Great Oyster Bars from Coast to Coast
From the Gulf of Maine to Long Island Sound to the California coast, here are a few spots where you can grab a seat and slurp wonderful oysters.
©Morgan Ione Yeager
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©Morgan Ione Yeager
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From Seafood Shacks to High-Class Bars
From the Gulf of Maine to Long Island Sound to the California coast, great oysters thrive in America's waters. Oyster farmers take great care to bring these top-quality bivalves to seafood shacks, bars and restaurants around the nation. Here are a few spots where you can grab a stool (or a picnic bench) and slurp these wonderful oysters from the U.S. of A. — meaty, plump, buttery and oh-so-briny.
Portland, Maine: The Shop
Mystic, Connecticut: Oyster Club
For a fine-dining experience in a low-key, convivial atmosphere, Mystic's award-winning Oyster Club is the place to go. Despite the rotating menu, you can be sure to find at least one of what the restaurant deems the "holy trinity" of New England oysters: Ningret Nectars, Noanks and, if you’re lucky, Fishers Island. All are grown and harvested less than 20 miles from the restaurant. Ninety-five percent of the other ingredients on the seafood-driven menu hail from within 50 miles, with all of the fish sourced exclusively from the coasts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
At this sunny West Austin spot, martinis and champagne flow at high-top tables with classic seafood dishes, caviar and plenty of oysters, served oven-roasted and raw. Those served on the half shell are dressed with a cucumber-honey vinaigrette, crispy shallots and bright mint, or presented simply. For more diversity, there's also the tiered Plateau de Fruits de Mer, stacked high with lobster, clams, prawns, crab, mussels and oysters.
Boston: Row 34
From the same team that brought us Island Creek Oysters, this spinoff is set inside a 100-year-old former steel factory in South Boston's newest waterfront development, Fort Point. Dominating the menu are the plump, meaty oysters with a provenance of New England — from Maine to Martha's Vineyard and, of course, their own farm in Duxbury, Mass. Oysters are just the top of the raw-bar menu, which includes smoked and cured seafood such as uni, shrimp and salmon pastrami; ceviche and crudos like the gorgeous fluke adorned with basil, Calabrian chile and olive.
Portland, Maine: Eventide Oyster Co.
Those used to the West Coast or Gulf variety are usually blown away by the brininess of oysters from the deep, cold waters of Maine. But that's how they like them up there — salty. At Eventide they are served traditional style with mignonette sauce (vinegar, shallots and black or white pepper) or with their unique spin: ices. Chef-owner Andrew Taylor offers a horseradish, Tabasco or pickled red onion ice that can be likened to a savory Italian granita and marries well with these bivalves. Another menu fave is the platter of plump, fried Maine oysters with zesty Thai apple slaw and turmeric.
Go to: Eventide Oyster Co.
Portland, Oregon: Olympia Oyster Bar
Los Angeles: L & E Oyster Bar
Executive chef, oyster-commander-in-chief and Oregon native Dom Crisp sees to it that L & E offers Angelenos a real raw bar experience. That means every oyster that lands on the menu is sourced from sustainable farms primarily from states bordering the Pacific Ocean, including Alaska. The Last Frontier provides excellent oysters known for what Crisps finds to be an ideal balance of brine, meatiness and cucumber essence. They occasionally even sport an unusual amber hue. Those that like their oysters hot should dive into the Casino, which features oysters sautéed with shallots, butter, paprika, parsley and smoky bacon.
Charleston: The Ordinary
Chicago: GT Fish & Oyster
Chicago: The Kennison
Washington, D.C.: Old Ebbitt Grill
Now in its third location, the Old Ebbitt Grill is hailed as the city's oldest bar, founded in 1856. Today, it's well known for its oyster happy hour, where each day local politicos enjoy half-price raw-bar items from 3 to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. until closing. Apropos of being in the epicenter of democracy, the restaurant abides by an "oyster-eater bill of rights," which ensures that every half shell that lands on those icy platters has passed through stringent laboratory testing. Oysters also go through tough trials to earn a spot at the restaurant's annual event, the Oyster Riot, whose past judges include celebrity chef José Andrés and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
More About: Old Ebbitt Grill
Topping and Richmond, Virginia: Rappahannock Oyster Co.
Rappahannock Oyster Co.'s signature oyster tastes a little less briny and a little sweeter, with a mild minerality due to its "merroir" — a maritime term for terroir. These oysters are raised and farmed in the Rappahannock River with freshwater coming directly off the Blue Ridge Mountains, meeting at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, which results in a low level of salinity. All of ROC's eateries showcase the Rappahannock oyster along with their Stingray, Olde Salt and Barcat. They're either served raw on the half shell or grilled and paired with unique toppers like smoked jalapeno butter. Get closer to the action at their headquarters in Topping, Va., where you can watch the seeding process and end your visit with a cold beer and a freshly shucked shell.
New York: Zadie's Oyster Room
After years of preparing Italian-accented American dishes at Hearth, Chef Marco Canora extended his restaurant empire to a snug little bar a few steps away, which heâs recently revamped as Zadie's Oyster Room. This tribute to the forgotten oyster houses of the early 20th century celebrates classic recipes like oysters Rockefeller and meaty oyster boils. There's a clearly marked section labeled Not Oysters, for the oyster-averse. All of the fare is best enjoyed with beer, wine or bubbly from the white marble bar.
San Francisco: Hog Island Oyster Co.
Seafood fanatics flock to Tomales Bay to eat Hog Island's oysters right at the source. Those in the know reserve picnic tables in advance and arrive ready to shuck their own oysters and grill food brought from home. On weekends, the cafe offers those same oysters along with local cheeses and charcuterie. But you don't have to travel to the farm to get a taste. Hog Island's first oyster bar inside the Ferry Building serves its oysters alongside chowders, daily fish specials and San Francisco's indigenous fisherman's stew, cioppino. And no foodie visit to Northern California would be complete without a trip to Napa Valley's Oxbow Public Market, where Hog Island oysters are available in a setting as spectacular as the oysters themselves.
Go to: Hog Island Oyster Co.
New Orleans: Pêche
New York City: Grand Banks
If you are looking for an easy escape from the concrete jungle, head to Lower Manhattan's Pier 25 and hop aboard the Sherman Zwicker. While the 73-year-old schooner (the largest wooden vessel in Manhattan) doesn't set sail, the oyster bar aboard it, Grand Banks, offers killer oysters and incomparable views of the sun setting over the Hudson River. Grab a seat by the aged zinc bar encircling the forward mast and watch the shuckers in action. Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan, a serious fisherman, makes it a point to highlight local and sustainable seafood with oysters harvested from the bays, sound and ocean that surround the eastern end of Long Island. In Brooklyn, the team floats another refurbished vessel, Pilot, serving an oyster-forward menu and views of Manhattan’s skyline across the East River.
Go to: Grand Banks
South Kingstown, Rhode Island: Matunuck
Up in Rhode Island near Point Judith lies Matunuck, where Perry Raso has been farming oysters from Potter Pond since 2002. In 2009, he launched the restaurant whose concept he refers to as "Pond to Plate." Grown on its seven-and-a-half-acre farm, these babies are harvested right off the restaurant's waterfront and are sweet, crisp, firm and petite. While the Matunuck oysters are best in the raw, you'll also find them in a creamy stew, grilled with garlic, parsley and lemon butter or a la Rockefeller — baked with Pernod, spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. You really can't go wrong.
Manhattan Beach, California: Fishing with Dynamite
Greenport, New York: Bait & Switch
Ian Wile, owner of Little Creek Oyster Farm, transformed this former bait-and-tackle shop, scallop-shucking house and sports-fisherman outfitter into the coziest oyster bar on Greenport's harbor. Diners get down and dirty with buckets full of bivalves from within a 20-mile radius and are encouraged to shuck 'em themselves. Also on the menu: littleneck clams, ceviche, artisan pickles and whatever fish is brought in through the doors from friendly locals. Come winter, expect to find a soul-soothing oyster pan roast and scallop chowder.