The Maine Avenue Fish Market, a collection of seafood joints located on barges in the Potomac River, is a grimy, fun, hidden gem that features some of the most authentic food and people-watching in the District. Open continuously since the early 1800s, the market is located under I-395 on approximately 12th and G SW.
A half-dozen vendors make up the market, such as Captain White’s, Jessie Taylor Seafood, and Evans Brothers for dessert. The main attraction is the wholesale seafood, displayed on ice in copious quantities. Chesapeake Bay blue crabs (of all sizes and genders) are ubiquitous, and it’s not hard to spot faves like rainbow trout, swordfish, and octopus. More exotic catches, like gigantic freshwater shrimp and shark, can also be seen. Be aware that only some of the seafood is local, the remainer being shipped from various other locations across the country and the world—just ask the employees, who are friendly and willing to talk your ear off about fish.
Also entertaining about the market is the fact that you can order up anything to eat right there on the harbor. Oysters and clams on the half shell are only $1 each, or you can select crabs to be freshly steamed. A healthy selection of sides are available to suit the non-pescetarian vegetarians amongst us, such as French fries and hush puppies. And as would fit a true Maryland attraction, there is a comprehensive set of condiments for the seafood that includes large jars of Old Bay. The price is right, making the market the source of some of the cheapest seafood in the area.
The Maine Avenue Fish Market, which was razed in the 1960s and nearly discontinued, is crowded and smelly, but it’s downright local. As a friend of mine said, “it’s like Seattle’s Pike Place Market before it was gentrified.”All different sorts of folks end up at Maine Avenue, with large families in tow on the weekends, and that diversity is the best thing about the place.
To get there: Smithsonian or L’Enfant Plaza metros, or SW Waterfront Circulator. Hours unclear, but generally dawn ‘til dusk.