The arrival of autumn signals the arrival of many beloved things, from football to pumpkin spice to the promise of more hilarious antics from that delightful scamp Young Sheldon. But for seafood lovers, the changing of the leaves means it's prime time to crack open a few beers and get to shuckin. Oyster season is here, and we've once again scoured the country to find the best places to get bivalves.
In order to keep things fresh and fair, we stuck largely to the coasts to highlight the best from each of the main oyster-harvesting regions. Of course, we will have missed some. 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.
Asbury Park, New Jersey Frankly, this sleek, airy, intentionally rustic oyster bar that sprouted in the midst of Asbury Park's trendy renaissance -- located in the heart of the boardwalk's historic convention hall, no less -- could initially be dismissed as an overpriced cash grab aimed at a new wave of tourists. But, as its inclusion makes obvious, it's not. The Asbury Park Oyster Bar has all the makings of an eventual institution, highlighted by its raw bar selections: namely, the eponymous, daily sourced oysters. There's nothing particularly "fancy" about what they do here with the raw fare. But they've gained a reputation on the Jersey shore as having some of the best oysters in the Garden State. It's easy to believe in the future of fast-changing Asbury Park. And it's even easier to believe in that future with places like the Asbury Park Oyster Bar.
New Orleans, Louisiana Tucked away on Magazine Street, 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.
Portland, Oregon Portland's oyster game runs from the old-school charms of downtown's Dan & Louis to the new-school offerings at Olympia Oyster Bar and Woodsman Tavern. But the best bet -- short of cruising to Netarts Bay and raiding an oyster farm -- remains EaT. There's no pomp and circumstance at this dirty south-influenced fixture of a fast-changing stretch of the hip Williams restaurant district, but you might notice some familiar faces eyeballing the oyster board: The place supplies farm-fresh bivalves to many of Portland's fancier joints. But those joints don't have tiny ½ pints of beer. Or frog legs. Or whatever the hell's smoking outside on the perpetually running smoker, which often wafts in to accompany live blues bands. Grab a set of shooters and a tiny beer and let the shuckers go to work.
Portland, Maine It shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing Eventide on this list: We named it one of the nation's best new restaurants list when it opened in 2013, and it continues to be the best place in the Old Port to get amazing seafood, which is really, really saying something. (It also opened in Boston a couple years ago, giving the old-school Bean Town seafood scene a shot in the arm.) There's a whole aquarium's worth of seafood on offer here, but James Beard-winners 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 four types of ice (get the Tabasco), and a spot-on red-wine mignonette. 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."
Davidson Texas 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, New York 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.
Chicago, Illinois This upscale River North favorite from Giuseppe Tentori (he's the GT) does a lot of things well, from poke to fish tacos, and from po'boys to expensive caviar service. But it also offers the best oysters in the city, which represent varietals from all over the US. You can get 'em in salads or fried up on sliders, but given the freshness, there's no need to do anything but slurp. Get them a la carte, or as part of a build-your-own seafood tower, where they can be paired with lobster, mussels, snow crab, or, you know, just a ridiculous amount of oysters stacked on an ornate tower for posterity. As a bonus, they also offer shucking classes for those who prefer to house dozens of bivalves in the comfort of their own homes.
Port St. Joe, Florida 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.
Los Angeles, California This ultra-chill Silver Lake bivalve oasis is divided into two levels, but when it comes to ordering, go big and hit three levels courtesy of the mega seafood tower, which pairs 12 East Coast varietals with a dozen from the west coast, plus mussels, shrimp, and caviar. For lesser appetites, or those who don't want to waste precious belly space on non-oysters, there's a daily dozen that includes four each of three different oysters, plus a boozy upstairs happy hour featuring $12 half-dozens of the daily oyster harvest. Pro tip: Ask for the chowder poutine, an off-menu item that's exactly what it sounds like (but with bacon).
New York, New York 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 in 2014) and the extensive East Coast oyster lineup. The 25-strong list ranges from Massachusetts’ Wellfleets to Virginia's Shooting Point Salts. If you can elbow your way through the hordes for 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.
Marshall, California 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: One of America's best seafood shacks, it's 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 your 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, Rhode Island After earning a master's 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.
Topping, Virginia 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 its oysters. The small-plate menu has seasonal goods, like pan-seared scallops, plus a delicious double cheeseburger, but it’s all centered around its 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's a good craft beer selection, plus a solid wine list for all the sunset, riverside sipping you can handle.
Boston, Massachusetts Back 15 or so years ago, when Neptune opened on a side street in the deeply Italian North End of Boston, some Bostonians were confused: Why would a tiny seafood spot opening among all the red-sauce and cannoli places? A decade and change later, Neptune is a nationally recognized treasure offering an amazing selection of oysters from both coasts, its Wellfleet clam chowder, and a famous lobster roll that stands as one of the best in a region bursting at the seams with buttery crustacean. It's now an institution. And it pairs remarkably well with cannolis.
Charleston, South Carolina The Ordinary burst onto the Charleston scene in 2013 and quickly made waves with creative takes on Southern-style ocean feasts (think mustard-crusted beeliner snapper and fish schnitzel). But the place goes up an extra tier 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. Hit the place for its $1.50 oyster happy hour on Tuesday-Friday or, barring that, go with a full seafood tower for something of a catch-of-the-day omakase.
New Orleans, Louisiana The NOLA ode to Gulf seafood was a relative newcomer when its unconventional spins, most notably with the tip-to-tail fish dish, earned Peche -- and its chef, Ryan Prewitt -- James Beard awards. 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.
Boston, Massachusetts The guys from Island Creek in Duxbury produce some of the best oysters in the world. And once they created these superlative 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. Order up a dozen Row 34s, and a dozen Island Creeks, and throw in some Nauset. Repeat as frequently as medically advisable.
San Francisco, California 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 shit. 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).
Seattle, Washington The Taylor family is famous in these parts, having harvested shellfish in the Puget Sound for over a century. Their oyster bars -- including outposts in Bellevue, Bow, and three in Seattle -- do not mess around, so you shouldn’t either: Just get in there and order up a beer from their impressive list 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. Or maybe do… the locals seem to like it.
Baltimore, Maryland In 2011, Candace Beattie brought to Fells Point -- a historic waterfront Baltimore ‘hood -- what should’ve been there all along: 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 Kumamoto out of Washington’s Oakland 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.
Seattle, Washington 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. 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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