America’s 21 Best Oyster Bars (Slideshow)
January 28, 2014
Oysters are a perfect food, and these places get it right
21) McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar, Annapolis, Md.
This oyster bar and saloon has everything you need for a night out on the town. Its happy hour offers $1 oyster shooters, $3 imported beers and wines, $5 appetizers and $5 martinis and tall drinks. All oysters are freshly shucked and are paired with lemon, Maryland cocktail sauce, saltine crackers and horseradish.
20) Oyster House, Philadelphia, Pa.
Come for the happy hour, stay for everything else. The Oyster House in Philly has a stellar happy hour that includes $1 oysters, $3 shooters, $3 drafts and $5 cocktails. The bar always carries at least eleven types of oysters ranging from Wellfleets from Cape Cod to Fanny May from British Columbia, Canada.
19) Boss Oyster, Apalachicola, Fla.
Boss Oyster is a local spot in Apalachicola that has a very extraordinary menu. It serves up local Apalachicola oysters and dishes ranging from oyster stew to oyster jalapeno (with Monterrey Jack cheese and chopped jalapenos) to Apalachicola Bay oyster po’ boys. One of their specials is also the oyster taco, stuffed with fried oysters, refried beans, salsa, lettuce, tomato, and cheese.
18) Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Washington, D.C.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in D.C. carries only the highest quality seafood with a variety of East and West Coast oysters that are showcased on its menu. They also have their own signature oyster—Black Pearl oysters—grown in Oyster Bay located just above the northern tip of Chincoteague, VA. The Black Restaurant Group, which owns Pearl Dive, partnered with Daniel Grosse and Bruce Wood of Toby Island Oyster Company to grow these delicious oysters known for its well-balanced subtleties. Also try the ‘angels on horseback,’ grilled bacon-wrapped oysters with vin blanc and a vinegar reduction.
17) Chicago Oyster House, Chicago, Ill.
The Chicago Oyster House is new to the Windy City oyster bar scene, but is already winning over the crowds with its $1.50 oyster happy hour. It offers an outstanding list of West and East coast oysters with more than 60 varieties to choose from including Dutch Island, Otter Point, James River and Stellar Bay, just to name a few.
16) Awful Arthur's, Kill Devil Hills, NC
Located in the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, Awful Arthur’s has the area’s only copper-topped oyster bar, and accompanying ocean-view lounges. Oysters come in many ways here and can be crispy fried, served chilled, or in dishes like the Oysters Arthur, broiled with bacon, cocktail sauce and topped with parmesan cheese. The interior of the restaurant is nautical-themed with its walls lined with brass ships’ bells. Guests can enjoy daily happy hours and specials in the lounge area on the top floor of the restaurant.
15) GT Fish & Oyster, Chicago, Ill.
GT Fish is heavy on the oysters, heavy on the cocktails. And that theme makes sense as many of the oysters appear in shooter form. The bar offers daily specials, a wide variety of oysters, superb ambiance and a killer cocktail list. One of the best is the Electric Slide made with Nolet’s gin, Benedictine, maple and lemon.
14) Casamento's, New Orleans, LA
Casamento's Restaurant in New Orleans has been an iconic culinary staple in the region since 1919. The casual dining restaurant boasts an oyster menu that features the bivalve in many ways: on the half shell, charbroiled, in a stew, fried, and in the restaurant’s famous ‘oyster loaf’ sandwich, similar to a fried oyster po’ boy but on thick-sliced toast. While diners come for the food, they also come for the unique décor of the restaurant that’s been featured in many TV shows, films, and commercials.
13) Matunuck Oyster Bar, South Kingstown, RI
Owner Perry Raso spent most of his career as an oyster farmer, founding the Matunuck Oyster Farm in 2002, which was the impetus for opening the subsequent oyster bar. The Matunuck oysters are grown in Potter Pond, Rhode Island, and are the main draw on the raw bar menu. They also offer a sampler of Rhode Island oysters and items like littleneck clams, oysters Rockefeller and lobster rolls.
12) Pearl Oyster Bar, New York, NY
This Greenwich Village spot that was opened in 1997 by Rebecca Charles is best known for its lobster rolls—but its oyster list is not to be forgotten. The sleek, cozy spot has a long bar and small tables placed throughout two rooms, and there is often a long line around the corner to snag a coveted table. The oyster list changes daily, and the menu also features another favorite: fried oysters. The fried oyster roll with tartar sauce and shoestring fries is another New England specialty now made legendary by Charles.
11) Hank’s Oyster Bar, Washington, D.C.
Hank’s Oyster Bar, with two locations in D.C., hosts the “Feast of the 7 Oysters,” its take on the Feat of the Seven Fishes, for Christmas Eve during the holidays, a differentiator amongst other local oyster bars. The regular menu has seasonal oysters, sake oyster shooters, oyster po’ boy sandwiches and many other items. Its brunch menu boasts Bloody Mary oyster shooters and Hog Island-style BBQ oysters.
10) The John Dory Oyster Bar, New York City
The sleek, cosmopolitan oyster bar run by Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin) has a wide variety of seafood on its menu. It features both East and West Coast oysters and a raw bar menu with littleneck clams, whelks with parsley and butter and chilled Dungeness crab. Another must-try dish is the oyster pan roast with uni butter crostini.
9) Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston, Mass.
The Island Creek Oyster Bar is all about farm to table. They encourage diners to know where their oysters come from, not to mention the beer and wine. While the oyster selection changes daily, some popular ones that appear on the menu include the ‘house brand’ Island Creek, Rocky Nook and, Beach Point, all sourced locally from Massachusetts. Don’t miss the crispy oyster sliders, served on brioche rolls with lime chili aioli.
8) Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, New York, NY
For sheer volume and variety as well as a bit of New York City Americana, the Grand Central Oyster Bar has made the cut. It’s been in business since 1913 and today the oyster list goes on for more than five pages, depending upon the season and availability of the oysters. Varieties include Baker from Washington, Bristol Harbor from Rhode Island and Cape Breton from Nova Scotia. Weekday happy hours offer $1.25 oysters, a couple of chowders and fried oyster sliders, among other tasty treats. Make sure you try the oyster pan roast, a legendary creamy stew that’s been on the menu since day one.
7) Hog Island Oyster Co., San Francisco
Located in the iconic San Francisco Ferry Terminal Building, with an additional location in Napa Valley, the Hog Island Oyster Co.showcases the beautiful views of the harbor. All of the oysters and seafood served at Hog Island are Food Alliance-certified sustainable. They offer a selection including Blue Pool from Hood Canal, Washington and Glacier Point from Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Diners also love the grilled cheese and baked bagna cauda oysters with butter, garlic, capers, parsley and anchovy. Currently closed for renovations, they'll be re-opening in the spring with an oyster bar that more than doubles the seating, a new menu focused on seafood and shellfish, and a full cocktail bar.
6) L&E Oyster Bar, Los Angeles, Calif.
Los Angeles’ L&E Oyster Bar is nestled within the Silver Lake region. Local and national oyster farmers supply the daily oyster selections that have included varieties from Vancouver, Tomales Bay, Rhode Island, Long Island, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard, among others. It updates its daily specials on Twitter orchestrated by chef and oyster director, Spencer Bezaire. The menu offers oyster dishes such as Rockefeller, casino, and Oysters L&E, with duck confit, dried sour cherries, chives and breadcrumbs.
5) Neptune Oyster, Boston, Mass.
Tucked away in Boston’s North End is Neptune Oyster, where chef Michael Serpa is creating some of the most delicious seafood preparations imaginable. You obviously need to order some oysters—the emphasis is on the East Coast varieties here—but make sure you work your way through the menu as well; the Neptunes on Horseback (deep-fried oysters with Berkshire pork and pistachio aioli) will haunt your dreams, and the seven-ounce Maine lobster roll is one of the best you’ll find, anywhere.
4) Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco, CA
The menu at this small local spot in San Francisco is about as classic as it gets, featuring Olympia, Eastern, and Blue Point oysters, Cherry Stone clams, seafood cocktails, and ‘salads,’ with fresh seafood piled on a bed of lettuce. Not much has changed here since it opened in 1912, and the seafood is as fresh (and the counter staff is as skilled) as humanly possible.
3) The Ordinary, Charleston, SC
The Ordinary in Charleston offers a full raw bar carrying East Coast oysters, and a specialty of the house are the Moscow oysters, topped with crème fraiche and caviar. To complement the seafood, there’s an extensive drink menu with beer and cider and homemade rum cocktails like the Moro, made with Bank’s Golden Rum, sherry, apricot liqueur, and orange bitters.
2) Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, ME
Eventide Oyster Co.showcases the finest oysters in the state of Maine. Oysters like the Norumbega, John’s River, and Basket Island are popular, as well as the selection from other locations such as the Fire River, Kusshi and Kumamoto. Also a main draw for the restaurant is its New England Clambake, which includes steamers, lobsters, potatoes, salt pork, and hard boiled eggs.
1) Elliott’s Oyster House, Seattle, Wash.
Attention to detail and beautiful views are the name of the game at Elliott’s Oyster House, located on the historic Pier 56 on Seattle’s waterfront. The restaurant shucks all oysters to order, and goes through roughly 7,000 weekly. The seasonal menu changes frequently and showcases oysters like Deer Creek, South Sound Kumamoto and Snow Creek Pacific. Also on the menu are items like oysters Rockefeller, spicy Buffalo-style oysters and pan fried oysters topped with homemade tartar sauce and Jack Daniel’s dipping sauce.