By Sandy Lang
October 09, 2014
Charleston's Best Raw Bars
Credit: Squire Fox

We love an oyster roast in the Lowcountry, especially when the shellfish are steamed over a wood fire on a chilly day. Seafood, either fried or in gumbo, is also a favorite, but the true test of freshness is slurping down a raw, briny oyster. Here, the wild oysters grow on tidal beds in clusters. Local oysters served as singles are a more rare find, but I’ve seen McCrady’s present a plate with one single, perfect bivalve from Bull’s Bay. Beyond east coast and southern oysters, raw bars in Charleston also serve a seasonal menu that can include local white shrimp or brown shrimp on ice (either are delicious), hard shell clams, and stone crab claws (the sweetest of shellfish). Pearlz and Hank’s Seafood are old stand-bys in Charleston, and The Ordinary is a recent favorite, along with the very new Brasserie Gigi and Leon’s Oyster Shop (from former staff of The Ordinary).

Pearlz Oyster Bar

Check out the chalkboard of oyster varieties when you walk in. Pearlz serves terrific blue cheese burgers, lobster rolls (New England style), and clams raw or steamed, too. We try to get there at happy hour for the peel & eat shrimp that’s cooked in Old Bay, or oyster shooters in peppery vodka.

The Ordinary

I used to bank here. Truthfully, this was a bank branch before the FIG owners did a revamp and made it into a cool palace of seafood where beautiful people (is it the lighting?) share plates of gorgeous seafood. Head upstairs for a great view, and be sure to order favorites like Oysters Moscow, local Littleneck clams, pickled shrimp, and marinated squid salad.

Brasserie Gigi

Brasserie Gigi opened in 2014 and is already earning buzz for its Parisian style and flowing French Champagne, but not many people have discovered the gleaming, white-tiled upstairs raw bar yet—where fruits de mer are arranged on icy trays. The shellfish towers remind locals of the chef’s first restaurant, Hank’s Seafood around the corner.

Hank’s Seafood

Several times, I have been lucky enough to be at the table when one of Chef Frank McMahon’s icy towers of seafood arrives. It feels like everyone in the dining room notices when one of these stacked trays of oysters, shrimp, and stone crab claws arrives. The rye whiskey Manhattan cocktails are delicious, too.

Leon’s Oyster Shop

An expert shucker hired away from New Orleans helps Leon’s keep up with oyster orders—you can get them char-grilled or raw with a mignonette and cocktail sauce. Order a cheap or fancy beer, too. Everyone loves the fried chicken and other comfort foods, including scalloped potatoes and soft-serve iced cream.