If you turn up your nose at cooked oysters—if the word “Rockefeller” makes you scoff—then prepare to change your tune at this charming general store/sandwich joint/oyster shack on the edge of Tomales Bay (just down the road from Tomales Bay Oyster Company). The raw oysters are fabulous, but the barbecued and the Rockefeller are both revelations. The store also sells some terrific Kermit Lynch wines but has no liquor license, so you’ll have to take your oysters outside to one of the makeshift tables (fashioned out of wooden barrels) overlooking the water, sipping your Sancerre from a plastic cup. Trust us: you won’t mind at all.
Courtesy of Tomale's Bay Oyster Company
A delightfully rustic, resolutely informal shuck-your-own joint right on glittering Tomales Bay (up the road from the Marshall Store), with the verdant Point Reyes National Seashore rising opposite. Park yourself at one of the weathered picnic tables right on the pebbly beach, then take your pick of the Pacific oysters (priced according to size) kept in outdoor troughs. Plucked straight from the adjacent bay, often just hours before, they’re astonishingly tasty. Your neighbors at the next table may be a family with their own monogrammed shucking knives (maybe you can borrow one if you didn’t bring yours), bearing huge picnic baskets of fresh baked bread, salad, and chilled wine.
Courtesy of Xinh's Clam & Oyster House
Xinh Dwelley was born in An Hoa, Vietnam; during the war she found work cooking for the U.S. Army, and eventually moved to Washington State. Since then she’s become one of the Northwest’s most celebrated oyster experts—she’s a five-time winner of the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championship. She’s also an excellent cook, and her Vietnamese seafood restaurant in the oyster-mad town of Shelton, on the Puget Sound, is among the best on the Olympic Peninsula. Xinh gets her oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms, also in Shelton, which harvests the renowned Totten Inlet Virginica (an Eastern oyster transplanted to Puget Sound) as well as some top-notch Pacifics, Kumamotos, and Olympias.
Seattle’s most famous oyster palace has a prime setting on the downtown waterfront, a handsome 21-foot-long bar, and best of all, a ready supply of rare Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida), a silver-dollar-size mindblower that’s found only in the Pacific Northwest; its smoky-sweet flavor and slightly grassy notes linger long in the mouth. (“Olys” were James Beard’s favorite oyster.)
Courtesy of Casamento's
This 1919 landmark in the Garden District is acclaimed for its seafood gumbo, soft-shell crabs, signature “pan bread,” voluble and friendly staff, and not least, its fresh-shucked Gulf oysters—just $8.50 for a dozen. It’s closed in the summer when local oysters aren’t in season.
Opened in 1913, tucked in the vaulted subterranean chambers of Grand Central Station, the Oyster Bar serves two million bivalves a year. On a good night it’ll list 30 on the chalkboard: Moonstones from Rhode Island, Phantom Creeks from British Columbia, Meximotos from Baja, perhaps savory Conway Cups from Prince Edward Island (which taste, no joke, like chicken). Ask master shucker Luis Iglesias about his picks for the day.
This intimate and super-casual restaurant near the Williamsburg Bridge serves only one or two varieties a night, but the oysters are exceptionally fresh, always well-chosen (usually East Coast), and impeccably shucked. And if you happen to be there when the elusive Dodge Coves (from Maine’s Damariscotta River) are on the menu, well, lucky you.
Home of Manhattan’s best lobster roll, this perpetually jammed West Village favorite limits itself to just one type of oyster per evening, ensuring the utmost quality and freshness. Chef/owner Rebecca Charles, who spent her childhood summers in Maine, has a perfect touch with fish and seafood, and her tiny dining room and bar captures that homey New England seaside shack look with uncanny flair.
Few New Yorkers know oysters the way Jay Shaffer does. The Long Island native even raises his own, on beds in Shinnecock Inlet (he sells them here as “Shaffer Cove” oysters). He opened this convivial seafood restaurant in the Flatiron District in 1998, and the bar swiftly became a go-to destination for Manhattan oyster lovers, not just for the dizzying range of East and West Coast varieties but for Jay’s inimitable bluster and banter.
Shaffer City has since closed.
Barbara Lynch is one of Boston’s most celebrated chefs, with restaurants like No. 9 Park, Sportello, and the Butcher Shop. But it’s arguably her South End oyster bar that has the most devoted following and the winningest, most casual vibe. Here’s where to sample the great oysters of New England, including Island Creeks (from Duxbury, MA) and bracing, briny Pemaquids (from Maine).