Oysters, those slimy little nuggets of briny goodness, bring so much joy to seafood lovers. While colloquially, oyster season consists of all months with an "R" in their names, here in Texas, oysters don't fatten up enough to be worth eating until the weather cools, which is more like December through March. That means now is the time to eat oysters, and, of course, CultureMap is here to help with a few suggestions.
While no one should overlook the simple joy of knocking back a couple dozen raw specimens, to make my list of Houston's Best Oysters, restaurants needed to offer a variety of cooked preparations as well. After all, when it comes to oyster love, why should anyone be limited to just one form of expression?
Simply put, this dive bar in San Leon is the best oyster destination on the Texas Gulf Coast. First, its proximity to Misho's Oyster Company ensures a steady supply of the freshest, fattest, most succulent specimens. Second, the signature Oysters Gilhooley, in which fresh shucked oysters are topped with butter and parmesan prior to roasting in a wood-fired barbecue pit, might be the best cooked oyster preparation ever, due to the subtle smokiness that enhances all of the flavors.
The restaurant feels like its held up by the artifacts tacked onto the walls and the collective weight of years of cigarette smoke.
As for the atmosphere, calling Gilhooley's "ramshackle" might be charitable. The restaurant feels like its held up by the artifacts tacked onto the walls and the collective weight of years of cigarette smoke. Also, children aren't allowed.
What it lacks in luxury it makes up for in overwhelming deliciousness.
No one should be surprised that Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's new restaurant is excellent; the success of both Backstreet Cafe and Hugo's is testament to their skills as restaurateurs. Still, that Caracol is as good as it is despite being barely a month old is a pleasant surprise — and oysters have become one of the restaurant's main attractions.
Wood-grilled oysters asado are already a signature item on the menu thanks to the flavor imparted to them by the combination of wood smoke and chipotle butter. Prefer raw? They've got those, too.
Best news ever? Raw and cooked Gulf oysters are half price during happy hour (3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays) and before 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Credit this restaurant on the border of Montrose and Midtown for creative preparations and a wide variety of oysters. Chef Kevin Bryant's menu regularly features a dozen or more kinds of oysters from both the East and Gulf Coasts.
Raw oysters arrive on a bed of crushed ice with a small cup of lemon essential oils that cast a fog over the plate and enhance the drama of the preparation. At $30/dozen, those East Coast oysters are a bit of a splurge, but nowhere else in Houston matches the diversity.
Feeling really spendy? Indulge in one of the restaurant's delightfully retro seafood towers that include shrimp cocktail, king crab and lobster.
Credit chef Bryan Caswell for being one of the strongest advocates for Gulf oysters. Reef features appellation oysters when available, and the flavor of oysters from reefs that are only miles apart shows how much an oyster's environment affects its flavor. Baked oysters make an appearance on the appetizer menu at dinner, topped with a Rockefeller-inspired mix of Swiss chard, lime pickle and Asiago bread crumbs.
All too frequently, this dressed up off-shoot of Ragin Cajun gets overlooked by foodies as an oyster destination, but their obliviousness is a gain for the rest of us. The garlic and parmesan-topped roasted oysters may not be quite as life-changing as Gilhooley's, but the flavors come close and not driving for an hour has lots of appeal.
Don't miss the Mandola family classic of fried oysters topped with pico de gallo. Or just enjoy them raw.
So many people flock to Danton's on Mondays for the half price raw oysters by the dozen that the wait for a tray can run up to an hour. While I would never advocate anyone passing up a good deal, eating only raw oysters misses all the other excellent preparations. Consider, for example, Danton's delicate oyster stew that puts a Gulf Coast spin on chowder thanks to plump oysters and an oyster liquor-infused broth.
Feeling really traditional? Go with a fried oyster po boy.
Baked oysters Dan ups the traditional combination of butter, garlic and parmesan with lump crab meat or try the baked oysters topped with house-cured tasso ham for a salty, smoky kick.
Feeling really traditional? Go with a fried oyster po boy.
At this local chain of boat-shaped seafood restaurants, there aren't any tables. Just two long bars: One facing the oysters shuckers and another with its back to the oyster shuckers. Despite the lack of atmosphere, diners are as likely to sit next to a group of guys who rode in on $40,000 Harleys as they are to find a crew of workmen who piled out of the same massive pickup truck.
Good food, in this case, fresh shucked oysters, expertly fried seafood and peerless micheladas, have a universal appeal. My typical plan starts with a dozen oysters, then a cup of gumbo, then an order of fried shrimp and oysters. Even with a couple of beers, the total is about $25 for a seafood feast.
Even if the days of $8/dozen Wellfleet oysters have passed, the Pappas Seafood House on Shepherd remains a destination worth seeking out for oyster lovers. Gulf oysters are still being sold for the discounted price and they're shucked to order one at a time.
Meanwhile, the Pappas R&D team has enhanced the menu with the company's take on cheese and garlic-topped baked oysters. Pair it with a cocktail created by former Anvil manager Matt Tanner or one of the local craft beers on tap.
I know at the beginning I promised to highlight places that serve more than just raw oysters, but Cove is the exception. The mini-restaurant inside Haven devoted to all things raw and quick-cured always has top notch raw oysters available and chef Philippe Gaston pairs them with light, tart mignonettes that are far beyond the usual cocktail sauce and horseradish. Then stick around for the other dishes that reflect a global perspective on raw seafood.
Last but not least, a restaurant that put the word "oyster" in its name. Diners have made this offshoot of the popular Heights destination a real hotspot. While some credit should probably go to partner Lee Ellis's coastal-inspired, upscale design, the wide variety of oyster preparations probably deserves most of the credit.
They're available raw, fried and grilled. Oysters show up in gumbo, stew, salads and mixed in with campechana. Basically, if someone wants to eat an oyster, Liberty Kitchen has a means to deliver it to him or her.
Obviously, a Galveston restaurant can't be a Top 10 Houston restaurant for anything, but oyster lovers who travel to the island should consider a stop at Number 13. In a city that proudly features Gulf oysters, Number 13 sources only rare East Coast varieties.
On my visit, the restaurant featured Winter Points from Maine that can also be found on the menu at celebrated seafood destinations like Le Bernardin in New York. Being the only place in Texas to serve a top-notch oyster is a surefire way to earn a spot on a list like this one.