Oysters. Jewels of the sea.
Sometimes, they come with pearls, but to those who live for true beauty and pleasure in food, it’s the oyster’s flesh and liquor that are the real riches inside their shells.
Once the common food of the poor, for a century and more, oysters have achieved their rightful place at the top of the menu – where they have divided diners ever since.
There are people who reject oysters out of hand, fearing what they have not tried. We do not shun these people, we always offer them the hand of friendship, and the gift of enlightenment.
Because to reject oysters out of hand is to reject surprise. To reject wonder.
To reject, in a poetic sense, the power of music, and nature, and love, and the never-known pleasures that await the brave.
An oyster is the fastest way to plug your senses into all of that, and it can wait for you, as it has waited to enlighten many.
But that’s not the division we’re talking about.
There are those who claim the oyster is such a thing of perfection that the less you do to it, the more sublime it is.
That raw, or barely squeezed with lemon to accentuate the piquancy of the sea-flesh, is the ultimate way to experience oysters.
And then there are those who claim that while oysters are one of the sea’s most extraordinary gifts, they challenge us as creative human beings to use our culinary imagination and skill to take them forward, to use them with delicacy, and potency, and power in ways that have never been imagined before, and so to make them better even than they are when fresh from the sea.
Welcome to New Orleans
There are many, many great places to eat oysters in New Orleans. But you already knew that – New Orleans is one of the best places to eat food of any kind.
Any food that comes within the semi-mystical range of a practiced New Orleans cook or chef is going to be among the best you’ll find anywhere on the planet.
Food, music, parties…occasionally vampires, but who’s worried about them? The cross-cultural gumbo of New Orleans takes ingredients from everywhere and makes them all better.
So even oysters in New Orleans are going to be more special than oysters in most other places. Some people call it magic. Some people call it skill, and history, and passed-on secrets from cooks who’ve walked on.
Most people just call it New Orleans, and nod, and know what it is they mean.
So where, in this city of impossible skills and incalculable culinary history, can you find the very best oysters?
Almost anywhere, as we’ve said, if you’re comparing against the rest of the country or the rest of the world.
But if you’re comparing New Orleans oysters against New Orleans oysters, there are a handful of names that keep coming up. If you ask, people might tell you.
Or they might smile at the secret knowledge that they have, and walk away. But you’ll overhear some names repeated if you go where oyster-lovers go.
We’ll give you a hint. You’re going to want to head to the French Quarter.
In fact, the French Quarter is home to… well, frankly, to almost all the best oysters in New Orleans.
We’d love to be diplomatic and geographically fair about this, but flavor never cared about fairness yet, and the French Quarter is the center of New Orleans’ oyster universe.
The sooner you come to terms with that, the sooner you’re going to be eating some of the best oysters you ever had in your life.
Don’t worry, we have a couple of outliers on our list which will break you out of the French Quarter now and again, but mostly, when it comes to New Orleans oysters, that’s where the hardcore pleasure happens.
The Acme Oyster House, French Quarter
The Acme Oyster House, for instance, is a restaurant chain with six locations that couldn’t be more broadly American if it tried.
With a menu that’s kind of Mom and Pop Diner meets New Orleans magic, it’s the shallow end of the oyster pool for those who’ve never tried them before and want to dip their toes in gently.
That said, the only location we’d recommend as being among New Orleans’s best oyster experiences is the Acme Oyster House at 724 Iberville Street | New Orleans, LA 70130 there in the French Quarter.
Understandably, given the name, the Acme has an oyster-heavy menu, including raw oysters, chargrilled oysters, oyster shooters (oyster, cocktail sauce, vodka, shot glass – for the uninitiated), fried oyster remoulade, oyster Rockefeller soup, and a fried oyster po-boy among other, less oyster-rich, diner-style fare.
The Acme has yet to find a way of putting an oyster into a dessert option, but give them time…
For an experience on the other end of the historical and cultural spectrum of New Orleans oysters, try Antoine’s at 713 Saint Louis Street.
A New Orleans culinary landmark since it opened in 1840 under the original Antoine, Antoine Alciatore.
Aged just 18, Antoine set about establishing his name and his place in culinary history on Saint Louis Street, originally a block away from where it is today (Roll with it, it’s New Orleans…).
Between then and now, the restaurant has become famous for many dishes, but probably the most famous of them is Oysters Rockefeller, with a sauce so sumptuous and rich it seemed only fitting to name it after John D Rockefeller, the original multi-mogul.
Today, Antoine’s is still run by fifth-generation relatives of the original Antoine – and the oysters rockefeller still features a sauce made to the original recipe from 1899.
If you want to taste some of the best oysters in New Orleans and a little history in the same mouthful, Antoine’s is the place to go.
The dinner menu at Antoine’s also includes the option to have charbroiled oysters on the half-shell, or oysters foch - yellow cornmeal fried Gulf Coast oysters with toasted baguette croustades, pate de foie gras, and a hearty Colbert sauce.
One thing you should know about the New Orleans soul. It’s a heartbeat in the city that won’t pay for poor quality food.
It has too much history of turning poor ingredients into heart-warming banquets to pay good money for poor food.
People pay really quite a lot of money to eat oysters at Galatoire's, at 209 Bourbon St.
When they go there, they know it’s a celebration, they know it’s going to cost them, because that’s the other half of the New Orleans soul – if you feed it and make it sing, you can have the world.
New Orleans is a city that understands pleasure, and for truly pleasurable experiences it will pay gladly.
Galatoire’s is by no means an oyster specialty house, so those in search of other flavors and proteins will be well satisfied there too.
But if you’re chasing an oyster kick, Galatoire’s will serve you oysters Rockefeller, oysters en brochette (fried oysters with bacon and meunière butter), a bouillabaisse with oysters in a saffron shellfish stock, and a seafood okra gumbo with oysters that will curl your toes.
While you’re in the French Quarter, you have to stop at Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar at 739 Iberville St. You especially have to stop there if you’re less of an oyster virgin, and more a “Shuck ’em and shoot ’em” kind of oyster aficionado.
While it’s true that Antoine and his descendants had been doing astounding things with oysters for a century by the time Felix’s opened its doors in 1940, Felix’s is the place that put the idea of a New Orleans oyster bar on the culinary map.
The very notion that you could walk up to the bar and have the freshest oysters shucked right in front of you for immediate eating by the dozen or half dozen in all their slippery, sea-liquor wonder took the country – and to some extent, the world – by storm.
Felix’s is still there today, 80 years later, and for the most part, its Unique Selling Point – the reason people keep coming back day after day, week after week – hasn’t changed.
Felix’s gets its oysters from Louisiana oyster beds.
They’re put on a refrigerated truck, driven straight to the restaurant, and – Shuck! – they’re there for your pleasure.
No warehousing, no waiting, no dressing up or adulteration, just pure, fresh Louisiana oyster goodness, ready for those who love them, and those who are prepared to try.
Which is not to say Felix’s is a one-trick oyster pony. Far from it - there are daily specials and preparations there that you’ll find nowhere else in New Orleans.
You can get oysters on the half-shell, chargrilled oysters, oysters du jour, buffalo oysters, oyster bienville, fried oysters (as a main platter or in a po-boy), the oyster Rockefeller made famous by that Antoine feller, as well as oyster soup, oyster artichoke soup.
You name it, Felix’s has probably either done it with oysters, or is doing it the day you belly up.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, Felix’s also represents a number of other New Orleans culinary traditions – ever felt like blackened gator? Felix’s is where you need to be.
Turtle soup? Pull up a stool and loosen your belt, you could be here a while. Oh, and the dessert menu includes a Creole pecan pie. We’ll just let that sit with you a while.
With a phenomenal history in doing just enough to oysters to make them sing, and an ever-expanding repertoire across a handful of other locations, we’d recommend you take a day for Felix’s, just as you probably should at Antoine’s, because there’s much, much more to see, hear, smell, and take in at Felix’s on Iberville Street than just a single meal.
Bring a hunger for oysters and a thirst for history, and you’ll have yourself a time to tell your grandchildren about.
Which of course reminds us – beware of the effects of an oyster overdose. They’re renowned as a positively staggering aphrodisiac. But hey, when in New Orleans…
While you’re on Iberville Street – or possibly, given that we’ve told you to take the day at Felix’s, the day after, take another stroll to Iberville Street, and if you haven’t glutted your craving for the best oysters New Orleans has to offer yet, check out Deanie’s Seafood at 841 Iberville Street.
Originally launched in Bucktown over 40 years ago, Deanie’s has been serving a somewhat refined menu to New Orleans locals and tourists on Iberville Street for years now.
While all the most popular favorites are here, from oysters on a half-shell to charbroiled oysters, it might be a relief to note that oysters Rockefeller is absent from the Deanie’s menu, while barbecued oysters, with Deanie’s own buttery seasoning blend, is something you can’t get anywhere else.
You can add oysters to your salad at Deanie’s, and even order a full oyster dinner (with the oysters either fried or chargrilled to your taste).
It may not have quite the length of history of some of the other longstanding oyster joints in the French Quarter, but in offering oysters in different ways, it brings an unstuffy refinement and an unusual flavor profile that’s worth going back to Iberville Street for.
We said there was an outlier in our French Quarter oyster festival. Drago’s is it. It has two locations in New Orleans – one at 3232 North Arnoult Road, Fat City, Metairie, and the other in Hiltons New Orleans Riverside, 2 Poydras Street.
Founded in 1969, Drago’s quickly became famous for its charbroiled oysters, and today it describes itself as the “Home of the Charbroiled Oyster.”
While founder Drago Cvitanovitch sadly passed away in 2017, Drago’s is still a family-run business, despite now having multiple locations and a staff of over 400. And it’s still crazy about doing spectacular things with charbroiled oysters.
In 1993, Drago’s son Tommy, who still works as the restaurant manager to this day, had a stroke of genius that allowed him to build on his father’s successes.
Fresh oysters in a sauce of garlic, butter, and herbs, dusted with a blend of parmesan and romano cheeses, and cooked in their shells on a hot grill.
A brand new Drago’s charbroiled oyster signature dish was born, and to this day, when business is good, Drago’s will turn out 900 dozen of these unique charbroiled shells of pleasure a day. Let us save you the math – that’s 10,800 oysters.
You don’t have to be a genius to work out two things from those numbers. Number #1 – there might be quite a line to get your hands on a Drago’s dozen. And Number #2 – those are some charbroiled oysters it’s worth waiting on line for.
Yes, it’s worth spending the day at Antoine’s, for a taste of history and the original recipe oysters Rockefeller. Yes, it’s definitely worth spending anything up to a day at Felix’s – belly up to that bar and your belly should be bigger by the time you try to leave.
But don’t leave New Orleans till you’ve also tried the signature charbroiled oysters at Drago’s. It naturally pains us to say this, but they’re worth leaving the French Quarter for.
Best Fried Oysters in New Orleans
There’s a slight distinction to be made when it comes to fried oysters between ‘technically best’ – meaning most proficient, most tasty, most worth bursting out into a jazz riff for – and ‘most popular,’ which is the metric by which TV shows get made and canceled.
If you were going for the most popular fried oyster in New Orleans, it would be difficult to ignore Acme in the French Quarter.
It has a legitimate role in furthering the cause of oysters, because its menu is generally not scary for oyster virgins, and it encourages them to live a little and try something new and exotic while they’re in such a wild and vibrant place as New Orleans.
Many an oyster virgin has come over to the side of pleasure by tasting their first oyster at Acme, and for that, we celebrate it high and wild and loud – again, it’s New Orleans, go with it!
If you were judging on more culinary criteria, it would be equally hard to ignore the crispy fresh juiciness of a Felix’s fried oyster, or a Deanie’s fried oyster dinner.
Probably on balance, the sheer exuberance of the Deanie’s dinner would have to carry the day for being the most fundamentally New Orleans way to enjoy fried oysters in the city, but we see you, Felix’s. We see you real good.
Best Chargrilled Oysters in New Orleans
You might think this would be a difficult decision, because chargrilled or charbroiled oyster is a staple of so many of the best oyster restaurants across New Orleans.
It’s Drago’s, hands down, napkins tucked and a first dozen ordered ahead. Yes, you will get great chargrilled oysters in any of our listed restaurants, and they will all have subtle differences.
Again, it’s worth commending Deanie’s for their charbroiled and barbecued variations on a theme.
It’s worth remembering the elegant, refined version of a New Orleans classic at Galatoire’s because there’s no arguing with the fact that they make it sing on a more operatic level, and you wonder quite how they get it to do that.
But then you try a Drago’s charbroiled oyster and you realize that life is good, that all men are brothers, that peace and love and self-realization are genuinely possible, and that the key to harmony between all nations is a charbroiled oyster in a buttery garlic and herb sauce with a carefully balanced cheese topping, charbroiled until everything works together and lifts your soul.
Drago’s is where you go when the love of your life reveals they’ve been cheating with your brother. It’s where you go when the rain is soaking in through your shoes, you’ve lost your job and they’re about to tow your car to the pound.
Spend the last dollars you have on some Drago’s charbroiled oysters and slowly, you’ll realize that you have it within you to rise above all the pain and misery and start again tomorrow, because there will always be good things in the world while Drago’s stands.
Best Raw Oysters in New Orleans
As Drago’s stands as the king of charbroiled Louisiana oysters and the gatekeeper of optimism in this world, there’s only one real winner when it comes to raw oysters.
You know who it is, don’t you?
It’s Felix’s, of course.
Felix’s, oh Felix’s. One of the original oyster bars and probably, objectively, still the best in New Orleans, which is to pretty much say the best in the US, and potentially the best in the world.
There’s something so pure, so honest, so true to a kind of Mr. Rogers spirit of “Hey there, Neighbor” friendliness about Felix’s, that it warms your soul before you even make it to the bar and the shuckfest begins.
That purity and honesty translates into the flavor of the raw oysters at Felix’s.
That simple process – local oysters, chilled, brought straight to the restaurant and opened right in front of you - can’t fail to raise a smile on every face in the place.
And the truth of the flavors of the raw oysters, with their liquor still full of sea-joy and their flesh all plump and slick and aphrodisiac, is one of the purest forms of joy in which you can indulge in a crowded dining room.
Felix – as every child who ever read Harry Potter could tell you – means ‘happy’ or ‘lucky’ in Latin. Treat yourself to some good luck when you visit New Orleans. Go to Felix’s. You’ll leave a lot happier than you were when you walked in.
We said at the beginning that oysters had been dividing people since they started being prized as jewels of the sea, between those who believed they should be eaten raw, and those who believed they should be enhanced within an inch of the sea-tasting lives.
The magic of New Orleans is that both parties exist there, side by side, even on the same street, and while they each sing a different song they both elevate the oyster into a thing of pure wonder. Pure pleasure.
Pure New Orleans.