New Orleans restaurants have always been on the local/seasonal kick, and we are tiptoeing into the season of the beloved oyster – the time of year when the Gulf’s bounty of bivalves is at its best. Whether you pair them with an ice-cold beer or glass of Chablis, slurp them raw or spring for the char-broiled variety, here are our top picks for the city’s best oyster bars.
It’s tough to top the fifty-cent oysters and half-priced beer happy hour at chef John Besh’s Franco-German brasserie in the CBD (featured image). Even if you miss happy hour (daily 3-6 p.m.), the fresh-from-the-Gulf P & J oysters (sourced from the oldest continually operating oyster company in the U.S.), specialty selection of wiannos and kumamoto oysters, and Paris-meets-NOLA vibe still make Luke one of the best places in town to mingle with locals over a dozen or two.
Acme Oyster House
Epic lines aside at this French Quarter oyster haven, it’s hard not to be seduced by Acme’s oceanic charms. Oyster lovers can start a meal with an oyster shooter (yes, that’s an oyster in your vodka), then move on to a half-dozen oysters on the half-shell, then sample them char-grilled, in oyster Rockefeller soup or fried in a po-boy. The best seat in the house is at the bar, chatting with the championship-winning shuckers and fellow diehards who also waited patiently for the coveted spot.
Locals love this casual Riverbend joint for oversized (no, giant) oysters, supersized flat screen TVs and some 400 brands of beer. With a pool table and a convivial tavern atmosphere, it’s the ideal spot for spending an afternoon shooting pool…and oysters. Strike up a conversation with the friendly shucker here, and he might show you the day’s picks of picture-perfect oyster shells he saves for his collection.
Crowds of bib-wearing visitors may fill the restaurant for bowls of the famous BBQ shrimp (the dish was invented here), but locals know the real scene is happening. Forget dinner and, if there’s room, belly up to the tiny freestanding oyster bar, where regulars gather for expertly-shucked Gulf beauties and a classic martini made by a proper, seasoned bartender.
Located inside the Hilton Riverside hotel, this renowned seafood restaurant gets its fair share of tourists and locals who seem to agree on one thing: when it comes to char-broiled oysters, only one name will do. (The Bloody Marys are also worth a mention.) A whopping 900 dozen char-broiled oysters are served each day, but what’s more remarkable is the family-owned restaurant’s commitment to supporting local oystermen. Drago’s employs its own fishermen, and oysters are selected at the dock, then delivered by their own refrigerated trucks directly to the restaurant. It doesn’t get any fresher.
Desire Oyster Bar at the Royal Sonesta
No one goes to Bourbon Street looking for quiet, relaxed atmosphere, and you certainly won’t find it in the vibrant, bustling Desire Oyster Bar. Whether you’re at the bar or a window table overlooking Bourbon Street, the Royal Sonesta’s famous corner oyster bar offers a prime perch for people watching and throwing back briny Gulf oysters on the half-shell. The shuckers here deserve bonus points for character and charm.
Another favorite for happy hour (daily from 4-6 p.m.), oysters on the half shell run $1 a pop here, pairing perfectly with $3 glasses of white wine or $3 Abita Amber beers. There are also $5 cocktails and small plates, including a tempting oyster sampler: The Trio of Baked Oysters includes oysters Rockefeller, Bienville and Fonseca.
Super-fresh bivalves are a bargain at this charming, spacious Uptown seafood emporium, conveniently located just steps away from the St. Charles streetcar line at Napoleon Avenue. Happy hour prices are some of the lowest around, from 4-6 p.m. daily, oysters are fifty cents and glasses of wine are $3 ($4.50 for a carafe; $9 a bottle). Here, you’ll net a wide array of Gulf oysters; have them on the half shell or order the Oysters Superior to score a sampler of the restaurant’s signature dishes: chargrilled oysters, oysters Bienville (with shrimp stuffing, bacon and cheese) and angels on horseback (lightly fried oysters wrapped in bacon).
Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Financial and legal woes have put this beloved French Quarter institution in limbo – the company filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2012, and the restaurant also lost its liquor license. They are, according to the owner John Rotonti, in the process of a “reorganization.” When it all shakes out, if Felix’s returns to its original glory, there’s no better place to rub elbows with locals and visitors at the bar while sopping up the char-flecked, buttery remnants left behind on a platter of the chargrilled oysters.