Now that it is oyster season, it's time to celebrate that delicious food you promised yourself you'd never eat after watching the movie Dick Tracy, by highlighting some of the best places to get bivalves in the country. In order to keep things fresh and fair, we tried to stick almost exclusively to the coasts, and highlight the best from each of the main oyster-harvesting regions. Of course, we will have missed some, and we fully expect you to enlighten us in the comments, but until then, please peruse our list, and join us in daydreaming about ducking work to sit out by the water with a cold beer, a dozen oysters on the half-shell, and at least one to three personal bottles of hot sauce.
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Apalachicola is a quiet, sleepy fishing village in the old-school sense: the population is below 2,500, and, with 90% of Florida’s seafood harvest coming from Apalachicola Bay, it’s an easy guess what all of those boats are doing on the water as the sun rises each morning. Keep an eye out for one boat specifically: Boss Oyster. And then follow it when it heads from the oyster beds back to the seafood shack of the same name. Grab a seat on the deck and start slurping the oysters that just arrived. Then move onto an oyster po-boy or a bowl of oyster gumbo, or pile on the basically infinite number of oyster toppings it has, like bacon or artichokes or roe. You may actually need to practice to prep yourself for all the oyster options.
New Orleans, LA
Tucked away on Magazine St, Casamento’s is blessedly removed from the Quarter’s touristy oyster hubs, and it holds every aspect of a classic Southern oyster spot: the completely tiled space is reminiscent of a bathroom, the spot still shuts down in summer months, and a bizarrely fast shucker sits behind the counter when you walk in. Your only problem will be figuring out how many dozen you can have along with your squat glass of Dixie beer, before you have your oyster loaf: oysters fried in lard (because of course) and sandwiched between Texas toast.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing Eventide on this list, as it made our best new restaurants list two years ago, and continues to be the best place in the Old Port to get amazing seafood, which is really, really saying something. Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley very much care about their oysters, which is why they offer up an extremely well-curated list from Maine and "Away," and allow you to pick accoutrements, including three types of ice (get the Tabasco), and two mignonettes (get the mimosa one). Also, if you like looking at things, we do recommend checking out that granite shellfish display while drinking their celery gimlet, which as they say, is "practically health food."
When you sell as many oysters as Gilhooley’s does, you don’t have to bother with trivial things like fancy ice, or refrigerators, or what not. You just pull the oysters out of the water, bring them over to patrons, and serve them right from the bag. Or you can opt for the namesake special (which we put on our iconic American foods list), which features roast oysters brushed with garlic butter and Parmesan, and then tucked into an oak and pecan-wood BBQ pit until the crust bubbles. Do yourself a favor -- go in the winter, when the oysters are best. But save the ice to cool down your beers.
New York, NY
The OG of the East Coast oyster scene has sat deep in the belly of Grand Central since 1913, and, while its neighbor is now a Shake Shack, the dramatic, tiled & arching ceiling, commuter-filled bar seats, and famous oyster stew are still all old-school New York. And with a 30+ oyster selection -- the best in the city -- an impressive booze list, plates that draw from the best of Northeastern seafood and beyond (think ginger-steamed sole filet or grilled Maine scallops), and that same, 100-plus-year-old creamy oyster stew, the Oyster Bar remains worth a visit to commuter central, even without a train ticket.
Port St. Joe, FL
Indian Pass Raw Bar is located halfway between Apalachicola and Port St. Joe. In other words, it is smack in the middle of nowhere. If you did happen to be traveling through this particular stretch of the Florida Panhandle, you would drive right on past. It’s a faded, boxy building with clapboard siding and a peaked roof, formerly housing the company store run by the current owner Jimmy Mac’s grandmother. Drive slowly down these county roads so you can find the spot and stop in for a few dozen. Don’t expect anything fancy: it’s just shrimp, crab legs, gumbo, the basic meat rotation of hamburgers & corn dogs, and the giant, briny oysters that get pulled from the bay each morning. Which, really, is all you need anyway.
San Diego, CA
As if Consortium Holdings couldn’t get any cooler, the people behind Polite Provisions and Soda & Swine created this beautiful gem in an old Little Italy warehouse, and have made it into one of the best oyster spots in SoCal. Aside from delicious bivalves from the likes of Kusshi, Fat Bastard, Minter Sweet Select, and Kumamoto, it's got Old Bay Mexican shrimp, Baja summer clams, and chowder fries. Yep. Chowder. Fries. And best of all, on top of having damn chowder fries, it's got one of the baddest-ass (it’s a word!) bar programs to ever match with a raw bar, including 50 cocktails, like one made IN A KILLER WHALE TIKI MUG.
New York, NY
Since it opened as a cocktail and oyster haven, the NOLA-inspired Maison Premiere has expanded to a full seafood-based menu. Which is great and all, but you’re still coming for the amazing cocktails (the program was James Beard-nominated this year) and the extensive East Coast oyster lineup. The 33-strong list ranges from Massachusetts’ Wellfleets to PEI’s Malpeques to Rhode Island’s East Beach Blondes. If you can elbow your way through the hordes for $1 happy hour, do. It’ll be the best price-for-selection deal you can find in NYC. Then save room for that full kitchen and, like, maybe eleventy cocktails.
As you get up to Tomales Bay, you will be tempted to stop at one of the other great oyster bars you can hit before you get to the Marshall Store on Route 1. Don’t. Marshall is the smallest, and the best: just a tiny little storefront from which you order oysters pulled from the bay in one of six styles. Our move is to get a dozen fresh, and then sample all the others (Chorizo will blow you mind, and the Kilpatrick with bacon and Worcestershire might even be better) while perched out overlooking the bay from one of its few wooden tables sitting atop barrels sipping some cold beers. But do yourself a favor: tell everyone else it’s probably worth it to stop before the Store.
South Kingstown, RI
After earning a masters in aquaculture and fisheries technology from University of Rhode Island, Perry Raso took out a one-acre lease in RI’s Potter Pond. That was 2002. He now has seven acres, two oyster varietals -- Matunuck Oysters and Potter Moon Oysters -- and, since 2007, an oyster bar whose dock juts into the pond where Raso hauls out his Rhody oysters. Continuing the mission of promoting local seafood and sustainability, the bar serves its own small, light oysters alongside others from RI, so diners can taste the subtle differences between each of the mollusks.
It takes effort to get to Merroir, the tasting space from the Rappahannock Oyster Co. folks. You have to skip out on DC’s Rappahannock Oyster Bar or bypass Richmond’s Rappahannock, the upscale spot from the team, and take a winding, one-hour drive. But going to the Topping spot lets you return to the basic of these restaurants: you’ll be seated on a patio staring out at the Rappahannock River, where the crew grows their trio of oysters. The small-plate menu has seasonal goods, like pan-seared scallops, plus a delicious double cheeseburger, but it’s all centered around the three oyster varietals -- each is cultivated in a different area of the river, so the texture, flavor, and salinity varies. And booze choices don’t slack just because you’re an hour from the fancier branches of the company’s eateries: there are 10 craft beers on tap, plus a solid wine list for all the sunset, riverside sipping you can handle.
Back 12 or so years ago, when Neptune opened on a side street in the deeply Italian North End of Boston, I didn’t understand what was happening. Why is this tiny seafood spot opening amongst all the red-sauce and cannoli places, I wondered aloud to my food writer friend who first took me there. I dunno, she said, but just shut up and eat. And that I did, and was forever changed by its amazing selection of oysters from both coasts, its Wellfleet clam chowder, and a famous lobster roll I’ve long publicly swooned over. Ever since those days, the place has been packed nightly with people overflowing along its long bar or tucked into one of its few tables, but all gladly doing what I eventually learned to do: just shutting up, and eating.
It already frustrates me to no end that I always want to eat everything I see coming out of Charleston, but Mike Lata’s Southern-style ocean eatery might just make me the hangriest. Already on our 33 best restaurant openings from 2013, it wins for its creative oyster moves, including bivalves done crispy alongside beef tartare, broiled with hotel butter and Parm, and -- our favorite -- smoked with saltines and hot sauce. We could mention everything else on the menu, but that will just put me too far over the edge. I’m already looking at real estate.
You might argue that a second-floor bar with a bocce court and solid booze selection is the star of the 14th Street spot. And cocktails, like the Four Roses; grapefruit, and ginger maple syrup Maple Derby; and a solid beer lineup do make Black Jack the best waiting spot. But the bar sits above Pearl Dive, a three-year-old seafood spot with an oyster program so impressive you can order its own varietal: the beautifully balanced, buttery, yet salty Old Black Salt Oysters grown with the help of the folks from Rappahannock Oyster Co. You can slurp them alongside bivalves from both coasts, but hopefully you can work in a game of bocce upstairs before you get a seat at the tiny raw bar.
New Orleans, LA
The NOLA ode to Gulf seafood is only a few years old and its unconventional spins, most notably with the tip-to-tail fish dish, earned Peche the Best New Restaurant James Beard title two years ago. But the simple raw bar is just as impressive as its hot dishes, bringing a wide selection of oysters from across the country to a region known for being passionately dedicated to its own huge, briny bivalves. Those are, of course, readily on order, but so are the famous crisp, cuke-flavored Blue Pools from Washington and salty Massachusetts Wellfleets.
Sitting on Route 28 in Harwich Port in one of those buildings that seems like it was built specifically for a movie location scout who needs to show a “quaint, but beautiful Cape Cod town,” Harwich natives Judd and Griff Brackett’s seafood spot has quietly been around about a decade, and goes through more oysters in a summer than most restaurants do in five years. Our move is to go sit directly at the raw bar in the front during happy hour to get dollar Chatham oysters, then splurge on some Stony Island and Wellfleets, and watch the mix of locals, summer tourists, and those pesky movie location scouts hungrily pack in.
The guys from Island Creek in Duxbury produce some of the best oysters in the world. In fact, they’re my (Kevin’s) favorite ever. And once they created the best oysters, they decided, maybe that isn’t enough, so let’s go ahead and create some of the best seafood places in Boston too. And so Island Creek Oyster Bar was born. And then came Row 34 along Fort Point channel, which has a narrower focus than the original spot, and nails it, with the best local selection of oysters and beer in Boston. So do me a solid, and order up a dozen Row 34s, and a dozen Island Creeks, and throw in some Nauset, and then call me up and tell me in excruciatingly specific detail about all of them. I promise not to weep openly out of jealousy until we’ve hung up.
San Francisco, CA
It is so damn old school. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. Tourists flock. The lines at lunch are too long. It’s only bar seating. Tough sh*t. This open-since-1912 SF legend is past an institution and on its way to hallowed hall territory, and it’s not just because of history, but also because it continues to serve some of the best raw seafood in the city, including an oyster selection that is impressively varied, and its famous twice-cracked crab, which you can plunge in a special sauce, which tastes like glorious history (and maybe a little mayo).
The Taylor family is famous in these parts, having harvested shellfish in the Puget Sound for over a century. Their oyster bars do not mess around, so you shouldn’t either: just get in there and order up a beer from their impressive list (Elysian Men’s Room Red!?!?) plus a variety of whatever they’re pulling out that day, from the famous Kumamotos and more obscure Shogoku styles, to local Pacifics and Olympias. They’ve also got geoduck, but do yourself a favor: don’t get the geoduck.
In 2011, Candace Beattie brought to Fells Point, a historic waterfront Baltimore ‘hood, what should’ve been a long-obvious move: a casual seafood spot with a terrific raw bar program. You’ll have your choice of local Chesapeake Bay oysters, plus plenty of New England, Canada, and West Coast varieties, like Elkhorn out of WA’s Willapa Bay, that’ll contrast those simple, buttery local flavors. If you’re staying for more than the raw selection (and you should, because there’s a pan-fried crab cake sandwich with house-made remoulade that you need to eat), the right move is grabbing a window seat upstairs for a view of the Charm City harbor.
Chef Renee Erickson is the real deal, and when she wanted to create an oyster bar in her own neighborhood that blended the "elegance of France with the casual comfort of a local fishing pub," she just went ahead and did that thing, and it became a local, and then national success, and man, isn’t life easy when these sort of things work out? Her raw oyster selection is small, but unique, offering up mostly locals, with a few random selections thrown in; and she also cooks up extremely legit fried oysters (cilantro aioli, y’all) and steamed clams with grilled bread, which are particularly delicious if you happen to catch Seattle on a brisk, sunny day when you can sit on the heated patio.
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Liz Childers is associate editor of Food/Drink and would take three dozen oysters, a 1/2 Oyster Loaf, a 1/2 Softshell Crab Loaf, AND two Dixies at Casamento's as her final meal. Follow her @lizchilders1.
This article originally published on October 5, 2014.
1. Boss Oyster125 Water St, Apalachicola
2. Casamento's4330 Magazine St, New Orleans
3. Eventide Oyster Co.86 Middle St, Portland
4. Gilhooley's Restaurant & Oyster Bar222 9th St, Dickinson
5. Grand Central Oyster Bar89 E 42nd St, New York
6. Indian Pass Raw Bar8391 Indian Pass Rd, Port Saint Joe
7. Ironside Fish & Oyster1654 India St, San Diego
8. Maison Premiere298 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn
9. The Marshall Store19225 California 1, Marshall
10. Matunuck Oyster Bar629 Succotash Rd, South Kingstown
11. Merroir784 Locklies Creek Road, Topping
12. Neptune Oyster63 Salem St, Boston
13. The Ordinary544 King St, Charleston
14. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack1612 14th St NW, Washington DC
15. Peche Seafood Grill800 Magazine St, New Orleans
16. The Port541 Route 28, Harwich
17. Row 34383 Congress st, Boston
18. Swan Oyster Depot1517 Polk St, San Francisco
19. Taylor Shellfish Farms1521 Melrose Ave, Seattle
20. Thames Street Oyster House1728 Thames St, Baltimore
21. The Walrus and the Carpenter4743 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle
Head to Apalachicola Bay, and keep an eye out for one boat specifically: Boss Oyster. And then follow it when it heads from the oyster beds back to the seafood shack of the same name. Grab a seat on the deck and start slurping the oysters that just arrived. Then move onto an oyster po’boy or a bowl of oyster gumbo or pile on the basically infinity number of oyster toppings they have, like bacon or artichokes or roe.
A New Orleans landmark since 1919, Casamento's is the grandaddy of all oyster bars, serving up fried oyster po' boys and equally delicious raw oysters, shucked right in front of you. The space is small and completely tiled, because the owners know oyster juice spillage is inevitable when you're marathon-slurping your meal.
Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley very much care about their oysters, which is why they offer up an extremely well curated list from Maine and “Away”, and allow you to pick accoutrement, including three types of ice (get the Tabasco), and two mignonettes (get the Mimosa one). The space is bright, light blue and airy, with plenty of wooden stools for saddling up to the raw bar.
When you sell as many oysters as Gilhooley’s does, you don’t have to bother with trivial things like fancy ice, or refrigerators, or what not. You just pull the oysters out of the water, bring them over to patrons, and serve them right from the bag. Or you can opt for the namesake special (which we put on our iconic American foods list), which features roast oysters brushed with garlic butter and Parmesan, and then tucked into an oak and pecan-wood BBQ pit until the crust bubbles.
Grand Central's landmark Oyster Bar has been around since 1913 and, despite losing business due to the decline of long-haul train travel, its reinvention around the mid-'70s revived it into what's now an award-winning American restaurant serving super-fresh, top-quality seafood. It also has an extensive wine list.
Indian Pass Raw Bar is located halfway between Apalachicola and Port St. Joe. In other words, it is smack in the middle of nowhere. So drive slowly down these county roads so you find the spot and can stop in for a few dozen. Don’t expect anything fancy: it’s just shrimp, crab legs, gumbo, the basic meat rotation of hamburgers and corn dogs, and the giant, briny oysters that get pulled from the bay each morning. Which, really, is all you need anyway.
With a gorgeous interior, a fresh and delicious seafood menu, and a cocktail program that's almost as imaginative as its interior, Ironside Fish & Oyster proves to be another sterling example in a growing collection of successes from Consortium Holdings (Soda & Swine, Polite Provisions).
This cosmopolitan city-inspired oyster bar and cocktail den is a classy Williamsburg spot where you can enjoy a stocked raw bar, and lounge outdoors on its greenery-filled patio. We suggest bringing a first date here, as the swank and intimate atmosphere & delicious menu will be sure to wow them.
As you get up to Tomales Bay, you will be tempted to stop at one of the other great oyster bars you can hit before you get to the Marshall store on Route 1. Don’t. Marshall is the smallest, and the best: just a tiny little storefront from which you order oysters pulled from the bay in one of six styles.
The bar serves its own small, light oysters alongside others from RI, so diners can taste the subtle differences between each of the mollusks. The oyster bar juts out into Potter's Pond, where the bivalves are harvested. Grab a space on the sunny deck (if you can!) for the perfect summer dining experience.
Going to the Rappahannock Oyster Co.'s Topping spot lets you return to the basics: you’ll be seated on a patio staring out at the Rappahannock River, where the crew grows their trio of oysters. The small-plate menu has seasonal goods, like pan-seared scallops, plus a stellar double cheeseburger, but it’s all centered around the three oyster varietals - each is cultivated in a different area of the river, so the texture, flavor, and salinity varies.
Bivalves are king at Neptune Oyster, a popular seafood counter in the North End. The menu is classically New England but a variety of seafood-based recipes come out of the kitchen, from cioppino and fried Ipswich clams to fish & chips and Basque-peppered Spanish octopus. Served two ways, the lobster roll is an award-winning signature, and though it's prepared the typical way with mayonnaise, the hot butter option is the way to go. Neptune draws hoards of seafood-craving hopefuls to its Salem St. storefront on weekend afternoons and evenings, so be prepared to traverse the neighborhood while you wait for your coveted seat at the marble bar.
Situated inside an old bank, this seafood hall and oyster bar is full of creative and tasty Southern twists on classic ocean fare, offering both large and small plates. It is the sister restaurant to FIG and maintains equal focus on seasonal and local ingredients to create delicious and fresh dishes every day. Some menu items, however, are so lauded that they have become mainstays, like the oyster sliders.
Who says you can't play bocce while shooting oysters and sipping seasonal craft cocktails? Enjoy the Southern hospitality and the rustic, ancient mariner-inspired interior, while the chef shucks the best mollusks the East and West Coasts have to offer. They also have a solid happy hour with vodka martinis and a wine list with plenty of bottles that'll pair just right with your shelled snacks.
At PSG, East Coast flavors meet Southern hospitality in the form of Cajun inspired charcoal grilled seafood delicacies, raw bar options, and oysters on the half. This Warehouse District space features a rustic, wood-lacquered dining room that's spacious and yet intimate; the perfect place to catch up with a group over a seafood tower "for the table."
Harwich's upscale American spot has turned the next-door art gallery into a stand-alone raw bar with mahogany wood-beams, Japanese brownstone floors, and African Red Padouk wood inlays (for that authentic Cape Cod feel). The bar features eight draughts an
Row 34 is an industrial-chic oyster bar in Fort Point that complements its menu of fresh, local seafood with a powerhouse 24-tap craft beer lineup (and a sizeable bottle cellar). From the team behind Kenmore Square favorite Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34 serves up elegant plates like striped bass, pan-roasted cod, and Jonah crab cake, which the staff will expertly pair with a selection from the impressive beer program (the sour beers are always a good choice) or their favorite rosé.
Swan Oyster Depot, open since 1912 in Nob Hill, is a raw fish institution. The seafood is unbelievably fresh, and the menu includes everything from clams, oysters, and Dungeness crab to sashimi platters and sea urchin. The clam chowder, a buttery and briny both made with the day's clams, is awesome, as is the twice-cracked crab. Basically, everything here rocks. The narrow space has only 18 bar seats, and it's a great option for a solo lunch since parties of one can usually bypass the long wait.
Officially opening tomorrow, this retail spot/chowder house from the accolade-heavy oyster-culturists is offering lessons in shucking and wine pairing; serving up hearty takes on traditional clam chowder and seafood stew; and slinging super-fresh (read: alive) crustaceans and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and geoduck, also what your friends call the move girls make when you cruise by in your Metro.
For a different kind of regional Baltimore seafood, head to the bright and airy Thames Street Oyster House, located on the main strip in Fell's Point. There’s a raw bar with plenty of oysters to choose from, plus other New England offerings like Block Island scallops or the lobster roll on a buttered bun, filled to the brim with tail and claw meat
This chic oyster bar serves neither walrus nor houses carpenters (that we know of) but it does dish out mounds of delicious shellfish in a comfortable atmosphere. Additionally, this cozy, neighborhood spot -- which has been recognized by The New York Times also serves incredible desserts, with highlights being maple bread pudding and roasted Medjool dates.