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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Groceries, Seafood

Daily 7:00am–9:00pm

Features Kid-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx

Southwest DC
1100 Maine Ave. SW
Washington, DC
(202) 484-2722
Maine Avenue Fish Market
Maritime eye and tongue candy abound—but your nose might not be happy

You will smell the Maine Avenue Fish Market before you find it. In fact, you’ll most likely get very lost. Perching out over the Potomac along the southwest waterfront is DC’s Fisherman’s Wharf, though a far homelier and less idyllic version than that association suggests. Grouped around a dilapidated parking lot are a series of wooden stalls, each hawking some combination of prepared and fresh seafood. Similar iterations of prepared food are available from several different vendors and focus on local ingredients: crab, oysters, and shrimp.

This is an entirely different experience than the meticulously prepared and carefully counted seafood you find at a restaurant: everything here is cooked by the vat and consumed by the bucket. Peel-and-eat shrimp are sold from metal troughs. They are barely cleaned, unevenly cooked, and carelessly loaded with salty-spicy Old Bay. $7 will buy enough to make you deliriously ill and wonderfully messy, fingers stained pink from the spice. Deviled crabs are displayed in military formation, balls of doughy crab cake nested in blushing half-shells.

Live crawfish scramble over each other in large tubs feistily trying to break free and hide under slabs of fish. Mountains of blue crabs joust in a mass of wooden crates, fisherman poking and prodding them to show buyers how lively they are. Buy them alive or have them boiled in industrial sized pots. Oysters, clams, and mussels (imported from Boston, but always in stock) run cheap.

Chesapeake Bay oysters are shucked by grizzled old sailors, unceremoniously dumped on a Styrofoam plate in a pool of murky water with dirt still encrusting their shells. Even the bravest may hesitate before using a plastic fork to dig out a piece of lukewarm meat that is much bigger than one swallow. Yet for those that come here again and again, that is precisely the point—you will find yourself returning to celebrate something unique and joyous: cooking that wallows in the ocean’s bounteous (if occasionally dubious) juices.

It’s no wonder that there is a sense of peace amongst those who dine here. Despite the lack of tables (eat standing or on any flat surface), drinks (soda vending machines in the parking lot), or functioning utensils, this is a place of repose—a place where families stop after church, workers come after their shifts, and fishermen dock to unload their catch at the end of a hard day. So take the trip, get horribly lost, and share a meal of the sea on a packing crate next to a group of strangers. Perhaps one of them will lend you the crab mallet they keep in their pocket.

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