1. Pike Place Fish Market, Seattle, Washington
Now that New York's Fulton Fish Market has moved from its longtime Manhattan home to a warehouselike building in the Bronx, Pike Place can claim undisputed status as the nation's most colorful seafood market. It's also the most fun. The fish fly here, hurled through the air by employees. So do the jokes, though the shop is serious about its seafood and will ship almost everything it sells for next-day delivery. Other attractions at the 9-acre Pike Place Market include Washington wines and the original Starbucks; (800) 542-7732 or pikeplacefish.com.
2. Browne Trading Company, Portland, Maine
This old, family-run business has acquired some recent dazzle through its association with such celebrity chefs as Daniel Boulud of New York City's Daniel restaurant. The market offers a wide range of caviars, plus smoked seafood, fish from around the world and the usual favorites -- lobster, cod, clams and the like. Patrons can shop via phone or online. Or they can do what many chefs prefer: Head to Merrill's Wharf in the Old Port area of Portland and pick out what looks most appealing; (800) 944-7848 or browne-trading.com.
3. Joe Patti's Seafood Co., Pensacola, Florida
Since its 1931 beginnings on Joe and Anna Patti's back porch, this seafood shop has grown into a sprawling waterfront institution. Joe Patti's has changed with the times, adding delectable extras such as a sushi bar and Anna Patti's Amangiari Gourmet Shop, plus online ordering and overnight shipping. Still, the huge selection of terrific seafood remains its primary appeal. The extended Patti family runs the place with an emphasis on neighborly service; (800) 500-9929 or joepattis.com.
I'm no where near old enough to remember the back porch of Joe Patti's, but I do remember going in there as a young girl with my dad and wanting to wash my feet afterwards. The floors were wet, and the place had more of a dock-side feel than it does today. You could see the workers, mostly Vietnamese (Pensacola had a thriving community of these ex-pats), prepping the seafood for the counters. Today, all of that is gone. There's a wonderful smell of fresh baked bread from Anna Patti's Gourmet Shop, the floors are gleaming with non-slip mats just in case, and all you get to see are the hair netted, smiling, friendly men and women behind the seafood counter. Want some of the best shrimp? Go for the bay shrimp.
As cliche as the fish throwing is, those guys at the Pike Place Fish Market know seafood. Just walk up and start asking questions about what would be best that day. My favorite: Penn Cove mussels.