We know, we know. You’ve long been told that you are supposed to eat oysters in months that only end in the letter R. And, true, eating oysters in August — when “red tides” can spread toxins across oyster beds — is not our first choice. But we’re living in an era of technologically advanced cold chains, where restaurants and markets pay a premium for the best of the best. This is why we think you should eat oysters pretty much all the time, especially in the fall and winter months.
The country’s best oyster bars are as varied as the underwater ingénues themselves. Pair local bivalves with small-batch bubbly at an award-winning Seattle spot, have a boozy brunch at a Brooklyn absinthe bar, and roll on the river at a Virginian family affair. The world is your…well, you get the idea.
1. Seattle, WA: The Walrus and the Carpenter
One of the country’s smartest bivalve boites is in a former shipping factory in Seattle’s northwestern Ballard neighborhood. The vaguely twee name seems resonate of Noah Baumbach, but is actually a Lewis Carroll lyric, and the impossibly fresh Fanny Bay, Treasure Cove and Hama Hama oysters are sourced in local waters. Winning details like oyster cheat sheets and small-batch sparkling wines make the Walrus and the Carpenter worth the hype – and the wait. There are no reservations, so invite only your most punctual friends. 4743 Ballard Ave. NW, 206-395-9227
2. New Orleans, LA: Pêche Seafood Grill
Elder statesmen Acme and Drago’s will always be exalted in Nola’s oyster annals, but the Warehouse District’s new two-time James Beard Award-winner has one of the hottest raw bars in town. Opened in 2013 by former Herbsaint chef Ryan Prewitt, in conjunction with hometown heroes Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski, Pêche’s offerings emphasize their exact source of origin, a rarity in Gulf oysters. 800 Magazine St., 504-522-1744
3. Portland, ME: Eventide Oyster Co.
A slim, modern space to which you might wear your finest fleece, Eventide serves a stellar selection of 20 oysters on the half shell, half of which hail from Maine and the other “from away.” The gleaming grey counter on which they sit is made from Maine granite, too (natch). The oysters are absolutely the stars here, supplemented by unusual accouterments like cucumber ginger or kimchi ice, but save room for the incredible lobster roll, which is served in brown butter vinaigrette on a Chinese bun. 86 Middle St., 207-774-8538
4. South Kingstown, RI: Matunuck Oyster Bar
There are few things more quintessentially New England than eating fresh oysters on a weathered wood porch next to a salt pond with a guy named Perry. Rhode Island oysterman Perry Raso opened this pond-to-table restaurant alongside his seven-acre aquaculture farm in East Matunuck in 2009. Raso also grows his own vegetables onsite, and hosts educational tours of Potter Pond to promote sustainable shellfish cultivation. 629 Succotash Rd., 410-783-4202
5. Topping, VA: Merroir
Cousins and Virginia oyster evangelists Travis and Ryan Croxton run Rappahannock River Oyster Co., a Chesapeake Bay farm that has an eponymous restaurant in Richmond and bar in Washington DC’s Union Market. The ultimate Rappahannock experience, though, is at their riverside tasting room. Merroir prepares small plates like baked oysters with Edwards country ham on what is essentially a camp stove on an enclosed deck some 30 feet from the site of harvest. Craft beers, a sizeable raw bar and picnic tables aplenty are the perfect accompaniments. 784 Locklies Creek Rd., 804-758-2871
6. Chicago, IL: GT Fish & Oyster
East and West Coast oyster loyalists don’t need to choose sides at this classic River North spot, where the chef is Michelin-starred, bar is hopping and artwork of the Dutch-Masters-capturing-the-majesty-of-the-stormy-seas variety. The menu has both traditional and modern elements, pairing bicoastal bivalves with ponzu mignonette and cucumber cocktail sauce. The potent libations are by Chicago bar star Ben Schiller, of The Berkshire Room fame. 531 N Well St., 312-929-3501
7. Netarts, OR: The Schooner
Northern Oregon’s Netarts and Tillamook Bays are a boon for beach-cultured bivalves. Sample the local bounty at The Schooner, a hyper-local waterfront restaurant that serves ‘em up raw, in shooters or in the signature rockoyaki, in which wood-fired oysters are topped with bacon, garlic and Japanese mayo-rich Motoyaki sauce. The accompanying pub has Oregon microbrews, house-infused spirits and hosts live music as well as an annual Shuck and Swallow contest that promises a $1,000 reward. 2065 Boat Basin Rd., 503-815-9900
8. San Leon, TX: Gilhooley’s Restaurant
The words “seafood dive bar” are normally, rightfully avoided, but this Galveston Bay-area oyster shack is a notable exception. Surrounded by a dirt-and-shell parking lot, the roadside fisherman’s hangout dishes out raw Gulf oysters so fresh they can be served at room temperature. For the signature Oysters Gilhooley, the catch of the day is roasted over an oak and pecan-wood fire, and topped with garlic-butter and Parmesan. Note: Children are absolutely prohibited. (Sorry, Junior.) 221 Ninth St., 281-339-3813
9. Brooklyn, NY: Maison Premiere
Brooklyn meets the Bayou at this Williamsburg spot with a French Quarter-inspired absinthe fountain, twinkling rear garden and market list of over 30 oysters. The buzzy, U-shaped marble bar is crowded with the neighborhood’s pretty young things, particularly during weekday oyster happy hours (4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.) and killer bivalve brunch (weekends, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.). 298 Bedford Ave., 347-335-0446