When it comes to oysters, most people either love them or they can’t stand them. Oysters are delicate, briny, buttery wonders of the seas. They’re a versatile ingredient that can be fried, baked, or eaten raw on the half shell with a bit of vinegar or hot sauce. I prefer the raw method as the best way to get the pure, full flavor of a great oyster.
If you haven’t tried oysters or are a little squeamish about slurping down raw seafood, DC is a good place to get over the fence. There are several restaurants that carry high-quality oysters, perfect for novices and aficionados alike. And the cold winter months are an excellent time to knock them back.
DC’s oldest restaurant, the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St, NW), has an rather extensive raw bar. You can choose from an assortment of choices for around $17 for six or $30 for a dozen. All of the oysters are 50 percent off during happy hour, which goes daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. (or 2 a.m. on weekends.)
Black’s Restaurant group is a power player in the area when it comes to seafood. In the city, they run spots like BlackSalt in the Palisades neighborhood and the Louisiana-inspired Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Blackjack in Logan Circle. They all carry a rotating selection of oysters from coast to coast. Each restaurant also serves their proprietary – and extra salty – Old Black Salt Oysters, grown in Virginia.
The oysters at these spots run about $2.50 each , but they are reliably extra fresh and incredibly tasty. You can also check out daily happy hour specials for a discounted deal. At Pearl Dive, you can also get hot oyster dishes with choices like cornmeal crusted Chesapeake oysters or grilled bacon-wrapped oysters.
Hanks Oyster Bar has also become an area go-to for oysters (it’s in the name, after all). The restaurant has locations in Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill and in Old Town Alexandria. Oysters on the half-shell are $2.50 each and you can take it up a level with a sake oyster shooter. For something more substantial, try the fried oyster po’boy sandwich.
For a bit more of an “edgy” vibe, consider Eat the Rich (1839 7th St NW). The focus is seafood at this small Shaw neighborhood spot, and there is a “locals” $1 oyster happy hour Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. You can also grab oysters for a buck from Tuesday through Saturday 11 p.m. to close and Sunday 9:30 p.m. to close. Wash them all down with a pitcher of one of the bar’s several shareable cocktails.
Another great option is the sleek outpost of Rappahannock Oyster Bar inside Union Market (1309 5th St. NE). The restaurant keeps a local focus, with each of its selections, such as Stingray oysters or Olde Salt oysters coming from Virginia. You can also order them up grilled with smoked jalapeno compound butter.
This list certainly isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a very good place to start for anyone looking for an oyster experience. Given D.C.’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, many restaurants are able to offer quality oysters. And there’s usually a good special to take advantage of if you do some looking.