Everyone knows that seafood is better by the sea. There's nothing quite like finding yourself on the coast and feasting on fresh fish, crab, and lobster. Charleston, though, is also known for oysters. They're ubiquitous in the old port city and nature lovers can often find oyster beds during low tides in the area's many beaches and marshes.
They're as much a part of Charleston's coast as are sailboats, gorgeous beaches, and driftwood. Downtown, it's hard to find a place that doesn't serve oysters. Visiting Charleston means diving into the Southern seafood cuisine-- and the Holy City's cuisine is like no other.
For a long time, oyster fans could only eat the mollusk in the coldest months of the year (the rule states that oysters should only be eaten in "R" months). Now Charleston oysters can be enjoyed year-round. However, before you head into the water, harvesting your own oysters is not recommended, especially with the many oyster farms in the area that provide super fresh oysters to area restaurants and stores.
Oysters are products of their environments, so different oysters in different places will have different flavors. Apalachicola oysters are often sought out for their special flavor, although in 2020 Florida has banned oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay due to the smaller and smaller oyster population in the area. In Charleston, the high salt content and abundance of marsh grass give the oysters a sweet taste that is slightly minerally.
Where to Eat the Best Oysters in Charleston
Charleston and the surrounding areas-- Mount Pleasant, John's Island, Daniel Island, Folly Beach-- all have classic oyster stops. Still, the downtown King Street fare may be the most well-known, especially because many tourists and visitors find themselves in the area at mealtimes.
Since there are so many oyster bars and seafood restaurants, picking the right one can definitely be intimidating. Charleston is well-known for its delicious food, so picking a place to eat can feel like a huge decision. If you need some help, check out the following local favorites.
Location: Elliotborough -- 252 Coming Street
Chubby Fish is definitely a go-to among Charleston locals. Their sustainable approach and focus on local ingredients makes them stand out among the rest. Additionally, since their menu changes daily every visit to Chubby Fish will be a brand new experience.
Charlestonian Josh Whitaker says that Chubby Fish has the best oysters in the area."They're always prepared properly and they have an outstanding Japanese style mignonette," he said.
Oysters at Chubby Fish are $3 each, and their large menu has something for everyone -- even those in your party who may not be fans of oysters.
Leon's Oyster Shop
Location: Upper King -- 698 King Street
Reservations: For parties of 6 - 12
Leon's Oyster Shop is well-known not just in Charleston, but in the South. The restaurant was named the Best Restaurant in the South by Southern Living and was a Rising Star Chef Semi-Finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence, among other accolades.
Outfitted in an old garage, the restaurant brings together industrial history with Southern cooking. They offer a wide variety of menu items including oysters and fried chicken, another Southern mainstay.
The chargrilled oysters -- labeled as world-famous on the menu -- are a definite must-have when visiting.
Location: King Street -- 513 King Street
The Darling has long been a favorite for visitors and locals alike. Its location on King Street makes it the perfect space to stop after a day sightseeing downtown Charleston or enjoying the high-end shops in the area.
This oyster bar is often a destination for bachelorette parties and other celebratory gatherings. In a historic building, The Darling exudes Charleston's trademark Southern charm.
They offer Sunday brunch and a no-miss menu.