Shuck, Slurp, Repeat: Charleston's 10 Best Oyster Bars
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
As soon as you arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, you know you're in a special place—unique with its own southern graces and coastal charms. And if you're an oyster lover, you'll feel nearly spoiled after a meal at any Charleston seafood restaurant or oyster bar. In the South Carolina lowcountry, oyster bar dining comes standard with incredible sunset and ocean views, shady courtyard seating, and local live music.
Oyster lovers know there are two ways to indulge: in the finest of seafood establishments, where the oyster is revered, or in a place as casual as they come, where you're more likely to find oysters fried than on the half shell.
For the ultimate in oyster fine dining, look no further than The Ordinary, a classic raw bar and restaurant housed in a historic bank building on Upper King. Just a few blocks away, there's COAST, another oyster hotspot with top-notch service, and in the other direction, Leon's, an oyster establishment known just as well for its fried chicken. 167 Raw, on East Bay, offers an elegant option for an intimate oyster date, alongside a wide variety of raw bar temptations.
The more casual oyster and seafood crowd will enjoy Bowens Island Restaurant, a local's haven occupying it's own island just south of Charleston. Snag a view with your oysters from the deck of Fleet Landing downtown, or slurp down an oyster shooter—a local specialty—at Pearlz Oyster Bar. Wherever you choose, settle in for a uniquely Charleston oyster experience.
10 Noisy Oyster Seafood Restaurant
One of two Noisy Oyster locations in the area (the other is in North Charleston), this family-friendly seafood restaurant may not be a traditional oyster bar, but it does serve up oysters in all their forms. Get your mouth watering with a look at the menu preparations: Buffalo Fried Oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, Fried Gulf Oysters with chili cocktail sauce, and, of course, steamed or raw on the half shell. Can't decide how you'd like your oysters tonight? Try the Noisy Oyster Sampler plate for three Buffalo-fried and three Rockefeller. Of course, there's more at the raw bar here than just the restaurant's namesake, including littleneck clams and peel-and-eat shrimp. (8437230044)
9 Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar
It's no surprise that many first time visitors to Charleston want to make a beeline for the nearest restaurant with water views. Something about eating seafood adjacent to its natural habitat gets our appetites going. Thankfully, Fleet Landing delivers, with a wide open deck space, killer views of the marsh and harbor, and an awesome selection of fried, grilled, and raw seafood. Oyster lovers can choose from Fried Oysters with Southern Comfort BBQ Sauce, Chilled Oysters on the Half Shell, Fried Oyster platters, or a Fried Oyster Spinach Salad. Any way you choose to consume them, Fleet Landing's oysters will not disappoint. (843-722-8100)
8 Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
Just around the block from the Charleston City Market, Amen Street Fish and Raw bar is ideally located for groups and families in search of oysters after a long day of city explorations. Amen Street is nearly always buzzing with new and regular customers, drawn to the large variety and freshness of the menu. Oyster fans will revel in the variety and preparation choices offered at Amen Street, with over 24 types of oysters on hand. For something different, try your oysters baked and stuffed with spinach, fried on a kale salad. Picky seafood eaters in your party? There are plenty of options for lunch and dinner at Amen Street that cater to less adventurous menu choices. (843-853-8600)
7 COAST Bar and Grill
Three words: Oyster Happy Hour. That's right, COAST is the home of an all-oyster happy hour from 5:30pm - 7:30pm every Thursday, when you can get a half dozen oysters for just $7! COAST is an ideal seafood and oyster choice on any day of the week, with oysters offered Rockefeller, on the half shell, raw, steamed, cocktail or Mignonette. For those who prefer their bivalves fried, COAST offers creole fried oysters, or plain fried oysters with bacon and blue cheese french fries. There's so much more than oysters on this COAST, though. Add an order of Crab Encrusted Tilapia, Ceviche, or Salt & Pepper Calamari to your meal for a complete seafood experience. (843-722-8838)
6 Pearlz Oyster and Raw Bar
A longtime favorite of both locals and visitors alike, Pearlz Oyster and Raw bar offers a well-rounded oyster experience to all bivalve lovers. With two Charleston locations (East Bay Street downtown and Magnolia Road in West Ashley), Pearlz offers a wide variety of local and exotic oysters. Pearlz is known for their oyster shooters, a liquor shot consisting of pepper vodka, an oyster, and cocktail sauce--a popular item that's equal parts appetizer and cocktail. Oysters are served on the half-shell, steamed, or southern-fried with bleu cheese and buffalo sauce. For others seeking something other than oysters, the Pearlz menu includes peel-and-eat shrimp, crab cakes, calamari, tuna tacos, and lobster rolls. (843-577-5755)
5 Hank's Seafood Restaurant
Tucked away on quiet Hayne Street near the Charleston City Market, Hank's often surprises first-time guests. The restaurant, with its understated outside appearance and time-worn painted lettering, is elegant inside. Though Hank's offers a fine dining type of atmosphere and service, the menu and staff remain very approachable and friendly. Hank's makes an excellent choice for groups or large families visiting Charleston in search of fresh oysters and other seafood. Oysters appear on the menu on the half shell from the raw bar, oysters casino with smoked bacon, fried with green tomato sweet corn, or as oyster stew. Hank's oysters also star in the Seafood Tower and Seafood Castle, Hank's specialty orders consisting of a massive, elegantly plated display of cooked and raw shellfish. (843-723-3474)
4 Leon's Oyster Shop
Many a local will recommend Leon's Oyster Shop for many a reason. As its name implies, Leon's specializes in oysters, and the shellfish appear on the menu raw with saltines, char-grilled, fried Rockefeller, and as oysters casino. Indeed, Leon's does oysters a service in offering them with simple, pure preparations. But Leon's has so much more in store than oysters. Settle in to a cozy indoor table or sidle up to the long bar space, and dig into your oysters, following them with a 2-piece, half, or whole fried chicken order. There's fried fish, too. For a wholly sea-sourced meal, opt for the Fry Up--fried fish served alongside fried oysters or shrimp. If the weather's ideal, take your oysters to the outside patio, set next to the street with charming string lights and potted plants. ((843) 531-6500)
3 Bowens Island Restaurant
You're in for a real treat when you opt to visit Bowens Island Restaurant, a place with an entire 13-acre island to itself. The restaurant itself, and its simple, unique concept, were founded by May and Jimmy Bowen in 1946. Located just a few minutes drive from Folly Beach, Bowens Island Restaurant is known for its outstanding oysters, served fresh from the water mere feet from its inlet-view dock. Here, you'll catch some of the best sunsets around while indulging in all-you-can-eat local oysters in an ultra-casual and family-friendly environment. Bowens Island Restaurant is no 'oyster bar,'but instead more of an oyster haven, complete with cheap local beers, hush puppies, and fried shrimp to accompany your oysters. (843-795-2757)
2 167 Raw
The mini market and intimate date night restaurant across from the Harris Teeter grocery store is small and unassuming from the outside. But inside, guests can dive headfirst into the freshest selection of raw bar delicacies around, with oysters serving as the main event for many of their regular customers. This ever-bustling raw bar at 167 Raw features a chalkboard menu of offerings that changes as frequently as the tides, including a daily selection of oysters from local waters and beyond. The people at the helm of Charleston's There's much, much more than oysters at 167 Raw. In fact, the crew at 167 Raw is known locally as lobster roll loyalty. Stop by this East Bay hotspot to decide for yourself: best oysters in town, best lobster roll, or both? (843-579-4997)
1 The Ordinary
It's all too easy to reiterate the cliche: The Ordinary is anything but. That's an easy observation to make, even before sampling anything from the full menu of oyster bar offerings. The building itself, once a fancy bank, is elegant in black and white marble, enjoying its reincarnation as Charleston's best known (and loved) oyster and raw bar. Expect to feast on East Coast oysters, local stone crab claws, peel-and-eat shrimp, razor clams, even caviar (served with potato chips). Should you decide to use a raw bar order as just a warm up, there are large plates to follow: Grouper, Triggerfish, and Snapper are among the many options, served alongside your choice of vegetable complements. For the ultimate indulgence, put in a tall order: The Ordinary's Shellfish Tower, a single, double, or triple-story display of raw and cooked seafood and garnishes. (843-414-7060)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.