A couple of Seattle’s classic oyster bars have gotten national attention lately, but there are many more excellent choices.
If you like oysters on the half-shell and you live in Seattle, you know how great Renee Erickson’s lovely The Walrus and the Carpenter is, and you’re already highly, happily aware of the oyster bar at Elliott’s Oyster House. Food & Wine magazine knows too — they just put both places on their list of the best oyster bars in the country. And, of course, there are other Seattle classics, old and new — The Brooklyn and the Taylor Shellfish oyster bars, for instance. But we’ve got six more here in the city we believe are just as good … and the more oysters, the better. (And if you want some good oyster deals for happy hour, we’ve got those, too.)
Anchovies & Olives
1550 15th Ave., Seattle; 206-838-8080, ethanstowellrestaurants.com
This is arguably the most popular late-night oyster-slurping haunt during the summer, though nothing about it screams oyster bar. No moldy life preservers adorning the walls nor visible tub of shells over crushed ice.
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Instead, booming music from Stereo MCs’ “Step It Up” rains down from overhead, and handsomely lit rows of gin and bourbon stud the shelves with an equally attractive staff of bartenders and cooks behind the bar and open kitchen.
Each oyster gets paired with a sauce — Pickering Passage with scallion mignonette, Baywater Sweet with smoked chili oil and Shigoku with chili vinegar, for instance.
During winter, this Ethan Stowell restaurant is more mellow, less party-hardy. You don’t need to fight for a seat during its $1.50 oyster happy-hour. — Tan Vinh
Westward, 2501 N. Northlake Way, Seattle; 206-552-8215, westwardseattle.com
Little Gull, the oyster bar at Westward, has only been open since 2013, but it feels like a classic. Adjoining the busy, airy restaurant, it’s small and cozy, with candles twinkling in the windows and a view of the Seattle skyline lit up beyond, down at the other end of Lake Union.
But unless the oyster-shell-ringed firepit outside is calling to you (they have blankets), you’ll want to sit at the horseshoe-shaped, marble-topped bar. Here, your shucker will recommend a perfect glass of white wine (for us, the happy discovery of an albariño from the Yakima Valley, from Idilico), describe a few of the nine or so local varieties with perfect adjectives (“seaweed,” “cucumber,” “sweetness”), shuck your oysters perfectly (brimming with oyster liquor, zero shards of shell), then leave you to your own perfectly happy devices.
Your plump, gorgeous oysters are served on ice with little striped paper flags marking which are which — helpful in case you keep helplessly toasting with your wine, and cute without being too cute.
Is this the best place to get oysters in the city? “Best” doesn’t matter when you feel this happy to be alive. — Bethany Jean Clement
400 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-922-3288, barharborbar.com
Opened in September, Bar Harbor is Benjamin Hodgetts’ nod to seafood shacks back East, a sleek, concrete space you would sooner find in a hip warehouse district or inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Unlike most Seattle oyster bars, Bar Harbor serves bivalves from the New England region, including Maine, where Hodgetts grew up.
To hear him break it down, it sounds like some rap battle — East Coast vs. West Coast oysters — and he’s not shy about where his loyalties lie. His “desert-island oyster” is the Winter Point from Bath, Maine, “about the same size as Kumamoto, but they have more bite, more protein-y,” he said. East Coast oysters, overall, are brinier and meatier than their West Coast brethren, he said.
But you decide. Bar Harbor offers up to three different oysters each from the East and West Coast ($3-$4 each). Or get a dozen, mixed and matched, with a bottle of Muscadet for $65. — T.V.
Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor
2616 N.E. 55th St., Seattle; 206-525-0220, franksoysterhouse.com
This is Sarah Penn’s homage to her granddad Frank Duffin, who introduced her to the culinary good life of Boston and Cape Cod. And so there is a Maine lobster roll on the menu and lobster bisque as a “shot special,” the latter so thick the accompanied breadstick stands upright on its own in the shot glass.
Oysters are cooked in every conceivable way — baked with aioli and parm, fried to stuff into po’boys and served raw on the half-shell.
Most of Penn’s slurping oysters come from our local water, from Hama Hama to those plump Sea Cows. There are five different oysters to choose from, served on a handsome butcher-block-esque tray over sheet of ice with a mignonette of Champagne, red wine or Rose Lillet with pink peppercorn or bloody mary granita. — T.V.
The White Swan Public House
1001 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-588-2680, whiteswanpublichouse.com
We’re such an oyster- and whiskey-loving city, and yet we seem to be the last ones on Earth to put those two together — a warm, smoky, sweet Islay single malt cutting into a cold, briny bivalve is the best winter food pairing.
Let the folks behind the new White Swan on Lake Union enlighten you.
Here the suggested oyster pairing is with a Bowmore 12-year scotch.
White Swan has one of the most customer-friendly oyster menus, an eclectic “Daily Fresh Sheet” where the terroirs of the oysters are not just from the nearby water but also from as far as Chincoteague Bay, Va. Each oyster comes with flavor-profile description, and oyster pairings range from whiskey to lager to the more traditional bubbles. It’s also the best kept secret for $1 happy-hour oysters from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. — T.V.
Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar
Pike Place Market, 1916 Pike Place #16, Seattle; 206-448-7721, on Facebook
Anybody who’s ever bemoaned anything marvelous in our city disappearing needs to get to Emmett Watson’s as soon as humanly possible, for it is a treasure of precious old-school Seattle. Buried deep in the recesses of Pike Place Market, it’s not far from the famous Starbucks, except in spirit. In an era when quirk has been co-opted for upscale design, this divey trove of endless local memorabilia, fresh local oysters and sweetly salty staff feels real in a way that few things do.
Head all the way to the back, to the tiny, old-fashioned, oak-backed bar, then perch on a stool, order a beer (the wine list is not great), and admire the brass bell, the porthole and all the assorted clutter. Jokes will likely be cracked, and your oysters will be up quick, served simply on a plate with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and a sprig of parsley as a marker for which are which. Starting from the parsley and going clockwise the other afternoon, ours were all from Washington: Compass Point and Fish Point from Samish Bay, and Midnight Bay from Hood Canal. A couple of them were listing to starboard, causing the loss of some of their liquor, but they all tasted fresher and better than oysters we’ve had at places that cost a lot more and aren’t nearly as much fun.
Funny, beloved Seattle columnist Emmett Watson opened the place in 1979, and it was the city’s first oyster bar. Cheers to him, to Seattle, to oysters, and to newspapers. — B.J.C.