The Best Places to Eat Oysters in Charleston
Eating oysters in Charleston can be a delicate affair, of course, with open shells served on beds of ice with lemon wedges, but it’s more likely that you’ll be served up a cluster of steamed oysters, pried open in front of you, ready for the slurping. Find the refined—and the local Lowcountry—bivalves at our selection of great restaurants for oysters.
1870 Bowens Island Rd, Charleston, SC 29412, USA
Bowens Island Restaurant has existed in one form or another since 1946. The original building, covered in Sharpie messages scrawled by diners over the years, burned to the ground in 2006. Owner Robert Barber rebuilt it almost immediately, all the while serving steamed oysters straight from the inlet beyond the dock. Today, the paper plates are modest but come piled high with fried seafood, fries, and hush puppies. Order the oysters, top them with cocktail sauce, and wash it all down with a local beer for one of the best dining experiences in town. Bowens may not have white linen tablecloths or awards hanging on the walls, but this is where you want to be eating in Charleston.
544 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
A two-story dining room with an always-packed raw bar, The Ordinary serves some of the South’s best seafood. Here, chef Mike Lata dishes up must-try options like a seafood tower, crab toast, fish chowder, and triggerfish with fingerling potatoes. While the lobster roll is only on the menu as a Tuesday special, you can ask for it any day of the week and the chef will happily make you an order. Also worth requesting is the barbecue shrimp, which Lata poaches in a creamy sauce infused with Worcestershire and sets atop charred sourdough. Just be sure to book a table early. Groups should request the downstairs booths, while solo diners without reservations should order a cocktail and wait for a seat at the raw bar.
698 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Restaurateur Brooks Reitz built his name with this chicken-and-oyster joint that feels old-school despite its carefully crafted ambiance. On a first visit, it’s sinful not to order the perfectly salted, crispy/juicy fried chicken amalgam shellacked with a glaze of Old Bay and cayenne suspended in melted lard. That necessitates a second visit to gorge on the poached char-grilled lobster and sausage, or the Leon’s Fish Fry, a platter of shrimp, oysters and catfish. Leon’s was the first to open way-Upper King, now the restaurant hotbed, and it’s held onto its cool status thanks to its thoughtful buildout in a restored auto body shop, retaining the exposed rafters and a rollup garage door that opens to a patio out front.
513 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
Design is paramount at this corner spot on upper King Street that invites window shoppers to hunker down on a mint green barstool and slurp the afternoon away with raw oysters from across the Eastern Seaboard, including delectable local singles like the Single Lady and Sweet Petites. Local beers like Low Tide Brewery’s Sweet Carolina Kolsch—and three rosés and three sparkling wines by the glass—offer proper accompaniments for the briny bivalves. A dedicated shucker works the oyster bar, offering a visual treat with a view of the city’s hustle just beyond the window. A second wood-trimmed bar anchors the other side of room, with the white penny-tile floors lending a sophisticated, old-school New Orleans feel to the place. Once you’ve had your fill of oysters, order a fry basket of shrimp or oysters, balanced by a kale-based coleslaw that’s just enough green to give the illusion of a healthy choice amidst all the savory decadence.
289 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401, USA
It’s well worth the wait for a lobster roll and littleneck clams at this pint-sized oyster bar (a critical stop on a Charleston seafood tour, despite its Nantucket heritage). The sampler of four oysters, four clams, and four shrimp is a warm-up must, but choosing between the day’s crudo, a scallop po’boy, or the ground tuna burger can be torturous. Go ahead and order a second meal to-go for a late afternoon picnic (thus justifying a plate of the slow-roasted pork carnitas tacos, a difficult but delicious decision at this fish joint). The line winds out the door at lunch, but that provides an excellent opportunity for a midday glass of wine or beer from the small but top-shelf selection. The dining room, framed by a long bar and tight, high-top seating, overflows onto a cozy 14-seat patio. Take note: there are plans to move around the corner to a new location on Market Street in mid-2019, with promises to retain the current East Bay space as an offshoot concept.
434 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA
The Hall family’s restaurant empire includes SNOB, High Cotton, and steakhouses in three cities, but this Upper King headquarters is where their pride in hospitality is most prominently on display. Diners are greeted upon arrival and bade farewell upon departure, often by one of owner Bill Hall, Sr.’s sons. The bartenders are equal parts warm and professional, but the real star is the meat. Halls’ menu includes dry-aged cuts and a massive wet-aged porterhouse, all sourced from Chicago’s acclaimed purveyor, Allen Brothers. The Chophouse is not haughty, however—there’s a kids’ menu, and most diners aren’t dressed for white tablecloth environs. Sunday’s popular gospel brunch features live singing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On weekdays, it’s worth a happy-hour swing-through for a glass of whisky or wine among the city’s top businessmen and power brokers, who mingle in this stately wood-and-leather classic Charleston spot.
186 Concord Street
Chef Drew Hedlund combines classic and contemporary Southern fare here in a retired 1940s naval building on the east side of the Charleston peninsula. Long used for storage by the South Carolina Port Authority, today it’s home to one of the city’s most popular waterfront restaurants, with incomparable views of the harbor. Some highlights of the menu include crispy whole flounder with apricot glaze, Charleston shrimp and grits, crab cakes, Lowcountry boil and lump crab bruschetta.