Josh and I both love to eat raw oysters, and there is no shortage of oyster bars in New Orleans. It was our second time in the Big Easy, and even though we spent a great afternoon at the Acme Oyster House on our previous visit, we tried our best not to repeat restaurants this time around. With oysters, it was easy to find new places to try.
Our first experience with raw oysters on this trip was John Besh’s Luke Restaurant. It was a convenient stop for us, as we were staying the night at the hotel that the restaurant is located in, the Hilton St. Charles. We had heard about their great happy hour special – 50 cent oysters and half off on beers and wine, which is offered every day from 3-6 pm. Although it was too late for us to reserve a table when we called, we were told that bar seating was available on a first come basis. We dropped off our stuff in our room and headed downstairs precisely at 3, the start of happy hour. Not surprisingly, the bar was already full, so we hovered in the corner and ordered a round of beer and a dozen oysters.
Truthfully, I did feel a bit conspicuous standing at the bar holding a 14-month old baby, but fortunately, a few seats opened up almost immediately and we were able sit in the middle of the bar with Baby J on our laps. If anyone disapproved, no one said anything to us. The bartenders were incredibly accommodating, stopping to chat and make silly faces at her, and even filled up her sippy cup with milk after she ran out. Our oysters were delivered promptly, along with an order of fries we got for J to snack on.
Happy hour at Luke – 50 cent oysters, half priced beer, and milk in a sippy cup. Plus french fries.
The oysters were gorgeous specimens – big, plump, and juicy. They were nicely presented on a bed of crushed ice with lemon, horseradish, and ketchup. These oysters were deliciously briny and refreshingly cold, tasting of the sea. Our only complaint was that they were pretty gritty. I guess with the volume of oysters that they were cracking open during happy hour, they don’t really have time to clean them properly. Too bad, because the oysters themselves were really great, but it was annoying to have to keep pulling bits of grit out of our mouths.
Oysters up close
Still, we put away 5 dozen oysters between the two of us, and probably could have done even more except we were saving room for dinner. At $6 a dozen, it’s a hard deal to beat. Plus the fries were fantastic – thin, hot, and wonderfully crispy. With half-price beers at around $3.50 each, it was a pretty inexpensive way to spend an afternoon considering the amount and quality of the seafood we were receiving.
The next night, we tried out the oysters at Felix’s, which is right across the street from the Acme Oyster House. While there was a line out the door at Acme, Felix’s was pretty empty, with someone standing outside trying to get people to go inside. Generally that’s not a good sign, but I had read good things about Felix’s so I was still determined to try it out.
At $14 a dozen, these were the most expensive raw oysters that we had on our trip. However, they were nicely cleaned and mostly grit-free.
A dozen raw oysters
Flavor-wise, these were sweeter than the oysters at Luke, although not as briny. They were also a bit haphazardly presented on a bed of melting ice, which meant that the liquor on a few wound up tipping into the slush rather than into our mouths. That was a bit disappointing. On a whole though, I enjoyed the sweet flavor, though we ultimately preferred the brininess of Luke’s oysters.
Oyster up close
We thought of Felix’s as a comparison to Acme, so we ordered a meal similar to what we had at Acme 6 years ago. In addition to two dozen raw oysters, we got an order of crawfish etouffee and a cup of jambalaya. The etouffee was thinner in texture, not as buttery. It had both plain crawfish tails and breaded tails mixed in, which was an interesting combination. The breaded crawfish was peppery in flavor and had a bit of a kick to them. It was satisfying over rice, though not as rich or hearty as the etouffee from Acme.
The jambalaya was really tasty. I didn’t enjoy the version at Acme because I thought it was a bit too smoky, but Felix’s jambalaya was zesty and flavorful, with a hint of sweetness from the red pepper.
Cup of jambalaya
Our last raw oyster stop was a New Orleans institution, according to Michael, the concierge at the Hilton Riverside where we stayed our final two nights in the city. He was a great concierge, passionate about food and knowledgeable in his recommendations. We usually find concierge restaurant picks to be tourist traps or places that advertise on the free maps they hand out, and so Michael was a pleasant surprise and a true source of insider information. He told us that we shouldn’t miss Casamento’s, which is located in Uptown and is a bit of a hike from the downtown/French Quarter area. However, it’s a short ride and walk away from the St. Charles streetcar, and not really all that difficult to get to.
The decor at Casamento’s is part of it’s notoriety. There are tiles everywhere – on the floor, lining the bar, and up the walls. Calvin Trillin, a great food writer, likens it to “having lunch in a drained swimming pool.” We got there right before they closed after lunch, which was fortunate because we weren’t even aware that they would close between lunch and dinnertime. We quickly ordered a dozen raw, as well as half an oyster loaf and a plate of fries.
The tile decor
The oysters were the cleanest specimens we received, completely free of grit and properly shucked so that they slide right into our mouths with no resistance. Even the shells were clean. Surprisingly, however, they were not served on a bed of ice, and while they were cold, they weren’t as chilled as we normally prefer. Taste-wise, they were also not as briny or as sweet as the oysters at Luke and Felix’s, but they were still delicious. We quickly put away two dozen before the shuckers closed up shop for the afternoon. At $12 a dozen, it’s pretty reasonable.
A dozen raw oysters
The oyster loaf, which is like a po’ boy served between thick slices of toast rather than the standard french bread, was a bit of a disappointment. The oysters were fried nicely but few in quantity, and they got lost in the thick bread. I was happy that we only got a half loaf rather than a full, so that we saved room for the raw oysters.
Half an oyster loaf
The fries were cut from real potatoes and freshly fried, so that they were piping hot. J enjoyed them a lot.
Piping hot french fries
The last oysters on our round-up are sort of an outlier, as they were charbroiled instead of raw. We had heard that the best charbroiled oysters were from Drago’s, and fortunately, the New Orleans branch was located in our hotel, the Hilton Riverside. One night we decided to have a light supper and then finish with a nightcap of charbroiled oysters in our room. While I got J ready for bed, Josh went downstairs and got two dozen charbroiled oysters to go. When he got back, we opened up a bottle of wine in our room and had a little feast on our bed.
Charbroiled oysters to go
The oysters were still burning hot so I don’t think the integrity was lost since Josh took them right from downstairs and up to our room. Because we were staying in the hotel, they provided us real napkins and silverware, which I appreciated. The oysters were topped with seasoned garlic butter and grated parmesan and romano cheeses. The combination tasted delicious, but the oysters were totally lost in the mix. All we tasted was garlic butter and cheese; there could have been anything underneath. I also found the texture of the cooked oysters to be a bit mealy and tough, not at all like the succulent quality we love about raw oysters.
Charbroiled oyster up close
The charbroiled oysters were incredibly rich, and we struggled to get through a whole dozen. Ordering two was a mistake, though we did end up saving them in our fridge on snacking on them cold the next day. The garlic butter and cheese combination still tasted good. At $18 a dozen, charbroiled oysters are more expensive than raw oysters, and while I was glad to have tried them, I’ll stick with raw oysters going forward.
So the overall verdict? We didn’t have a bad oyster in the bunch, which is pretty good considering how many dozen we ate over three days. The flavor and presentation of Luke’s oysters, plus the incredibly cheap happy hour price, made them our favorites of this trip. They could really work on reducing the amount of grit though, which would go a long way. If I were paying full price though, I might not have been as happy.
Felix’s and Casamento’s were both top notch in quality and shucked cleaner. However, Felix’s lost points because they were haphazardly arranged on melting ice, losing valuable liquor, and Casamento’s had no ice at all so the oysters were not as cold in temperature. In addition, neither were as briny as the Luke oysters, which is what was our ultimate deciding factor. Still, I would happily go back to any of these places. A little squeeze of lemon juice, a dab of horseradish, tip back, and enjoy!
333 St Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA
739 Iberville St.
New Orleans, LA
4330 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA
Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
2 Poydras St.
New Orleans, LA