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Top places to eat oysters in Charleston

A platter of fresh organic raw oysters on ice

“It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” – Jonathan Swift

Let’s talk oysters. When considering this fare, the thought may occur: “How hungry did early humans have to be to eat this creature?” We get it. The shell is tough and nearly impenetrable and the gray, slimy mass inside can be less than appetizing. A coastal favorite and delicacy for many, oysters are not everyone’s cup of tea, but we think they are at least worth a try. They can be delicious. And as a bit of trivia, it is possible for food oysters to produce pearls, however, most pearls come from specific pearl oysters which are not generally used as a food source.

Contrary to common belief, oysters are not a shellfish but are actually in the mollusk family. They grow and live in marine or brackish habitats and can be somewhat irregular in shape and size. Depending on what area of the United States you are visiting, you may encounter different species of oysters. Common in Atlantic waters is the eastern American oyster while the Pacific side of the continent is most commonly known for the Pacific oyster.

So, just why do people eat oysters? Well, why do we eat anything? Usually because we enjoy the experience and the taste. Certainly historically speaking, the first humans to eat oysters may have gulped them down out of necessity, but living in this age of plenty we are allowed the luxury of choice in our dining selections. In fact, did you know oysters can even help with feelings of affection, adoration and love? They are loaded with zinc, a mineral known to help the body produce testosterone which naturally increases feelings of attraction.

And certainly, be cautious when it comes to eating raw or undercooked oysters. It’s important to note that the CDC advises that consuming raw or undercooked oysters or shellfish can put you at risk for infection, namely Vibriosis which is caused by the Vibrio bacteria known to grow in coastal waters where oysters are present.

That being said, some claim that eating live oysters raw (versus those that have already died) is much safer. We’ll leave that choice up to you! If you do choose to consume raw oysters, there are a few things to know:

  • Look for seawater in and around the shell.
  • The fish should be opaque and look full in the shell, not too thin.
  • Pay attention to smell. Anything that smells off, looks odd or is too salty should be sent back to the kitchen.

Now, how exactly do you eat an oyster? This is up for debate as well. Some swear by the slurp and swallow method (no chewing allowed!), while others recommend a slight chew or two before eating the entire oyster. If it makes you feel any better, according to oyster-shucking champion John Bil, there isn’t one right way to eat an oyster! If you choose to chew, you will get to experience more of the taste rather than swallowing the oyster whole.

Of course, the best way to experience good eats in the Charleston area is to join us on one of our highly rated culinary tours. We would love to personally take you to some of our favorite seafood restaurants. In fact, we have a sustainable seafood tour that is amazing! We are happy to customize tours to fit your tastes and to help you have the best experience possible. Our friendly tour guides are knowledgeable about local lore, history and all things food. You can’t go wrong! That being said, here are a few top-rated locations to enjoy oysters in the Charleston area.

The Ordinary

The Ordinary is a Southern seafood hall and oyster bar located in an old bank in Charleston. Their lively menu celebrates the “merroir” of the Coastal Carolinas and the East Coast while supporting local and regional fishermen, crabbers, oystermen, farmers and producers. Their aim is to pair great food with great drink and friendly, detailed service and they accomplish it every time!

Leon’s

Another favorite on King Street, Leon’s Oyster Shop serves fried chicken, oysters, lots of salads, cheap beer, soft serve, rosé on tap, frozen G&T’s, tons of champagne, and decent cocktails – all in an old garage.

The Oyster House on Market and O-Bar

In the heart of the French Quarter in downtown Charleston SC, Oyster House Seafood Restaurant is a meeting place for locals and visitors alike to enjoy fresh seafood and Lowcountry favorites like fresh oysters on the half shell and shrimp & grits. With a patio overlooking the historic Charleston Market, the restaurant is ideal for breezy days and warm nights. Inside, a soaring ceiling, exposed brick walls and original wooden beams reflect the past aesthetic of the warehouse district.

Red’s Ice House

If you are looking for a place to take in the Lowcountry wildlife and to view the scenic Charleston sunsets, Red’s Ice House is the perfect spot for you to enjoy a cold beer and fresh local seafood in a laid back atmosphere. Located on historic Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, this restaurant is what Charleston eating memories are made of!

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