Lucky for those of us who crave raw bar offerings in this city’s summer heat, oysters are now offered at almost all restaurants of a certain echelon that are worth their salt. We demystified the source of the shellfish in last week’s Village Voice, and now we’ve rounded up the 10 best spots for eating oysters in NYC. For ultimate usability, we’ve compiled the list superlatively, high school yearbook-style. Read on for steals, deals, splurges, and scenes within New York’s massive mollusk market.
Best Bucket-List Oyster: Aqua Grill, 210 Spring Street
If you’re serious about oysters, Aqua Grill is a must. Chef Jeremy Marshall stocks one of the city’s best selections of bivalves culled from waters around the world, amassed into a list that changes on a daily basis. The mollusks are shucked before your eyes if you’re at the bar and served with finesse by a friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Best Hole-in-the-Wall Oyster: Upstate, 95 First Avenue
This tiny, no-reservations First Avenue spot houses a long bar with just a few tables squeezed in for good measure, but it boasts a killer oyster selection. Choose from over 20 varieties, and don’t miss the happy hour special: $12 for a half-dozen oysters and a pint of craft beer. As a bonus, the spot serves complimentary whiskey cake, a sweet treat to finish your meal.
Best Oyster to Eat and Run: Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, 89 East 42nd Street
This classic midtown oyster haven keeps it classy with solid service, serious ambiance (see the Gustavino tiled arches for proof), and dozens of varieties of oyster, listed with helpful descriptors so that you can easily differentiate between Blue Points and Malpeques. The bar provides good reason to come early and slurp down a dozen before you board a train, though this restaurant is also a worthy destination in itself.
Best Oysters for the Hype: Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
This Bedford Avenue hotspot–with its sexy, 19th-century French Quarter ambience, friendly waitstaff, and absinthe on tap–has received a lot of buzz since it opened in 2011. If you can snag a table, you’ll find its oysters definitely live up to the hype: Maison Premiere stocks a well-edited list of hard-to-find varieties. Having trouble deciding? Opt for the five species selection, chosen on the spot by the chef.
Best Oyster Deal: Fish, 280 Bleecker Street
This West Village eatery, with a cute but no-frills interior and solid service, doesn’t stock a huge variety of oysters, but it makes up for a lack of breadth by offering one of the best deals in town: An $8 all-hours special that nets you a half-dozen oysters plus a glass of house red or white or a PBR.
Best Rooftop Oyster: Brooklyn Crab, 24 Reed Street, Brooklyn
On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Crab offers $1 house oysters (usually Blue Points) and $2 Naragansett drafts all day, which makes it a fun cheap date early in the week. Best of all is the rooftop, where you can grab a table and watch the sun set over the harbor. Just arrive early, because the dinner rush is a mob scene.
Best Scenester Oyster: John Dory Oyster Bar, 1196 Broadway
April Bloomfield’s Ace Hotel seafood spot doesn’t take reservations, but with an extensive and rotating variety of the freshest oysters $3 can buy, aficionados would be foolish to skip it. Plus, drinking with the Manhattan hipsters and bridge-and-tunnel types that swarm the hotel lobby bar as you wait is a worthy experience in humanity, and there’s always a bauble to buy at the adjacent Opening Ceremony.
Best Red-Tape Oyster: City Hall Restaurant, 131 Duane Street
If you’ve spent your day in court or gnashing your teeth at some city agency over permitting or parking tickets, step into City Hall Restaurant’s coolly civilized dining room for a simple platter of oysters from the extensive raw bar, or splurge on a shellfish tower, which is one of the best in town. This spot’s been around for years, and it’s a reliable snag for a last-minute date reservation. It’s also great for groups and parties, making it a prime spot to gather after a City Hall wedding.
Best Oyster Family: Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Oyster Bar; 96 Second Avenue, 79 MacDougal Street, 568 Amsterdam
With a daily oyster happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. uptown and Second Avenue; 4 to 7 p.m. in the West Village) and outdoor seating at Second Avenue and uptown, this ever-growing NYC oyster standby is always a reliable catch. The list divides the mollusks between East Coast and West Coast, which gives you a chance to compare and contrast.
Campiest Oyster: Sammy’s Fish Box, 41 City Island Avenue, Bronx
With over-the-top nautical, neon, and airplane-themed décor, Sammy’s looks and feels a bit like a carnival. But after a day carousing at City Island, it’s fitting and super family-friendly. Let the kids eat mac & cheese while you nosh on a plate of oysters (we’d go fried here). Highbrow it’s not, but after 47 years in business, it must be onto something.
Hungry for more? Find me on Twitter @findthathannah.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 1, 2013