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Oysters: The Pearl of New Orleans Cuisine

While New Orleans is known for its wide variety of seafood, oysters stand above the rest as the stalwart of the city’s offerings. Oysters are the only shellfish from the Gulf consumed raw, most often from their thick shells, but the Crescent City also boasts a variety of cooked preparations that both locals and visitors alike fawn over endlessly. Most restaurants with seafood on their menus at least offer fried oysters; many tempt diners with oysters on the half shell; others set themselves apart by taking it a step further and featuring oysters as a key ingredient in signature dishes. Let’s explore New Orleans’s wide oyster variety, shall we?

Raw Oysters on the Half Shell

Fresh shucked Gulf oyster
Fresh shucked Gulf oysters are highly prized for their large size and briny flavor. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Martin)

In their purest edible form, oysters are served chilled on the half shell. Restaurants known for their fresh shucked oysters on the half shell often have well-known shuckers to accompany those wonderfully briny bi-valves. “Uptown T” at Pascale’s Manale is a good example. He’s known for being quite a jovial and entertaining shucker. While scores of restaurants offer fresh, delicious oysters on the half shell, a hand full stand above the rest. Top recommended by locals is Casamento’s, located Uptown on Magazine Street. They’re currently closed for their annual summer vacation, but they reopen very soon on September 9 at 11 a.m. In the meantime, visit Cooter Brown’s (Riverbend), Drago’s (CBD), Pascal’s Manale (Uptown), Peche (Warehouse District) or Felix’s (French Quarter) to get your fix. You could also take advantage of Luke’s (CBD) happy hour — oysters for 50 cents each ($6.00 per dozen) with half price beer, wine, and house brand cocktails.

Charbroiled Oysters & Oysters Rockefeller

In the evolution of raw to cooked oysters, next in the hierarchy are dishes that feature an oyster cooked on the half shell. While a wide variety of dishes exist and are served in New Orleans, two stand out above the rest. One of course is Oysters Rockefeller, created here in New Orleans at Antoine’s restaurant in the French Quarter in 1899. The dish is still a perennial favorite and remains one of the most popular on their classic New Orleans menu. Drago’s and Felix’s are both also known for serving mouth-watering versions of Oysters Rockefeller. The other well-loved oyster on the half shell dish is Charbroiled Oysters, made famous by Drago’s at their original Fat City location in Metairie. Now they offer their specialty directly to New Orleanians and visitors at their location in the Riverfront Hilton Hotel at the foot of Poydras Street. Other restaurants that serve notable charbroiled oyster dishes are Drago’sDeanie’s, and Acme Oyster House (all in or near the French Quarter). Finally, although not a classic New Orleans dish in the time-tested sense, Cochon has been impressing diners with their wood-fired oyster roast appetizer which features grilled oysters served topped with chili oil and garlic butter. Some have likened the dish to a religious experience.

Fried Oysters

Moving further up the food chain, we find the fried oyster. It’s a mainstay of many New Orleans menus as it is the backbone and main ingredient of the oyster po’ boy. While the selection of oyster po’ boys is nearly endless in New Orleans, a few stand out above the rest. Liuzza’s by the Track (Faubourg St. John) offers a classic oyster po’ boy but elevates it with a garlic butter sauce. Right before the fried oysters are placed on the sandwich, they get a quick toss in the garlic butter. I never thought an oyster po’ boy could be better until I had this one! Other notable and stack-of-napkins worthy oyster po’ boys can be found at R&O’s (Lakefront), Domilise’s (Uptown), and Parkway Bakery and Tavern (Mid-City). MoPho (Mid-City) also serves a unique twist on the oyster po’ boy that uses Vietnamase bahn mi bread as the base then dresses it with “Mopho” mayo, blue cheese, pate, pickled veggies, and herbs. Happily, they serve an appetizer version of this as well.

MoPho's Fried Oyster Appetizer new orleans
MoPho’s Fried Oyster dish comes as an appetizer plate as well. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Other New Orleans Oyster Dishes

The final noteworthy category of oyster preparations are dishes that prominently feature oysters as an ingredient. To the delight of diners, these preparations often include oysters combined with cream. While numerous dishes exist, three stand above the crowd. The Oyster Spaghetti at Borgne (CBD) is a personal favorite. It’s loaded with oysters, pasta, cream, butter, and parmesan cheese. I can’t find a thing not to love about this dish. Also noteworthy is the Oyster Stew from Casamento’s. It’s more of an oyster cream-sauce soup with loads of butter and some green onion. Another favorite dish in the city is Commander’s Palace’s (Uptown) Oyster and Absinthe Dome. This dish involves ingredients like cream, bacon, absinthe, artichokes, and puff pastry, just to name a few. It’s easy to see why this one is a well-sought after favorite. I could probably list another 30 dishes here but alas, our time is short.

Whether you like your oysters raw on the half shell, prepared cooked on the half shell, deep fried, or delightfully swimming in cream and butter, New Orleans restaurants have something to suit your taste buds. At just about every price level and in every part of town, oysters feature prominently on menus that cater to locals and visitors alike. With so many options, the only difficult part is deciding which version to have next.

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