Food & Drink

Where to Eat Fresh Oysters in San Diego

“Crushing two-dozen oysters when it’s 75 degrees and sunny just hits differently.”

Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar
Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar | Andy Boyd
Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar | Andy Boyd

Nothing beats sitting down to a platter of freshly shucked oysters, each one on a pearly white half shell in a puddle of its own briny juice, just waiting for a shot of lemon and a plop of tangy mignonette before you slide it off its perch and into your mouth for a fleeting taste of pure oceanic bliss. Whether you love Bluepoints or lean towards nutty, sweet Kumamotos, San Diego’s oyster bars carry an amazing array from both sides of the country.

“An oyster tastes like the water it is from, since it is ultimately a water filter,” says Kyle Pierce, the chef de cuisine at Little Italy’s Ironside Fish & Oyster. “For instance, you are going to see a much sweeter, creamier oyster coming out of British Columbia because they are often grown closer to shore and in much warmer water than those grown offshore in Baja. And if you’ve ever swam in the South Pacific, you know it has a much higher salinity than that of the Pacific Northwest.”

Pierce goes on to explain that, besides regionality, the way an oyster is farmed will impact its final result. Oysters grown in suspended bags -- like the Beau Soleil variety from the coast of New Brunswick -- give off a clean and crisp taste, whereas oysters farmed directly on shore banks will impart a grittier texture. 

Chef de Cuisine Kyle Pierce
Chef de Cuisine Kyle Pierce | Ironside Fish & Oyster

In that same vein, asking a shucker or serve about sourcing is crucial, Pierce says, and San Diego is lucky to have the Carlsbad Aquafarm and its Luna oyster right in its backyard. His favorite, though, is probably the smaller Kusshi oyster out of British Columbia, which is “super salty, but also really refreshing and doesn’t leave your mouth dried out or tastebuds dead . . . I would crush a chilled bottle of Prosecco with them, as well.”  

No matter what you order, Pierce proclaims San Diego an ideal city to enjoy raw oysters -- something his passionate restaurant customers have proven time and time again. “Crushing two-dozen oysters when it’s 75 degrees and sunny out 90 percent of the year just hits differently compared to anywhere else,” he says. “We had a regular come into Ironside before COVID-19 and she ate 202 oysters in three hours. Shit was wild.”

While you certainly don’t have to indulge to that level, there are plenty of options to get your raw oyster fix in San Diego.

Valentina 

Encinitas 
Mario and Morgan Guerra named this European-inspired wine bar after their daughter, and the bistro evokes the outdoor eateries and casual elegance of French, Mexican, Italian, and Spanish dining. Sip rosé and slurp market fresh oysters on the expansive patio weekdays from 5-10pm, or brunch with them on weekends from 11am-3pm. Oysters run $3 per, $15 for half-dozen, $25 a dozen, and come with lemons and mignonette. Reservations are recommended.

Water Grill

East Village
Perfect for a special occasion or date night, the Water Grill features between 7-10 different varieties of oysters daily, detailed on the menu down to species, body of water from which it was harvested, and state. Both the service and simple accompaniments -- mignonette, cocktail sauce, and habanero-lime relish -- are top-notche. Oysters also make an appearance Rockefeller-style and as sushi -- the Honeymoon Oyster is luxuriously dressed in uni roe, tobiko, ikura and quail egg. Make reservations for safely distanced patio dining online.

The Fish Shop
The Fish Shop | Alternative Strategies

The Fish Shop

Pacific Beach, Encinitas, Point Loma
All three Fish Shop locations can satisfy your oyster cravings with the traditional half-shell or in a Fish Shop Oyster Shooter, served both spicy and mild, topped with cocktail sauce and horseradish, alongside a beer chaser and a plump poached shrimp garnish. A half-dozen goes for $15.50, a Fish Shop dozen (14) is $24, and shooters are $4.50 apiece. Hit up the Point Loma Fish Shop on Thursdays for $1.25 oysters starting at 4pm. Keep your fingers crossed -- the other locations hope to offer the Thursday special again later this year. Safely distanced patio dining and takeout are available.

Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar
Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar | Jim Sullivan

Ironside Fish & Oyster

Little Italy
Ironside Fish & Oyster offers dine-in on its enlarged front patio, as well as takeout from the in-house fish market, where guests can choose from fresh local fish or a DIY oyster kit. Dine in oysters on the half shell run $3.25 each, half-dozen for $28 and $34 a dozen. To-go options include a half-dozen for $15, shucked or not, or the Baller Oyster Pack that comes with a soft-sided cooler packed with a dozen Ironside Selects, its patented Oyster Breaching Tool and two Ironside Hot Sauces for $49.99. Reservations are recommended for dine-in service, or order online for takeout.

TJ Oyster Bar

Bonita
Locals love TJ Oyster Bar for its laid back, unpretentious vibe and great selection of seafood. Baja oysters come on the half-shell, fried, in cocktails, and in tacos. Prices and selection vary slightly between locations, with a half-dozen ranging from $13-15 and one dozen going for $25-27. Call for takeout or order online for pickup at the 4410 Bonita Road shop.

Charles + Dinorah Oysters
Charles + Dinorah Oysters | Josh Cho Photography

Charles + Dinorah

Point Loma
Step out of lockdown and into Palm Springs circa the 1960s via Charles + Dinorah at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Lounge by the charming pool while you sip tropical drinks and briny oysters, served chilled on the half shell at $18 per half-dozen and $35 per dozen, or grilled in garlic herb butter and topped with spinach, parmesan, and toasted breadcrumbs. Stop by on Mondays for Oysters + Bubbles -- $2 oysters and $2 off a glass of bubbles from 4-10pm.

Barbusa

Little Italy
With Little Italy’s expanded alfresco dining now happening every Friday at 2pm and Saturday and Sunday at noon, it’s never been a better time to visit Barbusa for its delectable crudo bar (which opens at 4pm daily). A half dozen chef’s daily choice clocks in at a reasonable $13.96, so you have no excuse for not ordering at least a dozen (or two). Reservations for alfresco dining are highly recommended, or call 619-238-1917 for takeout.

Duck Dive Oysters Rockefeller
Duck Dive Oysters Rockefeller | Alternative Strategies

The Duck Dive

Pacific Beach
Known for coastal-inspired fare and craft cocktails, The Duck Dive spices its oysters on the half-shell up with a jalapeño-citrus mignonette and cocktail sauce. Besides raw bivalves, there’s also Oysters Rockefeller -- broiled and topped with shrimp, spinach, chipotle jack cheese, and breadcrumbs. Both dishes can be ordered by the half- or full- dozen and range from $15-18 and $24-26, respectively. Enjoy them on the spacious patio, where reservations are encouraged, but walk-ups will be accepted based on availability. Call 858-273-3825 to reserve your table.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks, and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.