When did oyster bars become the coolest places to eat? Over the past few years, these seafood spots have crept their way onto lists of the hippest dining establishments, and for good reason.
Like oysters, they’re the just-right mix of no-frills and fancy, encouraging a way of eating that’s steeped in nostalgia, supportive of the farm-to-table movement, and features a central communal dining space around which friends and strangers can come together even in divisive times. It’s a trend we hope is here to stay.
Order a dozen—or few—at any of these city favorites.
The perfect oyster bar exists on a quiet corner in Hampden, where a mermaid mural mingles with a half-shell-eating Jesus collage and, in non-COVID times, happy hour includes Natty Boh tallboys and buck-a-shuck specials from their thoughtfully curated selection. Owners Dylan and Irene Salmon live up to their seafoody last name. 3601 Chestnut Ave.
From shucking on the city streets to a brick-and-mortar at Mount Vernon Marketplace (plus a new location coming soon), the L.O.’s beloved bivalve slinger Nick Schauman has played a vital part in making oysters cool again in Baltimore, with his casual bar being one of the best hangouts in town. 520 Park Ave.
It is a rite of passage to sit down to a paper plate of fat half-shells at the central raw bar of this O.G. seafood establishment in Lexington Market. In ole Bawlmer fashion, they serve them on the “flats,” or top shell, with lemon and a pack of Saltines. Order a beer, and be sure to chat up Lou if he’s your shucker. 203 N. Paca St.
Now in its 18th year, this Canton corner bar has become a Baltimore classic, with weekend afternoons usually overflowing with locals who have flocked for oysters nearly every way you can eat them, alongside freshly squeezed orange crushes and Orioles and Ravens games on the TV. An ideal Saturday afternoon. 2901 O’Donnell St.
For a while, this Fells Point seafood haven was the only game in town serving up fine-dining flights of oysters, but even as new spots have come onto the scene, theirs remain some of the cleanest shucks around. Their impressive oyster list includes top varieties from Canada to the West Coast. 1728 Thames St.
The only oyster farm-owned restaurant in the state, this Whitehall Mill pillar is the outpost of its namesake aquaculture operation. Their Southern Maryland-raised Skinny Dipper and Huckleberry oysters are always hawked at their sleek bar, alongside elevated Chesapeake cuisine by locally loved chef Zack Mills. 3300 Clipper Mill Rd.
Currently operating on a mobile basis, this Blackowned oyster pop-up can be found at the Baltimore Farmers Market on Sundays. It’s always worth waiting in line for chef Jasmine Norton’s fan-favorite chargrilled oysters, featuring flavor variations like barbecue-bacon-cheddar and teriyaki. Holliday & Saratoga Sts.
FARTHER AFIELD: Ryleigh’s Oyster, Lutherville-Timonium; The Curious Oyster, Nottingham; Sailor Oyster Bar, Annapolis; Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, D.C.; Pearl Dive, Washington, D.C.; Ruse, St. Michaels.