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Oysters are one of the ocean’s greatest gifts, both to humans as a delicious low-calorie, high-protein, immune-boosting snack or starter, and to the environment as a water filtration system that removes excess nutrients and improves water quality wherever they grow.
For some, cracking open a shell and slurping down bivalves is a longstanding family tradition, while for others, oysters can seem mysterious and intimidating. If you’re worried about freshness when buying them from the market, look for oysters that are farmed nearby. Another tip: make sure the shell isn’t broken (it allows bacteria in). Always steer clear if the smell seems off—oysters should smell briny, like the ocean. The taste should be similar, and the texture should be velvety smooth.
In many restaurants, oysters are served raw, on the half shell with lemon slices to squeeze on them. They might also come served with a side of cocktail sauce, hot sauce, or a mignonette—the popular condiment made from vinegar, minced shallots, and pepper. Oftentimes, you can choose your favorite, or try them all.
Oysters are a superfood when served raw. Six raw oysters come in at about 50 calories and contain about six grams of protein, making them a perfect snack or starter. When oysters are broiled, the calories go up from the addition of butter, oil, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Here are the best restaurants across the U.S. to enjoy these briny beauties.
The Capital Grille
Steakhouses are famous for raw bars, and you’ll usually find a nice oyster selection at top steakhouses, including the Capital Grille, which serves them by the half dozen on a bed of ice with house mignonette. If you’re eating closer to the West Coast, you’ll usually get varieties from that side of the country, while East Coasters generally get oysters from their side. Sometimes, there’s a mix at a location, so be adventurous and try something new.
Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse
This Italian-leaning steakhouse chain has locations in Virginia, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Given its high-quality seafood and raw bar selection, you can feel confident ordering chilled oysters. The chain also serves oysters Rockefeller, named after the famous billionaire due to the dish’s richness from the butter, breadcrumbs, and cheese that top the bivalves.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
Another high-end steakhouse to turn to when the oyster cravings hit, Del Frisco’s serves oysters by the half dozen and with a red wine criolla vinaigrette that adds a pleasing acidity to the raw bivalves. The restaurant also serves a decadent broiled oysters casino for the raw averse, topped with smoked bacon, red pepper, and breadcrumbs.
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood
You can count on a fine-dining seafood chain like Eddie V’s to have an excellent oyster selection. The current menu offers oysters from the Prince Edward Islands, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington. Get a selection and enjoy a taste of the ocean from different places around the country. It’s fun to compare the subtle differences.
Eventide Oyster Co.
This small seafood chain, with locations in Maine and Massachusetts, is one of the best spots to slurp down some oysters in the country. On any given day, its menu features around 10 local oysters, three or four from “away” (which means usually Prince Edward Island, but sometimes you’ll see a Kumamoto from the West Coast). All are served with options including cocktail sauce, red wine mignonette, Tabasco ice, kimchi ice, pickled red onion ice, and horseradish ice.
Legal Sea Foods
This restaurant’s commitment to sustainable seafood is impressive, and it extends to its oyster program. What’s on the menu varies by location and availability, so you’ll see oysters that have been farmed nearby. They’re served with mignonette and hot sauce, and the two outposts at Boston’s Logan airport are probably the only airport restaurants where you should even consider eating raw oysters.
McCormick & Schmick’s
Another beloved seafood chain, McCormick & Schmick’s focuses on sourcing seafood local to the area, and that commitment is reflected in its oyster menu. The California location features two selections from the West Coast, Kumamoto oysters from Humboldt Bay and Kumiai oysters from Baja, as well as the East Coast Heart’s Desire oysters from Malpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island. The South Carolina outpost features Massachusetts bivalves from Cape Cod, Connecticut oysters, and one selection from North Carolina. Oysters can be seasonal, so you may see different selections when you visit.
Morton’s The Steakhouse
Oysters are one of the best starters at a steakhouse. They’re packed with flavor but won’t stuff you, so you’ll have plenty of room for that enormous steak you’ve been thinking about all week. For a dozen fresh bivalves, Morton’s is a solid choice, and the chain offers broiled oysters Rockefeller if you prefer.
With a hearty selection of seafood and prime meats, Ocean Prime has locations from Beverly Hills to Kansas City to New York City (and lots of places in between) and is a favorite of diners across the country. The chain offers East Coast and West Coast oysters at most locations, and they’re fresh and tasty—even in the middle of the country. Specific oysters will vary, so ask your server what’s recommended.
With locations in Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, Seamore’s is a relative newcomer to the growing seafood chain business, and its commitment to local, sustainably farmed fish is laudable. Its oysters are offered by the half dozen with cocktail sauce and mignonette. The types you can order change by what’s available, but expect fresh, tasty oysters no matter when you go or which location you visit.