Charleston is a food destination with a wide variety of choices ranging from high-end dining to gourmet bar food, award-winning Texas and southern barbecue to soul food and everything in between. To get a true taste of the Lowcountry, you have to eat oysters. Charleston does these as well as anywhere, and you can get oysters from all over the country here. But, if I may, I suggest you get local whenever possible. They are all briny, from a little to a lot, and they are all delicious. We recently did an “Oyster Tour” of Charleston (not a bad way to spend the day) and came up with our favorites. The oysters are good at all of them, but the vibe is what makes these places our favorites.
Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar
Located on East Bay Street, Amen Street is in the middle of tourist district Charleston.
They specialize in local, sustainable seafood with a Lowcountry/Southern flare. They have a little bit of everything for everybody. The fried green tomatoes, hushpuppies and the Calamari are all great starters, but you came for the fresh seafood, so start with the fried oysters or the PEI mussels. Both are amazing and make sure you save the bread for last on the PEI’s so you can soak up some of the tomato broth once the mussels are gone. Next, get some local oysters on the half shell.
We went with the Port Royals and the Single Ladies. The Port Royals are from Port Royal Sound in Beaufort, SC and have a crisp, briny flavor.
Because they grow in an area that has a higher salinity than most they almost taste “seasoned”. Truly a tremendous wild oyster. The Single Lady oysters are equally great as well. Again, grown in the estuaries surrounding the Lowcountry of South Carolina, they have a smooth briny start with a clean finish. Grab a drink at the well-appointed bar and throw back a couple dozen of SC’s best oysters. www.amenstreet.com
This place is truly one of my favorites and a must-see in Charleston. It is small, sitting only about 20 at a time with a relaxed Nantucket charm.
A wait of an hour is not unheard of but so worth the time for what you get. Grab a drink from inside and sit back and enjoy the company of those around you waiting as well. Once inside grab a couple dozen of the Lowcountry’s best oysters. The Sea Cups are small but pack a briny punch. They are grown in the North River, close to the Atlantic so they get plenty of exposure to the salinity of the ocean. Bulls Bay, and the Bulls Bay Blades that grow there, just north of Charleston also has direct exposure to the Atlantic. These are bigger and longer, not as “sweet” with a briny punch. They both pair well with the excellent selection of wines available, and if you aren’t sure, the knowledgeable and friendly staff is more than willing to assist. I like sitting at the bar and either watching the activity behind it. We are talking oysters but grab one of their signature sandwhiches too. My favorites on the menu are the pastramied swordfish, the lobster roll, and the tuna burger. These are my favorites, but all the food there is delicious. 167raw.com
The Darling Oyster Bar sits in the middle of Upper King Street in a restored 115 years old storefront.
It feels vintage and classic like it has been there that way its entire existence. We like sitting at the raw bar if you can, so you can watch the shuckers do their thing or watch the hustle and bustle of King Street why you throw back some shooters. There are also options to sit at their well-appointed bar or grab a table or booth.
The Darling menu is made up of seafood, fresh, sustainable and local whenever possible. They offer other options in case seafood is not your thing, but seriously, try the seafood. We did.
We always go for local oysters when they are available. This time they had Single Lady’s’, Lowcountry Cups, and Bulls Bay Blades. They all have a briny punch, differ in size, shape and sweetness. They are all delicious and contain the taste of the sea around the Lowcountry.
Get the Scallop Ceviche and the Lobster Roll. The Scallop Ceviche has sweetness from the scallops and pineapple, a bite from the onions, and the heat from the jalapenos. Together it is a tremendously rounded bite. The Lobster Roll is one of the best in Charleston. It would go head to head with New England’s version.
Light on the mayo, just enough to coat but not overpower, you can still taste the sweetness of the lobster on the butter-toasted split bun. The Lobster Roll is never a bad idea. Wash this all down with your favorite libation from the bar. They have a well-stocked bar, so get some bubbles or a Paloma (my favorite), or a beer and sit back, watch the street and the shuckers and throw back some oysters. thedarling.com
Delaney’s is a newer addition and features an ALL WHITE experience. The bar consists of the best white tequilas, vodkas, gins, rums, and other white spirits.
There are a few other liquors for the die-hards that don’t want to do the “white liquor” thing. The food is fantastic, and bartenders are knowledgeable and make some creative drinks. The Martini service offers your choice of vodka or gin, shattered (shaken)/smooth (stirred), up or rocks. It is an exceptional Martini. My preference is vodka, shattered, up. But no matter how you get it, you will enjoy it.
It is an oyster bar, so they have oysters on the half shelf and the selection changes based on availability. I always suggest getting oysters from wherever you are, so you get a “taste of the area”. In Charleston, my favorites are the Lowcountry Cups, Single Lady’s, and Port Royal’s. I find SC oysters to have a sweetness and higher salinity than most because of the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of the menu consists of salads, Ceviche’s and tartars, small plates and larger plates.
We ordered oysters, Dukes of Topsail (NC) and Beau Soleils (NB). Both were delicious, less salinity than SC oysters but delicate and sweet.
With the oysters, we also ordered Blue Crab claws and Mark’s Red Snapper Ceviche. First time eating just Blue Crab claws, and I was blown away. It is just a bite, but they are delicate and sweet, served with a sour garlic sauce, honey and lime sauce. The sauce was so good, but honestly, the Blue Crab claws were just so well done it wasn’t really needed.
The Snapper Ceviche was delicious as well, and the addition of the Cantaloupe based sauce elevated the snapper. The taste profile was different than the usual citrus base in most ceviche’s, and the sweet (almost smoky flavor) of cantaloupe really paired well with the Red Snapper.
Last on the menu was Delaney’s Caribbean Fish Empanada’s. It was paired with hot sauce, Mojo mayo and lime. The crispy dough, fresh fish and flavors of the hot sauce and mayo created an exceptional bite. I could have eaten 10 of these; however, the plate comes with 3. This was the kind of dish you just did not want to end.
Delaney’s is one of my favorites. The atmosphere, staff, food, and drinks speak to me and keep me coming back for more. delaneyoysterhouse.com
The great thing is there are so many places to try oysters here in Charleston