Judging Seafood at the Wharf/Maine Avenue Fish Market in SW Waterfront

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1100 Maine Ave, SW

To the uninitiated, hell even to the initiated, the Maine Avenue Fish Market in SW Waterfront can be overwhelming. There are so many choices. So what are your favorite spots in the Fish Market? Any other general advice? See some options after the jump.

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35 Comment

  • What will they be doing with all these vendors when the waterfront is redeveloped?

    • According to the developers, it will be rehabbed a bit (lighting, seating, etc.–not sure how fancy it will get) but there will still be a fish market there.

  • Short of driving to the beach, this is the best you can get for fresh seafood. I wish there were more seating options and a place to get some beers with your meal (assuming you’re sticking around to eat by the waterfront. no summer in DC is complete without an afternoon at the SW seafood market.

    • Yes, it’d be nice if they had a DC equivalent to Cross Street Market in Baltimore. Quart beers, park benches and crabs or shucked oysters :-)

      • Ugh, Cross Street Market is amazing. Had a great time pre-gaming there before an Orioles game last month. Wish we had something half-as-awesome here in DC!

  • My favorite is the jessies to the left in the first picture

    if i am eathing there(find somewhere to sit or walk to the tidal basin) i usually will do some half shell oysters, shrimp, maybe corn

    its good!

  • As it had been a decade since my last stop there, I tried it again a few weeks ago. After three bites, I wished that I had stopped after the first. The seafood is not fresh, and it tasted so off. I will be waiting at least a decade to return (and will not be sad if they go away through redevelopment, hopefully to be replaced by a better fish market).

  • I can’t speak to the cooked food, but the raw food is fresh and cheaper than places like Wholefoods.

  • I’d heard that all of these places are owned by the same folks. Anyone know anything about that?

  • We get live lobsters there all the time. The prices are reasonable and there are not a lot of other places to get them in the area. Obviously, they are fresh as they are alive and kicking. I have also gotten other things to take home and everything is fresh and you can usually get good deals. One time we got an extra 1lb of colossal shrimp at $17/lb because I gave the guy a tip!

    • Are you a chef? i’m honestly curious – I just cant imagine killing a lobster myself (wasn’t that a recent topic on POP?). I wouldn’t have the guts. They are yummy though :)

  • This reminds me to go get some crabs!

  • Their fresh Potomac Snakehead Fish is delish!

  • Allison

    I’d like to know how the raw scallops are (taking home to wrap and bacon and broil.) Do people find they’re fresh? They’re tempting to get because they are so huge but I am such a fanatic about food safety (had the worst case of food poisoning once) that I am having trouble getting over the whole buying food that’s been sitting outside all day, even if it is kind of on ice thing.

    • You’re cooking them, right? Then you should be fine so long as you cook them long enough.

      There’s bacteria on the “wild caught” fish at Whole Foods, too.

      • Allison

        Yeah, my concern is that they’re out in hot and humid D.C. air rather than an A/Ced grocery store/refrigerator.

        I don’t buy wild caught fish at Whole Foods, aint nobody got money for that!

  • I’ve had better luck cooking things I get there at home, but that’s partly because they douse everything in Old Bay, which I don’t like.

  • Jessie’s Cooked is often the only place that has crawfish. Their crabs are also pretty good. All the shops are pretty much competitive and of equal quality when it comes to raw seafood. When it comes to cooked, though, I do Jimmy’s Grill for fried fish, crabcakes, and their seafood chowder is killer. Chunks of scrap shrimp, fish, clams, and potatoes. Their cakes are pretty awesome too, particularly the strawberry when it’s in season. The cooked stuff around the corner, across from the covered pavilion, is pretty bad, but they do good oysters on the halfshell. I forget the name of the place, though.

  • The last couple times I purchased crabs there, a good fraction were junk crabs – the meat is all mushy and inedible. Plus, they don’t give them to you in the traditional wood barrel container anymore, it’s in a plastic bag, which kills all the crabs by the time I get home to cook them. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, has anyone else noticed lower quality lately?

  • jim_ed

    Ive always enjoyed the oysters I’ve bought there, which they will shuck and plate for no charge. The usual summer acitivity it buy a couple of pounds of crab, couple pounds of shrimp, and a couple dozen oysters on a sunday afternoon. They’ll steam and season the crab and shrimp for you. Load it up, pick up a case of cheap beer, and sit outside and eat until you can’t move.

    One thing not a ton of people know about is that there is an on-site fish cleaner in one of those unmarked white trailers. You buy the fish whole at the market, take it over there, and they clean and fillet your fish for some outrageously cheap price, like .60 cents a lb. A great way to get good fish for cheap and not have to deal with the mess or time of filleting it yourself.

  • It’s my understanding that all or nearly all of the stands are owned by the same company – the Jessie White company, though they seem to try to disguise that by calling some places “jessie’s” and some “captain white’s.” But for any given food there’s generally only one stand to buy it at (like, one area for shrimp, one for fish, one for crabs, etc) or if it’s multiple places it’ll be the same price.

    Beyond that, I don’t think the food is particularly good, and it’s generally expensive. Going there can be a fun experience if you are interested in that, and it IS pretty different from any place else in the District, but think of it as an experience, not as a grocery store.

  • gotryit

    The best fish I get there is the stuff that’s still frozen. Some of the “fresh fish” is just defrosted from frozen pieces. That said, the frozen stuff is pretty fresh.

  • got a nice eel there for sushi. was tasty. also crabs oysters and butter fish (nice bodies, butter fish).

  • Your ability to select a good fish is more important than your choice of vendors. Hint: look under the gills, it’s gross but the only effective way. The gill organ should be clean and the under-gill free of mucus. Also, check the body for lesions. Sorry if this is gross, but that’s how it’s done. Remember that some restaurants send folks out bright and early to find the best, and the fish don’t get any fresher as the day goes by. The earlier you are the better your odds of finding superb quality.

    • I doubt any restaurants buy from here – they order from the same suppliers that deliver to these markets. Except for some crabs & oysters, maybe rockfish & bluefish, not much of this is local. Most all fish now is frozen on the boat as soon as it is caught. I would love to know more about the actual supply chain & economics of these markets.

  • I really hope this place doesn’t get a fancy make over Eastern Market style. I just discovered the D.C fish market a few weeks ago and loved it…I loved how smelly and gritty it is…it feels very different from what D.C has become over the last decade. That said, it’s not particuarly cheap. I don’t know that I have a preference though, when it comes to where to buy. My guess is that they’re all pretty similar quality.

  • I recently picked up some jumbo freshwater shrimp with a friend and as they bagged it up for us, some kid came out, ripped open a packaged bag and refilled the bin. It kind of ruined the mood of getting “fresh fish”, but is that common? Do these places have their own packaging they seal these in at the point of catch to transport around? This wasn’t a box of Gorton’s, but it wasn’t a Ziploc bag either.

    • gotryit

      They get some of their stuff wholesale / frozen. I actually ask for that rather than the stuff that’s already been defrosted. Sorry to burst your dream.

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