Picking crabs is a Maryland tradition, but picking a favorite crab house can be difficult as there are so many options out there. To us, the perfect crab house has an unpretentious vibe (you can’t be fussy when your hands are sticky with crab spice and butter), locally sourced crustaceans, and years of experience honing their recipes and serving their customers. These five iconic restaurants embody the history, service, and authenticity of the Bay.
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
No crab house is more famous than Cantler’s, located in a quiet residential neighborhood off of Mill Creek and Whitehall Bay just north of the Severn River and Annapolis proper. It’s so well- known that (on weekends) you can expect a wait—first for a parking space, then for a table, especially if you’re hoping for one outside overlooking the creek. (All seating is first-come, first-served, though they will take off-peak reservations for parties of 10 or more.) The owners and founders, Jimmy and Linda Cantler, know the water well; they both worked the Bay growing up, and their tradition is passed down by more than five generations of family members who have worked at the restaurant. To make every visit feel like you’re family, Cantler’s seats patrons at long rows of laminated tables inside, or wooden picnic tables outside. It’s an elbow-to-elbow affair where you’re encouraged to chat with neighbors while you pick.
Mike’s Crab House
This family-owned operation has been anchored on the South River for more than 60 years. It’s a favorite with recreational boaters, who can tie up at dozens of slips out front. But even if you don’t arrive by water, the outdoor patio, which sits on pilings over the river, makes it feel as if you’ve spent a day boating on the Bay. The main draw here are steamed jumbos served by the dozen, but don’t overlook the sides: Mike’s hushpuppies come with a warm honey butter, adding a sweet note to an Old Bay-spiced crab feast.
The Red Roost Crabhouse & Restaurant
The Red Roost looks like a chicken house, and rightly so; it was a chicken farm until the 1960s when a series of high-tide floods overtook the land. Now it’s known as one of the best seafood and crab houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. To get here, you’ll need to drive along a winding road that leads you into the Wicomico County marshlands. The trip there is half the fun, as the scenic spot backs up to the Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area, a great spot for sighting egrets, herons and other migratory birds. Inside, you’ll be rewarded by the bounty of seafood options, including steamed crabs, peel-and-eat shrimp, and oysters served on the half shell. If you have a giant hunger, order the Red Roost crab pot, which comes with six steamed crabs plus fried chicken and steamed clams, shrimp, mussels, and corn—guaranteed to result in a food coma. But don’t worry because there are hammocks a half-mile down the road at the Bull Lips Dock Bar—Red Roost’s waterfront bar—perfect for sunsets and stargazing.
Schultz’s Crab House & Lounge
Need proof that Schultz’s Crab House has reached icon status? This longtime Baltimore favorite, which opened in 1969, was named an “America’s Classic” by the James Beard Foundation in 2017, making it one of only two restaurants in Maryland to receive the award. (The other is the since-closed Maison Marconi in Baltimore.) Come here for a nautical vibe with wood-paneled walls, fish mounts and crabs stacked high on cafeteria trays. The menu not only features steamed crabs, but also fried oysters, steamed shrimp, charbroiled steaks, and Chesapeake-style crab cakes, made with backfin meat and broiled to golden-brown perfection. Don’t miss the Original Crab Soup, which was named Best Soup in Maryland by The Daily Meal.
Suicide Bridge Restaurant
While the name isn’t exactly reassuring (yes, there’s an actual bridge, and yes, it comes by its name honestly), this might be the most scenic crab house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with sunset views overlooking the Choptank River, two historic riverboats docked nearby, and an outdoor event pavilion and tiki bar that makes for excellent people watching. But the main reason to plan a visit to Suicide Bridge Restaurant is for the daily all-you-can-eat crab deal, priced under $45 per person while Chesapeake crabs are in season. (Be sure to call ahead as the local crab supply can vary.) Or do the special crab feast cruise that takes place most weekends during the summer months; it’s a three-hour leisure tour down the Choptank River with an open buffet of steamed crabs, fried chicken, clam strips, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and Maryland crab soup.