood restaurants. For instance, a San Diego restaurant guide shares comments from guests at Chart House's Cardiff location who tried the East Meets West Tuna, a signature appetizer, and described its freshness as "unparalleled." Mouth-watering seafood that comes with a spectacular view is hard to beat, whether it's a panoramic of the ocean, a lively river port, or an idyllic lake. Even in its landlocked locations, Chart House's gorgeous mountain and city views don't disappoint, and neither does its fish.

5. Truluck's

Truluck's, a small chain of fine-dining seafood restaurants, has not changed ownership since it opened in 1992. Since the very beginning, the founders have prioritized serving only "the highest-quality sustainable seafood." They've been able to keep that promise by sticking by the restaurant as it grew, instead of selling it to the highest bidder. Lucky us, as that decision has allowed the establishment to stay true to those original values. 

Speaking of values, Truluck's commitment to quality does not end with the freshness of its seafood. It also follows Ocean Conservancy guidelines for capturing fish, ensuring customers will never be served an overfished species. In case you don't believe them, Truluck's lists the specific source of each seafood dish right on the menu. For example, Truluck's own team of professional crabbers has been bringing Florida Stone Crab directly to the restaurant for three generations. It is one of the menu's staples and a favorite among guests, served during its peak season between October 15 to May 1. 

6. Rockfish Seafood and Grill

Scattered around Texas, Rockfish Seafood and Grill has been serving quality seafood and fresh ingredients since 1998. It's known around the Lone Star State as a casual place to dine, but you shouldn't take the word "casual" to mean it lacks quality. In an interview with PR Newswire, CEO Seth Wilkinson made it clear that most of the food on the menu is made from scratch. Casual or not, food made from scratch is a luxury not to be ignored. 

Aside from the delicious seafood, Rockfish is also known for its open kitchens, allowing guests to watch as their food is prepared. The menu features many different cooking styles, though you'll likely notice a predilection for Cajun food. Dishes like Louisiana gumbo, shrimp 'n grits, and crawfish etouffee highlight the distinct Cajun influence. Even the signature cocktail menu offers a Cajun infusion with its Bayou Bloody Mary. If Cajun isn't your thing, Rockfish still has you covered, with customer favorites that include Santa Fe fish tacos and a Mexican shrimp cocktail, which is so good it has won awards.

7. McCormick & Schmick's

McCormick & Schmick's doesn't let customers play a guessing game about the quality of its fish. On its website, the well-known upscale restaurant proudly announces clear as day that the seafood served is "guaranteed fresh." This tracks when you hear that Bill McCormick, one of the restaurant's founders, prides himself on being a good host. Well, nothing says good host like giving your guests only the freshest ingredients, and of course that includes fish. The menu has a whole section called Oysterology, offering both raw and cooked oysters with a delicious variety of garnishes, such as Yuzu Jalapeño Granita and Pomegranate Mignonette.

Bill McCormick had visions of grandeur for the restaurant right from the start. Back in the early 1970s in Portland, Oregon, he bought Jake's Famous Crawfish Restaurant, a century-old landmark at the end of its era. He restored the building, teamed up with Doug Schmick, and McCormick and Schmick's Seafood Restaurant officially opened in 1979. Now a world-class dining establishment with over 400 locations, the restaurant's hospitality values still have not changed. It provides impeccable service and only the freshest seafood no matter what, just like any good host would.

8. The Boiling Crab

Before founding The Boiling Crab with his wife in 2004, Yo'Daddy was a crabber and fisherman in the tiny Texas town of Seadrift. Being a man of the sea, it makes sense that serving fresh catch would be a top priority when he opened his own seafood restaurant. Thanks to the excellent quality of food served at the first humble Boiling Crab location, the restaurant has now expanded to 30 locations. Most are in the U.S., except for a few all the way in Australia, China, and Saudi Arabia. To make it that far, The Boiling Crab sure must be tasty.

The menu concept is a seafood boil with plenty of options to choose from for your base, like shrimp, lobster, several types of crab, crawfish, or mussels. After that, you add sauce and spice, all the way up to XXX if you like it really hot. Top off your boil with traditional extras, like corn on the cob or sausage. The Boiling Crab isn't exactly a silverware kind of place, and here that means you eat with your hands. It can get pretty messy so your meal always comes with a bib. Sounds like fun!

9. Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, more commonly known among regulars as Pappas, prides itself on being a family-owned restaurant chain that prioritizes freshness. The restaurant makes good on its passion for food quality, in part by keeping the supply chain under its own management. With its fleet of delivery trucks, Pappas can supply fresh seafood straight from the docks to its kitchens day in and day out. For this reason, the menu is constantly changing to reflect what's in season.

It's not just the seafood that's fresh either. Pappas' promise of freshness extends to the rest of the menu too. That goes for produce as well as the delicious sauces made from scratch daily. With its Louisiana-style cuisine, there's no shortage of options like crawfish, rainbow trout, and crispy alligator with a Creole dip. If you really want to tap into the Cajun tradition, try the catfish Opelousas, a dish complete with oysters, shrimp, and lump crab. No matter what you order, you know it will be fresh off Pappas' own trucks, so you can't go wrong.

10. Bluewater Grill

Bluewater Grill makes a promise to its customers to serve seafood that is both fresh and sustainable. Originally established in Newport Beach, California, in 1996, the restaurant has since expanded to eight locations, primarily along the SoCal coast in small communities like Santa Barbara and Catalina Island. To this day, all of its seafood is sourced directly from local fishermen, and what you see on the menu reflects what's in season.

Anything that's not sourced from the nearby fishermen is caught on Bluewater Grill's swordfish harpoon boat. That means from time to time, the swordfish you're served might be caught by the restaurant's staff. That's some real dedication to hospitality and service you won't find just anywhere.

Each Bluewater location has a unique menu that changes four times a year based on the seasonal seafood coming in. Items like sea scallops, black cod, and ahi tuna rotate, paired with other local and farm-fresh ingredients. If one thing's clear from all this focus on freshness, it's that your tastebuds will be happy you came.

11. Seamore's

Finding it odd that NYC, a city surrounded by water, didn't have many dining options that served local fish, Seamore's decided to close that hole in the market. The founders didn't just close it; they also went above and beyond in their seafood offerings. All wild-caught items on Seamore's menu are so fresh that they were in the sea a mere 24 to 48 hours before landing on your table. If the fish you're eating was farmed, you can rest assured that its source is a local seafood partner that doesn't cut corners on quality.

Seamore's goes to all this effort because it takes enormous pride in its sustainability efforts. The only seafood you'll find at any of its six northeastern locations comes from stable stocks or environmentally-conscious farms. On the ever-shifting menu, every piece of seafood is seasonal and arrives from nearby, between Cape Cod and the Carolinas. Knowing all this, it's no wonder the chain consistently earns between four and five stars on OpenTable, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. The people have spoken, and they choose fresh.

12. Brown Bag Seafood Co.

At Brown Bag Seafood Co., you won't find white tablecloths but you will find fresh seafood that's flown in every single day. The recipes are creative and delicious but the delivery is utterly unpretentious, as Brown Bag Seafood wants its dishes to be as accessible as possible.

The name of the restaurant comes from the unique style of service. All seafood is served hot off the grill in a brown bag from a server in a blue bandana. Half the menu is a build-your-own style, where you choose between options like salmon, cod, shrimp, and tuna, and add them to a box, salad, or tacos. The Salmon Powerbox is one of the prized classics. The other half offers more traditional seafood dishes, including a blackened fish sandwich and fish and chips.

Aside from being fresh, Brown Bag Seafood is fully against destructive fishing practices. All of the seafood is sustainably sourced, so you can eat your way through the menu knowing that what you ordered was caught with the ocean's health in mind.

13. Luke's Lobster

Originally from Maine, Luke Holden started Luke's Lobster in 2009 after failing to find an authentic and delicious Maine lobster roll in New York City. In response to this seafood dilemma, he got together with a friend and opened 10 lobster shacks, and so Luke's Lobster was born.

Luke himself is a third-generation lobsterman, so it can almost go without saying that he truly cares about quality at his restaurant. For the last decade, Luke's Lobster has been buying seafood straight from the fishermen, after founding a seafood purchasing and production company in 2013. Every piece of seafood it serves is followed from the water to the plate, guaranteeing optimal flavor, texture, and freshness.

Now, you can find Luke's Lobster food stands in over 30 locations worldwide. Most are in the northeastern U.S., but it has expanded as far as Japan and Singapore. It turns out Luke wasn't the only one missing the perfect Maine lobster roll in his life. Aside from lobster rolls, the menu includes crab and shrimp rolls, lobster bisque, clam chowder, and other yummy sides.

14. Weathervane

Since 1969, Weathervane has made a guarantee to its customers to only dish out the best locally sourced seafood, and it continues to live up to its word. As a seafood chain with just a few locations around New Hampshire and Maine, lobster is a main feature of its menu. In fact, it claims to have gone through several millions of pounds of lobster in its five decades of dining service. Wow.

Weathervane began as a humble food cart in the little town of Kittery, Maine. Owners Ray and Bea Gagner eventually dreamed a bit bigger and opened a restaurant using their old family recipes to populate the menu with different preparations of lobster, chowders, and other Maine seafood favorites. From crab-stuffed shrimp to lobster mac & cheese, the delicious seafood options make it hard to choose just one item. One Yelp reviewer shared that his wife ordered the Lazy Man's Lobster and "had no words to describe how good and fresh" her meal was. Praise that strong doesn't come from nothing.