In the book The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky writes “before the 20th century, when people thought of New York, they thought of oysters.” Though that sentiment along with New York’s oyster population has diminished over the past two centuries with the city’s drastic growth, oysters are currently making a strong comeback in Mahattan via the Oyster Restoration Research Project. At a handful locations around New York, these once prevalent mollusks are being reintroduced into waterways like the Gowanus Canal. In these waters they act as natural filters, removing decades worth of toxins and other pollutants. While oyster-tecture, as it’s come to be known, is improving aquatic habitats around the city, the most coveted oyster varieties from both North American coasts are appearing on the menus of Manhattan eateries in fresher, tastier and more robust selections than ever before. Here’s our list of top eateries in NYC shucking these delicious and ecologically powerful bivalves, and more.
While the space inside this East Village eatery may be small, Upstate offers one of the largest assortments of east and west coast oysters available in NYC. From the Long Island Sound to the Puget Sound, Upstate’s friendly and knowledgeable staff will be happy to guide you through their vast medley of shelled delicacies. Whether you prefer briny, coppery, milky, or floral – or haven’t the faintest idea what any of that means – they’ll help you mix and match over 20 oyster varieties with their similarly impressive selection of craft beers. Come during Happy Hour, and $12 will get you a pint and six oysters. And if that’s not enough to entice you, Shane Covey, Upstate’s genial and gracious owner, will swing by at the end of your meal and give you a piece of whiskey cake made by his wife.
95 1st Ave
New York, NY 10003
In months that end in “R”, Happy Hour and a Half at Mermaid Inn is where oyster fans need to be after work. On certain fall week days, this whimsical Greenwich Village restaurant serves $1 East Coast oysters & $1.75 West Coast Oysters as well as $5 beers, $6 glasses of wine and $7 cocktails. Everything you need to know about oysters is at your fingertips with the Mermaid Inn’s own Oysterpedia app. Use it to pinpoint just the type of oyster you’re seeking from the Mermaid Inn’s plentiful bicoastal selection. Or, you could splurge and order the Grand Platter ($69) – six east coast oysters, six west coast oysters, six littleneck clams, shrimp cocktail, half a lobster and crudo. As if you needed another reason to come here, The Mermaid team is big on paying it forward—they’re involved in a number of microfinancing projects both locally and globally through Kiva.org. They also have locations in the East Village and the Upper West Side.
79 MacDougal St
New York, NY 10012
A truly unique setting, the contemporary decor in this swanky subterranean SoHo restaurant will make you feel like you have hopped aboard a well-heeled New Yorker’s yacht. And while it’s priced accordingly, the seafood at Lure is worth the trip. Offering super fresh fish from around the world, Lure also has a complete raw bar with rotating oyster selection, and a world class sushi program.
142 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
You won’t find Peter Griffin at this quaint west village seafood spot, but you will find a variety of great shellfish in a dimly lit yet lively and whimsical setting. Mike Price, chef and co-owner, offers a menu that celebrates seasonal, market driven ingredients (with a playful focus on, you guessed it, clams), while showcasing the best seafood of the Eastern seaboard in both classic and contemporary presentations. The menu is rounded out with iced shellfish, salads, and appetizers, as well as meat and local seafood entrées.
420 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Ed’s Lobster Bar
Owned by New York native Ed McFarland, a veteran of the West Village’s legendary Pearl Oyster Bar, this SoHo restaurant juxtaposes a casual clam shack feel with an impressive and high-priced raw bar. While the fresh Maine lobster rolls ($28) are the stars of the show, the oysters – particularly in shooter form – make the perfect appetizers. The tuna tartare is a must try as well. If you’re a locavore, be sure to visit in the spring & summer months when Ed incorporates his own locally grown vegetables and herbs into the menu.
222 Lafayette St (between Kenmare St & Spring St)
New York, NY 10012
Missing from our list is the venerable Aqua Grill. Home to one of NYC’s most renowned raw bars the cozy Spring Street restaurant was consistently ranked as a top seafood spot in Manhattan, with a tremendous oyster selection offering somewhere between 25 and 30 varieties of oysters. Unfortunately they closed during Covid, but if you were looking for some good oysters in the heart of SoHo don’t fret. Just down the street at the iconic restaurant Balthazar (one of NYC’s most popular restaurants across the board) you can find some great oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster tails and much more in one of the most timeless French Bistro settings you’ll find in the big apple. While Balthazar does not have a stand alone raw bar set-up, their seafood “towers” will transform your table into it’s own raw bar until you have finished every last mollusk.
80 Spring St
New York, NY 10012
A stunningly beautiful oyster bar aboard the historic wooden schooner, Sherman Zwicker, Grand Banks—docked at pier 25 on the Hudson river in Tribeca—has been one of the hottest apre work destinations in the city since it opened in 2014. Inspired by the floating “oyster barges” that lined Manhattan’s waterfront in the 18th and 19th centuries, Grand Banks features sustainably harvested oysters (with a special emphasis on the native Atlantic oyster species grown in and around New York waters) and nautically inspired cocktails. Executive Chef Kerry Heffernan’s experience as a chef, fisherman, and conservationist is hard to beat, having honed his skills at Montrachet, Le Régence, Bouley and Mondrian, while later becoming the Executive Chef of the famed Polo Bar at the Westbury Hotel. He later opened Union Square Hospitality Group’s Eleven Madison Park as Executive Chef and eventually became partner. Not too shabby. Nor are Grand Banks’ reviews. Bon Appetite asserts that “There’s no better way to start the weekend than oysters and rosé at Grand Banks” while Conde Nast Traveler declares “Grand Banks is as close to being on vacation as any native New Yorker can possibly feel.”
Pier 25, Hudson River Park, N Moore St
New York, NY 10013
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Despite its odd location, in a dining concourse underneath Grand Central’s main hub, the Oyster Bar has served hungry travellers and locals since 1913. A great spot for people watching, the atmosphere definitely hearkens back to a bygone-era. The tablecloths are checkered and patrons dine beneath the station’s iconic yellow-tile arches. The menu includes no less than 30 different bivalves from all over North America. On an average night, you’ll be able to try selections like “Lady Chatterly” oysters from Nova Scotia or “Yaquinas” shipped direct from the Oregon coast. The chaotic ambiance isn’t for everyone though and there’s plenty of far more trendy oyster bars opening up around Manhattan as we speak. That said, how many of them will still be around a century from now? Grand Central continues to stand the test of time and serves over 2 million oysters every year.
89 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168