Any month with an “R” is prime time for oysters in Charleston, South Carolina. Bite into a fresh, briny bivalve and the unadulterated taste of the ocean ripples across your tongue.
From salty to sweet, chewy to gooey, raw to fried, oysters grace menus from casual shacks to the finest restaurants. Love them or not, flavor is just one reason to order a few: Oysters are a natural aphrodisiac. So share a platter with your sweetie and warm right up.
The Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar opened in 2009, reviving the former “Amen” name of Cumberland Street and restoring this historic corner. The new renovation stays true to the 1800s architecture while creating a comfortable restaurant atmosphere for contemporary dining. In the heart of the historic district, the restaurant is in walking distance from the Market and the Charleston Harbor and offers indoor and outdoor dining. The menu includes a variety of seafood dishes such as oysters, clams and shrimp in addition to a raw bar. Amen Street offers a menu of specialty oysters—including the body of water from which they came—ranging from South Carolina to Maine and New York to Rhode Island. 205 East Bay St., Charleston, 843.853.8600
Bowens Island Restaurant opened in 1946 at the tip of the 13-acre island near Folly Beach. Known as a “seafood dive” and proud of it, this casual eatery is not for diners who require white tablecloths. Renowned for its local oysters—prepared a variety of ways from raw to fried, though melt-in-your-mouth steamed oysters earn the most consistent raves—other popular dishes include fried shrimp, hushpuppies and Frogmore stew. Come for the food, stay for the view. 1870 Bowens Island Road, Charleston, 843.795.2757
Inspired by a small-town market and located in a former furniture warehouse, The Grocery showcases seasonal ingredients from local and regional farmers and seafood purveyors. Mouthwatering aromas of meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables waft from the wood-burning oven, but Chef Kevin Johnson’s fans rave about his fried oysters paired with deviled egg sauce and bread-and-butter pickles. Wash them down with a cold creative cocktail or craft beer. 4 Cannon St., Charleston, 843.302.8825
A local institution, Hank’s Seafood Restaurant is housed in a national historic landmark overlooking the historic Charleston City Market. With its saloon-style cocktail bar and exhibition raw-seafood bar, as well as its presentation of traditional Lowcountry classics like shrimp ’n’ grits and fish-house traditions like fried-seafood platters, there’s a retro vibe here. But celebrated Chef Frank McMahon gives local, sustainable fare a contemporary spin with options like seared tuna and roast grouper. Perennial favorites include oysters casino and Charleston oyster stew. 10 Hayne St., Charleston, 843.723.3474
Housed in a refurbished garage, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oysters is Charleston’s newest hot spot. The menu’s confident mix of Southern classics like fried chicken, clams and oysters alongside contemporary creations like charred radicchio and barley salad may be right on trend, but the relaxed atmosphere emphasizes fun. Oysters are available raw, broiled or fried, as classic oysters Rockefeller and as a sandwich, but we most adore them char-grilled with lemon, parsley, butter and Parmesan. 698 King St., Charleston, 843.531.6500
A.W. Shuck’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar is just a few steps out of the Market and specializes in such seafood dishes as stuffed shrimp, she-crab soup and a seafood casserole. There also is a large selection of craft beers, a large party space and a patio that overlooks Market Street. The raw bar includes: an oyster shooter, which is a raw oyster, infused vodka and spicy shooter sauce; oysters; clams; tuna; and the Seafood Tower, which is “Ivan’s select choice of oysters, mojito ceviche, king crab legs, shrimp." 35 S. Market St., Charleston, 843.723.1151
167 Raw is a seafood market and raw bar in the heart of downtown. The raw bar includes oysters, clams, shrmp cocktail and crab claws. "We do our very best to source the freshest oysters the east coast has to offer. You'll find selections on our menu from Price Edward Island to the Folly River right here in Charleston, S.C.," says Jesse Sandole, of 167 Raw. 289 East Bay St., Charleston, 843.579.4997
Ask any local for advice on where to get great oysters and if The Ordinary doesn’t pop up on the list, you’ve got to question just how much of a foodie this individual may be. And how local. Because even top chefs in Atlanta sing the praises of the oysters at this place. Located in an old bank, this much-anticipated second restaurant from James Beard Foundation Best Chef Award-winner Mike Lata showcases the local, seasonal, fresh catch. Highlights include smoked trout pate, black-roux gumbo with white shrimp, triggerfish schnitzel, and oysters served smoked, crispy, broiled, raw and more. 544 King St., Charleston, 843.414.7060
With its gallery-size windows overlooking East Bay Street and sidewalk dining option, Pearlz Oyster Bar is always a lively spot. The menu features an array of raw shellfish and delicacies like tuna tartar, plus regional favorites like shrimp ’n’ grits and a Lowcountry spin on fish and chips. Try the oyster shooters, Southern fried oysters or baked oysters Rockefeller. 153 East Bay St., Charleston, 843.577.5755; 9 Magnolia Road, Charleston, 843.573.2277
If your motto is go fancy or stay home, then head to Peninsula Grill, where the dining room boasts velvet walls and custom-made chandeliers, among other jaw-dropping details that helped earn the restaurant’s AAA-four-diamond rating. (The champagne bar and lush courtyard equally impress.) Cuisine meets Relais & Châteaux standards, so whether you opt for foie gras, caviar, veal sweetbreads, duck, lamb or another temptation, expect excellence. Don’t miss the Lowcountry oyster stew with wild mushroom grits. 112 N. Market St., Charleston, 843.723.0700
Ready to try some of the morsels from the sea yourself? Dip into your own share of 40 tons of oysters during the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, typically held in January or February at Boone Hall Plantation. Sponsored by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, with proceeds benefiting children’s and other charities, the festival includes shucking and eating contests, live music, wine, domestic and imported beers, a children’s area and a food court with local restaurants’ fare. 843.577.4030