How incredible is the humble oyster?
It's delicious with a spritz of citrus, sure, but it's also played a crucial role in stabilizing the northeastern shore of the United States, protecting it from hurricanes, for many years. And Americans love their oysters: By the early twentieth century, New Yorkers had eaten every last one from the harbor surrounding the isle of Manhattan.
These days, though, the city has an oyster Renaissance in its sights: Among the restoration plans afoot is the Billion Oyster Project, which promises to redistribute a full billion bivalves around New York City—helping improve the city's harbor and its water quality—by 2030.
It's a development worth toasting over a dozen oysters. And you don't have to break a sweat (or the bank) to enjoy them at every price point in each borough. Here are eight of our favorites:
Cosenza's Fish Market
Locals know that some of the best clams and oysters can be had right on the street—between cannoli and pies—right on the sidewalk, standing up, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. The incredible Italian enclave is a stone's throw from the Bronx botanic gardens, and at Cosenza's, a fish market, you can exchange a few clams for shrimp cocktail, oysters, and, yes, clams, all plucked and shucked to order and popped on a paper plate with a lemon slice and little fanfare. It's the spirit of the city on a plate.
Randazzo's Clam Bar
If Cosenza's had a big brother in Brooklyn, his name would be Randazzo. The seafood here—as indicated by the giant neon lobster on the sign out front—is fantastic. You're here for clams by the dozen—littlenecks and Blue Points—calamari with the unctuous, inimitable house red sauce, and a classic New England clam chowder. But go nuts and order a platter of oysters, too, because it's all uber-fresh and you can see Sheepshead Bay out the window.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
There's a reason this place makes a cameo on pretty much every old-school NYC list that exists: It's awesome. Dozens of oyster varieties line its epic menu. Depending on which bar you sit at, they're shucked right in front of you. And the space is gorgeous, with tiled ceilings and a throwback feel that will make you want to bust out the rhinestones and bowties.
Among the newfangled oyster bars, Maison Premiere is probably the best, but its secret is very much out, so expect to wait for a seat unless you visit during off-hours. Both West and East coast bivalves dot the menu of 25 daily options, and unlike at Grand Central, the cocktails here are as famed as the oysters, and include quite a lineup of fancy absinthe numbers. (Look for the vintage absinthe drip.)
Mar's Oyster Bar
This is not a cheap habit to indulge, but happily, the city has plenty of awesome oyster happy hours, including in the outer boroughs. If you're in Astoria, maybe visiting the Museum of the Moving Image, go to Mar's around the bend. There, a solid menu includes bivalves that are $1.50 a pop six days a week, and the cocktails are pretty darn good, too.
Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal isn't as charming as the East River, Sheepshead Bay, or the Hudson, but Littleneck—a sort of upscale clam shack in that neck of the woods—sure is cute. And the menu would satisfy any seafood obsessive, featuring littleneck clams and steamers, mussels and clam chowder, lobster rolls and Ipswich belly rolls. Look for $1 oysters (shuckers' choice!) from Monday to Friday between 5pm and 7pm, plus $5 pints of frosty beer. Yum.
Upstate Craft Beer & Oyster Bar
Although East Village old-timers may bemoan the arrival of a craft beer and oyster joint in the heart of the Village near Tompkins Square park, the truth is that this place has one of the most affordable happy hours around—$12 for half a dozen oysters and a freshly pulled pint. We love that Mothers Milk Stout is often on tap (along with seven other options), so you can try the classic stout-and-oysters pairing.
Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar
It's tough to imagine a more perfect New York day than a ramble down the High Line—the city's knockout public park that meanders through onetime subway tracks—and oysters. Cull & Pistol is right in Chelsea Market, adjacent to the excellent seafood shop The Lobster Place, so bookend your ramble with an espresso at the Market's Ninth Street Espresso and a glass of bubbly and a dozen oysters to cap it off. What a town.