The Mermaid Inn is a total anomaly—a top-notch seafood restaurant that feels like a hidden gem but is actually a mini-chain. If you didn’t know better, you would swear that you were in Maine, discovering the best seafood hut on the coast. In reality, you can dine here in New York City’s East Village, West Village, or the Upper West Side.
The Upper West Side location is the coziest of the three. The restaurant is small but well-designed with dark wood, low lighting, and a bar that keeps the restaurant humming without making it crazy. There is a back room that is a bit more expansive, but the closer quarters in the front dining room allow for the best people watching on Amsterdam Ave.
Start your meal with a selection of the excellent oysters. Though the nightly “happy hour and a half” features dollar Naked Cowboy oysters and drink deals, the daily selection is so special and well-sourced that it is worth ponying up the extra dollars. Kumamotos are small and creamy, and Moonstones are briny. They occasionally have Olympias; those small penny-colored oysters from Washington that taste of copper, salt, and sea. Don’t miss those if they are on the menu.
The blackened catfish with hush puppies, collard greens, and crawfish butter proves that the oyster shuckers aren’t the only ones here who know what they are doing. The catfish is flaky and mild with no muddy or fishy taste to it. It is blackened so that it is crisp and smoky on the outside and moist on the inside. Cayenne, garlic, and pepper all punch up the flavor with the creamy hush puppies and garlicky collard greens rounding out the plate.
Every meal here ends with a tiny cup of dense, creamy chocolate pudding that is not only nostalgic but also just darned delicious. Each diner also gets an old-fashioned fortune telling fish.
The fortunes here are usually good. After all, food is great, service is efficient, and prices are fair. The incredible oyster selection and sweet touch of included dessert make this really seem like an independent spot. Luckily for NYC, that just isn’t the case.
The Mermaid Inn
568 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10024