I spent two glorious years living in South Florida. While the beaches and year-round temperatures to enjoy them were definitely a perk of living there, what I missed most was the seafood. Back then, I could list nearly every dive bar and raw bar in Miami to find the freshest oysters and grouper that had just been in the ocean that morning. Adjusting to landlocked Charlotte has been difficult to say the least.
However, after years of searching, I found plenty of local seafood restaurants serving everything from my beloved oyster on the half-shell to good ole Southern-fried flounder.
4515 Sharon Rd
You go to BAKU in SouthPark not only for the sushi, but also for the experience. The food is prepared in an open kitchen concept, whether that’s hand-prepared sushi or meat cooking on the Japanese grills. On top of exquisite Japanese-inspired sushi and entrees, BAKU also prides itself in its extensive wine and sake selections, with both sommeliers and certified sake advisers on staff to help guide your evening dining adventure.
Signature dish: The Salmon Belly Nigiri with applewood smoke, maple glaze and yuzu tobiko is a crowd pleaser.
How fresh is that seafood?: At a sushi restaurant of BAKU’s caliber, diners expect fresh, and fresh is what they get. Owner Birdie Yang works with both local purveyors and connections he has with distributors in New York City.
Reason to visit: A new menu is coming soon. Get ready.
Weekly specials: Mondays – Half-price bottles of wine; Monday through Thursday – Bite specials from 5-7 p.m.
129 East 5th St.
Why wasn’t there any place like Sea Level in Uptown when I lived and worked up there? It’s everything I miss about the Sunshine State’s cuisine – fresh and local, with plenty of raw bar options.
Not only is serving up some of the best seafood in town important to founder and partner Paul Manley, but so is sustainability. Expect a heavy slant on fish caught off the North Carolina coast. For any other seafood on the menu, Manley has met with almost all of his fishermen and farmers in person to ensure the quality and taste meet the needs of Sea Level.
Signature dish: While the obvious answer is the oysters, the Shrimp Steam Bun with citrus soy marinade and fresh corn salsa is a fun, shareable entrée.
How fresh is that seafood?: Sea Level takes the freshness of its product seriously, taking seafood shipments six days a week. Some vendors catch their fish off the coast in the morning and drive it to Sea Level that afternoon. The restaurant’s goal is sea to plate in less than 48 hours.
Reason to visit: Bartender Andrew Romano has become somewhat of a local mixologist celebrity with his concoctions. Because nothing goes with raw oysters better than intoxicating libations.
Weekly specials: Daily – $1 oysters from 4-7 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
919 South McDowell St.
Raw is the main focus of Hi Tide Poke & Raw bar with poke and other raw fish offerings making their way into a variety of bowls, including a make-your-own option. Also adding to the raw selection is a variety of oysters on the half-shell. Prefer your seafood cooked? Go for the lobster or shrimp roll. Carnivores will enjoy the wagyu beef selections, like the Seared Wagyu Beef Bowl.
Signature dish: Poke Nachos. Need we say more?
How fresh is that seafood?: Not only is the seafood guaranteed to be fresh, but most of it is sustainably sourced.
Reason to visit: For the quality of the seafood, Hi Tide offers some of the best prices in town.
20210 Henderson Road, Cornelius
New to the seafood game in the Charlotte area is Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, which owner Katy Kindred describes as a modern take on a Carolina fish camp. Fish camps – for those not in the know like me – were popular in Gaston County during the heyday of the mills. The camps started as restaurants that cooked fresh catch that customers caught from local streams and lakes. Eventually, the camps became affordable seafood restaurants, with a heavy leaning toward fried entrees.
While some of that fried fish goodness can be found on the menu, like Carolina Shrimp Calabash with remoulade, expect a Kindred twist. The Twice-Fried Sunchokes with Caviar let you know this isn’t your ordinary fish camp.
Signature dish: You don’t have to be a poke restaurant to serve good poke. Hello, Sailor serves its poke with puffed black rice, pickled radish, macadamia nut and benne.
How fresh is that seafood?: Like many restaurants on this list, Hello, Sailor uses multiple vendors. They strive for a 24-48-hour timeframe from pond to pan.
Reason to visit: This “fish camp” just happens to be located on Lake Norman, with year-round views of the lake from the dining room. During warmer months, the 3,500-square-foot deck is the place to be for some tiki bar fun.
[Editor’s note: Wu’s closed for good at the end of March. RIP.]
1714 South Blvd
Wu’s is that seafood joint you’ve been wanting to try yet remain hesitant. I mean, Cajun-Asian fusion doesn’t exactly sound that appetizing, does it? But isn’t the point of modern fusion cuisine to creatively merge two unique styles in a way that enhances each? That’s exactly what Wu’s Cajun Seafood does. When it comes to seafood, they think outside the box in a way that’s positively surprising South End residents. Besides, you know you’re wondering about the taste of the Chili Garlic Seafood Boil.
Signature dish: Gumbo Ramen. It’s a downhome, yet exotic mix of a gumbo base with andouille, noodles, crawfish, charred cabbage, kimchi and a marinated soft egg.
How fresh is that seafood?: Given that Wu’s works with five different seafood suppliers, the time from swimming to serving varies. Rest assured that quality is important to Wu’s and executive chef Troy Gagliardo is always researching fresh seafood options to feature on special.
Reason to visit: To satisfy your curiosity.
Weekly specials: Mondays – All you can eat crab legs; Tuesdays – two for one Cajun shrimp and kids eat free; Wednesday – Half-price wine, sake sangria and sushi.
6902 Phillips Place
Phillips Place’s Upstream is proud to welcome Charlotte native Chef Gene Kato as its new executive chef and partner. While Chef Kato’s career includes a slew of culinary awards, he’s most recently been nominated as a James Beard Best Chef Midwest finalist.
Diners at Upstream can expect an Asian influenced seafood menu (even down to an impressive selection of Japanese whiskeys), where dishes are fresh and vibrant, like broiled halibut with black garlic and curried potatoes. While Upstream might be one of the most upscale restaurants on this list, the lounge and patios provide a more casual dining atmosphere to sample some house-made sushi with a bottle from its extensive wine menu.
Signature dish: “KFC” (Krispy Fish Catch). This catch of the day is served whole and feeds anywhere from two to four guests.
How fresh is that seafood?: Upstream sources its seafood both locally, from vendors such as fisherman Tim Griner, and globally, to offer seafood selections not available in the Carolinas.
Reason to visit: To see what daily special Chef Kato has dreamed up in his Omakase.
Weekly specials: Mondays – $1 East Coast Oysters; Tuesday – Local craft beer specials; Wednesday – Half-price sangria.
401 Bradford Dr.
Mr. 3’s Crab Pot is that roadside seafood stand that you always wished existed in Charlotte. While the seafood spot is relatively bare bones – takeout only and no call-in orders – the food makes up for what’s missing. Expect heaping platters of shrimp, crab, crawfish or combo platters. Mr. 3’s has become so popular that its owners recently opened a second location in Rock Hill, with a full restaurant in the works for Gastonia.
Signature dish: Super Seafood Platter. This heaping box of seafood feeds two and comes with two ears of corn, sausage, potatoes, two large crab clusters, shrimp and a 5-oz. lobster tail (cooked grilled or fried).
How fresh is that seafood?: Mr. 3’s is open Wednesday through Sunday and receives weekly seafood shipments from vendors from New Orleans to the Caribbean.
Reason to visit: The house garlic sauce. We don’t want to say it’s finger-licking good, but it is.
Weekly specials: Wednesday – $12.99 shrimp boil dinner; Thursday – $9.99 shrimp alfredo and $12.99 shrimp and crab alfredo.
2501 Central Ave.
Not only was Krazy Fish featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games, but Guy Fieri pops into the Plaza Midwood seafood joint whenever he’s in town. Seriously, after wrapping up filming a few weeks ago in Greenville, he stopped at Krazy Fish before flying home. Its Asian, Cajun and Latin influenced seafood entrees and tacos are that good!
Signature dish: Seafood Diablo. It’s smoky, sweet, spicy and oh so good.
How fresh is that seafood?: Seafood arrives daily and is never frozen.
Reason to visit: To see what Plaza Midwood looked like before developers found the neighborhood.
Weekly specials: Tuesdays – $2 a la carte tacos and half price bottles of wine; Wednesday – $4 Jim Beam; Thursday – $3 glasses or $12 pitchers of sangria.
512 Brandywine Road
What makes ROCKSALT unique is its relationship with its oyster and clam farm, Rappahannock Oyster Company. It’s co-owned by ROCKSALT owner Travis Croxton. Oysters can’t really be sourced more directly than that. Beyond seafood, ROCKSALT is also known for its wood-fired entrees, like steaks, whole fish and burgers.
Signature dish: Grilled Octopus with squid ink and potato salad.
How fresh is that seafood?: ROCKSALT receives a daily delivery of seafood, not only from its own oyster farm, but also from distributors who have developed close relationships with the chef. In many cases, your fish was swimming that morning.
Reason to visit: To find out why the Backlot of Park Road Shopping Center is so damn hip.
Weekly specials: Monday through Friday – $1 oysters from 3-7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday – $1 oysters from 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Tuesdays – $5 local craft beers; Thursdays – Half-price bottles of wine.
Photos: Hi Tide, Upstream, Mr. 3’s Crab Pot